Nowadays, most people who have heard of ley-lines associate them with dowsing and earth energies. They have also been associated with UFOs, geological fault lines, ritual funeral paths, Feng-shui, planetary healing, crop circles, shamanic flight, the search for the Holy Grail and anything else that sells books. The subject has become so blurred by its many different interpretations that the general public is beginning to look on this wonderful part of our heritage as a joke . . . Scots archaeologist Harry Bell invites you to join him in the search for a new approach.
Alignment research has blown hot and cold on the fringe of archaeology since Sir Norman Lockyer published Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered in 1906. In it, Lockyer described some alignments in the vicinity of Stonehenge which had been drawn to his attention by the director general of the Ordnance Survey. Controversially, he included Salisbury Cathedral on one of his alignments because he thought it possible that the cathedral occupied an earlier site.
In 1912, Walter Johnson introduced this line of reasoning to a wider public in his popular Byways of British Archaeology, which demonstrated the continuity of religious tradition in Britain with instances of churches built on pagan sites, many of them within earthworks.
Alfred Watkins took this idea a step further in 1922 when he wrote Early British Trackways, and in 1925 when he wrote The Old Straight Track (ISBN 0 349 13704 8) and introduced the concept of leys.
Watkins was a Herefordshire man, a gentleman amateur who had observed in his travels that many of the mounds, moats, beacon hills and fords of his native county fell into alignment with each other. Between these points he found castles, churches, mark stones and wayside crosses which he thought might also occupy prehistoric sites. Watkins surmised that these landmarks were all that remained of a system of tracks once used by prehistoric traders in salt, flint, and (later) metals, who had laid out their routes with staves and marked the way at intervals with stones. Many of these alignments passed through open woodland glades, and because of this Watkins called them leys, a name derived from an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘a forest clearing’. Though the original leys were now overgrown and invisible, Watkins maintained they could still be traced by careful mapwork and investigation in the field.
Archaeologists, of course, had several very valid objections to Watkins’ theory. Firstly, there was the apparent uselessness of leys as trackways. What traveller would use a track that led him straight through forests, bogs and lakes? Then there was the question of dating. Could anyone be certain that alignments of medieval castles and churches followed prehistoric tracks? Finally, had Stone Age man been equal to the task of lining up sites across the landscape in an accurate manner? Without maps, surveying equipment, without even a pencil and paper? In the long run it was decided there was too much speculation in Watkin’s work and not enough evidence. After Watkins died in 1935 his theory was ignored by the professionals and kept alive mainly by members of the Straight Track Postal Portfolio Club which lost momentum during the war and met for the last time in 1946.
All Watkin’s books and the records of the Straight Track Postal Portfolio Club are available for inspection at the Hereford Public Library in Broad Street, Hereford. There is now a blue plaque on the wall of Watkins’ old house at 5 Harley Court, near the Cathedral.
The National Grid Reference system was not in use in Watkins day, consequently the sites on many of his rural alignments are difficult to find if you are unfamiliar with the area. His church alignments in Oxford are easy to find and will give you an interesting day out, but whether they date back to Neolithic times or not is a matter of opinion. Watkins believed the churches had been built on pagan sites to ‘Christianise’ them, and drew the above sketch map ‘for all lovers of Oxford’.
As you can see by Alfred’s map, a five-church alignment crosses another of four at St. Martins Carfax, the heart of the old Saxon town and the centre of early municipal life.
There has been a church at this busy crossroads since 1032, but the last one was demolished in 1896 and all that remains today is Carfax Tower. It is open to the public so you can climb the 99 steps to the top and gaze over Oxford’s dreaming spires to the churches on Alfred’s map.
St Mary the Virgin can also be visited as it now houses the Oxford Brass Rubbing Centre.
In 1976 I tried out Watkins’ theory on my annual holiday. The end result was a map of alignments that zig-zagged across Central Scotland from the Kilpatrick Hills to Arthur’s Seat. A redesigned version of the map accompanied by a brief plagiarised history of British alignment research went on sale in 1977 and half-a-century behind England, Scotland got its first book on ley-lines, Forgotten Footsteps. It could truthfully have been described as a crime against archaeology, but it sold well and financed further research.
The new generation of researchers had rejected the idea of leys as trackways, but were still finding them. Some postulated they were underground water lines which could be detected by means of dowsing rods, some interpreted them as psychic telegraph wires, and some claimed they were navigational aids for UFOs. I had no personal experience of any of this so my little booklet was a compendium of other people’s ideas.
You can be an amateur archaeologist, an amateur artist, and an amateur photographer, but there is no such thing as an amateur publisher. Books are made to sell. Watkins might have visualised ‘a fairy chain of sites stretching from mountain peak to mountain peak’, but I was a bit more commercially minded. With 2,000 newly printed books under the bed, I focussed my thoughts on a fairy chain of bookshops stretching across Scotland through Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Stirling.
The main selling point was the map. It was more a record of my travels than anything else.
Don’t take the results too seriously. Some of the alignments stand up to analysis, others don’t. I followed Watkins’ instructions as best as I could, but the Scottish landscape refused to conform.
When I ran out of ley-line I covered the spaces in the map by placing some of the site names to the right and some to the left.
The Old Straight Track to Iona that filled a vacant space in the top left-hand corner is a piece of New Age nonsense inspired by the ‘geomantic corridors’ and long-distance ley-lines in vogue at the time. It was once said of it ‘only a crow or a holy man with a paraglider could travel that way’.
Plot the network on the do-it-yourself chart inside this book. Link the 62 sites with pencil and ruler and watch the sacred geometry of Scotland’s past appear before your eyes – the results will amaze you!’
So said the blurb on the back cover…
One of the shops that sold my books was Bell, Book and Candle, next to the office of the East Kilbride News. Someone in the paper read the book and wrote an article about it. Thirty-four copies sold the next weekend and suddenly the book was on its way. In the weeks that followed, letters to the editor began to appear in the same newspaper and this, too, helped sales.
Nothing I have written since has been so poorly researched or so profitable.
During the summer of my alignment research, I was quite surprised by the amount of castles I found that were built on prehistoric sites. Even shortbread box picture castles like Eilean Donan and Edinburgh occupy Bronze Age sites.
In Argyllshire, many of the oldest castles occupy Iron Age duns (Dun is the Gaelic word for ‘fort’). Some of these old sites seem to have the facility of storing and transmitting images from the past to those who are capable of receiving such images. Most of the castles on these sites are haunted by glaistigs, or fairy women, and some seem to be connected by ley lines.
This intrigued me, so my next literary project was to cram 50 ghost stories into a 48 page Guide to the Haunted Castles of Scotland. It was published in 1981 and reviewed in The Ley Hunter No. 97. If you are interested in ‘ghostly schaddois of auld and grisly dedes’, click on the Haunted Castles page.
“Keep your eyes open when cycling or motoring on a bit of straight road for any hill point or mound, church or castle on a bank, which is not only straight in front, but keeps fixed in the same position as you travel; for such an observation almost certainly leads to the discovery of a ley through the point and on the road.”
— Alfred Watkins, The Old Straight Track, 1925.
These words of Alfred Watkins come to mind on the Humbie Road between Eaglesham and Newton Mearns, in a quiet corner of the world some seven miles south of Glasgow.
The first clue to a possible prehistoric origin for this stretch of road occurs when the road swerves to avoid Bonnyton Mound then continues on in exactly the same direction on the other side. Modern roads avoid obstacles, so this suggests that the road might be built over a track which went straight to the mound on purpose.1
This road has already been straightened. In 1825 it was re-routed through a burial mound it had previously run round at Crosslees Farm, and a cremation urn retrieved, apparently found inside a stone burial cist.
The cist cover slab is incorporated into a drystone dyke on the north side of the road.
The mound is known locally as the Deil’s Plantin, or Devil’s Plantation (NS 557 535). Carry on in the same direction and in the distance you will see the spire of Mearns Parish Kirk which is also built on a mound. A board on the outside wall states that the church was founded in 800 AD.
The alignment passes through the site of the old Mearns Cross which stood on common ground till the village green was bisected by the Kilmarnock road in 1832.
A mile beyond this, in private land, stand the remains of an earthwork and part of the foundations of Pollock Castle on a high and conspicuous position on the point of a rocky ridge. This was the ancient seat of the Pollocks of Pollock who trace their ancestry to Fulbert de Pollock in the 12th century.
The terminal point of the alignment in the other direction is Ardoch Rig, a small, wooded hill eight miles SE of Pollock Castle.
In 1980, according to everyone I knew in Scottish archaeology, this alignment was purely coincidental. Nevertheless, I felt that it would be a mistake to presume my alignments did not exist because they did not fit current archaeological theories. It would also be a mistake to presume that since they apparently do exist, they must fit one of the wide range of theories evolved by researchers who had found similar lines in England.
From what I had read in The Ley Hunter magazine and elsewhere, it seemed that most English researchers now believed their ley-lines followed invisible ‘lines of force’ across the country. As the only lines I had found were simple overland alignments of hilltops and ancient man-made features detected without recourse to dowsing or astronomy, I felt I could hardly call them ley-lines. They were not the same thing. Some of my alignments were in line of sight between inter-visible points, others were connecting lines linking sites on different alignments – each line was joined, at an important point along its length, to another line.
On the first alignment maps I drew, I used the term PCLs – Prehistoric Communication Lines. The name proved unacceptable in archaeological debate because it implied that A, my alignments existed, and B, I knew what they had been used for. To get round this, I changed the name to PSAs – Prehistoric Site Alignments. No-one could argue with this name, because whether my lines were real or imaginary they were still prehistoric site alignments. ‘Pre-historic’ meaning that the site was occupied before historical records were kept in that particular area. Even if the structure occupying a site is Medieval, the site itself can be very much older.
The third, and last, Leyline Publications offering to the public was Glasgow’s Secret Geometry (ISBN 0-9506219-1-9); first published in 1984. Without the UFOs and New Age sensationalism nobody noticed it except the dowsing societies. Many of their members had read books on energy lines and wondered if PSAs were the same thing, so a summer outing was arranged to introduce them to the subject. We met at the Eglinton Arms in Eaglesham, ‘tuned up’ at the Moot Hill on the village green, then set off along the Humbie Road alignment.
It was a great day out. As soon as we hit the Humbie Road every short pendulum, every long pendulum, every angle rod and every forked spring rod of the eighteen dowsers present pointed straight up that road! The instruments whirled like spinning tops in the ancient circular churchyard of Mearns Parish Kirk (one man was so overcome with ‘the vibes’ that he had to leave the party); energy lines whizzed off across the landscape in all directions from the nearby Craw Stane and both clockwise and anticlockwise spirals were detected around the cup-marked rocks at Carlin Craigs.
It was fun, but if I had redrawn each line the dowsers discovered on a 1:25;000 scale map with a pencil, the map would have been absolutely solid with graphite.
Throughout the 1980s, a fascinating walking tour operated from one of the bookshops in Avebury. A guide appeared outside the shop at an appointed time and took the assembled party a walk round the stones. At one point to demonstrate the ‘earth energy’ in the area he issued forked spring rods and angle rods and asked everyone to walk in single file through a gap between two stones. The rods nearly jumped out of our hands. Everyone in the party experienced this; it was certainly not imaginary. Unknown to ourselves, we were walking over the site of a missing stone.
Dowsers all over the world have felt this type of response, but in Britain, by a leap of faith, some of them have managed to combine the ideas of “earth energy” and ley-lines into one. Arthur Lawton of the Straight Track Portfolio Club suggested this as an alternative theory to archaic tracks in 1927 so the idea is not new.
Archaeology is perhaps more of a humanity than a science, but it must be tested using scientific principles and all science is based on repeatable experiments.
On field trips, outings, open days and lectures, I have witnessed the prowess of at least 40 dowsers in the field. No matter where the tests took place, no dowser ever walked more than 30 metres without picking up a line. They found lines everywhere; but spaced 30 metres apart, no two dowsers ever came up with the same lines.
Some were convinced they could trace the PSAs on my map by dowsing, but they had not allowed for map to field magnetic variation and were wrong in every instance.
They were honest, intelligent people, sensitive to the dowsing response. They were looking for alignments the same as I was, but whatever they were finding, it had absolutely no demonstrable connection with Prehistoric Site Alignments.
A fair proportion of Americans visit my Glasgow web site, and many of them, influenced by the Native American tradition, are interested in the concept of spirit travel or shamanic flight along ley-lines. I have never personally experienced shamanic flight, but I can at least claim to have reached first base with a vertical take-off and three-minute hover job.
It was the time of life when the new teeth push out the old, and as I had quite a lot of extractions to be done, it was decided that I had to go to the Dental Hospital. The deal was that if I went peacefully I’d get a little carpenter’s set and a saw with real teeth, not rubber. If I didn’t go peacefully I’d get a smack on the behind.
I went peacefully and after the anaesthetic was administered I saw the whole operation. I was up on the ceiling looking down. From my vantage point somewhere between the entablatures and cornices of the old Georgian surgery I could see three people in white coats surrounding my inert form. I still remember my amazement at seeing myself down below. My arms were poking out of a white apron-type gown, and I could count the coloured bands on each cuff of my woollen jersey. One minute I was down below with dentists and nurses probing into my mouth, the next I was up on the ceiling. I changed from one state to the other continuously. When I was up on the ceiling I could move my legs and turn around, but nobody seemed to know I was up there.
When it was all over, my mother remembered me running into the waiting room, oblivious of blood, pain and the carefully packaged carpenter’s set lying on the seat beside her.
“Mammy, mammy there’s two mes” I kept telling her over and over again. . . but she never really believed me.
The only account I have ever come across in Scotland that resembles shamanic flight or astral travel along ley-lines is from Duchal Castle, an ancient fortress mentioned in the Lanercost Chronicle as the scene of a series of hauntings in 1296. The ghost first appeared at Paisley Abbey in a “hideous, gross and tangible” form, then for some reason it moved on to Duchal where it settled on the castle turrets. The garrison fired arrows and threw spears at it to no avail; anything that came within striking distance burned to ashes. One night, the Lord of Duchal’s eldest son heroically engaged it in single combat. He was never seen alive again, but his torn and mutilated body was found in the castle hall next morning. After that, the ghost disappeared for all time.
During research for the Guide to the Haunted Castles of Scotland in 1981, the ghost’s route was traced from Paisley Abbey to Duchal Castle and another ley was discovered in the process. For some reason, the ghost of Duchal seems to have used it in its travels. A straight line from Duchal Castle to Paisley Abbey runs through the grounds of Duchal House and prehistoric Houston South Mound on the way. Extended past the Abbey the alignment leads to Crookston Castle, one of Glasgow’s major sightline centres.
We walked up to the ringwork through fields of knee-high rye grass. Then, arms stretched out, palms facing downwards, she walked round the ramparts with a look of intense concentration on her face . . . she was doing her thing.
‘There’s a lot of energy here,’ she said. ‘Really, a lot of power. The vibes are absolutely rolling off this hill.’
She stopped walking and closed her eyes for a while.
‘There’s really three circles here, not just one,’ she said, hopping off the rampart and walking towards the stones in the middle of the ringwork.
‘I feel three circles overlapping – there’s a bit in the centre that’s common to all three.’
I couldn’t quite visualise this, so she took out a pen and drew me a diagram. ‘Something like that,’ she said. ‘The people who used these circles lived a long time apart.’
‘How long?’ I enquired.
‘Oh, a long time.’
‘Hundreds or thousands of years?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know,’ said Marsha. ‘But a long, long time.’
We walked round to the flagpole area and looked out at the view.
Glasgow and its surrounding hills lay spread out before us. Did she feel ‘aware’ of some of the hills and less aware than others? To ask her this would be a form of suggestion which could induce a response and cast a shadow of bias over the test. Better, I thought, for her to tell me than for me to ask. But she never mentioned it, and neither did I.
At the time of the test Camphill Ringwork (NS 577 621) was firmly classified in archaeology as a medieval site. Several Prehistoric Site Alignments crossed there so I thought otherwise. It was a fair test as the American psychic who did it knew nothing about this.
The latest archaeological survey, by the Association of Certificated Field Archaeologists (Glasgow University) in 1996, now describes Camphill as ‘an earthwork of uncertain date and purpose, perhaps from the late prehistoric period, with some evidence of re-use in the medieval period….’
One professional archaeologist who visited the site suggested that the earliest construction date could be somewhere in the region of the 2nd millennium BC.
I never knew what to call this phenomenon till John Billingsley used the term in an introduction to an article on Castlerigg Circle I wrote for Northern Earth, issue no. 79. Terrain echoes – an apt description for something that occurs all over the world – stones or mounds that seem to echo the shape of hills in the background, skyline, or horizon from a given point.
One of the best places I know to look for them is Castlerigg in Cumbria.
Castlerigg Stone Circle (NY 291236) standing within a natural amphitheatre formed by the surrounding fells, is believed to be one of the earliest circles, possibly constructed as far back as 3,000BC. There are 38 stones in the circle, 33 of which are still standing. A further 10 stones are arranged to form a rectangular enclosure on the SE side. The average diameter of this slightly flattened circle is 30 metres.
According to Prof. Alexander Thom’s ‘Megalithic Sites in Britain’ the stones of the ring show seven solar or lunar declensions, four of which cross in the centre of the circle.
As an occasional fell-walker, I have long been aware that the circle stands in direct alignment between Skiddaw and Hellvellyn. In fact, on my first visit there I found that two of the biggest stones in the circle, numbers 13 and 38, form a perfect alignment between the two fells. How, I wondered, did this tie in with the astronomical alignments?
Around 1980 I visited Castlerigg to see if any of Thoms’ alignments married up with the landscape alignments I had marked on my map. They did not, but I spent a long time in the circle looking at the alignments of stones and distant hills till eventually I drifted into the north-east corner of the circle where this sort of this seemed to work better. Tired of carrying my rucksack around with me, I dumped it on the ground and walked round, lining up stones and hills, at no time needing to move more than a few yards from my rucksack to do this.
After a while two German girls appeared in the circle. Armed with archaeology books and leaflets they walked round the stones, till suddenly one of them pointed in my direction and both of them converged on my rucksack. I watched with interest but soon realised it was not my humble swag the girls were looking at, it was the faint circular feature surrounding it, an indentation about the circumference of a hammer-thrower’s circle. I had never noticed this when I dumped my rucksack on the ground, but the girls had the feature marked on their National Trust leaflets.
Now the strange thing about this indentation is that, even yet, no one knows what it is. The most common archaeological guess is that it is a Bronze Age ringcairn, levelled by 19th century ploughing in the circle’s interior. In 1885 Benjamin Williams reported traces of three cairns inside the circle but since then the other two seemed to have vanished.
When the Fräuleins departed, I had a closer look at the indentation, and took compass bearings and photographs. It seemed to me that the full range of stone shape/hilltop shape alignments can only be seen from the ringcairn; it doesn’t work as well anywhere else.
Even the rectangular enclosure that has baffled archaeologists for years looks good from this angle because the double row of stones echo the shape of a low ridge of hills in the near distance and a higher line of hills beyond. This enclosure is a bit of a puzzle because its purpose is still unknown and nothing quite like it is found in any other stone circle.
An interesting point here is that the ringcairn is not in the centre of the circle. It is tucked away in the N.E. corner. There is a hint of conspiracy about this. It’s as if the builders didn’t want everyone to know exactly where the burial was inside the big circle, but at the same time they wanted to be able to find it for themselves. It might not even have been a burial. It could have been some sort of tribal relic or totem, who knows? There are also enough cross alignments with the surrounding hills to ensure that anyone “in the know” could find their way to that very hillside again without difficulty. One way to do it would be to first place yourself in direct alignment between Hellvellyn and Skiddaw, then walk in the direction of Skiddaw keeping your eye on the summit of Blencathra a little to the right. Stop just before the summit goes out of view behind Gategill Fells. (No dowsing rods or astronomical tables required.) This would lead you to exactly the right spot. It could have been done in prehistoric times, and it can still be done today.
The method also works at Torhousekie Stone Circle in Wigtownshire (NW 382 565). Though the 19 smooth granite boulders there are graded in size towards the south-east and are unlike the shape of the hills, if you follow the stone/hilltop alignments round you’ll find yourself walking the outline of the “D” shaped ringcairn off centre inside the circle. Compared to the stones at Castlerigg, those at Torhousekie look like graded potatoes worn down in an automatic peeler. The skyline is lower and the total effect is rather like a Disneyland Castlerigg, but almost certainly based on the same principle.
My next visit to Castlerigg was years later with the Association of Certificated Field Archaeologists. As an experiment, I positioned the members inside the circle, each facing a different stone and hilltop, and asked them to walk backwards keeping their designated stone and hilltop in alignment. Stopping when our shoulders touched we found ourselves right on the edge of the ploughed-out ringcairn. Slides of the stones and aligned hilltops photographed from the ringcairn, were shown at the 1994 AGM, and members were asked to vote whether they thought the stones had been placed in position to approximate the shape of surrounding hills or not. Twenty-two people voted; 17 thought the alignments were deliberate, 5 did not.
If these alignments were intentional, it suggests that whoever masterminded the layout of the stones did it from the ringcairn. If this is so, then the ringcairn must have been constructed before the circle and is thereby the earliest structure at Castlerigg. It’s as simple as that. Castlerigg is a stone circle built round a burial. It is not a stone circle that had a ringcairn inserted later.
Could the stones be aligned to the surrounding hills and to stars in the night sky at the same time? Personally, I don’t see how this could be possible inside the confines of one stone circle. With a bit of stone shifting through the ages a landscape aligned circle could possibly have made ‘astronomer friendly’, but in my opinion the two ideas are mutually exclusive – take your pick! Next time you visit Castlerigg, check it out.
- Burl, A. ‘Stone Circles of the British Isles’, Yale University Press, 1976.
- Farrah, R.W.E. ‘Mayburgh Henge’, Northern Earth. issue no. 85, 2001
- This article explains how Blencathra comes in and out of view at significant points of Mayburgh Henge (NY 51922843) 15 miles east of Castlerigg. Farrah suggests that the contours of the entrance to the henge mirror the saddle shape of the mountain and Mayburgh was purposefully oriented towards Blencathra.
- Dymond, C.W. ‘Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, Vol. V 1881’.
- Thom, Prof. A. ‘Megalithic Sites in Britain’, Oxford Press, 1967.
- There is no known astronomical alignment connecting stone 13 and stone 38, but according to Prof. Thom, stone 13 and stone 31 form an astronomical alignment between the Candlemass rising sun to the SE, and the most northerly setting moon to the NW.
Between 1981 and 1984, I attended a three-year extra-mural course in Field Archaeology based at the Department of Adult and Continuing Education in Glasgow.
That’s when I learned there was more to archaeology than churches, mounds and castles.
We visited chambered tombs, stone circles, round cairns, cairnfields, burial cists, cup and ring marked rocks, ring-ditch houses, unenclosed platform settlements, enclosed platform settlements, vitrified forts, enclosed cremation cemeteries, early Christian cemeteries, shell middens, burnt mounds, ring groove houses, post hole houses, scooped settlements, Roman forts, signalling platforms, watch towers, mottes, duns and the astronomical alignments at Ballochroy and Kintraw.
Brochs, wheelhouses, crannogs, and Viking houses, were about the only sites we missed because of the distances involved, but to round out our education, most of us visited them in our own time.
It was a marvellous mind-expanding learning experience of lectures, field trips, surveys and discussions that gave me a far greater understanding of the prehistoric mind than I would ever have gained otherwise.
Unlike my colleagues, however, I had come to archaeology for a specific reason – I wanted to find out how the alignments I had surveyed in my cross-country travels got there. Why did some of them keep crossing and re-crossing the same points on the landscape – who had designed all this? This subject was not on the curriculum, but during the course I learned a simple five-step process that for me changed an inexact science into something that could be analysed.
Observation, Classification, Hypothesis, Prediction, Test. . . five steps to clearer thinking. After the course I applied it to my own research, vowing that in future I would do everything ‘by the book’.
Naturally I refrained from mentioning my publishing activities to my colleagues, but as readers of Billy Bunter’s Schooldays might recall, the Cad of the School is always lurking out there waiting to play some thoughtless jape on the unsuspecting scholar . . . in the final week of the course I found this cartoon tucked into my reference books.
The Straight Road with No Path
One of the strongest objections to my alignment maps in the early 80’s was that there had never been any reference to alignments or anything of that nature in the early Scottish chronicles.
Everyone seemed quite certain of this, but had anyone ever looked?
All I had to go on was an account of the origins of Glasgow Cathedral.
St. Mungo (aka Kentigern) is said to have led a burial procession down through the Campsie Fells to bury Fergus the holy man in a cemetery that now lies beneath the flagstones of the Cathedral crypt. I was curious about the route the bullock cart took to the cemetery so my next step was to search for the earliest written account of St. Mungo’s journey to Glasgow. Perhaps in the record of this journey there would be a clue about the nature of early roads or tracks in the Glasgow area.
Many a tedious old volume I had to read through before I learned that when Bishop Jocelyn was rebuilding Glasgow Cathedral in the 12th Century, he had commissioned a hagiographer from Furness Abbey to revise St. Mungo’s biography. Two copies of this book survive, one in the British Museum, the other in Dublin. To my delight, however, I unearthed a translated and edited version in the Glasgow Room of the Mitchell Library. In this book, The Life of S. Kentigern, I finally found what I was looking for – the earliest known reference to a road or track in the Glasgow area. It appears in the following extract from chapter nine, in the very first sentence in any historical record ever to mention Glasgow:
‘And in truth, the bulls, in no way being restive, or in anything disobeying the voice of Kentigern, without any tripping or fall, came by a straight road, along where there was no path, as far as Cathures, which is now called Glasgu …’
‘ I was ecstatic … In a quiet corner of the reading room, I whispered the words over and over again to myself like a mantra, ‘they came by a straight road along where there was no path’.
‘Bell’s field work is admirable and he demonstrates that sightlines do indeed exist across his alignments and that after some time negotiating the surrounding landscape he was easily able to orientate himself in relationship to identifiable fixed landmarks and to know the direction of other, invisible, points on his alignments. He was able, like the Australian aborigine, to go walkabout without the aid of a map or compass. He named his lines Prehistoric Site Alignmentss (PSAs) to distinguish them from leys, which by 1984 were universally accepted as energy lines. Bell did not agree with this English consensus. His alignments are definitely sight lines. Bell makes no claims for universal networks or global grids. He doesn’t invoke esoteric energy, lost knowledge or an extraterrestrial hypothesis. He relies on his own eyes and an open mind – he calls his approach archaeo-orienteering….’
Review of Glasgow’s Secret Geometry in The Ley Hunter magazine, issue no. 130.
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said ‘the limits of our language set the boundaries of our world’. This is very relevant to alignment research. Anyone who uses the term ley-lines in archaeological circles immediately loses all credibility.
Nowadays most people who have heard of ley-lines associate them with dowsing and energy lines. The meaning of the word has become so blurred by its many different interpretations that this wonderful part of our heritage has ceased to be taken seriously.
Alfred Watkins never used the term ‘ley-line’ in his life. He called his alignments leys until 1929, after which he referred to them as archaic tracks.
Unlike Watkins, I cannot find archaic tracks – my alignments cross the Firth of Clyde and the Sound of Bute so they are definitely not tracks. Unlike the dowsers, I am not interested in energy lines either – I am looking for something that can be observed, classified, measured, and mapped – what I find is Prehistoric Site Alignments.
PSAs are simple overland alignments of hilltops and ancient man-made features detected without recourse to dowsing or astronomy. Some are in line of sight between intervisible points, others are connecting lines on different alignments.
Prehistoric Site Alignment-hunting is a clumsy term, so I call the process archaeo-orienteering.
I have found stretches of the Clyde, the White Cart Water and many other rivers that have more sites along their length than any of my PSAs. If I want the complete picture and not just ‘the straight line picture’ I cannot discount the possibility that these stretches of river also served as communication lines in prehistoric times. The overall effect is that of a giant game of snakes and ladders. Rivers serve as snakes, PSAs as ladders; once you know where they are it all makes perfect sense.
The above photograph shows Lock Quien crannog on the Isle of Bute (NS 062 593), aligned to Holy Isle off Arran 20 miles to the south, and Dhu Loch crannog and Dunburgidale fort to the north.
Dunburgidale (NS 064 661) fort is classified as a ‘galleried dun’ because of the chamber in the wall. If you stand on the moorland outside the fort you cannot see Holy Isle, but step up on the ramparts and away in the distance, the highest point of the isle comes into view.
Although they cannot be seen from Dumburgidale, the crannogs at Loch Dhu and Loch Quien are on the same alignment. An important point about this alignment is that the two crannogs on it are believed to date from the Iron Age. The idea of building crannogs (artificial islands) came late in prehistory and earlier occupation of these sites is just not possible. This shows that the custom of using alignments was part of a continuing tradition which does not necessarily date from Neolithic times as most people seem to think.
Prehistoric Site Alignments do not form themselves into a network of tracks, they seem more like a collection of local landmarks with the same hills often used by different communities as a means of finding their bearings using skyline markers. There was no need to follow PSAs across the water or all the way up to the hilltops. Those who use stars for navigation don’t have to fly to the heavens to get where they’re going either, but they use the same principle.
My research has shown that important sites in prehistoric times were very often placed in alignment between landmarks in the surrounding hills. The most likely reason for this would be to help you find your way back to them through the wilderness.
Obscurities and Objections
How can we tell the difference between a genuine alignment and an assembly of coincidences?
Alfred Watkins arranged 51 churches on the OS map of Andover into 29 three-point leys, eight four-point leys and one five-point ley. To see how many alignments were likely to turn up by chance, he marked out 51 crosses haphazardly on a sheet of paper the same size and found 33 three-point alignments, one of four points, and none with five. He concluded from this that three-point alignments are valueless as proof, while four points or more are exceedingly strong evidence.
The flaw in this apparently logical supposition is that for all we know we are narrowing down our research options because three-point alignments might have been perfectly acceptable in prehistoric times. Some of the churches in the Andover survey could have been like those on Watkins’ Oxford map – strung out along main thoroughfares which were more the result of town planning than prehistoric surveying. This would have resulted in a strong bias in favour of the churches over the 51 random crossmarks.
Since Watkins’ experiment, ley-line statisticians have concentrated on various complicated formulae to find the ‘statistically significant alignment’, with the more sites on the line the better. Again, the reasoning behind this is suspect. It almost suggests that the main aim of prehistoric peoples was to cram as many sites into a straight line as possible. The truth is that a single line in isolation doesn’t prove very much. For all our calculations, there is still no real way of knowing the difference between a statistically significant alignment and a statistically significant coincidence.
The method that gives me the best results is to isolate an area for research and see where my PSAs originate and where they terminate. I consider three-point alignments quite acceptable if any of the three sites is an intersection on another alignment.
To cut coincidental alignments to a minimum, I chose the worst possible ground in Scotland for my biggest research project. Far from the astronomical alignments of Argyllshire and the Hebrides, further still from Watkins’ rural Herefordshire, the City of Glasgow – with its original landscape almost obliterated by 800 years of housing and industrial development – could scarcely be considered a favourable testing ground for an archaeological theory.
Nevertheless, I tracked down every alignment I could find that passed through the city limits. Had my 31 alignments led to places like Hampden Park, Central Station, the Plaza Ballroom and the City Chambers, I would have folded my tent and crept off silently into the night. Instead, they led me into a fascinating interlocking Network dominated by four strategically placed sites, three of which are in perfect alignment.
‘This is really a magic place we live in.’ See all these hills and mountains in the distance? They’ve all got wee paths leading up to them, with mounds and big stones marking the way … the paths are invisible now, but you can still find them. We’re the only ones who know where they are.’
Wee Son thought this was great. It was better than Goldilocks any day.
‘Now, I’m going to teach you the names of the hills’, I said,’so if you ever have wee boys and girls of your own, you’ll be able to tell them all about this.’
‘See that hill away on its own in the distance? That one’s called Tinto. You got that, son? Tinto Hill.’
‘Tin Toe Hill,’ he repeated knowledgeably, his round face unusually solemn beneath the fringe of his home-made haircut.
I named as many as I knew and manoeuvred him round to face each one in turn.
‘The blue hills in the distance are the Cowal Hills, the green ones are the Kilpatrick Hills; that one like a basin upside down is Duncolm. . . come on and I’ll show you Ben Lomond.’
‘That’s it there,son, the big one away at the back. We could have seen it from the top of the stone if it wasn’t for the new Health Centre.’
Wee Son was listening intently, his head cocked to one side. For a boy of six his concentration was remarkable. This is how it all began in the Stone Age, I thought . . . a man teaching his boy on the hillside.
‘Can you remember the names of any of the hills now?’, I said.’Any one at all.’
Proudly I watched, as eyes blackbird bright he scanned the horizon. How wise he looked, radiant with inner knowledge and secret smiles, a living repository of ancient wisdom.
At last he spoke.
‘Daddy, is that an ice cream van?’
From somewhere on the outer limits of human hearing, a few faint bars of music floated up the hill, bringing me back to reality. I handed over the money for two cones and Wee Son was off and running to the tune of the William Tell Overture. Civilisation was here at last. Last year this was a bare hilltop – this year we’ve got ice cream vans. The landscape was changing fast. As we ran downhill, past neat rows of new houses, I made a mental note to bring a camera on our next visit.
(from Glasgow’s Secret Geometry, 1984)
It was my birthday and computers had discreetly registered the fact in undertaker’s offices throughout Central Scotland. I had reached the point in life when “pay for your funeral now” circulars outnumber the birthday cards.
Wee Son, now Big Man, back from an exchange year at Kansas University had invited me out for a meal. We sat pair-bonding in the roadhouse restaurant wearing matching grey sweatshirts with ‘Kansas’ printed on the front in blue slab serif lettering outlined in red . . . I was reeking of duty-free aftershave.
He seemed very evasive about where we were going after the meal . . . my curiosity was aroused when he turned off our usual route home and stopped at a newly-built office block not far from the same hilltop we had been to all those years ago.
We went into a ground-floor office, blinking under the fluorescent lights, and crossed the room to a computer console. He switched it on and it flickered into life. Silently I watched, as eyes blackbird bright he scanned the screen, radiant with inner knowledge, a living repository of hi-tech wisdom logging on to the Internet.
‘Off we go, Dad’, he said as the words Glasgow Network of Aligned Sites appeared on the screen.
‘Click this button here’.
A photograph of a hill shaped like a basin upside down gradually built itself up from a pattern of little squares on the screen. . . Duncolm!
‘Now on to the Hypothesis section’ he said, deftly tapping the keyboard. ‘I’ve taken some of the photos from your book and scanned them in – you can add the text yourself later. . . .’
And that was how my online education began . . . with a son teaching his father on the hillside.
On to Haunted Castles
- Sadly, the route of the Humbie Road is now broken up by the new Southern Relief Road