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Devil's Plantation - Elemental Films

the devil’s plantation: Cochno Stone

posted on
16 July 14
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8 comments
Cochno. Maybe?

Cochno. Maybe?

Thanks go to the Glad Cafe, to my friend, Gary Lewis and to the wonderful audience who came along last Friday to watch the film. To see such a large-ish and diverse crowd on a rare sunny evening was something of a relief and judging by the positive comments it was not only well-received – I’m still getting emails about it today – plainly it blew some folk away.

It’s no idle boast. This is getting to be a regular occurrence for a select and attuned minority so now I caution people before they watch it – it will stay with you for a long time. For whatever reason, clearly it resonates, testimony to the power of cinema – or, as I said on the night, Cinema Povera, being low in budget but high in my own conviction that if you put the right pieces in the right place, magic happens.

Not long before Friday’s screening I had a few messages from Craig Brown, a journalist at the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday who got in touch because of our mutual interest in the Cochno Stone, the most mysterious of all Harry Bell’s sites not least because it lies buried under a metre of soil off the Cochno Road on a piece of land, partly private, partly public.

Anyone who’s read my previous posts on the Cochno Stone will know about my quest to find it when, on learning it was buried in 1964, I campaigned for its excavation. For years I’ve been fascinated by what is possibly the largest and finest cup-and-ring marked stone in existence which, had it been situated in a major city given to the preservation of culture – think of Rome – would be cherished and conserved. Of all my trips (see archive Trip 25) the Stone attracted more comments than any other, so clearly there’s a lot of interest out there.

So thanks to Craig for shedding a little light on this wonder. When I first met David Marks and his wife, Elaine, owners of one half of the Stone, not only was I welcomed into their home (and Elaine’s home baking), but carried away by David’s enthusiasm and excitement at the prospect of seeing the Stone unearthed for the first time in almost 50 years. I realised too my ambition to see – finally – the site where it lies beneath a tangle of chain-link fencing, scaffold poles and dry stone wall. My worry is – could the Stone be at risk from years of root damage? Having survived this long – and we’re talking millennia not centuries – it seems unlikely, but you never know.

A few years have passed since that dull, drizzly afternoon but I’ll never forget it. I made my overtures to both the local council and to Historic Scotland but with David’s passing, I quietly withdrew my involvement out of respect to Elaine, knowing that the unearthing of an ancient artefact was as nothing compared to the death of a lifelong partner. Perhaps – hopefully – Elaine now feels she would like to fulfill her husband’s ambition to see the Cochno Stone revealed. As she said to me when we met – it’s bashert. I certainly hope so, as I also hope to get the chance to document it in a film should such a chance ever come to pass. What better tribute to her man if I – and other interested parties – could will such a thing into existence?

Look out for Craig’s story on the Cochno Stone in tomorrow’s Scotsman

Should the Stone be unearthed? Or should it be left protected under the soil? Love to hear your comments on this.


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8 comments
  • Cheryl - 27 July 14 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    Hi May, I have just finished the app and now can’t wait to see your film. Wonderful, and although I’ve not seen the film yet I agree with your comment that it stays with you – it really affects you. I bought Harry Bell’s book when I was a student c. 1988 and still have it. On the subject of the Cochno Stone, did you know there is a stone with cup and ring marks in Faifley which is visible? It’s in the so-called wild bit behind Faifley Road, in the grounds of the old Auchnacraig Estate (near one of the ubiquitous pylons!). The marks are quite worn. There is a better stone, though smaller, by the side of the footpath leading from Cochno Road to Craigton. It’s really beautiful. Sorry if you already knew about these!

    • May Miles Thomas - 27 July 14 at 11:25 pm - Reply

      Hi Cheryl – I’m so delighted you made it through the app – you’re also one of the rare people who has Harry’s book – I had to make do with a photocopy given to me by Dr Ronnie Scott, my guide at the Glasgow Necropolis. Re. the Cochno Stone, you may not be aware that I’ve campaigned to have it uncovered – you can read about my trials in this on my blogs here – if you check my archive, look at Making the Movie:6 and Trip 25 – and you’ll get the story. In the last couple of weeks there’s been articles in the Scotsman and Herald about it. I admit I’m not aware of any visible traces of other cup and ring stones in the vicinity. I looked high and low in Auchnacraig and in Law but on each occasion it was high summer. not the best season for the ground to reveal itself! Please, I’d be grateful if you emailed me privately about this. If you google May Miles Thomas Elemental you’ll get my everyday contact. My concern is there’s a Facebook group been formed to campaign for the Cochno Stone to be uncovered – to which I was added and made an admin without my consent – when I don’t want to be coerced into a groupthink approach to the issue – for me it’s a matter of negotiating with only those with any authority over the matter and getting to the best outcome for the Cochno Stone.

      Thanks for writing,
      Best wishes,
      May

  • Ranald Matheson - 19 July 14 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    Unearth it. But protect it properly.

    • May Miles Thomas - 19 July 14 at 4:37 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the comments, Ranald – as you’ll see from the comments below the matter of unearthing the Stone isn’t so straightforward as people might imagine. As a listed ancient monument on both public and private land it would require a fair amount of persuasion and careful oversight. Question is, who would be willing to pay for the work and how would the Stone be protected?

      Many thanks,
      May

  • Ranald Matheson - 19 July 14 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    Unearth it. It should of course be protected from idiots!

  • Grahame Gardner - 17 July 14 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    I confess to having mixed feelings about this. Yes, I would love to see it uncovered so that we can all have a look at it and it can be better documented and recorded with today’s laser scanning technology. But should it remain uncovered? That’s a different question.
    I’m mindful of how much erosion the carvings at Ballochmyle have suffered since they saw the light of day again and they’ve only been exposed for what, 50 years?
    I wouldn’t like to see it enclosed in a glass box (like Sueno’s Stone in Forres) or any type of enclosure, as that shuts the stone away from its environment and these cup-marks should always be seen in the context of the larger landscape.
    Perhaps the best we can hope for is that a replica cast is made and the real stone is re-buried under it, like the boar carving and footprint at Dunadd.
    It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s a reasonable compromise.

    • May Miles Thomas - 17 July 14 at 4:12 pm - Reply

      Thanks Grahame – and Debra – for your comments. I’ve got mixed feelings too. Of course it would be great to get the chance to see the Stone and it would be well worth uncovering it to see whether there’s any damage. My concern is that it could be disruptive for Mrs Marks and that the Stone – yet again – is co-opted by academics who might deny access to the general public. I feel the best option is to conduct a proper survey, unearth the Stone for a limited time for all to see then rebury it. Some things are better left alone and part of me likes the mystery of the Stone in its extant state.

  • Debra - 17 July 14 at 12:22 am - Reply

    Without a doubt this stone should be uncovered. I had only just heard of it when I started reading your blog. I thank you so much for bringing it to my attention so fully. It is the most amazing piece of carving I have ever seen. Valley of the kings is impressive in real life but it’s the mystery of the Cochno cup and ring marks that gets me. The possibility of uncovering it and making it a physical reality to be seen with my own eyes sends shivers down my spine. We have a deep connection to this land, as beings. Your film touches on so many truths. We have to uncover it to unleash the interest and the intrigue of the who were the people who carved it? Who used it? What was it used for? Why was in covered up? Why wasn’t it on show like roman walls and bathhouses just up the road? So many questions…

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