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New books reveals fascinating landmarks

Written by Fiona

December 14 2016

Have you ever looked at a field and wondered what the lumps and bumps are? Or stared at a church or stone circle and wondered how old it is? Do you know what reaves are – and how to hunt for them?

Wherever you go in Britain, there’s history woven into the landscape around you and now a book Hidden Histories: A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape reveals all. (You can vote for the book in the Current Archeology Awards.)

Written by TV broadcaster and anthropologist Mary-Ann Ochota, the book offers a wealth of fascinating information to help you to read the landscape.

Mary-Ann said: “There is history all around us but often we overlook it while we’re out and about.

“For example, the shape of a field, the wall of a cottage, a standing stone or churchyard, even the grass under your feet hide secrets to the past.

“My book is a guide to explain what you might be looking at and what story it reveals.”

The book includes many Scottish highlights. I highlighted 10 hidden history highlights in my recent Sunday Mail column. (I did not write the awful headline!)


1 Prehistoric reaves

Dry stane dykes are found all over Scotland and were built where stone was plentiful and without use of wet mortars.

To age a wall you should look at the land, the shape of the wall and the stone surface

If the stone remains of a wall a barely visible though a covering of peat you may well be looking at a prehistoric reave.

If it’s a low wall without peat it may be medieval and if the walls are straight, or regular size and have square corners they are likely to be walls of the 1700 or 18000s

2 The Gask Road

In Perthshire is evidence of efforts made by the Romans to secure the Gask Ridge, a line of high ground almost 40 miles north of Edinburgh.

This took place during the reign of Agricola from AD 78 to 84 and the Gask Road, with its signal stations and watch towers, reveals that the Romans came further north than many people know.

3 The Fortingall Yew

Yew trees are found across Britain and become officially “ancient” at around 800 years old.

One of the oldest one of the oldest organisms in Europe is the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, which is thought to be between 4000 and 5000 years old.

4 Lie of the land

It’s not always obvious but if you take a fresh look at land across Scotland you might spot the remains of communal farming that existed in Scotland until the Highland Clearances in the 1700 and 1800s.

The shielings, long houses and runrig cultivation can be spotted in different ways, such as a single crumbling wall, low banks of grass indicating the footprint of a building and old ridges where land was previously cultivated.

The latest known active shieling in Scotland was on the Isle of Lewis and used until 1946.

5 Symbol stones

Symbol stones were carved by the Picts, an Iron Age society of northern Britain and more than 300 survive.

The stones are usually carved with abstract, animal and paired symbols. However, No one knows what the paired symbols mean.

Four Aberlemno symbol stones stand on the village road and in the churchyard at Forfar in Angus.

6 Scotland’s Stonehenge

There are more than 20 stone circles and monuments around Calanais, or Callanish, on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis.

Mary-Ann writes: “If it wasn’t for the remote location I am sure the Calanias stone circles would be as famous as Stonehenge.”

7 Marvellous mound

One of five of the “finest round mounds” picked out in Britain is the Linear Cairn Cemetery in Kilmartin Glen, Argyll.

It runs for more than a mile along the valet from north-east to south-west, at the heart of a complex ancient ritual landscape.

The cairns contain stones decorated with rare Bronze axe-head carvings.

8 Glasgow Necropolis

Described as “one of the most remarkable Victorian cemeteries in the country”, the Necropolis – “city of the dead” – contains more than 50,000 bodies.

There are 3500 named memorials and the entire site offers a fascinating visit.

9 Ghastly gargoyles

Distorted heads and figures were used to decorate Norman and Gothic churches and are know as grotesques.

Twelve new gargoyles were carved for Paisley Abbey in Renfrewshire in 1991to replace damaged 13th century originals, including one that looks like a carving of a sci-fi monster from the Alien movies.

10 Coffin roads

Many old routes across the Highlands were used as the routes for carrying the dead in coffins.

They include the remote track linking Glen Quoich bridge to Glen Shiel and the road from Strathfarrar to Kintail.

* Hidden Histories: A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape is published by Frances Lincoln priced £20. Also see

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