The Dove Cote. Minster Lovell Hall. Name: Dervaig's standing stones.
Location: Dervaig, Isle of Mull
Weather: Warm, bright and clear. Slight westerly breeze. Temp: day 24°C, night 12°C
Investigators: Philip, Jonathan.
Map Ref: OS Map of Dervaig, and the standing stones
Unexplainable sounds Magnetic fluctuations Manifestations Phantom smells
From the Florida Keys to Scotland's Western Isles: In June, 2004, a friend in the USA contacted me to tell of her experience holidaying on the Island of Mull, one of Scotland's less rugged 'Western Isles'. Caroline McInnen had chosen this remote spot, due to her love of ancient sites, rambling and wildlife. A healthy liking of fresh seafood was also a deciding factor. She had chosen "Dervaig", as a base of operations, as she believes she is directly descended from the "good strong Scottish stock" of that area. No one has ever challenged this doubtful fact, but I digress. While enjoying her hefty holiday, of hiking, eating and exploring, she explored an ancient megalithic momument known locally as "Maol Mór"; which is based in a thick pine forest; to the North East of the town.

The man in the woods: It was at dusk, on Sunday 15th of June, and she was making her way back to the hotel in Dervaig. This route happens to pass two additional stones, which were proudly standing two metres high in the growing gloom. She was struck by the eerie quality of the scene, and was aware how timeless the stones seemed. What appeared to be additional large stones were half hidden in the bracken which threatened to consume the site. Upon one of these rocks sat a man, in a tweed jacket, and corduroy trousers. He is described as unshaven, around 54, short and slightly overweight. He watched Caroline approach, along the path, and seemed to be in some agitation. Caroline is a good soul and wished the man 'good day'. In an instant, the man burst into tears and began sobbing in a manner that she found quite disturbing. He was muttering to himself, which both disturbed Caroline, and unnerved her. From what she could hear, the man was speaking in Gaelic, which is still spoken by the older generations in these parts, or so we are told. Being a lone woman, in the woods, Caroline was lost as to what to do. She made her apologies and left the scene. She has always regretted this decision. She was to find out, later that evening, that the man was not all he seemed.

The OS map of the Dervaig region. Note the 'hotel', 'standing stones' and the many points of interest clustered around this area on Mull.

The wind whistled, and tales were told: The hotel welcomed her return, and Caroline told of her encounter. She was worried about the man she had seen in the woods, and feared he may be mentally ill, or genuinely distressed. Her description fell on deaf ears, as no one was able to identify the stranger. Some thought about "taking a look", but the night had fallen, and the weather had taken a definite turn for the worst. With some disappointment, Caroline returned to her room, and changed for her evening meal. The hotel was busy, for the season, and the hotel bar was lively most evenings, with friendly locals and visiting tourists. An agreeable mix. After an enjoyable meal of Venison and local vegetables, she settled in the bar and told of her encounter to anyone who would listen. A couple from Shropshire, who mentioned they were regular visitors to Dervaig, were alarmed to hear her story, as they too have seen the man by the standing stones. Their story had the poor soul shouting and stamping amongst the trees, and ignoring passers by. To the best of their knowledge, they remembered the date to be February 2002. Caroline insisted that they tell the hotel's present owners, and hoped someone in the bar would come forward with information. Although no definite identification could be made, many theorised that the figure could be the ghost of a character known as "Flinty Nicols", or "Flint Nicolson". He was, supposedly, a travelling man, who arrived in Mull looking for work in the Dervaig area. Prone to alcoholism, and bouts of aggression, Flinty died on the Island in the 1930's. Caroline was also told of a possible ancient cult known as "The Nameless Ones"*, and learnt of Dervaig's Stone Age past. After a few too many gin and tonics, she too began to feel a little primitive, and retired to bed.

Caroline returned to the US two days later. She emailed me almost immediately. She is fully aware of my love for unusual and lesser-known ghost stories.

Boarding the ferry from Oban to Mull. The bright, clear waters of the Western Isles.. Philip: In sunglasses. Arriving at Craignure, on Mull.

Enticed, intrigued and arriving: Caroline's colourful tale prompted a trip to Scotland, which would eventually take in four supposedly haunted locations in the Western Isles. Mull is thought to be a beautiful island, so I made that my first port of call. Literally. Philip and I arrived at Craignure, on the island of Mull, via the car ferry from Oban. Craignure can boast the wonderful Duart Castle, a little further north, which I am sure must have a ghost or two. It certainly looks the part, and there was a strong temptation to explore the battlements and vaults. Philip is far more resolute than I, and managed to drive us to Dervaig before late noon became 'afternoon'. The island of Mull is indeed beautiful, and we were swept along by its majesty and complexity. So, you can imagine our high spirits when we finally arrived at Dervaig, and parked the car. The woodlands, which hide the standing stones, were easy to locate. Caroline had emailed a rather informative map, with pointers and landmarks. Proceeding across the rough grassland, we mounted the stile which allowed the only access to the pine forest beyond…

Investigation / Daytime: August 1st, 2004 :: 13:45 to 15:55 approx. (reasons given below)

The woods were amazingly dark, after the bright sunshine of the Scottish open landscape, but the standing stones were clearly visible ahead of us. At once I could understand why Caroline had found the spot "timeless". The ancient monoliths exhibited a quality I have yet to see matched by other megalithic sites. Perhaps it is their seclusion from the outside world, or the singular beam of bright sunshine, which lit the scene. Both Philip and I were speechless, and quite mesmerised by the atmosphere.

The five stones; Cnoc Fada or Dervaig B

There are, in fact, five ancient stones forming this site. The stone, which Caroline had observed "Flinty" sitting upon, is one of the three fallen stones. Together, all five stones would have stood in a line, each 2 metres tall, and are known as "Cnoc Fada", or the slightly less exotic "Dervaig B". They are positioned in a NNW-SSE alignment.

A deserted main road on Mull. A thistle. I had to squeeze one in somewhere. The beautiful, and peaceful, Loch. A view through the trees of Maol Mór

Magnetic fluctuations: Our first experiment involved my trusty compass, which revealed quite alarming magnetic fluctuations. A complete turn (anticlockwise) was made on the southside of stone "D", one of the two upright stones. A halfturn (clockwise) was noted on the eastside of stone "A", the least aligned member of the group. This effect could be reproduced several times, and I would like to hear from any dowsers, and EMF specialists who have surveyed the stones.

My own EMF Meter, which back then was a rather clunky model with L.E.Ds, registered a 3 milliguass fluctuation by stone "A". This happened twice, when the meter was lowered to a foot from the surface of the stone. We were unable to re-produce the effect, once the sun disappeared from the clearing. I do not know if this is especially significant, but thought it worth mentioning.

Digital camera: Apart from photographing the illustrations on this page, the digital camera did not record anything which we judge to be extraordinary. So, I will not waste your time.

Automatic Writing: A new technique, to both Philip and I, we thought Cnoc Fada an appropriate location to give this slightly controversial experiment a trial run. We were both equipped with small pads, like those carried by policemen, and a sharp pencil. I sat on stone "A", while Philip sat on stone "E". Philip's stone was noticeably lower, and he was nervous of the footpath stretching out behind him. Closing our eyes, and resting the pencil on the paper, we relaxed and cleared our minds.

Some time passed.

I was conscious of the pencil moving, and not by the natural effect of gravity. The slippage of my hand, downwards, was evident, but there were also horizontal movements and slight turns. Apart from that, I had a shoddy doodle to show for my half-hour.

Philip, on the other hand, had even less to show. His meditation had been disturbed by the arrival of a rambler (walker). The crunch of dry bracken and slight squish of turf had broken his contemplation. Strange thing is, upon opening his eyes, there was no one there. Casting his eyes in my direction, he was surprised to see my self-enforced peace remained undisturbed.

Travel fatigue, a welcome cup of tea, and a peculiar tale: With our daytime activities complete, we both returned to the car and made our way to the hotel. A charming building, run by equally charming staff, in a charming spot on Mull. Refreshed, I felt bolder and ready for our dusk experiment. Caroline had seen the figure, thought to be "Flinty", as dusk descended. I believe, when given a tip off, it is a good idea to follow it through. Before leaving the safety and normality of the hotel, I asked about the "The Nameless Ones". Some agreed they had heard that title before, but do not know from where. Later, on my return to London, I carried out a web search, and discovered I am not alone in my interest towards these mysterious sounding fellows. Peculiar indeed, and most intriging, but for now, there is a stone row to investigate.

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Investigation / Nightime: August 1st, 2004 :: 19:00 to 21:30 approx.

Devoid of bright sunshine, the stone row known as 'Cnoc Fada', presented both Philip and I with a different atmosphere. A very spooky, and indescribable tone was now in evidence, and we were both very quiet as we crossed the stile, and re-entered the wood. Perhaps it was the knowledge of our location, or Caroline's descriptions of the disturbing "Flinty", or the majestic presence of the ancient stones. I do not know which, but I am ashamed to admit that I was very nervous. Philip appeared to share my unease, but he knew we had work to do, and work we must.

Woodland noises, the smell of 'baccy' and magnetic fluctuations: We proceeded to stone "A", which rests at the most wooded edge of the site, and unpacked our equipment. Philip took the EMF Meter, I took the digital video camera, and we both carried a digital 'stills' camera. Before discussing the mood, and dusky setting, we were both surprised to smell tobacco: "baccy, definitely a tobacco smell, like unsmoked Golden Virginia" said Philip. I have to agree, the smell was unmistakable. It was not the smell of the pines, or the turf underfoot. Bolstered by our finding, we began a silent vigil sitting on the stone marked "A", facing south.

19:08 - A stronger smell of tobacco. Noticed independently by both.

19:23 - A loud, and woody, thump among the trees to our rear. A falling branch, or dying squirrel would make such a sound, so we are not confirming this as paranormal.

19:48 - The smell of burning tobacco, or a sweet smelling garden bonfire. No smoke visible from any direction.

20:10 - A slight blip on the EMF meter. The button was taped down using electricians tape. The reading, which lasted 3 seconds, was 3 milligauss. Philip attempted to follow the reading, but it dissipated into the ground by stone "B". Philip returns to his position. Nothing unusual was recorded by the video camera.

20:34 - I can feel a pain in my neck. My back is also aching, but the hard surface on which I was sitting could be to blame. Whereas, my neck felt hot, like someone holding a flame close to the skin. This passes after Philip inspected the flesh in that area.

20:56 - Another EMF fluctuation. Again, it measures 3 milligauss, and I made an attempt to pinpoint the origin. That time, the reading vanishes by stone "C". I feel this is significant to mention, as we were both very surprised.

21:05 - It is now very dark in the pine woods, and the atmosphere feels threatening. The stones take on a peculiar quality, which I can only describe as 'aggressive'. Their stoney bulk is unnerving, and we begin to fidget and pass nervous glances to each other.

21:20 - A husky chuckle is heard by both, from the direction of stone "D". It is entirely possible for someone to hide behind that stone, but we would have seen any approach. I began to think about the M.R.James story "A Warning to the Curious", which made me even more nervous. The story features the disturbance of an ancient site, by an amateur archaeologist, who then suffers a nasty fate. I buckled, and suggested we leave. Sorry.

19:22 - While packing our things into the rucksack, a sound alerts us both to stone "D". A loud "clack" of stone on stone has the obvious effect, and we depart briskly along the path, steering clear of the stones.

In retrospect: A nerve shredding evening, but with little to show for it. Disappointing but frightening, the 'Cnoc Fada' stones are highly recommended to those who enjoy a spooky time while exploring. We completed our notes in the warmth of the hotel, and asked whether anyone had thought to play tricks on the two Englishmen in the woods. The thought had crossed my mind, at the time, but no one stood out as a possible culprit. I do not believe anyone had his (or her) fun with us that evening. Unless, of course, you count "Flinty" among that group. If he was there, he wasn't as bold as he was with Caroline, which may be significant.

Speaking of Caroline, on my return to London, I gave her a call, and recounted the experiments conducted by Philip and myself. She was less than kind, when she heard of our nervousness, and promises to join us one day, to prove her boldness. I do not doubt that this will happen. Perhaps her connections with Dervaig are less flimsy than I once suspected. 'Flinty' may be persuaded by her charms, and reward us with a manifestation. Now, there's my excuse to visit Mull once again, if any were needed.


"The Nameless Ones"*: Andy Roberts was kind enough to email, and solve the mystery of "The Nameless Ones". It seems a few over zealous storytellers may be confusing the ancient with the semi-recent. It wouldn't be the first time:

This is a classic example of how relatively recent events become enshrined as folklore. The Namless Ones was the name given by the press to a group of New Age people who lived on Mull in the late 1940s/early 1950s. They attracted considerable media attention at the time because of their lifestyles. Several of the people involved (including Peter Caddy) went on to found the well known Findhorn New Age place in Scotland.