City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Holyrood Park's Double Mysteries


By edg - Posted on 04 December 2007

When swans that flock together on St Margaret’s Loch in Holyrood Park started mysteriously dying of lead-poisoning, the park's custodians Historic Scotland took the step of draining the pond. However, instead of getting to the bottom of the mystery of the poisoned swans, it has turned up another mystery.

Historic Scotland have stumbled upon two bodiless male and female stone heads and are now appealing for public help in identifying them.

One was discovered during the partial draining of the Loch and the other was found on grassland near Spring gardens. Experts at Historic Scotland are unsure of the age of the heads, but believe that the male head, which is larger than a human head, could be up to 200 years old and may have belonged to a garden statue at a large Edinburgh house.

Another theory is that it could have been an apprentice piece, possibly even having been created in a mason’s yard at the castle.

The smaller, female head could be from a garden ornament.

Peter Yeoman, Historic Scotland senior archaeologist, said: “The male carving has distinctive rustic tooling and may be from a statue of a faun or similar mythical creature."

“But we don’t know where it came from and are not yet certain of its age. While the style of the second carving is quite different, it is certainly an unusual coincidence for two stone heads to turn up in the park."

“If anyone has any ideas we would be fascinated to hear from them.”

The larger head is also heavy and it may have taken two people to get it into the water.

Large amounts of plant growth and erosion suggest it had been in the loch for a considerable number of years.

The carving was brought to the attention of Historic Scotland staff by a member of the public during drainage work to look for possible causes of the lead poisoning that recently affected the swan population.

A third disembodied head has been discovered at another Historic Scotland site.
This was a ceramic head with bulging eyes and a scar which has been compared to the famous painting The Scream by Edvard Munch. It was found on the river bank close to the New Abbey Corn Mill near Dumfries.

Initial examination suggests it may have belonged to a puppet or toy and could be up to 300 years old. Once again, though, the exact age, purpose and origin are currently unclear.

Anyone with suggestions about the origins of the Holyrood Park head can
write to:

Peter Yeoman,
Care of Media and Marketing,
Historic Scotland,

Room 4.5,
Longmore House,.
Salisbury Place,
Edinburgh, EH9 1SH