MHG1406 - The Ulbster Stone


No summary available.

Type and Period (1)

  • CROSS SLAB (CULTURE 300; CULTURE PICTISH; , Pictish - 300 AD to 900 AD)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

Standing Stone (Sculptured) (NAT)
OS 6" map, Caithness, 2nd ed., (1907)

This symbol stone once stood in ancient burial ground attached to ruined church of St Martin at Ulbster (ND34SW 28) and was subsequently placed over a grave there which assisted in the defacement of front side; at some other unknown date it was removed and placed upright on an artificial mound in grounds of Thurso Castle where its exposed position (especially front face turned to Castle and sea) has led to further defacement of the sculpture; front has also been mutilated in upper third with modern inscription in Gothic letters 'The Ulbster Stone' by which name it is also known.
It is a sandstone slab, 5ft high by 7.5ins thick and is 3ft wide at the top but 2ft 6ins at bottom. It is sculptured on two main faces partly in relief and partly with incised lines. This monument has more symbols than any other.
Between 1910, when RCAHMS saw it in grounds of Thurso Castle, and 1956 it has been removed to an unknown site (info from OS revisor).
RCAHMS 1911, visited 1910; J R Allen and J Anderson 1903.

This stone now stands in entrance doorway of Thurso Museum. The large artificial mound in grounds of Thurso Castle on which it stood is a result of landscape gardening (info from Hon R M Sinclair, Thurso East)
Visited by OS (E G C) 18 April 1962.

This stone is now inside Thurso Library and Museum building (Acc No: ARC 64). ND16NW 69.2
Visited by OS (J M) 16 February 1982.

Class II symbol stone.On face is above cross are carved a cow and other animals.Below cross are two kneeling figures with a cauldron together with a horse and a colt. Below these is a serpent and a flower to right.
On reverse is another cross with pairs of symbols in quadrants
Upper left - elephant over a salmon
Upper right - crescent and V-rod over a beast
Lower left - fish-monster over a step
Lower left - double-disc over a double-crescent.
A.Mack 1997 p.131

Ulbster (St Martin), Caithness, Pictish cross-slab
Measurements: H 1.52m, W 0.91m, D 0.20m
Stone type: Old Red Sandstone
Place of discovery: NO 3356 4185
Present location: Caithness Horizons, Thurso.
Evidence for discovery: Stuart records a tradition that the stone was dug up in the churchyard of St Martin’s Chapel at Ulbster in 1770, set upright and later re-used as a graveslab (1856: 14). In the 19th century it was moved to Thurso Castle and set upright on an artificial mound in the grounds (Allen & Anderson 1903: pt 3, 33-5). In the first half of the 20th century it was moved to Thurso Heritage Museum (now Caithness Horizons; ARC 64).
Present condition: worn.
Face A: an equal-armed cross on a narrow shaft and a rectangular base extends across almost the entire face. The cross is filled with interlace, geometric in the centre of the cross-head and curvilinear elsewhere. The terminal panels of the arms contain designs based on four triquetra knots. Two cattle and another animal with paws occupy the spaces above the arms of the cross. A pair of bear-like animals flanks the lower arm of the cross, while below them on the right are a flower symbol, a horse and a sleeping foal, and on the left two men crouched on either side of a cauldron and a tightly coiled serpent. An inscription in Gothic letters, The Ulbster Stone, was carved across the upper arm of the cross, probably in the 19th century.
Face C: an equal-armed cross filled with interlace based on four triquetra knots, flanked closely by eight symbols, some of which touch or even encroach upon the cross. They are the crescent and V-rod, the Pictish beast, the salmon, the lion, the double disc, the double crescent, the step and the S-dragon.
Date: ninth century.
References: ECMS pt 3, 33-5; Blackie & Macaulay 1998: no 11; Fraser 2008: no 104.
Early Medieval Carved Stones Project, A Ritchie 2016

This stone is listed in the Caithness Horizons catalogue under Acc. No.ARC64. <1>

Sources/Archives (7)



Grid reference Centred ND 1256 6879 (10m by 10m) (2 map features)
Map sheet ND16NW
Civil Parish THURSO
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

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