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Using Maps to find Ancient Stones

One of the most useful information sources available to the Stone Hunter is the maps produced by the British Ordnance Survey. Of the many different series available, two are the most useful, the 1:50,000 Landranger Series and the 1:25,000 Explorer Series.

Of the two, the Landranger is best used for navigation as they give a much better view of a wider area than the Explorer maps. While they do show some of the more well known sites, detail is limited and many known stones are not listed. However, they are great for route planning but limited for locating ancient stones. The Explorer Series offers far greater detail, even down to field boundary level, and many more stones are noted making then ideal for pin-pointing the positions of potential ancient stones.

The method I've employed successfully for many years when starting to investigate a new area is to slowly scan over the map, looking very carefully at each grid in turn, while looking for anything that might indicate a potential site to visit. Sites that are recognised as prehistoric - or at least recognised as having some antiquity - are usually shown in Italics but not all stones are marked in this way. For example, Kings Chair in East Lothian is simply marked in a standard font but a site visit to the location revealed an interesting chair-shaped stone that was worth recording in the database. Keep an eye open for similar location and place names, they may well be worth checking out.

Once you have located at sites, carefully circle it in pencil - not pen because you cannot easily remove pen from the map. Doing this in each instance will soon show up clusters of sites in local areas and makes planning your trips so much easier. Once you have visited a site, I simply use a pencil tick to indicate that the site has been recorded.

As well as the two map series above, is can be well worth browsing some of the smaller scale and usually older, Ordnance Survey maps as well. On more than one instance I've checked out a known location on an old map only to find additional stones shown. While they may not still exist in reality, they could actually be lost stones waiting to be re-discovered. Many of the larger libraries hold stocks of older large scale maps and can often be used by prior arrangement. The online Ordnance Survey Get-a-Map facility also has a link to large scale old maps.

Using maps to locate ancient stones must be done with a degree of caution, for a number of reasons. Just because a stone is marked on the map, does not mean that it still exists. Conversely, you may also find a stone marked on one ma but not on others and the only way to tell if it still exists is to actually get on the ground as see for yourself. You may also find that the surrounding habitat is different to that shown on the older map with coniferous plantations being the most common change. It is also important to realise that because a stone exists does not means to can gain access to it. A good example of this is the Cat Stone at Edinburgh Airport, which is located between the main runway and the airport boundary. In these days of increased security access may not be easy to obtain.

When you have located a site, I would always advise looking at the immediate area around the site. This can often give you some clue to the origin of the stone or stones or meaning to its continued existence. Such items of river crossings, ancient boundaries and other types of prehistoric structures are important clues to note. Finally, take your map with you and don't leave it at home. More than once I've taken what I thought was enough other information - print outs, grid ref and so on - to find the stone only to realise that the OS map would have been useful as well.

001 Witches' Stone, Spott Farm, Spott.

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