Monday, October 13, 2014

The Devil's Cauldron

There is something about place names with 'Devil' in them that attracts. Scotland has several, like the Devil's Staircase and the Devil's Elbow. The island of Bute has a 'Devil' place, and so on a visit to the island I decided to see it.

My wife and I were staying at St Blane's Hotel in Kilchattan. I left the hotel and followed the roads inland to the south end of the island near Suidhe Bhlain, the hill of St Blane's Seat. From there I walked past a farm with the odd name 'The Plan' to enter the precincts of St Blane's Monastery. The monastery was founded in the 6th century, and the main ruin is St Blane's Church (12th century). See this RCAHMS page for more info on the church.

St Blane's Church
St Blane's Church
Inside St Blane's Church
A ridge of 70-foot cliffs rises to the west of the monastery, and nestled below them is the Devil's Cauldron. To quote from Robert Angus Downie's Bute and the Cumbraes

The Deil's Cauldron is a massive circular wall, nine feet thick, of huge unhewn blocks, enclosing a roughly circular space about thirty feet in diameter. It is said to have been a place of penance, and may have been put to that use in monastic times, though it was not the original function of the place. The age of the Deil's Cauldron - also called the Dreamin' Tree Ruin, Druim an Tre being the Gaelic for little ridge dwelling - is unknown; but it was probably formed at an early date as an inner stronghold for use when the place had to be defended.

The Devil's Cauldron
Some kind of stone structure once stood here, and one wonders if monks in the old days were sent to it for penance. Or perhaps it was a place of retreat for the monastery, similar to the Hermit's Cell on Iona; or an isolated dark place to be tested against the devil, like St Patrick's Purgatory. See this RCAHMS page for more photos and info on the Devil's Cauldron.

After seeing the mysterious cauldron I made a windy hike to the top of Suidhe Chatain, the hill of St Catan's Seat. There I was greeted by a view over to the Great and Wee Cumbraes. I didn't stay long, as 40 knot winds were blasting the summit. So I quickly descended east to the sea where I joined my wife for a pint at St Blane's Hotel.

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