St Orland's Stone is a large Pictish cross slab standing in open countryside just over two miles north east of the Pictish religious centre of Glamis. The stone, which is sometimes also known as the Cossans Stone, stands some 2.4m high by 0.7m broad by 25cm thick.
The images on this page show the stone in May 2009 during archaeological investigations intended to discover whether it stands in its original location or not. The scaffolding seems designed to support the stone while excavations take place around its base.
Early indications are that the stone probably still stands where it was originally erected twelve centuries or more ago. Whether it continues to do so seems to be a matter for debate, with some sources suggesting it will be moved to a more sheltered and accessible location such as St Fergus Kirk in Glamis.
The exposed location has certainly taken its toll on St Orland's Stone. Drawings made during excavations in 1855 show it had at some time previously been broken in two and pinned together again.
Meanwhile, the finer detail on both faces of the stone have weathered quite heavily. Those same excavations discovered five cist burials near the foot of the stone, resulting in the theory that a chapel may have stood nearby during the Pictish era.
The ring-cross on the front or east face of the stone is surrounded by deeply incised background segments and, in turn, by a well defined frame around the edge of the stone. Both the cross and the background areas carry fairly worn decoration which must, when the cross was new, have looked absolutely magnificent.
The rear or west facing side of the stone is divided into a series of panels stacked vertically. The top quarter of the stone is occupied by a series of "standard" Pictish symbols including a "crescent and V-rod" and a "double disc and Z-rod". As with other Pictish symbols their meaning is unknown but much debated. Three lower panels carry pictures of human figures. Two of them each depict two riders, in one case accompanied by hounds, and so probably showing a hunting scene. The third panel carries an image of a boat crewed by five long haired figures. Beneath the boat are two four-legged beasts.
Between the panels carrying figures and the symbols at the top is a mystery. There is a gap here which looks as if a figure has been removed from the stone: or possibly there was once a figure inlaid in a different material that has since worn away. As this coincides with the original break in the stone, it is tempting to suggest that at some time in the Pictish era efforts were made to remove someone, perhaps a deposed king, from the images on the stone, which broke as a result.
Access to St Orland's Stone is not straightforward. Two miles north of Glamis on the A928, just beyond the bridge over a disused railway, a track heading north east is signposted "Meikle Cossans 1¼ miles", beneath a no through road sign.
This fairly rough and potholed track carries on for a mile past a number of cottages before the quality drops further on the approach to the ruined farmstead at Cossans. We'd not recommend this for anyone without a 4x4, but there is no alternative apart from walking in from the A928. Trying to approach from the other end of the same track at Nether Drumgley doesn't work.
However you've got that far, it is best to walk from the ruined farmstead at Cossans. A few hundred yards beyond it, the track takes a 90 degree turn right, but the route to the stone is straight on, along what becomes increasingly identifiable as the trackbed of the disused railway. A quarter of a mile along the track, look out for a field boundary running uphill to your right (see image below left). Descend the railway embankment, climb a stile over a deer fence, make your way up the east side of the fence and field boundary, and you arrive at St Orland's Stone beyond the brow of a low hill.
We've seen it reported that you can see the stone from the railway embankment: you can't. When we visited, the stile over the deer fence was extremely rickety. If it breaks, then access by this route will become impossible as the deer fence is unclimbable: and as already indicated, there doesn't seem to be a "Plan B".