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Top Ten Pictish Stone Sites
Hi folks, in honour of World Heritage Day and the #ScotlandinSix Romans vs Picts 5k run at Callendar House, I wanted to kick off a discussion of the absolute best Pictish stones and sites to visit with my personal top ten list. Pictish stones are distinctive monuments carved in the 5th to 9th centuries, during the heyday of the Pictish kingdom in northeastern Scotland. There is just nothing else like them anywhere else in the world, and you have not been to Scotland until you see some! Ok, here goes my list, in roughly road-trippable order from south to north.
Fowlis Wester: one of the westernmost Pictish stones in Scotland, close to the edges of the Pictish kingdom in Strathearn. The stone is a large cross slab currently housed inside a lovely historic church, with a full-size replica outside in the village square where it may have stood for centuries (complete with iron jougs or collar for punishing troublemakers!). The church also protects two other important Pictish cross slabs, and is a real hidden gem.
Dupplin Cross: Currently on display inside St Serf's Church, Dunning, with its beautiful 12th-century square tower. This free-standing cross is one of the last Pictish stones, with no symbols, but very distinctive Pictish king and warrior imagery, alongside an extremely rare inscription naming king Constantine mac Fergus who died in AD 820.
Meigle Museum: A collection of 26 stones found in the church and the village, housed in the former schoolhouse. Home to perhaps my favourite of all Pictish stones, the Meigle recumbents, with their man-eating beasts and enigmatic empty slots - were they meant to hold upright grave stones, relics or ritual offerings?
St Vigeans Museum
: Like Meigle but bigger, with 38 stones to marvel at! However it is now open by appointment only so make sure to get in touch before a visit!
Aberlemno: Home to not one but four stones in what appear to be at or near their original locations: three along the roadside, and one in the churchyard. They range from early incised symbols on possibly reused standing stones, to elaborate, relief-carved Christian cross slabs. The churchyard stone may be the single most famous Pictish stone, depicting a famous battle against Anglo-Saxons.
Brandsbutt: Now a wonky boulder in the middle of a quiet residential area, this was once a megalith in a stone circle, a great example of the way the Picts often appropriated existing ancient monuments. Also as a bonus, includes an ogham inscription alongside its Pictish symbols, which reads
IRATADDOARENS, a clue to what the symbols might translate to one day?
Maiden Stone: A tidy cross slab with its Pictish symbols looking almost as clear as the day they were carved, thanks to the hard-wearing granite. Situated off the roadside and possibly standing in the same place it's been for over a thousand years.
Sueno's Stone: The tallest Pictish stone at 7m! So much to take in, you could visit countless times and see something new every time.Burghead Fort: One of the largest and earliest of all the Pictish power centres which is impressive to visit on its own. But the site is also famous for the Burghead Bulls, panels carved with a single image of a bull in distinctive Pictish style, found here in the 19th century. Don't miss the mysterious Burghead Well and ponder what pagan rites may have taken place here!
Portmahomack and the Tarbat Peninsula: The perfect end to a Pictish Pilgrimage, or the beginning of a lifetime of Pictish fandom? This historic church was found during excavations to date back to a Pictish monastery possibly founded directly from Iona. Artefacts and carved stones from the famous dig are displayed at the Tarbat Discovery Centre at Portmahomack, but don't miss the other three stones at Hilton of Cadboll, Shandwick and Nigg on the 'Pictish Trail'.
So which is your favourite? And which would you suggest in place of these? Submit your top ten below!