The Shandwick Stone

In the northern Scottish county of Easter Ross, beside the Moray Firth, and protected from the elements by a modern glass structure, stands the Shandwick stone. For over a thousand years this class II cross slab had largely survived the elements when it was blown down in a gale in 1846. The stone unfortunately broke into two pieces and was subsequently repaired.

Shandwick Stone                                Photo © Iain W G Forbes 2011


The front of the Shandwick stone reveals the high art of the Pictish craftsmen in its intricate interlaced cross. The style of the cross shows similarities and therefore a relationship to the high crosses of Ireland and western Scotland, as well as the monumental sculpture of the other neighbours of the Picts; the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria. Beasts, angels and knot-work crowd the cross, and the unswerving Christian faith of the patron of this cross-slab is proclaimed for all in the community to see.


The back of the Shandwick stone is divided into eight panels, and was well described by J. Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson in their two volume work published in 1903, Early Christian Monuments in Scotland. Within these panels are incised strange beasts, hunters, birds, and a host of other animals. The largest figure is that of the bizarre and supernatural looking ‘Pictish beast’, which dominates the top panel. This classic symbol, found on many other stones throughout Scotland, dwarfs three smaller symbols within the same panel that include two rams, and an unidentifiable four legged animal.


Shandwick Stone: Detail of ‘hunting panel’       Photo © Iain W G Forbes 2011

Shandwick Stone, Detail of ‘Beast’ symbol      Photo  © Iain W G Forbes 2011                  

About iainforbespict

Author of book on the Picts

Posted on June 15, 2012, in Featured Stone. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Hi Ian, What a shame the Shandwick Stone was damaged but at least a repair had been attempted. Can you tell where it was repaired? You chose such an interesting subject to follow. Thanks for pics.

  2. Susan Abernethy

    Cool. You do great work!

  3. What an amazing stone – I had never heard of the ‘Pictish beast’ and it’s fascinating. Are there any theories about what it represents?

    • Yes, its one of the most common Pictish symbols. Some people claim its a dolphin other that it represents the mythical ‘Kelpie’ or water horse, which is creature according to legend lives in Lochs and rivers and ambushes the unwary (Nessie?).

  4. Hello Ian,

    Thanks for the information in this post, brought to my notice by Tim Clarkson via his Senchus blog. I was aware of the Hilton of Cadboll cross slab in the NMS but the Shandwick stone seems to have fallen of my radar altogether. Although not Pictish you may be interested to know of our project to erect our interpretation of how the Anglian cross at Aberlady (East Lothian) would have looked when it was first erected at the Christian settlement here. It was carved by Barry Grove who also carved the replica Hilton of Cadboll stone. Further details can be found on Regards, Ian

  5. For some reason everyone thinks the Pictish beastie is aquatic. Why could he not be ethereal? A sky horse?

    • Hi Peter, I agree. I believe the beast has ethereal qualities, but also aquatic. While this sounds like a contradiction, my hypothesis in the book suggests that the beast may be related to the Hindu ‘Makara’ – which has a number of similarities in both form and folklore to the beast/kelpie. The Makara has both sky and aquatic aspects.

  6. It looks more like an aquatic Mesosaur than an equine — not really very fanciful either, rather accurate. Does anyone know the guesstimated age of this work?

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