The mysterious Picts… and beyond

Three questions are asked about the mysterious Picts of the Easter Ross coast of north-east Scotland: Where did they come from? What was the meaning of their wonderful art – miraculously preserved in stone for us to explore, today; and where did they go?

For more than six hundred years, between the 3rd and 9th centuries C.E., the Picts – literally ‘The Painted Ones’, sustained a kingdom running from a southern line between what is now Glasgow and Edinburgh – then known as the Antonine Wall, and the coastline of Easter Ross, north of Inverness in the Highlands.

For centuries, popular history viewed them as ‘half-crazed savages’. But these ‘wild painted men’ fought back the might of Rome’s legions before vanishing from history. They left no written records, but their culture and beliefs are etched into Scotland’s history.

(Above: a tiled mosaic of a Pictish design, outside the Pictish museum, Rosemarkie)

The Picts created intricate and sophisticated designs, which surpassed any other native art in Britain at the time. The subjects of their art varied from animals and mythical beasts to Pagan and Christian symbols; they appear to have easily synthesised the old and the new religions, and made it their own.

(Above: the beautiful beaches of Easter-Ross)

Although there are no written texts, the Picts left behind a wealth of spectacular standing stones, elaborate carvings and intricate sculptures for future generations to discover. We plan to explore several of these – and their stunning landscapes, during our weekend. We will also look at the nature of their art, and, possibly recreate something of our own using the Pictish symbol system.

(Above: Pictish Queen at Portmahomack)

The Easter Ross Pictish trail is has been established by Historic Scotland and offers a spectacular journey through a landscape which has been inhabited since the dawn of civilisation.

“Mysterious and often beautiful, Pictish sculpture presents one of the great puzzles of Dark Age archaeology” (Joanna Close-Brooks 1989) 

The Silent Eye had a series of workshops planned for this year. Due to the Covid-19 situation, these have, so far, been moved to the corresponding months of 2021.

The coming September Workshop: ‘The Pictish Trail’ presents us with an opportunity to resume our celebrated weekends of wandering and learning from the landscape…and each other.

As of the date of writing this, (22 July 2020) The Scottish government rules on travel and groups have been relaxed to a degree that will permit the Pictish Trail workshop to go ahead. Outdoor sites were never a problem. However, as of this week, Historic Scotland are relaxing their restrictions, and an increasing number of indoor locations are being re-opened.

(Above: the ferry across the Cromarty Firth will be one of the features of the weekend)

Administration of the weekend

Inverness will be our base location, due to its facilities, though much of the weekend will be spent on the coast to the north of here. We will convene on the Friday afternoon (or evening) for a visit to the first of the Pictish Stones and a shared meal. If time permits, we can enjoy a walk around the town.

Saturday and Sunday morning will be spent further north, following the official Pictish Trail along the beautiful coast of Easter Ross, and the nearby hills. We will return to Inverness for Saturday evening.

The dates are: Friday 11 September 2020 to Sunday (lunch) 13 September.

Transportation, accommodation and meals are not included in the £75.00 per person fee. Please make your own arrangements for the above, though meals are usually taken as a group, in local pubs, and the costs divided.

Should the event be cancelled due to Covid-19 issues, a full refund of the monies paid to the Silent Eye will be made.

A mainline train service runs to Inverness from Edinburgh. A small number of car places will be available from Inverness from those driving to the event. If you are travelling on foot, please ensure you have checked this availability before your departure.

To confirm your interest, please send an email to rivingtide@gmail.com, attention Steve Tanham

Optional Extension to Orkney

A small group of us are intending to continue on the Sunday northwards to Orkney, via car and passenger ferry from Scrabster – Thurso’s port. We will sail to Stromness, returning to the mainland on the morning of the 17th September. As of the time of writing, some of the previously closed centres of interest are being re-opened to limited number of visitors. Orkney sites such as the wonderful Ring of Brodgar, have continued to be available during the Covid restrictions. Further updates will be given to anyone interested in joining this. Orkney is beautiful, spiritual and unique. This is rare chance to combine two events and visit it.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.