Sueno's Stone Forres

Written by Chris Thornton | 5th of August 2021
Forres History Moray
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 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?

Archeologists believe Sueno's Stone was carved sometime between 800 and 900 AD, established by Radiocarbon Dating, and by the depictions in the intricate 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 and covered in early medieval period carvings.  It is the most impressive example of early medieval sculpture in Scotland.

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!?

Pont's Map

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 of 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 at its present location 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 is open to the elements all year, it would be a real shame to have to move the stone away from the site.

The Scottish charity - Historic Scotland currently cares for and maintains the site.

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

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 damaged had been caused.

How old is Sueno's Stone?

The stone is over 1100 years old.

What does Sueno's Stone depict?

Sueno's stone has four faces or panels, each with a different design carved into the rock.

Panel A

This panel shows a ringed Celtic cross surrounded by intricate interlaced Celtic knot shapes.  This might be related to a royal inauguration.

Panel B

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

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

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 is 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.

These are fantastic theories, but I don't think anyone really knows for sure what the stone depicts.

Stone Sueno's

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 on the world.

Obviously a fun local legend, 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.

Where is Sueno's Stone?

The stone is located on the northeasterly edge 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. See the map below or the Live Breathe Scotland Map.

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.

Conclusion

Sueno's stone is a real fragment of true ancient Scottish history and is a must-visit for tourists visiting the area.

Photos by John Luckwell.

Sueno's Stone
Ruthven Barracks Map Location

Share this article