Part 5 – The 12 Apostles

Standing stones 5 – The 12 Apostles


I travel south of Glasgow to the town of Dumfries. Before I go to visit the the standing stones near the village of Holywood I give three presentations in two libraries. The Ewart Library and the Georgetown Library. Here I talk to around 200 children about the stone circles in Scotland and how they can be a starting point for a story. The children formed their own creature and starting thinking about their own story.

We also talked about asthma. James, the boy-hero in my Peck Chronicles has the affliction. Yet he has amazing adventures despite this. Asthma can be controlled by using inhalers. Athletes like Paula Radcliff and football players like David Beckham had asthma yet still managed to reach the very top of their sports.

On my way home, I visit the final stone circle in my trip – The 12 apostles, as they are known, are just outside Dumfries and at 86 meters in diameter, they form the largest stone circle on the mainland of Scotland. To me they didn’t stand out as much as the other sites, or have that feel of somewhere mystical but when you look closer, there are some very interesting traces of our ancient ancestors. These are indentations known as cup marks. These were made by our ancestors anywhere between 3000 and 5000 years ago. People have tried to work out their meaning, suggesting that they may be some standard megalithic measurement, but no one really knows. What we do know is that these markings are found over a wide geographical area and that they are often accompanied by concentric rings. Here is a stone from Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy.
On my way out of the field where the Apostles sit, I spy a stoat. Long and sleek-coated, it races over a stone dyke and disappears into a deep hole.

Features and Creatures

Today’s feature is Ewart Library.
Situated in Catherine Street in Dumfries, the Ewart Library is a two story sandstone building that was built in 1904. Commissioned by a very rich Scotsman called Carnegie, it was suggested that the library should be named after William Ewart. He was a parliamentarian from Dumfries who introduced the Free Libraries Act of Scotland in 1853. It’s thanks to Mr Ewart that our libraries are free to the public.

Today’s Creature is the Stoat.
The stoat is a member of the weasel family. It eats small mammals including rabbits and differs from the weasel itself by having a longer tail with a black tip. Some stoats can turn white in the winter. Their offspring are called kits and a fully grown stoat can live for as much as five years.
There is a silly saying that goes – ‘weasels are weaselly distinguished but stoats are stoatally different…’

Just a reminder that Strident Publishing will be sponsoring a children’s book pack which will be delivered to the school that produces the best story. The story must use a ring of stones as it’s starting point and be about a page long. Any school that has taken part in my trip or that has tuned into this video diary can take part. Good luck.

I will post some of the stories and poems produced by the children in this trip on www.paulmurdoch.co.uk

Here are today’s challenge questions

1 What can you use to control asthma?
2 How many stones form the the ancient ring near Dumfries?
3 Who was William Ewart?
4 Apart from a weasel and a stoat, name another member of the weasel family found in Scotland?

All answers to the challenge questions over the five video diaries will be posted on my website.

A huge thank you to GLOW, especially Jen McKay. To Keith Charters at Strident Publishing and to all the schools who took part and joined in on the fun.

Until our next big adventure – Bye for now.

Part 4 – Kilmartin

Standing stones 4 – Kilmartin

I leave the isle of Harris via the ferry port at Tarbet and sail over to Uig, a small town on the Isle of Skye. The sea is calm and I watch a manx shearwater skim across the surface of the North Minch. These birds are nesting just now but in July they will start their migration to the shores of South America, almost 5500 miles away. I stay with a friend in Uig and then drive down to the Crinan Canal, a man-made stretch of water that cuts out the need to go all the way round the Kintyre peninsula.

The next day I visit Kilmartin Primary School, where the four children in the primary seven class tell me about the ring of stones a mere 500 yards away from their school. They show me some of the artefacts found around the stones. Axe heads and arrow heads from almost 5000 years ago. Here are some of the children telling me about these amazing finds in their own words…

We also looked at some of the poems from the isle of Lewis. The children there produced a bilingual book of poems inspired by the Callanish stones. The poems are set out in English and in Gaelic. Here is one of the children at Kilmartin reading a poem. This inspired the children at Kilmartin to work on their own poems, which they will send on to me later.

The children at Kilmartin had already prepared some stories based around the standing stones theme. Here is one called the 13 men and the thief. read by Nina, let’s listen to one of their own stories, this time inspired by their own stone circle at Temple Wood.

Remember, there is a competition to find the best one-page story using a ring of stones as a starting point. Strident Publishing will supply a pack of children’s books to the winning school. This story was written by…

The children quiz me about my own story – Talisman, which begins at an imaginary stone circle called ‘The Jesus Rocks’. In my series of fantasy adventure books –The Peck Chronicles, a mystery vandal repeatedly daubs the the main stone with the words ‘Jesus Saves’,

hence the name given to the stones by the locals in the book. This actually happened to a large stone on Carman Moor above my house in Alexandria, and I thought it would be interesting to incorporate this into my adventures. Writing about things you have actually seen is sometimes easier.

After this truly amazing visit to Kilmartin Primary I see a hare racing across the field before I reach the Temple Woods circles.

At the stones themselves, I am surprised to see that the centre of this circle is filled with much smaller stones.

There are two stone circles at Temple Wood. From the northern one you could watch the midwinter sunset and from the southern you could observe the winter full moon.

Features and Creatures

Today’s feature is Flint a hard form of quartz found as nodules in much lighter limestone or chalk. It splits into very thin, sharp shards which can be used for all manner of cutting tools. When struck against steel it can produce a spark and even start a fire.

Today’s creature is the hare
Hares are related to rabbits but live more solitary lives. They typically have longer ears and can run very fast, almost 50 miles per hour. They don’t have burrows but live in a nest above ground called a form. A young hare, less than a year old, is called a leveret.

Here are today’s challenge questions

1 I visited the Crinan canal. Name another canal in Scotland?
2 The children at Kilmartin showed us some axe and arrow-heads. What were they made of?
3 There are two types of hare in Scotland; can you name them?
4 What is a young hare called?

Part 3 – Calanais (Callanish)

Standing stones 3 – Calanais


I push on to Ullapool but stop for a forest walk in Rosehall where I see my first ever Sika Deer. Introduced from Japan over a hundred years ago, three female descendants cross my path, but soon blend in to their surroundings. We have three native species of deer in Scotland: Red Deer, Roe Deer and Fallow Deer, unlike the Sika deer they established themselves in Scotland 10,000 years ago after the ice age. A great spotted woodpecker flies past, swooping up and down until it lands on the trunk of a birch tree a few yards away. There is so much going on if we just take the time to wait and watch.

The ferry to Ullapool has a massive viewing gallery at the front of the boat. The bow is the proper name for the front of a boat and the stern is the name for the back of a boat. Port is the left side when facing forward and starboard is the right.

I reach Stornoway around 8’oclock and settle into another campsite in Laxdale, only a few hundred meters away from my first school.

It’s great to have some time to explore Lewis and Harris. Two of my favourite Scottish islands, they are part of the Outer Hebrides. I visit Port Ness in Lewis and remember that I’ve been to the Primary school there in the past. The children told me all about hunting and eating Gugas, gannets to you and me. Now, this may sound a bit strange but people have been eating gannets for hundreds of years in Lewis. Apparently they are quite salty, taste of fish, and are particularly nice with boiled potatoes. Each to their own…
I watch some artic terns feeding off the harbour wall and then return home via a fairly unknown stone circle called Steinacleit. They think it’s probably the remains of a prehistoric settlement, with an outer ring to keep animals. There’s certainly still sheep and lambs here today. An on the small loch there’s more evidence of habitation from long ago.

The next day I make a bit of a pilgrimage to one of my favourite beaches – Huishnish Bay. Now, a few years back I wrote a book called Windscape which features this very place. I call my beach Hushwish Bay, and tell the tale of a girl called Jenny MacLeod. Living alone with her father people turn up to protest about a wind farm but Jenny’s father collapses with a heart attack and she has to stay with another family. All is not as it seems and she is soon on a perilous adventure to save her father and their farm. The whole story was inspired by Harris and its wonderfully rugged landscape. The book examines wind farms, the pros and cons using an adventure story.

I walk another mile north and end up opposite Scarp, a deserted island. The beach I end up is even more stunning than Huishnish – and its here that I see a flock of golden plovers and dunlins and get an amazing view of a golden eagle. More about that later.

Soon it’s time to visit my first school, Laxdale Primary School. I help launch the school’s reading focus week and speak to a packed assembly of P1-P7. The children are totally engaged but there is a frightening moment where I’m almost turned into stone. The whole school tries out a spell from my book Talisman – Wwwstonewwwrightwwww!

I get to learn much more about the stone circle at Callanish. Here is the circle’s name in Gaelic, the first language of the school.

There are also a few legends and ideas surrounding the stones. Here are some of the children.

After the school I visit Callanish and stand in wonder at this amazing special. Thousands of people travel from all over the world to see this site.

Then I visit Braesclete School. The school is only yards away from the stones at Callanish and the children have produced some amazing poems inspired by the stones. We use these in a lesson at Kilmartin a few days later.

We begin a story as a class and I leave them to finish this off as I make my mad dash for the ferry to Uig. A good way to progress a story is to ask yourself some open ended questions. Questions that you can’t simply answer with a yes or no. e.g. Questions beginning with How, Why, What, Where, When and Who.

Features and Creatures

Today’s feature has to be the stones at Callanish themselves.
The stones at Callinish are some of the oldest in the whole world. The rock they are made of is known as Lewisian gneiss (pronounced ‘nice’) they were laid down as the Earth’s crust was cooling about 3000 million years ago. There are legends that a great king came to set up the stones. Helped by dark-skinned men, the king was always accompanied by a flock of wrens.

Here is another amazing story, by Sandy Widdup. A P4 student at Braescliete Primary.

What a great story. Here are a few other theories about Callanish from the children of Braescliete.

Today’s creature is the golden eagle.
The golden eagle is one of the most majestic birds I have ever seen. The female is almost twice as big as the male and can weigh as much as 6.35 kg. I once held one on my right arm at a falconry display and it took all my power to keep my arm straight. They have a wingspan of almost 8ft and have a hunting territory of 200 square kilometres. In some countries they are used to hunt grey wolves. They can carry off animals twice their own body weight.

Here are today’s challenge questions…