Inveravon Parish Church stands on a bluff above the south-east bank of the River Spey close to its confluence with the River Avon. The church is home to the Inveravon (sometimes called Inveraven) Pictish Stones, a collection of four carves stones probably dating back to the period between 600 and 800.
For many years the Inveravon Pictish Stones were displayed, if that's quite the right word, by being mounted against the outside of the south wall of the church. This made them easy to find and appreciate, but it also left them exposed to weathering that would inevitably have eroded the carvings over time. In 2011 they were moved to a new home, in what had been the entrance porch towards the west end of the south wall of the church.
When we last visited it was still possible to see where the stones had previously stood. Their new home is undoubtedly a vast improvement, as the stones are now beautifully lit and protected from the weather, but is perhaps not as obvious as it might be given the fairly subtle signage. We suspect that since their move, more than one visitor has called in at Inveravon Parish Church in search of the stones, only to conclude that they are away being restored.
There may have been a very early chapel standing on this site from the 600s, in which case the symbol stones must have stood in close proximity to it. Whatever the meaning and purpose of Pictish symbol stones, and both are subjects that look likely to keep academics arguing for a long time to come, the appreciation of the local stones had diminished to the point that the largest of those we know about, Inveravon 1, was used as part of the foundations of a church built here in 1108.
This stone was rediscovered, broken, when the church was rebuilt in 1806. Inveravon 1 is a fascinating stone. It carries a very large if rather crude carving of an eagle with, above it, a shape that is interpreted as a mirror case. Much more difficult to see, below the front of the eagle, are the symbols for a mirror and a comb. The stone itself measures 1.7m in height by 0.9m wide and is formed of blue slate.
The stone now displayed to the right of the main group of three as you look at them is known as Inveravon 2. This carries a collection of typical Pictish symbols including a triple disc (or a cauldron viewed from above) with below it, a mirror and comb. The upper part of the stone carries an abstract symbol known as a crescent and V-rod. Inveravon 2 measures about 1.5m in height by 0.6m wide and was unearthed in the churchyard in 1878. Its relatively unweathered appearance suggests it may previously have formed a part of the demolished medieval church.
Inveravon 3 is the least immediately impressive of the stones because it is the smallest. It is actually only a fragment of the original stone, apparently cut down to provide building material for the 1108 church. It carries a partial carving that can be made out to be the head of a beast, a carving that often appears on Pictish symbol stones and which has been variously interpreted as something out of mythology, an elephant, or a dolphin. Any symbol that may be viewed as either an elephant or a dolphin is necessarily always going to be fairly loosely drawn.
You can get a sense of what the whole beast or elephant looked like from the complete (albeit fairly faint) carving of one on Inveravon 4, the stone standing on the left of the display in the porch and measuring about 1.1m in height by 0.5m wide. The beast stands in the centre of the stone, with a crescent and V-rod symbol above it. The numbering system applied to Pictish stones denotes that this was the most recent of the four stones found at Inveravon. It was discovered buried in the churchyard in 1964, and the much greater degree of weathering compared with the others suggests that it was probably never protected by being incorporated into the structure of the medieval church.
There is something truly magical about Pictish symbol stones. In part this is down to the many mysteries that surround the Picts themselves. A society that dominated large parts of what is now Scotland for a number of centuries left no written records, only symbols carved in stone or formed in metalwork. And the sense of mystery is deepened by the lack of agreement amongst experts about what became of the Picts and why they seem to have disappeared from history so suddenly and completely. The truth may be a fairly mundane story of assimilation and rebranding, but as you stand in front of a collection of stones like the one at Inveravon, you really do begin to feel a very tangible link with a distant and unknowable past.