Once described by Sir Walter Scott as the “…longest, loneliest and loveliest glen in Scotland…”, Glen Lyon in Perthshire is a fascinating place.
At the mouth of the glen sits one of the oldest living things in Europe, if not on earth, the Fortingall Yew – believed to be at least 5000 years old!
Is if that isn’t enough, the tiny village of Fortingall has another claim to fame: it is reputed that the biblical character Pontius Pilate was born here!
Son of a Roman diplomat and a Pictish woman from the tribe of Metellanus, who’s stronghold was near the modern-day village, Pilate returned to Rome with his parents when the delegation to Caledonia was withdrawn, only to find himself as Prefect of Judea in AD26…
Fascinating as all this is, this was not the reason I wanted to visit.
I wanted to visit the glen to explore the enigmatic “praying hands” stone formation…
Before I explain any more about these stones, it’s probably worthwhile giving a little background about why I wanted to visit in the first place:
Most ancient cultures have a creation myth. A story told around the camp fires to describe how the earth formed.
The most popular Celtic creation myth is surprisingly similar to the stories told by the ancient Egyptians, which, is understandable if you believe the claims of the early Scots (that we are the descendents of Queen Scota, daughter of an Egyptian Pharaoh who fled Egypt bringing the stone of destiny, the biblical “Jacobs Pillow”, with her)
In the Egyptian version, the sun god Amun created the world by raising the first land – a pyramid shaped mound called “Benben” – from the primordial waters.
Unsurprisingly, the Egyptians went on to associate the Pyramid with Amun and most Egyptian pyramids and obelisks were covered in gold at the top to resemble the Benben on that first dawn as the golden rays of the rising sun illuminated the land for the first time.
In Celtic mythology, the creation story is very similar, with the role of Amun being taken by the Celtic creator-god Lugh. It is believed by many that Glen Lyon is named after this god, just as the French city of Lyon was named for the same creator.
And so to the “praying hands”…
Creag nan Eildeag, a small hill 12 miles from Fortingall, deep in the heart of Glen Lyon, has an unusual pyramid shape when seen from certain parts of the glen. In particular, when seen from the direction of the “praying hands” the hill is very like the peak of Al-Qurn, or as the ancients called it, “Ta Dehent”, in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
Curiously, there is a small boulder, just visible on the summit of Creag nan Eildeag, which, when seen from the “praying hands” appears as a perfect pyramid. (click on the third image below to see it in more detail).
Considered geologically and archaeologically insignificant, the “praying hands” aren’t even mentioned on Ordinance Survey maps of the area; they are officially classified as an “erratic” (a “glacier-transported rock fragment which differs from the local bedrock”) – ie. big stones that are only where they are due to melting ice, gravity and random chance.
It’s odd that in a valley named after the creator god, just in front of a hill shaped like a pyramid – the very symbol of that god – that nature should choose to randomly melt a glacier in such a way that two huge (15-20ft high) stones should fall from the ice and find themselves perfectly (and precariously) balanced, pointing precisely towards the “pyramid” and looking for all the world like two human hands held up in worship…
It was an hour and a half walk from the car park and around a thousand feet climb to reach the stones… nature can be so inconvenient at times! Once there I began to take photographs. It’s sometimes very easy to be caught up in the atmosphere of a place and if I’m honest, this is one of those places. Looking back, I’m not happy with most of the shots I took that day, so I need to return soon to retake a lot of photos. I HAVE to shoot the scene at dawn…
Clearly more people than I have questioned the official designation of these stones as “random geological anomalies” as many people have left gifts and hand-written prayers amongst the stones.
I’ll leave you with a few photos taken that day. I’d love to know your opinions (not only of the photographs, but, also about their “official” designation as random boulders)
I decided that these photos should be in black & white as I think this is a subject likely to polarise opinion, plus I like that timeless quality of B&W photography.
So, what do you think?
Natural arrangement of randomly distributed glacial debris or unrecognised man-made tribute to an ancient god?
I’d love to know what everyone thinks, so I’ve set-up a poll to gauge opinion!
Please vote, and leave any comments below! 🙂