Sueno's Stone Forres

Written by Chris Thornton | 18th of June 2023
Sueno's Stone

Moray has many ancient wonders, but one of the greatest is Sueno's Stone (sometimes called The Forres Pillar), situated in the town of Forres, Moray. Discovered in 1726 and buried in a farmer's field, it is a large vertical slab monolith of stone displaying intricate Pictish art, including figures and a Celtic cross.

When you see the stone, you can't help but let your imagination run wild of the times long ago when the mysterious Picts were the dominating force in the area.

Sueno's Stone | third panel

When was Sueno's Stone carved?

Archaeologists believe Sueno's Stone was carved sometime between 800 and 900 AD, established by Radiocarbon Dating and by the depictions in the carvings. It is one of the largest surviving Pictish Stones in Scotland at over 6.5 metres tall and weighs 7.6 tons! Sueno's stone is made from red sandstone (sourced from Covesea near Lossiemouth) and covered in early medieval-period carvings.

Despite being found in 1726, the first written reference to the stone is on "Pont's Map" from around 1590, which actually shows two stones. Could there be another stone buried out there!?

Standing stones shown on Pont's Map dating between 1583-1614.

Who were the Picts?

The Picts were an ancient group of Celtic-speaking people who lived in what is now eastern and northern Scotland during the Late British Iron Age and Early Medieval periods. They are known primarily for their distinctive art style, which is seen in intricate carvings on stones, metalwork, and other artefacts. Their name comes from the Latin word "Picti," meaning "painted" or "tattooed people," a description given to them by Roman writers.

If you're interested in the Picts, Inverness Museum has many carved stones and other artefacts. On the A95 to the south there is a great selection of stones at Inveravon Church.

Protecting Sueno's Stone

In 1988 a protective shelter was built around the Shandwick Stone on the Tarbat Peninsula in Easter Ross. This had been a bonus for tourism as people were drawn to the stone enclosure instead of the big museums in cities. So it was decided Sueno's Stone should also be preserved in a similar way and kept on site. This was part of a drive to leave significant historical findings where they were found instead of moving them to a new location.

Originally the stone was protected in Victorian times with an iron fence; the top was also capped with a lead cover protecting it from the worst of weather erosion.

In 1992, the stone was encapsulated in a large glass shelter to protect it from further weathering from the rain and wind at a cost of £115,000. There was an opening ceremony where Sir Hector Munro, the MP for Dumfriesshire, officially opened the stone for public viewing.

There were mixed feelings about the Sueno's Stone being cordoned off, with some feeling it a shame they could no longer get up close to it, but it is fantastic this relic is being preserved for future generations.

One problem with the glass case is that it has caused a greenhouse effect inside and dried out the stone, but I guess it is better than it being open to the elements all year; it would be a real shame to have to move the stone away from the site.

Historic Scotland currently cares for and maintains the site, they have called it "one of the most richly carved examples of Pictish art in Scotland".

Vandalism

The shelter was damaged in 2016, with multiple glass panels being smashed by vandals. It cost £10,000 to make the repairs. Historic Environment Scotland inspected the stone, and thankfully no damage had been caused.

Exterior view of enclosure.  The stone dates to 800 and 900 AD.

What does Sueno's Stone depict?

Sueno's stone has four faces or panels, each with a different design carved into the rock. The entire stone is covered in carvings.

Panel A

This panel shows a ringed Celtic cross surrounded by intricate interlaced Celtic knot shapes.

Panel B

Many historians believe that the face of the stone depicts a battle scene. There are many figures with swords, mounted warriors, shields and spears, and rows of decapitated bodies.

There seems to be a great deal of debate on which battle is represented and who the belligerents are.

Kenneth MacAlpin / King Kenneth I

One theory is the battle is of the defeat of the Picts in 841 by Kenneth MacAlpin / King Kenneth I, considered to be the founder of Scotland when it was known by its ancient name - Alba.

Norse King Sweyn Forkbeard "Sueno"

An alternative theory is that the battle is between Norse King Sweyn Forkbeard or "Sueno" (where the stone gets its name) and Scots in Moray, although there is little evidence for this.

Norse and Picts

The final interpretation suggests it was a battle fought between the Norse and Scots/Picts.

Panels C & D

The remaining two smaller sides have a twisting vine line pattern from the top to the bottom.

Pictish stone carving on a flat square pillar, also known as a cross slab.

Shakespeare

According to Scottish folklore, the site of Sueno's Stone is where Macbeth met the three witches at crossroads in the famous Shakespeare play. It was said that the witches were trapped in the stone, and if the stone was ever broken, their evil would again be released into the world.

Obviously, a fun tale that can be traced back to the time of Shakespeare's play and no further, but you have to love the imagination of the person that came up with this story.

FAQs on Sueno's Stone

Here are some frequently asked questions on Sueno's Stone.

What is Sueno's Stone?

Sueno's Stone is a Pictish stone located in Forres, Moray, Scotland. It is the largest surviving Pictish stone of its type and features intricate carvings on its surface. The stone is believed to have been erected in the late 9th to early 10th century AD.

Where is Sueno's Stone?

The stone is located on the northeast side of Forres, Moray, Scotland. It can be seen from the A96 main road just after the first roundabout as you come into Forres. There are two small parking areas near the stone with enough space for about four cars.

From Elgin:

  1. Leave Elgin, travelling west along the A96 to Forres (11 miles / 18 minutes).

  2. As you enter Forres, you will come to a roundabout. Take the first exit, turning left.

  3. Continue some distance down Victoria Road, then take a right turn following the brown tourist sign marked "Sueno's Stone".

  4. Continue along Findhorn Road, and you will see Sueno's Stone and the car park on the left.

From Inverness:

  1. Leave Inverness on the A96, passing through Nairn and Auldearn until you arrive at Forres. (27 miles / 40 minutes).

  2. Pass through the majority of Forres until you arrive at the third roundabout.

  3. Turn right at the roundabout, and take the third exit, travelling south along Victoria Road.

  4. Follow Findhorn Road until you arrive at the stone.

Sueno's Stone on Google Maps
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Where is the best place to park for Sueno's Stone?

There is a small car park directly next to the stone, however if this is busy, head back onto Victoria Road and drive further into Forres, look for the Grant Park car park on your left. This car park is still within walking distance of Sueno's Stone, and you will also pass the Witches Stone.

How old is Sueno's Stone?

The stone is over 1100 years old.

Is there anything else near Sueno's Stone to see?

Please check out Nelson's Tower on Cluny Hill; it is within walking distance from Sueno's Stone and can be accessed via Grant Park. The Witches stone is also a short distance away too. The ruinous Kinloss Abbey in the nearby town of Kinloss is also well worth a visit. 

Morayvia Aerospace Museum is also based in Kinloss and has many great exhibits.  Clava Cairns burial mounds and standing stones lie to the west, about 22 miles away (35 minutes).  Randolph's Leap, a great walk along the River Findhorn, is available to the south.  Also south lies Lochindorb Castle, reknown island fortress of Edward I and the Wolf of Badenoch.

How much does it cost to visit Sueno's Stone?

The stone is free to visit at all times of year. There is no visitor centre, just a glass case for displaying the stone.

Key information on Sueno's Stone

  • Sueno's Stone is a Pictish stone covered in intricate carvings located on the east side of Forres.

  • Discovered in 1726, buried in a farmer's field.

  • This early medieval sculpture displays a Celtic cross and depictions of a battle scene.

  • Sueno's Stone is thought to be around 1100 years old.

  • Pont's map dating from 1590 depicts a second stone, so far undiscovered.

  • The stone gets its name from a Norse King, but there is little evidence of a link.

  • There is a popular legend about witches associated with the stone.

Conclusion

A visit to Sueno's Stone offers a memorable journey into Scotland's rich cultural heritage. As you walk in the footsteps of the Picts, let your imagination wander and take a moment to appreciate the enduring legacy they left behind. Who knows what other secrets and stories lie waiting to be unearthed in the beautiful landscapes of Moray?

Photos by John Luckwell.

War reporting on a monumentally self confident scale. Third panel
Ruthven Barracks Map Location

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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