MHG62253 - Ruined barn/byre, West Byres, Latheron Farm - Latheron


Derelict barn/byre reputedly built from stone removed from the 'Chapel Stones' site 280 metres SSE. Built into a wall of the barn were two pictish stones.

Type and Period (2)

  • BYRE (Post Medieval - 1560 AD? to 1900 AD?)
  • BARN (Post Medieval - 1560 AD? to 1900 AD?)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

Ruined barn/byre reputedly built from stone removed from the 'Chapel Stones' site 280 meters SSE. (see MHG1159). Two sculptured stones of Pictish date were removed from the walls of the barn - one in 1905 now on display in the National Musuem in Edinburgh, and the second in the early 1970s now built into the garden wall of Latheron Farmhouse.

The stone to build the barn is thought locally to have come from a site to the south known as 'Chapel stones' (see MHG1159). There are historical sources which refer to Edward I of England sending officials to Caithness to meet the ill-fated Maid of Norway in 1290 AD, and his envoys spent the night of 3 October at a place on the route north called 'hospital'. It would have meant a long and inconvenient detour inland for St Magnus' Hospice at Spital to be meant here, whereas such a foundation at Latheron would fit in perfectly with the English party's itinerary. A field visit by T Blackie revealed a line of massive foundation stones approximately 40m long. A modern boundary fence lies on the line of these stone blocks and thus gives the impression from a distance that this is a cairn of stones cleared from the fields on either side. However, the size, alignment and regularity of the stones all argue strongly that these are dressed stones froming the lower course of a substantial building. An unpublished paper by a local clergyman in the 1940s gives a sketch of the site and states that it is 'thought to be the remains of an abbey', but otherwise there do not seem to be any modern references. <1>

A rectangular slab bearing on one face a double rectangular figure in relief with double-spiral and interlaced patterns; below it, incised, a bird, a fish, and two horsemen; and down the left side of these inscriptions, a line of Ogham characters reading DUNNODNNAT MAQQ NETO, which was noticed in 1903 in the inside wall of a barn 1/4 mile S of Latheron Post Office, was donated to the NMAS in 1905 by Sir Francis Tress Barry (Acc No: IB 183).
J Anderson 1904; Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1905; RCAHMS 1911.

Built into the wall, in the interior of the old barn mentioned in the previous paragraph, was found a few years ago a sculptured stone bearing an Ogham inscription. It is a rectangular slab of Caithness sandstone and measures 3' in extreme height, 1' 5" in breadth, and about 4" in thickness. The top and bottom are broken away, the fracture at the top passing obliquely across the stone. The inscription runs the whole length of the stone on the left-handsidem but is probably incomplete owing to the fracture. What remains shows eighteen complete characters and possibly part of a nineteenth. The sculpturing, which is partly in relief and partly incised, and occupies the whole face of the stone, consists of a double spiral ornament arranged in C-shaped scrolls placed back to back, the lower narrower filled with an interlaced pattern; and below, incised (1) a bird, (2) a fish, and (3) two horsemen (partly broken away).
The stone was discovered in 1903 by Mr John Nicolson, Nybster, who brought it to Sir Francis Tress Barry, and the latter presented it to the National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh, where it now is. It is fully described and illustrated in an article by Dr. Joseph Anderson in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries (Antiquaries, xxxviii, p.134 (illus.)).
Visited by RCAHMS, 18th July 1910.

This symbol stone was found at ND 1981 3315.
Visited by OS (N K B) 25 March 1968.

Class II symbol stone (fragment) showing on the carved face an eagle and salmon with an Ogam inscription.
A.Mack 1997 p.37

Latheron 1, Caithness, Pictish symbol stone inscribed in ogham
Measurements: H 0.91m, W 0.43m, D 0.10m
Stone type: grey sandstone
Place of discovery: ND 1981 3315
Present location: National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh (IB 183)
Evidence for discovery: found by John Nicholson in 1903 in the interior face of the wall of an old byre, taken to Keiss Castle and presented to the museum in 1905.
Present condition: broken
The carved face appears to have been bordered by a deeply pecked line, which survives along the left-hand edge, where just within it is a long inscription in ogham. Forsyth’s reading of the ogham is DUNNODNNA(I)T or Dunodnait. At the top the lower part of a cross carved in relief shows double-spiral ornament within the shaft and very simple two-cord interlace in the basal tenon. Below are incised a stylised eagle standing on a salmon, above an incomplete motif of two horsemen.
Date: eighth or ninth century.
Early Medieval Carved Stones Project, A Ritchie 2016 <2> (see MHG1154)

A stone incised with a portion of Celtic cross (ND13SE 26) was also found at this position and is now at ND 1990 3341. (garden wall of Latheron Farmhouse - see MHG1153)

During the research undertaken for 'The Scuptured Stones of Cathness' publication, the authors Tim Blackie and Colin Macaulay spoke with Mr and Macgregor of Latheron Farm. They said that the fragment of the cross slab now built into the farmhouse garden wall was removed from the barn by Mr Macgregor after some other dressed stone was stolen from the barn in the 1970's. They had been approached by persons unknown who has asked if they could buy some interesting dressed stone in the barn but were refused. Mr Macgregor then subsequently discovered that this stonework had been stolen so he decided to remove the cross slab in case that was also stolen. He could not remember though what the 'interesting stones' looked like. <3>

Geoffrey Stell, medieval buildings historian with RCAHMS, conducted a photographic survey of the West Byre in the mid 1970s and remembered "courses of re-used medieval masonry in the walling adjacent to the fragment bearing an incised cross". He has searched his slide collection but was unable to locate any relevant photographs.

"Anyhow, sadly, it looks as though my two linked reports ( and , record sheets CAR 12/1 and 5/1) and the general view from the south-west ( , print CA362) which I referred to earlier are now the only records of the re-used masonry at the West Byres. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the general view clearly, but I am unsure as to how much of the relevant stretches of masonry will show up distinctively in an enlargement; from memory, I think there was also a low dyke in front of the building". <4>

NGR adjusted based on 2015 aerial photographs. <5>

1st Edition OS 6" <6>

Sources/Archives (17)



Grid reference Centred ND 1982 3315 (15m by 24m) (2 map features)
Map sheet ND13SE
Civil Parish LATHERON
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

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