Category: Legends

Kate NicNiven

Last couple of days I’ve been afflicted by a flu-ey kind of rotten cold. So long as I stay sat, I’m ok, but anything energetic, like standing up, quickly leads to sitting down again. In between dozing off, I’ve been reading, and read a blog on a standing stone, now destroyed, at Clarkston Farm near Lesmahagow, on Northern Antiquarian, Dec 26th , 2008

The blog quotes Chambers’ Popular Rhymes, p242-3, which tells the story of previous owners who believed this rhyme was connected to the Clarkston Farm stone:

Between Dillerhill and Crossfoord,
There lies Katie Neevie’s hoord.

Stories of treasure under standing stones and mounds are hardly new, but who is Katie Neevie? Chambers refers to her as Mrs Katherine Nevin, without any indication of her role in the story. But the name that immediately came into my mind was Kate NicNiven, Queen of the Faeries (and also an infamous, and probably fictional, witch, although there are plenty from around Monzie in Perthshire who claim she’s genuinely historical).

In other words, it’s possible that the rhyme is suggesting fairy gold, another well worn folktale.

However, from a geographical point of view, the imaginary line between Diller Hill and Crossford doesn’t actually suggest Clarkston Farm. Halfway along is Blackhill Farm, which still has a barrow, albeit rather ploughed away, and in the past there was also a standing stone close by. If ever in the vicinity, it might be an interesting diversion to climb Diller Hill itself and see whether Crossford can be seen in the Clyde Valley to the north. Of course, you might find the bulk of Black Hill itself in the way, which actually wrecks the entire story.


Bertram de Shotts

I had heard of old Bertram a few times but his story has been told and retold so often that I fear changes may have crept in.

Anyway, Betram (or perhaps Bartram) de Shotts lived in the reign of Robert II (or James IV).

He came from Shotts or Salsburgh (but since neither village existed during the reigns of those monarchs, it’s more likely he just resided somewhere in the area).

Shotts was maybe named after him (except maybe not and he was just Bert from the Parish of Shotts except that the Parish of Shotts didn’t come into existence until).

He was a highwayman (but sometimes just an all round bad guy) on the main Edinburgh – Glasgow road (but then highwaymen didn’t really come into existence until the tollroads of the 17th century so maybe not, but to be fair the main route from Glasgow to Edinburgh did run through the area).

He was a giant (or just very tall).

He was finally killed by Laird of Muirhead, who hid alone (or with a group of men), behind a pile of peat stacked there deliberately (or in heather which was growing there unconcerned of its role in history).

Muirhead cut off Bertram’s head (occasionally cutting his hamstrings first) while the giant was drinking from a well (or a spring). Muirhead was subsequently granted the lands of Lauchope by Robert II (or James IV).

Good to have that sorted :-).

I was having a look through the National Library of Scotland’s maps, and playing with the different layers on the map viewer. This is a fabulous wee thing that allows you to find a place on a current map and then look at the same place on older maps, or vice versa. The sheet viewer will allow you to jump between different maps, from Timothy Pont in the 16th/17th century right up to the aerial photos taken in the middle of last century. The mosaic viewer doesn’t have anything like the the same stretch, but it has the nifty trick of sliding gradually between the modern map and the older one.

I use it a lot for  investigating names mentioned on maps that have since vanished, and to locate places I’ve discovered on the ground in the hope that an older map will identify it. A good example is Blaeu’s Atlas of Scotland from 1654:  its a goldmine of placenames, illustrations of churches and castles and other buildings and the estates that surround them. Lots of these places are still recognisable, but plenty aren’t.

A large religious building on Blaeu's Atlas, 1654. Compare the building size with others around it.

There’s a substantial church pictured north of Legbrannock, surrounded by what looks like a large estate  – it’s actually comparable with Blaeu’s depiction of Lanark! – with the name Chappell. Only thing I can think of close by is Chapelhall near Airdrie. Are they related? My geographical knowledge north of the Clyde is a lot shakier than the south, but something that huge should have registered with me at some point. So what is it?

I checked the area between Legbrannock and Chapelhall on a few maps. The 1859 OS shows a ‘site of Chapel and Burial ground’ beside the Chapelhall Iron Works which sat in a loop of the Shotts Burn. The ironworks have vanished by 1898, but the chapel site is still marked, with quarries across the burn and a coal mine just to the south. By the 1940s, the Chapelhall Works have appeared just to the west, making fire bricks, which still appears on the familiar brown and orange of the 1956 OS, which describes the site as as Chapel (site of). It also provided the grid reference (NS784632).

Next port of call: Scotlands Places, which suggests that this was a chapel dedicated to St Lasrach, which was used as a burial place for the Lanchope family from the 18th century onwards, that it was later covered with slag heaps and lost. Its correct GR is NS 7850 6322.

It also directed me to Origines Parochiales Scotiae, where I found this:

At Chapel on the bank of a stream north-east from the old house of Lauchope, there existed in the beginning of last century, a ruined chapel, then used as a burial-place by the family of Lauchope. On the 15th August 1529, John Jack had a grant for life from the king, of three acres pertaining to the chapel of Lessart, in the parish of Bothwell,  for upholding the chapel.

Origines Parochiales Scotiae, p 54

So Chapel is obviously an old name for Chapelhall, and Lasrach sounds like an alternative name for Lessart. There’s also a Lauchope House, but that’s another quest. So who was Lessart / Lasrach? A while later, I discovered that Lasrach is actually a Gaelicised version of Lasair (genitive singular to be precise), and that Lasair was a figure from Irish mythology (whose name meant fire). There’s also a Christian saint with the same name, with her feast day on May 1st, otherwise known to pagans as Beltane! Possibly the same figure, canonised by the Celtic church?

The chapel originally lay approximately around the tip of the letter ‘A’ formed by the paths in the bottom of the frame, underneath the trees alongside the burn.

This has been a fascinating hunt through geography, history, language and mythology with some startling results, but I still still don’t have an answer to my original question: why is the chapel and burial ground of Lasair drawn so much larger than any other building? If anyone can suggest an answer, I’d love to know.

Additional – 15th April 2012

A couple of 18th century comments suggest the chapel was actually part of a larger organisation, but whether a monastery, abbey or other foundation isn’t known.

Chapel, northeast from Lauchope, was formerly a religious house, of what order is not known

Old Statistical Account, p326

Chappell, which was formerly a religious house, of what order I know not; but is now converted into a burial place for Lachop’s family

Hamilton of Wishaw, Descriptions of the Sheriffdoms of Lanark and Renfrew, compiled about M.DCC.X, p136


Only thing is, that the only other illustrations of roughly the same size across the whole of southern Scotland are either towns or major castles. The mystery continues.

Sacred waters

I think anyone intrigued by folklore or the pre-Roman, pre-Christian heritage of the British Isles, would be interested in  this book, which is packed full of stories of wells, lakes and the importance of water to our forebears, ancient and more modern.

This is a fantastic collection of legends and anecdotes which (mostly) presents its information without presuming to make judgements or extrapolations. Plenty of Scottish water lore and locations are mentioned, which makes a nice change (and with only two mentions of Nessie :-)) However, Lanarkshire only appears a few times:

  • The Lee Penny
  • The Marriage Well at Carmyle
  • Arthur’s Fountain at Crawford
  • St Mungo’s Well, Glasgow Cathedral

To be fair, the Bords themselves point the reader in the direction of other books, particularly regarding Scotland, but I fear the same old problem is cropping up again: too many Lanarkshire stories were lost in the heat of industry.

There are plenty more places to go hunting, but it’s a bit of a skunner all the same. All of the locations and legends will hopefully appear later on.

Bord, Janet and Colin. Sacred waters: holy wells and water lore in Britain and Ireland. Paladin, 1985

A day of burial grounds today. Dropped the kids off, and got lost in the labyrinth that is Chapelton. Anyone who knows Chapelton will think that’s ridiculous – it’s a toattie wee place. Well, the toattie wee place has signposts that lead nowhere. You lie, Chapelton signs, you lie.

Once we escaped, we aimed for Glassford to have a wander around the old kirkyard. It was a miserable looking day, completely grey, but the air was fresh, the birds were singing and the overhead cables were humming happily to themselves.

It’s a nice little kirkyard with a single wall of the church remaining. It’s also part of the Covenanter’s Trail, with a rather gaudy  monument dedicated to William Gordon of Earlston. He was apparently on his way to the Battle of Bothwell Bridge when he was captured and shot by dragoons on 22nd June 1879.

Just beyond the wall of the kirkyard is a track leading down the hill towards Braehead Farm. About halfway down, there’s a  line of trees that leads to the private burial ground of Avonholm. There’s three stones there which were once thought to be standing stones, but are now thought to be grave markers. There’s a street in Strathaven called Threestanes Road. I rememebr reading somewhere that it was supposedly part of an ancient road that lead to the standing stones, but on the map the road is pointing in totally the wrong direction. Nice idea, but I doubt it.

We left Avonholm for another day and headed back to Strathaven for lunch, watching the old railway line running alongside us the whole way, only interrupted by lost bridges and viaducts. A story for another day.

Great lunch at the Old Smiddy in Strathaven, then headed for Stonehouse kirkyard. On Manse Road we passed a   Scottish Rights of Way sign for the Horse Pool on the Avon Water, along with the legend that it was named after a drowned horse, or less romantically, the horseshoe shape. It was too wet to walk over to the pool but we did learn that it’s a great place to look for fossils.

At the top of the hill is Stonehouse old kirkyard: another ruined church, with belltower intact this time. I had an inkling that there was a Covenanter buried here too, but couldn’t see it, probably because I was trying to figure out the lie of the land, checking the view back across to Glassford, and taking pictures of the headstone carvings.

At home I checked up on the Covenanter connection and was disgusted that I’d missed the Bloodstone, marking the burial of James Thomson of Tanhill, who died of wounds gained at the Battle of Drumclog in 1679. The legend says that if you insert your finger in the mouth on the carved skull, it will be bloody when you pull it out. Why anyone would be insane enough to try this and risk horrendous nightmares is beyond me, but a number have, and discovered red ochre dust on their finger.

And then, hunting about online for further information, I was delighted to discover a Quaker burial ground on Geograph that I’d never known about.

So, two kirkyards, one burial ground, a couple of legends and a whole load of history: not a bad day.