30th November is St Andrew’s Day – Scotland’s national day. So to celebrate this day I thought I would share with you four places I have enjoyed visiting in Scotland. Here is the third: the Pictish standing stones at Aberlemno.
The Picts is the name given to the inhabitants of northeast Scotland during the Dark Ages from the Roman era to unification with the Scots (who were actually Irish tribes settling on the west coast of Scotland) in the late 800s AD. They left behind standing stones carved with Celtic knotted animals and strange symbols that no-one really understands. Some of the best Pictish stones are at Aberlemno, near Brechin, in northeast Scotland, where they can be seen at the roadside and in the churchyard (except in winter when they are covered to protect from frost). Being only a dozen miles or so from where I grew up, and given my fascination with historic remains, Aberlemno is a place I’ve visited many times.
Although the stones can’t be deciphered for sure, historians class them according to whether they have Christian symbols, pre-Christian or a mix of the two on them, with the pre-Christian stones being the earliest.
The stone illustrated in the photo below is one of the in-between class which have a Christian cross on one side but still have the mysterious Pictish symbols on the other. It is thought to fate from the 700s or 800s AD. This shot, which I took in May 2010, shows the back. The central panel depicts a hunting scene, with men on horseback and a deer being brought down by a hunting dog biting at its neck. Below and left is a centaur with a bough and at the very top are some of the mysterious Pictish symbols. Academics give them descriptive names like “double disk” and “Z rod” but their actual meaning is unknown. One theory is they are clan or tribe emblems, or family emblems, but no-one knows for sure.
Photograph of the Pictish stone referred to as Aberlemno III (taken by the author, May 2010)