Strange tales from 6 sacred stone sites of Scotland

Claire Randall Fraser, played by Caitriona Balfe, travels through hundreds of years in time after touching fictional standing stones at Craigh na Dun in the first season of Outlander. PIC: Sony Pictures/Ed Miller.
Claire Randall Fraser, played by Caitriona Balfe, travels through hundreds of years in time after touching fictional standing stones at Craigh na Dun in the first season of Outlander. PIC: Sony Pictures/Ed Miller.
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Claire Randall Fraser launched a time travelling odyssey after touching the fictional Craig Na Dun stone circle in television show Outlander.

While it may have been a fantastical voyage, the strange powers felt at Scotland’s sacred stone sites have long been documented.

The  Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, where young couples would go to bless their union. PIC: TSPL/Donald MacLeod 18.03.06

The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, where young couples would go to bless their union. PIC: TSPL/Donald MacLeod 18.03.06

With some of Scotland’s stone circles around 5,000 years old, a rich culture of folklore and myth has evolved surrounding the mysterious formations, some where Druids are believed to have worshipped.

Here we look at six sites and their links to love, health, fertility fortune and death - and the tale of one tourist who believed he was cursed after visiting a key Highland attraction.

Quoybune Stone, Birsay, Orkney

Sacred stones were believed to be loaded with life and power with the Quoybune Stone at Birsay said to physically move at the stroke of midnight at Hogmanay.

Callanish Stones, Isles of Lewis, where a fairy white cow is said to have appeared to feed starving islanders. PIC: Ian Rutherford/TSPL.

Callanish Stones, Isles of Lewis, where a fairy white cow is said to have appeared to feed starving islanders. PIC: Ian Rutherford/TSPL.

READ MORE: The 20 best prehistoric sites to visit in Scotland

“Every Hogmanay night, when the clock strikes twelve, (it) marches down to the Loch of Boardhouse and dips its head in the water,” McPherson wrote.

Those who witnessed this supernatural phenomenon would not live to see another year, according to the account.

“It is never safe to be...watching its movements at that witching hours. There are many stories of venturesome outlanders - natives know better - setting out to watch this stone in its progress to the loch side. Their dead bodies were found in the morning.”

The Kempock Stone - known as Granny Kempock - in Gourock is mired in superstition. PIC: www.geograph.co.uk

The Kempock Stone - known as Granny Kempock - in Gourock is mired in superstition. PIC: www.geograph.co.uk

A “daring youth” from Glasgow is said to have had a strange encounter with the Quoybune Stone.

According to Ramblings in the Far North by R Menzies Fergusson (1884) he set out to see the stone shortly before 12.

“As time worked on and the dread hour of midnight approached, he began to feel some little terror in his heart and an erie feeling crept slowly over his limbs.”

The young man lost consciousness with his friends finding him in the “grey dawn in the faint.”

Clava Cairns near Inverness, where a Belgian tourist believes he was cursed. PIC www.geograph.co.uk

Clava Cairns near Inverness, where a Belgian tourist believes he was cursed. PIC www.geograph.co.uk

“He could not say if the stone had moved and knocked him down or whether his imagination had conjured up the assault,” the account added.

Calanais, Lewis, Outer Hebrides

Legend tells how the a white fairy cow came to save starving islanders by giving milk at Calanais where the stones are around 5,000-years-old.

The beast, with red ears, emerged from the sea as a desperate woman waded in to the water with the intention of drowning herself, according to Anne Ross’s Folklore of the Scottish Islands.

READ MORE: Secrets of the standing stones at Calanais to be revealed

“It spoke with a soft, tuneful voice telling her to return home, fetch her milk-pail and tell her neighbour to come with their own pails to the stones of Callanish.”

A pailful of milk was provided every night to all the women until one visitor, seeking two pails, brought an end to the giving.

The woman turned out to be a witch. She returned with one pail but had fitted a sieve to the bottom of the bucket. After milking the cow dry, it was never to be seen at Calanais.

Recent research has confirmed that the stones were deliberately constructed to align with the orbits of the sun and the moon.

Granny Kempock, Gourock, Inverclyde

This 6ft monolith stands above the main shopping street Gourock and has long been the source of superstition in the town.

Originally thought to be an altar where Druids workshipeed, Kempocl was believed to bring good fortune with newlyweds and fishermen walking around the stone seven times with a basked of sand..

In 1662, a plot to throw the Kempock Stone into the Clyde was revealed as part of a charge of witchcraft.

According to reports, a Mary Lamont was burnt at the stake after confessing to her part in the plot which was designed to harm local ships and boats.

Clach-na-Bhan - Stone of the Woman - near Braemar, Aberdeenshire

Women would journey to this solitary, ancient rock on the top of Clach-na-Bhan in hopes of increasing their chances of an easy childbirth.

They would sit on the rock, which is said to look like an arm chair given a natural hollow has formed at its centre.

J.M McPherson, in his book Primitive Beliefs of the North East of Scotland, wrote: “Women about to become mothers climbed the hill, and seated themselves in the hollow, believing that this chairing ensured an easy delivery.”

In New History of Aberdeenshire, published in 1836, the writer witnessed the ‘chairing’ of 12 full-bodied women who had walked around 20 miles from Speyside.

Single women also made pilgrimages to the stone in the belief it would aid their search for a husband.

Women would also visit the Kelpie Stone in the Dee near Dinnet given its “power of making the childless wife a joyful mother.”

The Ring of Brodgar/Stones of Stenness/The Odin Stone, Orkney

Many believe The Ring of Brodgar, made up of 27 stones from an original 60, was an open-air temple for Druid rituals, possibly including human sacrifice.

An Orkney folk tradition records the Brodgar stones as dancing giants who were petrified when the sun came up.

A later account details how it became a place for young people to declare their love, usually after a New Year’s Day dance at a church in Stenness.

Colin Richards, in Building the Great Stones of the North, recorded how, if love blossomed, a young couple would walk to the Stones of Stenness - referred to as Temple of the Moon - where the girl would kneel down and pray to god Odin.

The couple would then walk three quarters of a mile to Ring of Brodgar - also known as Temple of the Sun - where the young man would also pray to the powerful figure in Norse mythology.

“After that they both went to the Odin stone, where they stood on either side of it and held hands through the stone and made the Odin oath, which was considered binding.

“The two people that made the Odin Oath could be married to each other in church afterwards but they could not marry another,” Richards said.

Babies were also sent to Odin Stone, which was destroyed in 1814 by the landowner, to prevent them from “shaking with palsy” in later life.

Clava Cairns, near Inverness

A Belgian tourist claimed to have been cursed after lifting a stone from the 4,000-year-old sacred site of Clava Cairns.

It is believed that rituals using the dead were carried out at the site, where passaged have been laid into the centre of the Cairn to align with the rising and setting midsummer full moon.

The visitor to the Cairns became so disturbed by events since his trip that he posted the souvenir back to the tourist office in Inverness.

In an anonymous letter following his visit in 2000 he said that, since returning home with the stone, his daughter had broken her leg, his wife had become very ill, and he had lost his job and broken his arm.

The tourist guide who received admitted Clava Cairns its not the kind of place you may want to find yourself at night.