Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Can you identify these sites and their mysterious marks?

Long, narrow incised marks on walls and at doors are found at several Scottish historical property locations.

Can you identify the sites and what or who made those mysterious marks? Have a look, take a guess then scroll down to check whether you were right.

Mystery Marks 1 & 2 – where is this and who made these marks?
Another location for our mystery marks 3 & 4 – where are we and who scarred these walls?
Our last location for mystery marks 5 & 6 – is this really a Scottish castle or have we gone off track? And who made these marks?
Scroll down to unlock the mysteries!

Mystery Marks 1 & 2

Did you guess Stirling Castle? If so, you were right, well done! The picture shows incised marks at the threshold of the Royal Palace and dating from the 1530s but who created them? Well, the porter was positioned here to control access and when things were quiet he could relieve his boredom by sharpening his knife on the wall!

Mystery Marks 3 & 4

The same marks are appearing again here but, this time, at the entrance to Doune Castle – did you get it right? It seems another bored porter obviously had time on his hands. Similar marks can be found in the castle kitchen suggesting that the cook liked a sharp edge to his knife too.

Mystery Marks 5 & 6

This time, we are not at a castle but another pivotal property in the community – a church. Did you work out that we were looking at the medieval Stobo Church in Peebleshire?

It was a requirement in Scotland to hold periodic ‘Wapenshaws’ where the males of the parish would assemble, fully armed and equipped according to their station. The authorities would verify if weapons were in good condition and that the men were skilled in their use.

Practice was required, one of which was in archery. Butts (targets) would be set up in the church yard and contests held. For encouragement there were prizes and the prospect of a good drink!

The marks are perhaps the result of arrow heads being sharpened. Such marks are found at English churches where they are given the name of ‘arrow stones’ but Stobo is perhaps unique in Scotland.

An alternative theory is that they were made by the Stobo schoolchildren sharpening slate-pencils in the days when the church was used as the parish school. As someone who actually used a slate-pencil at school, I must differ!

Identical marks can be found at Fort George and even at the Papal Palace at Avignon – again at the entrance – so awaiting a better explanation the jury is out!

Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.

Added: 24 Aug 2023 Updated: 21 Nov 2023
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