Fowlis Wester is a small sleepy settlement of small stone houses set around a central square, five miles east of Crieff. Now by passed by the A85 Crieff to Perth Road, it had been an important cattle selling tryst. Now its main claim to fame are the Pictish stones in the church.
Don’t be deceived by the large stone surrounded by railings in the square, this is a replica of that in the church. This is reached through a small archway in the churchyard wall. St Bean’s Church is a long low building with crow-stepped gables and a small bell cot at the west end. Parts of it date from the 13thC. Inside it is a simple building with wooden ceiling, and a low round chancel arch. There is a nice modern carved pulpit and altar.
The Pictish stones are set in a recess off the north wall of the nave under another round arch. Lights come on as soon as you enter the area but in fact photographs are better in natural light.
The centre stone is the 10’ tall cross slab stone which originally stood in the square before being moved into the church to prevent further erosion of the carvings. Behind is a smaller beautifully carved stone and two small pieces of a third cross slab.
The large cross slab is thought to date from 8/9thC. The carving is badly eroded and it is quite difficult to make out details, particularly on the reverse. On the front is a large cross with raised studs at the centre. The shaft and arms are carved with an interlaced pattern. The chain on the front is probably the remains of a medieval iron collar (jougs) which would hold a miscreant for public exhibition. The carvings on the back are best seen from an angle. There is the large figure of a horseman, Below is a figure of a man on foot leading a horned four footed animal with more men on foot following him. (These can be seen more clearly on the replica cross).
Behind it is a smaller and beautifully carved cross slab. This has a Celtic cross with interlaced carvings on the shaft, arms and surrounding ring. At the top on either side are two fish-like creatures. The one on the left has a sword and shield by it. That on the right looks to be eating a human figure. On either side of the shaft are two seated figures, thought to be priests. At the base on the left are two carved figures. The bottom right of the stone is broken and the damage must have been done during carving as the stone was discarded and the back is uncarved. It was used as a building stone in the church wall and was only discovered when the church was restored in 1927. This accounts for its remarkable state of preservation.
This was a very well worthwhile visit.