One of the joys of living in Scotland is that there is a story to be found at every turn. As you travel the country the landscape and buildings make it hard to resist stopping to take in what they are trying to tell you. Sometimes it’s the sight of a magnificent building such as Dunottar Castle which practically shouts at you to come and bear witness to the history surrounding it. Other times it’s a gentle whisper from a plaque on the side of a nondescript city centre building. With such a wealth of antiquities it can be easy to take it all for granted yet some of the voices calling us from the distant past can still surprise us by appearing in the most unexpected places.
In the middle of a modern housing development in the ever expanding North East town of Inverurie lies an example of one of the most baffling messages left behind by our ancestors, the Brandsbutt Stone. It does seem a bit peculiar to find such a wonderful piece of Pictish art surrounded by 21st century dwellings but that’s what makes it so much more enjoyable. The stone itself is only about a meter tall, the material being the locally abundant whinstone. At some point it was broken up and used to repair a dyke at the edge of the now long gone Brandsbutt farm. Luckily it was rediscovered around 1900, pieced together again and erected near where it would have originally stood, possibly as part of an even older stone circle.
With so little evidence as to what these Pictish stones were for it is left to the visitor to gaze at the carvings and imagine for themselves just why so much care was taken to create them. This stone contains two of the most frequently recurring Pictish symbols, a crescent and V rod sits above a scaly serpent and Z rod. On the right hand side of the stone is an ogham inscription, an alphabet which originated in Ireland consisting of a series of lines. It has been deciphered as a reference to the name Eddarrnonn who may have been a local saint or a person of high rank. Possibly it’s a territorial marker, a declaration of status. It may simply be a memorial, the symbols depicting death and the entrance to the after world. The V rod and crescent could just as easily be a primitive sundial, marking the passing of the seasons. Trying to weigh up the various theories all adds to the fascination that an encounter with one of these ancient objects can generate.
The symbols could even be references to the ancient Roman religion of Mithraism, also rather wonderfully known as the Mithral Mysteries. Brought to the Picts by Romans who remained behind after their armies withdrew there are claims that the rituals of modern day freemasonry have their origins in this ancient religion. Looking at the V rod and crescent depicted on the Brandsbutt stone the similarity to modern day masonic emblems is striking.
Sometimes you have to work a wee bit to conjure up a complete tale from the past. There may be no obvious ending to the story the Brandsbutt stone is trying to tell us but as opening lines to a mystery go it’s up there with the best.
The Brandsbutt Stone is located near the junction of Gordon Terrace and Brankie Road in Inverurie. Turn on to Gordon Road from Burghmuir Drive then take the second left on to Gordon Terrace.