Written in stone: Mysterious runes revealed as author’s tribute to his dad


A DECADES-old mystery of who carved a secret message into rocks on the westernmost part of the UK mainland has finally been solved.

Locals have been baffled for years by the strange script chiselled into stone on a hilltop in Ardnamurchan – and even code-breakers in the US were stumped.

It has now emerged that Ardnamurchan novelist Dominic Cooper carved the five-line message following his father’s death in 1986.

The poem was written in ancient runes
The poem was written in ancient runes


The published author wrote the tribute poem in Icelandic and then converted the script into runes, the alphabet used by Vikings and ancient Saxons.

Locals stumbled across the message a few years later but they were utterly baffled by the script and believed it could have been carved any time in the previous half century.

One theory was that it had been left by commandos training in the area during the Second World War.

Local historian Jon Haylett devoted considerable time and effort to cracking the mystery of the code on 240m Beinn Bhreac.

He posted pictures of the script on his blog and invited code breakers around the world to crack it.

He even sent a photograph of the script to a code-breaking expert at a university in the US.

Author Dominic Cooper lives on the North coast of Ardnamurchan
Author Dominic Cooper lives on the North coast of Ardnamurchan


“She got quite close to the first three words,” said Mr Haylett.

The mystery was only solved when Mr Cooper decided it was finally time to come clean.

He said: “My father died in March 1986. That summer I made four or five trips up to Beinn Bhreac, armed with bolster, hammer and file.

“I chose a rock face tucked down below the cairn just so that it wouldn’t be immediately noticeable to walkers.”

The poem reads: “May the heavens and eternal stone protect these runes which Dominic cut in memory of his father Martin a loyal friend and the best of men

“May Christ and St Mary help his soul.”

Mr Cooper, 69, set out to make the message a private affair, and chose Icelandic out of his affinity with the culture and the history of the island, where one of his novels is set.

Mr Cooper's father died in 1986
Mr Cooper’s father died in 1986


He said: “It just seemed like a nice way of doing it.

“I’m quite into Iceland – Runes are like a magic language.”

“I was very close to my dad, I just wanted it to be between me and him.

“My father was quite old and he had a bad heart, he suddenly went when he was 76.”

He continued: “I spent hours bashing at the rock.

“When I saw the so-called mystery, I thought if I wanted to tell anyone about it, and I decided I did.

“I’m quite proud of it.”

Mr Cooper, 69, is the author of The Dead of Winter, and is now working as a watch and clock repairer on the northern coast of the Ardnamurchan peninsula, the most Westerly part of mainland Britain.

He is also the author of the Iceland-set novel Men at Axlir.

The peninsula  was a popular landing spot for Norse settlers and was also the site of the first fully intact Viking boat burial site discovered on the UK.