Monday, 14 September 2015

The Ecclefechan Siege

"One day," you say to yourself driving down the M74 and seeing the signs at Junction 19 for Ecclefechan, "I'm going to turn off the motorway and visit Ecclefechan." But of course you never do.

Then one day, I did.

High summer Ecclefechan:

Comedy show Absolutely had a spoof folk song, 'The Hills of Buccleuch', which consisted in its entirety of the phrase:
Oh there's not much to do // in Buccleuch.
The same could be said for Ecclefechan. But this is a place with an ancient history. I'm not talking about the neat street of the 18th century village, or the birthplace of Victorian man of letters Thomas Carlyle, now in the care of the National Trust. I'm talking something much older and more dramatic, but nowadays completely hidden from view.


What I am talking about is flat-topped Burnswark Hill, once ceremonial gathering point of the the Anavionenses tribe. The Anavionenses were the Iron Age inhabitants of Annandale. They saw the Romans sweep north to Mons Graupius, south to Carlisle, north to the Antonine Wall, then south again to remain behind Hadrian's Wall. Sitting just a few miles north of Hadrian's Wall, Annandale was frontier country for the Romans, and they built a tax outpost called Blatobulgium (bulging bag) at the foot of Burnswark to collect tribute from the Anavionenses.

Climbing Burnswark:

In AD 155 the Anavionenses sacked Blatobulgium, and the Romans retaliated by laying seige to Burnswark. 200 years earlier they had defeated a massive Gaulish army at a similar hillfort of Alesia, and it is tempting to imagine a mass of Anavionensian infantry and cavalry cooped up in Burnswark with the Roman artillery raining down on them. However after Mons Graupius the Caledonians tended to avoid engaging Roman armies directly, preferring the guerilla tactics that they excelled in. It would be surprising if there were many people at home when the Romans vented their fury in target practice against the local tribe's sacred site.

Archaeological trench:

This hill is extremely modest. It is not one you would notice unless you were looking out for it. At the roadend I was surprised to find a small crowd, but the reason soon became clear. An archaeological dig had just finished and there was a display of locally found artefacts. "The dig has been good," said the archaeologist, "locals have tended to neglect the hill, but now there's a bit of pride and interest. Lots of them have signed up to volunteer for next year's dig. Would you like to sign up too?"

Burnswark view - Roman Britain across the Solway:

The dig site had yielded artefacts both ancient and modern - including WWII mortar shells, which had to be disposed of by the bomb squad. After peching up the steep ramparts the view from this small hill was a revelation - the whole of the rich grassy farmland of Annandale, across the Solway to Cumbria, the Galloway Hills, the Tweeddale Hills. (Almost, even, the Hills of Buccleuch.) No wonder the original inhabitants chose it as their ceremonial gathering place.

Burnswark view - Annandale and Galloway Hills:

Next time you are looking for a leg-stretch on your drive north or south, why not pull over at Junction 19 and have a wee jaunt up Burnswark Hill?


Mike @ A Bit About Britain said...

Looks like my kind of place. Nicely told and photographed. May well take your advice - surprised you didn't mention the tart...

Andrew said...

Did you stay at the Ecclefechan Hotel? That's like something from an alternative universe, maybe The Wicker Man crossed with Blackpool.

Anonymous said...

I used to live in ecclefechan many moons ago,it is the biggest wee village in the world, very friendly and welcoming place.definitely a must visit place.

Robert Craig said...

I would certainly go back. Have been snowed in in the pub in Leadhills, that was entertaining. Maybe the Ecclefechan Hotel would provide a similar experience??