We wound our way through the Breadalbane (Gaidhlig: Bràghad Albainn, “the upper part of Alba”, Alba being the Gaidhlig–Scots Gaelic—for Scotland) north from Ballaquhidder and in just a few miles we were driving in to the small town of Killan. There, the A827 winds along the River Dochart, and suddenly curves to the left at the very narrow stone bridge just by the Falls of Dorchart. We were met by a tourist bus that was starting to make its way across and I needed to back up to find a place to be out of the way. After we drove across, I found a place to park the car so that we could go back to get photos of the bridge and the falls….and, quite honestly, to find a toilet.
The Bridge of Dochart was built in 1760 and was partially rebuilt after damage from a flood in 1831. The falls crash over and around the rocks as the River Dochart approaches Killin. The river widens here as the water flows out of the hills toward Loch Tay. The gradient steepens at Killin, resulting in the beautiful Falls of Dochart, one of Scotland’s most impressive waterfalls.
Having taken pictures, found the facilities, and wandered in a couple of shops (which were a little too geared for the tourist trade for my taste), I wandered over to a mill building standing at the edge of the falls. Originally the site of older mills dating back beyond written records, this one was built in the mid-1800’s. It was a flour mill, then a tweed mill, and was named for St Fillan who preached and performed healing near the mill, seated on a stone (St Fillan’s Seat) under an ash tree. St Fillan’s Mill now houses a visitor’s center and a second-hand shop that raises money for restoration. I browsed a bit on the first floor and then went up the narrow stairs to the second floor, which was a museum to the local area and to St Fillan.
St Fillan (??-777), Fáelán “little wolf”in Old Irish, was an Irish missionary to Scotland in the 700’s. He was the son of Prince Federach, a nobleman of the race of Fiatach Finn and Kentigerna, a princess of Ulster, who married into the Royal House of Dalriada. He and his mother both became Christian and then started missionary lives. When they arrived in Scotland, they settled in Lochalsh in Wester Ross. Fillan then came to Glen Dochart and his mother retired to Inch Cailleach “The Nun’s Isle” on Loch Lomond, where she died in 734AD.
St Fillan was said to be able to write in the dark due to his left arm which would glow and give him light by which to write. One story of St. Fillan tells of how, as he was ploughing the fields near Killin, a wolf killed the ox. St Fillan commanded the wolf to take the place of the ox and do its work. The tree under which St Fillan did his work was held sacred by the villagers of Killin and they would not use wood from the tree. There is a story of one man who used a branch to repair his house and his ‘sacrilege’ was repaid when the house burned to the ground.
There are four relics associated with St Fillan, two of which—his bell and the top of his staff are kept in the Scottish National Museum in Edinburgh. Another has been lost to time, but played an important part in Scottish history:
King Robert the Bruce, sent for the relic of St Fillan’s arm bone to be brought to him before the Battle of Bannockburn (Blàr Allt a’ Bhonnaich) on June 24th, 1314. The legend states that the messenger did not want to travel with the relic for fear that it would be lost or damaged (or worse, fall in to the hands of the English), so he brought the empty box to The Bruce. When the box was opened, the relic was inside, and the miracle of it gave heightened resolve to the Scottish Army. Bannockburn was one of the most decisive battles of the First War of Scottish Independence and a significant victory. It is one of the iconic cornerstones in Scottish history.
St Fillan was blessed with healing powers and had stones with which he healed various parts of the body. The Healing Stones are the only relic of St Fillan to be preserved at the mill, the site of his healing work. They are eight river washed stones, each one bearing resemblance to the part of the body for which it was used to cure. By tradition, the layer of river weeds, straw and twigs on which the stones are bedded, is changed every Christmas Eve.
They sit in a glass-covered box in front of a window. I stood there, staring at them with the same awe that I hold for the Scottish Honors. The amount of time and history contained in them is magic to me. As a Massage Therapist, I am well acquainted with using river rock for massage…but here were these mystical stones that were used some thirteen hundred years ago.
And, I hadn’t even known they were there before I saw them. It was pure chance that we stopped in Killan, and it was more the water and the view from the mill that caused me to wander over there.
According to Scottish archeological records:
St Fillan’s Ash tree was held sacred by the natives (J Shearer 1836). In 1912 the dead stump still stood against the S post of the mill gate at the NW corner of Dochart Bridge (NN 5708 3249). A rock-cut seat, also associated with St Fillan, was said to be by the side of the tree but nothing was known of it in 1912.
St Fillan’s Stones have been preserved in the mill since time immemorial. In 1912 there were eight stones; seven were water-worn pebbles, and the two largest, socket stones. They were used for rubbing the bodies of invalids.
G C Cash 1912.
The St Fillan’s stone seat stood under a large ash tree near the mill but was swept away by a flood in 1856. The tree was blown down by a gale in 1893, but St Fillan’s Stones survive.
E A Elders 1962.