Category: Prehistory


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.

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Long Calderwood cairn

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These are the remains of a cairn at Long Calderwood. There’s not a lot of prehistoric remains around East Kilbride. According to the History of Rutherglen and East Kilbride by David Ure,

The practice of raising tumuli over the deceased was very ancient in Kilbride. Public marks of respect, when judiciously bestowed, have been of great use to society. By decorating the tombs of worthy characters, the living may receive instruction from the dead. A considerable number of these tumuli were, till about 30 years ago, remaining in the parish. But they are now almost totally annihilated.

Ure mentions a number of mounds or cairns that previously existed with East Kilbride parish, but I think all of these monuments have been destroyed; they provided a handy source of stone for building.

This particular cairn contained a cist burial, but the stones of the cist are long gone, along with most of the stones of the mound itself.

I’ve walked over this bit of ground loads of times, but never knew the cairn was here until I saw it on Flickr. So thanks to Chris, font of knowledge on all things Calderwood and Calderglen.

A beautiful afternoon when I finally got to leave work tonight. I kind of wish that I’d left earlier to grab some opportunities for photography, but then I’m still sore from a fall down the school stairs yesterday, so perhaps not. But the hills were golden and hazy in the sunshine as I drove home, so I grabbed a couple of shots as the traffic stopped, including one of Dechmont Hill.

I first heard this name from my Dad, whose grandfather (Grampa Paterson) worked at Dechmont Colliery (among many, many other places). Dad later identified Dechmont Hill for me in the background of a photo taken at Bothwell Castle a couple of years ago.

It’s fascinated me ever since – even though I’ve not had a chance to climb it in person yet. It’s so clearly visible from miles around and stands proud of the landscape below: it must have been a pretty important place at one time. In fact, the CANMORE record reports a slight mound or cairn, surrounded by a shallow ditch; the remains of a hill fort, now almost impossible to see.

Part of its current pronounced shape is actually due to a old quarry, which has destroyed an entire flank (vandals!) but it must have been an obvious landmark in the past, before the current suburban sprawl hid it behind so much housing and roads.

Mind you, I shouldn’t complain. After I became aware of Dechmont, I started spotting it from all over the place, including the dual carriageway above Blantyre. Then, waiting in the traffic this winter, I realised just how clearly I could see Tinto Hill to the south.

So?

Well, I recently read an intriguing book called On the trail of Scotland’s myths and legends. Author, Stuart McHardy, spends a few pages discussing Scottish fire festivals, including Beltane, celebrated on May 1st.

In traditional Beltane celebrations, fires were lit on hilltops, which made them more visible… The dominating hill of Tinto in Lanarkshire was the site of the ancient fires, its earlier name Tintock deriving from Gaelic, teinteach, fiery.

McHardy, 2005, p41

I’ve been wondering ever since whether Dechmont was used for a similar purpose. Imagine my delight then, when I found a mention on The Modern Antiquarian website to an old book of 1885, called Old Scottish customs:local and general by E.J Guthrie.

Check it out:

Dechmont Hill, situated in the parish of Cambuslang, was a place where our forefathers lighted the Beltane. In the Statistical Account of Scotland (1848) it is stated that a thick stratum of charcoal was discovered underneath a structure of fine loam on the summit of the hill. When the country people saw it they expressed no surprise, as the tradition was familiar to them that it was here where the former inhabitants of the country had been in the habit of
lighting their Beltane.

Guthrie, 1885, p231

It could be just a story rather than oral history or folk memory, but it’s intriguing all the same.