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Kemnay Steens

 

Environmental group Greener Kemnay was asked by Aberdeenshire Council to coordinate a public art project for the town using funds that had been generated from developer contributions to art as a result of housing developments.  With this in mind, the Kemnay Public Art group was set up and invited suggestions from the local community on what should be done.  Thanks to National Lottery Community Funding who also provided additional funds, the scale of the project was able to expand considerably.

As a result of consultations, suggestions and feedback the art group engaged artist James Winnett to create a series of waymarker stones to be installed at strategic locations on the local path network in and around Kemnay, as shown on the above map.

Using local history as a guide, each of the nine new stones relates to an aspect of the history of the area including George Burnett of Kemnay whose work in the 18th century changed the local agricultural landscape to the local rituals of the Clyack, the last sheath cut during harvest.  One stone is even inspired by a 1976 film of the Kemnay Fair which is in the National Library Of Scotland archive.

More information is available on the Kemnay Public Art Facebook page

The nine stones in alphabetical order are – Birley Bush Steen; Fetternear Steen; Improving Laird Steen; Jock o’ Bennachie Steen; Kemnay Fair Steen; Mither Tap Steen; Quarry Steen; River Don Steen and the  Shakkin Briggie Steen.

Birley Bush Steen

(Information and photos courtesy of axis we support Artists)

Dimensions: 110 x 70 x 55. This triangular shaped stone features a number of carvings linked to the old agricultural year, the cycle of the seasons and the relationship between the Clyack and the Cailleach. It can be found in Birley Bush Community Garden, Kemnay, Aberdeenshire.

The west face of the stone shows a carving of the Clyack sheaf, the last sheaf to be cut during the harvest. The word comes from ‘caileag’ or girl in Gaelic. The end of the harvest was a great cause for celebration and there were many rituals attached to the cutting of the Clyack sheaf. It would usually be cut with a scythe by the youngest boy present before the youngest girl would gather and bind it. It was often bound into the shape of a figure and was sometimes dressed in women’s clothes. Without touching the ground the ‘maiden’ as it was sometimes known was carried in triumph to the farmhouse and given pride of place in the evening’s celebrations. Sometimes it was danced with to kick off the festivities before being hung up on the wall for the winter.

As shown on the east face of the stone, the Clyack sheaf was sometimes fed to the oldest farm animal at Christmas or ploughed back into the land in the spring thus continuing the cycle.

The ‘Cailleach’ (literally ‘old woman’), is a very old concept of the creator deity or Earth Mother in Scotland. She is associated with the wild forces of the weather and the land. On the south face of the stone she can be seen seated, flanked by a deer and wolf over whom she is patron. At her side is a giant hammer with which she shaped the mountains and lochs. As Beira, Queen of Winter she rules from Samhain to Beltane (November to May). With the coming of summer she transforms into the youthful Bride (or Brigid), goddess of fertility and healing who rules over the summer months.

On the right the Cailleach can be seen collecting firewood at Imbolc, the first day of spring on 1st February (also St Bride’s Day). Flocks of geese gather in the fields. Traditionally, if the weather on this day was sunny then this was a sign that the winter would go on a while longer yet as she had given herself good conditions to collect firewood in.

Bride herself is associated with fire, wild boar and the coming of spring. She rules from Beltane on 1st May, when bonfires are lit and cattle are driven out to pasture. A symbol perhaps representing fire or a flower can be seen towards the base of the stone as spring wins out over winter and Bride, in the form of her patron animal the snake, battles with the wolf. An old chapel nearby at Craigearn was dedicated to St Bride before it was united with the kirk in Kemnay around 1500.

Lùnastal comes on 1st August with the beginning of the harvest before Samhain arrives on October 31st, marking the end of the year, the beginning of winter and the return of the Cailleach.

The stone itself is orientated directly with Mither Tap to the north-west. As mother goddess the Cailleach was linked to sovereignty; before anyone could rule the land, they first had to gain her approval.

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Fetternear Steen

(Information and photos courtesy of axis we support Artists)

Dimensions: 75 x 55 x 45.  This square shaped stone lies in mature woodland within the Fetternear Estate near Kemnay, Aberdeenshire. It can be found alongside a track just north of Bankhead Pool on the north bank of the river Don.

One side of the stone shows two people on horseback fording a river. The figures appear to reference the origins of the Leslies of Balquhain (of Fetternear) and Clan Leslie. In 1067 a nobleman named Bartolf came to Scotland from Hungary in the court of Princess Margaret, who was later to become the Queen of Malcolm III and eventually St Margaret of Scotland. Malcolm III made Bartolf the first governor of Edinburgh Castle and gave him estates in Fife, Angus and Aberdeenshire.

As the Queen’s Chamberlain, Bartolf once helped Queen Margaret cross a swollen river on horseback. During the crossing the horse stumbled and the Queen, fearing she would fall cried, “Gin the buckle bide?!” Bartolf answered, “Grip Fast!” and they made it to the other side. He was so alarmed by the incident that he later had two more buckles added to his belt. Bartolf would go on to build a castle at Lesselyn in the Garioch which is where the name Leslie originates, with three buckles on a belt becoming the Leslie’s arms and “Grip Fast” the motto.

The other side of the stone features the same four figures that can be seen on the Shakin Briggie Steen. Here the two monks and their attendants are shown with their boat moored at Fetternear. A text above them reads:

‘FOITHIRNER IRE UINEUS ET NECHTAN’.

Some of the text and the style is similar to a carving that appears on the ninth century Drosten Stone from St Vigeans near Arbroath. ‘Foithir ner’ (Fetternear) can be translated as the slope of Ner which has been linked with an entry in the Irish chronicles mentioning the death of an Abbot Uineus of Ner in 623. Another entry mentions the death in 679 of a St Nechtan or Nechtan Ner, potentially linked to an early monastic settlement nearby. The text therefore translates as, ‘Fetternear in the time of Uineus and Nechtan’.

Their attendants carry an enlarged version of a medieval reliquary which bears a resemblance to the early 8th century Monymusk reliquary, one of the most important artefacts from the period which is now at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The carving on the end of the stone shows the source of the rivers which appear on the other carvings. Here they are shown being poured by a figure with a salmon at his feet, perhaps representative of the ‘salmon of knowledge,’ believed to contain all the wisdom in the world.

The figure may represent Nechtan or Nodens, who in Celtic mythology is often associated with wells and springs. Nechtan was a common name for Pictish kings.

The stone is one of the Kemnay Steens, nine carved stones placed along footpaths in and around the village with the aim of encouraging people to explore the rich history, folklore and natural identity of the surrounding landscape.

The stones reference local Pictish carvings and later medieval styles but they also have their own visual vocabulary; the more stones that are encountered, the more reoccurring symbols, characters and themes are noticed. Each stone tells its own story but there is also a deeper narrative hidden in the carvings, waiting to be unpicked.

More Information: axis we support Artists

 

Improving Laird Steen

(Information and photos courtesy of axis we support Artists)

Dimensions: 130 x 65 x 55.  This wedge shaped stone can be found on the south-west edge of Bogbeth Park, Kemnay, Aberdeenshire. The stone references the improvements to the local agricultural landscape that took place in the 18th century, particularly under the watch of George Burnett of Kemnay (1714-1780).

George was the first of the ‘Improving Lairds’ of Kemnay. Here he is shown standing above his coat of arms, overseeing the work taking place on his land. A parrot can just about be seen perched on his arm. The only known painting of George from 1721 shows him as a confident looking seven year old holding a multicoloured parrot.

In the fields below, dykes are being constructed from the stones cleared from the fields. The largest fieldstones, which are too heavy to move, are being blasted with explosives. There are people cutting peat and planting tree saplings, while elsewhere mature trees are harvested for their timber. As the land becomes more productive the yields improve. New ideas come to Kemnay around crop rotation, using horses instead of oxen and growing turnips.

Kemnay House, the Burnett family home is shown alongside the ‘Wilderness’ and ‘Moss’ to the south. An arrow on the side of the stone points the way to ‘Paradyce’ – the name of a wooded hill to the north, but perhaps also a reference to the improving landscape. Paradise Hill would later become the site of Kemnay Quarry.

The stone is one of the Kemnay Steens, nine carved stones placed along footpaths in and around the village with the aim of encouraging people to explore the rich history, folklore and natural identity of the surrounding landscape.

The stones reference local Pictish carvings and later medieval styles but they also have their own visual vocabulary; the more stones that are encountered, the more reoccurring symbols, characters and themes are noticed. Each stone tells its own story but there is also a deeper narrative hidden in the carvings, waiting to be unpicked.

More Information: axis we support Artists

 

Jock O’ Bennachie Steen

(Information and photos courtesy of axis we support Artists)

Dimensions: 100 x 50 x 60.  This rectangular stone is carved on four sides and can be found off Greystone Road, an area of high ground above Bogbeth in Kemnay, Aberdeenshire.

It is said that the giant Jock o’ Bennachie once guarded the hills on the horizon north of Kemnay. The stone’s south face shows Jock with a great boulder poised above his head. Jock’s greatest rival was his neighbour Jock o’ Noth, who lived on Tap o’ Noth above Rhynie to the north-west.

Two dog-like beasts can be seen in confrontation towards the top of the carving, their serpentine forms framing the stone. Below, their bodies entwine as snakes taking the form of a caduceus, a symbol associated with the Greek messenger to the gods Hermes and his Roman equivalent Mercury. The caduceus was said to be able to wake the sleeping and send the awake to sleep.

The seated figure to the right appears to represent St Anne, mother of Mary, to whom the early kirk in Kemnay was dedicated. Jock was also said to have thrown a huge granite boulder at the kirk but it overshot and landed in a field above Bogbeth. Now known as the Greystone this gigantic erratic can be seen nearby.

The sleeping face of Jock o’ Bennachie can be seen on the upper surface of the stone. It bears some resemblance to the 6th century carving of the Rhynie Man. Today it is said that Jock o’ Bennachie sleeps beneath Bennachie. The north face of the stone carries part of a prophecy attributed to the 13th century seer Thomas the Rhymer. The text foretells that Jock will one day be freed when the key to the mountain is found by an only son with one eye:

A WIFE’S AE SIN WI’ AE E’E
SALL FIN’ THE KYEY O’ BENNACHIE

The stone is one of the Kemnay Steens, nine carved stones placed along footpaths in and around the village with the aim of encouraging people to explore the rich history, folklore and natural identity of the surrounding landscape.

The stones reference local Pictish carvings and later medieval styles but they also have their own visual vocabulary; the more stones that are encountered, the more reoccurring symbols, characters and themes are noticed. Each stone tells its own story but there is also a deeper narrative hidden in the carvings, waiting to be unpicked.

More Information: axis we support Artists

More information on Jock O’ Bennachie

 

Kemnay Fair Steen

(Information and photos courtesy of axis we support Artists)

Dimensions: 110 x 55 x 65.  This rectangular stone is located along a footpath on the western edge of Bogbeth Park, Kemnay, Aberdeenshire. Carved in a style reminiscent of a Pictish stone, it tells the story of the Kemnay Fair an annual event which took place in Bogbeth Park.

The Kemnay Queen appears on a raised platform flanked by her attendants. There are musicians, archers and horse riders while dogs, cats and a goat can also be seen. Participants compete in a human wheelbarrow race before the arrival of the ‘Red Barrows’ display team.

A Kemnay Fair 1976 documentary film by G M M Thomson captures the sights and sounds of the fair and is featured in the National Library Of Scotland archive.

The stone is one of the Kemnay Steens, nine carved stones placed along footpaths in and around the village with the aim of encouraging people to explore the rich history, folklore and natural identity of the surrounding landscape.

The stones reference local Pictish carvings and later medieval styles but they also have their own visual vocabulary; the more stones that are encountered, the more reoccurring symbols, characters and themes are noticed. Each stone tells its own story but there is also a deeper narrative hidden in the carvings, waiting to be unpicked.

More Information: axis we support Artists

More information on Kemnay Fair 1976

 

Mither Tap Steen

(Information and photos courtesy of axis we support Artists)

Dimensions: 110 x 100 x 60.  Positioned on the south bank of the river Don, this stone lies downstream from the Boat of Kemnay, one of the main points for crossing the river prior to the construction of a bridge in the 1860s.

This large stone is carved with a variety of imagery and symbols, some of which connect to motifs found on the other stones. A rudimentary step has been cut into the stone, inviting the passer-by to climb up and admire the view.

The Don at this point makes a dramatic 90 degree shift in direction, sweeping to the left and flowing directly towards Bennachie. Mither Tap is particularly prominent from this viewpoint, the exposed granite of the peak and the remains of the surrounding Pictish hill fort clearly visible.

Bennachie is known as ‘Beinn na Ciche’ or ‘hill of the breast’ in Gaelic, owing to the distinctive shape of Mither Tap. The peak is visible across much of Aberdeenshire and it is likely that it had an early religious significance, with numerous standing stones and stone circles in the surrounding landscape. It has also been suggested that the name comes from ‘Benne Cé’, ‘mountain of the people of Cé’, with Cé being a Pictish territory covering the surrounding area. The hill fort itself was active during the 7th and 8th centuries.

A wheel motif can be seen on the upper face of the stone alongside a mirror and comb – a pairing frequently seen in Pictish carvings. Some of the symbols have a central circular depression as if small pebbles could be placed in them. A series of similar shallow holes appear in an arrangement similar to a lunar calendar.

Towards the edge is a rectangular shield crossed with a spear, symbols both of aggression and defence. The combination of the two is sometimes associated with Cocidius, a deity worshipped in northern Britain who the Romans equated both with Mars, god of war and Silvanus, god of forests and wild places.

The spear is aligned both with the peak of Mither Tap and with the setting sun at the summer solstice. It is similar in form to the weapons found on Pictish spearman carvings such as one from Rhynie, a major Pictish power centre of the 4th to 6th centuries.

On the side of the stone is a carving of a seated warrior accompanied by the same shield and spear. A child can be seen at her breast.

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Quarry Steen

(Information and photos courtesy of axis we support Artists)

Dimensions: 100 x 100 x 75.  This two-tonne block of granite sits alongside a footpath in Dalmadilly adjacent to the junction with Aquithie Road. It was quarried just 200m away at Kemnay Quarry and a line of drill holes from the quarrying process are still visible on one side. The design has been sandblasted into the granite with a black infill then added. The granite itself would have been formed over 400 million years ago and is close-grained and extremely hard.

The granite industry in Kemnay was revolutionised by the arrival of John Fyfe in 1858, which led to massive changes in the village. Although granite had been quarried in Kemnay on a small scale, it was only with the arrival of the railway that the industry really flourished. In 1858, while the railway was being built, John Fyfe took a lease of the Paradise Hill quarry. It was ideally placed with the railway once running exactly where this stone stands today.

The design on the stone shows a steam derrick for moving blocks of stone at the quarry floor. This major technical advancement was developed through John Fyfe’s conversations with Andrew Barclay, a young engineer in Kilmarnock. The Scottish steam derrick allowed Fyfe to quarry downwards for better stone rather than just into the hill – a development that revolutionised quarrying worldwide. The main quarry would eventually reach a depth of 122m.

A few years later John Fyfe saw a postman pass a bag of mail across the Dee at Abergeldie by means of an endless rope. This gave him the idea for the steam powered ‘Blondin’ – a travelling carriage suspended from an endless cable that could be lowered to retrieve stone from the quarry floor. Stones could then be transferred directly into the mason’s shed (shown on the right of the stone) through special roof openings. Named after Charles Blondin, a French tightrope walker, Fyfe’s invention became standard equipment in quarries internationally, with Kemnay’s Blondin able to lift blocks weighing 100 tonnes.

An artificial raised platform was built to house one of the steel lattice towers for the Blondin. This became known as ‘Spion Kop‘ after a hill of the same name in a battle of the Boer War. The design on the stone also shows a crane at the pit edge from where quarrymen would be lowered in hutches and two huts known as ‘scathies’ where road setts or ‘cassies’ were made.

The walls of the quarry list a small selection of the various projects where Kemnay granite has been used.

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More information on Kemnay Quarry

 

River Don Steen

(Information and photos courtesy of axis we support Artists)

Dimensions: 90 x 60 x 50.  This stone can be found on the south bank of the River Don in Kemnay along a footpath that runs between Kembhill Park and the river. It carries a diverse range of carvings including the text of an old couplet comparing the merits of the Don and the Dee:

A ROOD OF DON’S WORTH TWA O’ DEE,
EXCEPT IT BE FOR FISH AND TREE

The Don was said be more valuable and fertile than the Dee with a ‘rood’ being an old unit of measurement equal to 222 inches.

On the west face of the stone the Greek word ‘DEVONA’’ appears. The first potential historical reference to the river was in the second century AD when the geographer Ptolemy of Alexandria in Egypt used the term which can be translated as ‘deity’ or ‘flow’.

The east face of the stone is carved with ‘DON’ in Greek alongside a carving reminiscent of a Romano-British dragonesque brooch. In Welsh mythology the name ‘Dôn’ refers to an ancient mother goddess, with old Welsh thought to be close linguistically to the Pictish language. In this context Dôn may be associated with the Celtic mother goddess Ana, also known as Danu, meaning ‘to flow’. Early Christians transformed the goddesses Ana into Saint Anne the mother of Mary.

The top of the stone has a carving of a Pictish beast, a symbol of unknown meaning which occurs frequently on Pictish stones. Suggestions for what it might represent include a dolphin, an elephant, a dragonesque brooch or the ‘each uisge’ water spirit. Elephants were once washed in the Don when Bostock and Wombwell’s circus came to Kemnay in the early part of the 20th century.

A carving of a cow may reference the source of the Don at Brown Cow Hill or perhaps the fords where cattle would once have crossed the river nearby. A Pictish-style snake also appears, its serpentine form reminiscent of the Don as it winds its way past Kemnay.

The north side of the stone features a carving of a salmon, an important Pictish symbol, similar to that seen on the Craw Stane at Rhynie. Recent research has suggested that the Picts avoided eating fish for cultural or spiritual reasons despite being able seafarers.

More Information: axis we support Artists

 

Shakkin Briggie Steen

(Information and photos courtesy of axis we support Artists)

Dimensions: 100 x 60 x 50.  This stone is positioned at the top of a footpath that leads down to the Shakkin Briggie at Burnhervie, Aberdeenshire. It features a series of boats competing in the annual raft race with each boat representing one of the other Kemnay Steens. The stone is covered in swirling patterns left from 320 million years ago when it was formed from the action of water.

The Cailleach can be seen carrying a basket of rocks and a giant hammer, both of which she used to shape the mountains and lochs. In her hand is a staff capable of freezing the ground as she takes her throne over winter. George Burnett of Kemnay and his parrot can be seen below, with an oat sheaf and a young sapling onboard ready for planting.

Towards the back are Jock o’ Bennachie and the Kemnay Fair Queen. At the front two monks and their attendants travel downstream after a visit to Fetternear with the Warrior Mother from the Mither Tap Steen not far behind.

The stone is one of the Kemnay Steens, nine carved stones placed along footpaths in and around the village with the aim of encouraging people to explore the rich history, folklore and natural identity of the surrounding landscape.

The stones reference local Pictish carvings and later medieval styles but they also have their own visual vocabulary; the more stones that are encountered, the more reoccurring symbols, characters and themes are noticed. Each stone tells its own story but there is also a deeper narrative hidden in the carvings, waiting to be unpicked.

More Information: axis we support Artists

Jock O’ Bennachie

Maiden Stone