So then...what do you do when the weather conspires against you and your walk partner is invalided out and unable to hike...you go and get stoned of course...that's "Pictish Stoned!"
The Blonde - It's one of those days... and I have a list of things to see! (The Bear - "Oh no!!")....more my stuff than The Bear's but you never know, along the way something just might pop out and grab a man's attention!
First up then is the Meigle Sculptured Stone Museum, between Blairgowrie and Forfar. During our last few days driving around we've seen several signs for "Sculptured Stones" and "Pictish Stones". I know nothing of Pictish Stones and my curiosity is piqued of course and I need to know more.
Meigle Museum is just 11 miles down the road from Blairgowrie heading towards Forfar, and with twenty six stones in its collection it seems like a really good place to start. It's not the easiest place to find or park close to, but we manage to locate it eventually. However, I don't see the notice saying.. "Closed 12.30 and 1.30pm" - "for staff lunch"... as I go in! The entry fee has been taken from me before I'm told that fact...so it gives me just 15 minutes! I'm told that he can give me a few extra minutes and so I work really fast with my camera, photograph the information panels and pull as much information out of the attendant who is enthusiastic but clearly itching to be away for his lunch.
I’ll look at my photos later and if I feel they were too hurried I can always come back tomorrow...(The Bear - "Really!"). I do learn though that almost the entire collection here came out of the graveyard and that Meigle village was probably the site of an important early medieval Pictish monastery, centred on the present church and churchyard around 1300 years ago. I had left The Bear outside in the churchyard...when I come out he has more pics than me!
A Pictish stone is a type of monumental stele ("a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected in ancient Western culture as a monument"), generally carved or incised with symbols or designs. A few have "ogham" inscriptions.....ogham is in fact an "Early Medieval Alphabet", used to write the early Irish language in the 1st to 6th centuries AD, and later the Old Irish language 6th to 9th centuries.
Located in Scotland, mostly north of the Clyde - Forth line and on the eastern side of the country, these stones are the most visible remaining evidence of the Picts and are thought to date from the 6th to 9th century, a period during which the Picts became "Christianized". The earlier stones have no parallels from the rest of the British Isles.
The later forms are variations within a wider Insular tradition of monumental stones such as high crosses. About 350 objects classified as Pictish stones have survived, the earlier examples of which hold by far the greatest number of surviving examples of the mysterious Pictish symbols. These are some of the recurring symbols that commonly appear on the stones but like often with things so old so much is "educated" interpretation and guesswork.
Not far away from Meigle is the Eassie Sculptured Stone, one of the earliest examples of a Pictish cross-slab, dating to the late AD 600s. It’s in a remarkable state of preservation to say that it was found in a stream.
The cross-slab now stands in a purpose-built shelter in the corner of the ruined church at Eassie which was likely the site of an early Pictish church. In this graveyard I notice several much more modern flat grave stones with skull, crossbones and hour-glasses carved on them. A couple of ladies are also looking around and I ask them about these carvings. They’re not sure but they turn out to also be exploring the area for Pictish stones, local history and osprey.
From Eassie we head into Forfar and in search of further standing stones in the village of Aberlemno. Here there are a series of five Class I and II Early Medieval standing stones to be found in and around the village. However, getting to the village proves to be a little tricky! "Road Closed" signs have us going three sides of a square to get back to the village...and then we realise the signs were a little outdated as the road is in fact open....The Bear had almost lost the will at this point!!
In all, six Pictish stones have turned up in or around Aberlemno, four of which remain on view. One stands in the kirkyard of Aberlemno Kirk. The three others stand, each a short distance from the next, slightly set back from the main road.
Protecting old stones like these is an issue and for some time there has been discussion of the possibility of removing these roadside stones to a purpose-built shelter. In the meantime, the stones are covered in wooden packing to protect them from the elements from October to March each year; which means, that they can't be seen by visitors.
The most impressive of the roadside stones in Aberlemno is the cross slab, or "Aberlemno 3". This stands 2.8m high by 1.0m wide by 0.3m deep. The west side of this stone, facing the road, carries a deeply carved cross.
The Blonde and Aberlemno 3
"The angles of the cross carry carved "bosses", while a more highly raised boss forms the centre of the cross. The carving has been carried out to make the cross look as if it had been fashioned from metal, something that characterises many Pictish carved crosses. A little down the stone, the shaft of the cross has an angel on either side, each shown carrying a bible and bowing towards the cross. The base of the front of the stone carries less gentle images. To the left of the foot of the cross one animal is attacking another, while on the other side an animal is attacking a man."
The rear of the cross slab is divided vertically into three distinct sections. The upper third of the stone carries highly intricate renditions of standard Pictish symbols. "These are a "crescent and V-rod" and a "double disc and Z-rod". The names are simply intended to describe the patterns, and no-one knows whether such symbols signify the rank of some individual, the clan of those living in the area, or something else entirely. The next 40% of the stone carries a side-on depiction of a hunting scene. This includes four mounted hunters, deer and hounds, two trumpeters, and a man carrying a spear and a square shield. The lowest 25% of the stone carries biblical images, notably David and the lion."
The cross slab is the most southerly of the three stones beside the road. The most northerly is 1.8m high by 0.9m wide and leans at a significant angle to the side. This is known as "Aberlemno 1". It is believed to be the oldest of the stones at Aberlemno and the side facing the road carries a series of Pictish symbols. The face of the stone also carries a carving of a snake, and of a mirror and comb. Carvings of mirrors and combs are another common feature, and sometimes thought to tie in with memorials to important female members of Pictish society, though this is little more than guess-work. It is thought this stone might stand in its original location, and in the 1800s, an antiquarian uncovered a cairn nearby and remnants of human bones and stone coffins from the field behind. The rear of this stone is rough-cast and seems to carry some prehistoric cup-and-ring marks near its base. It is possibly the Picts simply smoothed down one face of an existing prehistoric standing stone before carving on it.
Aberlemno 1...in need of scaffolding?
The middle of the three stones leaves you wondering whether someone has substituted a sandstone stump for the real thing. It is said to have originally carried symbols like those on the more northerly stone, but if it did, they have eroded to invisibility in the meantime.
The symbols on one face of this roadside stone of a serpent, the double disc and Z-rod and the mirror and comb are deeply incised and the stone is considered to be one of the finest and best-preserved Pictish symbol stones still standing in or near its original position. The double disc and z-rod are symbols that have been used here appear in other Celtic artefacts like these silver plaques which are in The National Museum of Scotland.
And here’s a stone from Meigle earlier today with the same symbols. This is probably pretty basic stuff for experts in Pictish symbolism but it’s all new to me and fascinating!
Also on the side of the road in Aberlemno - hunting scenes and that double disc and z-rod.
In the churchyard is a quadrilobate Celtic Cross (four lobes - had to look that one up!), with several styles of Celtic patterns and Celtic zoomorphic designs, reminiscent of Northumbrian designs and designs from the Book of Kells. A hole has been bored through the upper part of the stone some time after its sculpting. The rear face features two Pictish symbols, a notched rectangle with z-rod and a triple disc. Below this are nine figures which have been interpreted as a narrative account of a battle.
The "Battle Stone".
So, that was about it for stones today. I loved it...I was totally stoned... and The Bear tolerated it...just.. (The Bear - "I just love to be the driver of The Blonde when she is on a mission")! A couple of beers tonight, a curry and a bowl of popcorn should help ease the pain of a "Blonde Day"!
The Bear - and now be honest....how many of you scrolled down quickly to the bottom of this blog??? Shame on you!