Craig Ferguson hunts for the artistry of the Picts, who he thinks used many parts of the country as their art gallery, displaying their mysterious carvings on standing stones.
He visits Burghead on the Moray Firth, visiting first the Burghead Well – what was the water supply for a huge Pictish Fort, mostly demolished to make way for a planned town and harbour, laid out in the early 19th century.
He meets with the then regional archaeologist for Grampian, Ian Shepherd. He tells Ferguson that the fort was so huge that it extended westward into the area now occupied by the harbour. During its construction, which involved excavating below and into the fort area, several stones with bull carvings were unearthed. It is reckoned that these unique artworks were displayed on the walls as a kind of a frieze.
Shepherd relates how a fire ceremony still takes place at Burghead – the oldest recorded one of its kind in Scotland. The Burning of the Clavie takes place on the 11 January – Auld Eel in Scots or Old Yule, that is, a festive day according to the old calendar.
The Clavie is a burning tar barrel, taken in procession round the town by a specially chosen team, then placed on a special stand on the last remaining part of the old Pictish ramparts.
This gives Ferguson the idea that perhaps the carvings on the stones were meant to be seen by firelight, causing the images to flicker and dance. He goes to the Maiden Stone, a late Pictish stone near Inverurie and experiments with flaming torches.