Friday 24 February 2017

Was King Arthur a Glaswegian?

The title is straight out of the Daily Mail, but bear with me.

Arthur is mentioned just four times in ancient Welsh literature:
  1. Arthur's twelve battles are mentioned in Nennius' Historium Brittaniae.
  2. The Battle of Badon is also mentioned in the Annales Cambriae
  3. Taliesin's The Spoils of Annwn mention Arthur in passing.
  4. And "he was no Arthur," is the entirety of the fourth mention, in Y Gododdin, a book about warriors from Edinburgh.
The real cult of King Arthur took off with Geoffrey of Monmouths 12th century Historia regum Britanniae. Other writers enthusiastically embroidered this story by borrowing further from ancient mythology, particularly Malory's epic Le Mort d'Arthur. Suddenly a lesser-known historical figure became the most famous king between the Romans and Alfred of Wessex. Yet what were his achievements? In these stories, they were largely appropriated from other characters:

Defeated the Saxons: Credit must go to a historical figure, Emrys Wledig - a.k.a. Ambrosius Auerlianus, 'last of the Romans' who according to Gildas won the Battle of Mount Badon c490. This victory reversed all Saxon gains for a couple of generations. Many other historical figures fought the Angles, such as Urien, Rhydderch, Morcaunt, Gwaulloc, Mynndog Mynfawr, but only Emrys was successful in his lifetime at turning the tide.

Had a magical sword: Rhydderch Hael (Roderick the Generous) had a sword called Dyrnwyn which burst into flame when wielded by a worthy man. Rhydderch was known as 'the Generous' because he was willing to lend the sword to anyone - but no man was brave enough to try and so Dyrnwyn stayed in its sheath. Excalibur, anyone?

Had a round table: Charlemagne had one decorated with a map of Rome, and in Celtic tradition warriors would sit in circle around lead warrior.

Was cheated on by his wife: Rhydderch again - Queen Langoureth had to call in the services of St Kentigern to clear her name.

Had a friendly magician: Myrrdin (Merlin) was a wise man cum madman who was contemporary with Rhydderch, but who fought on the other, losing side in the Battle of the Lark's Nest, one of the 'Three Futile Battles of Britain'. He then retired to Cat Coil Celydon (Ettrick Forest) and made a number of prophecies.

Merlin, a magical sword, fought the Angles and had a cheating Queen? All Rhydderch.

The medieaval tale of King Arthur took scraps of legend from many different characters and weaved them together into one incredible story using the name of a Dark Age warrior. Amongst these characters was Rhydderch, a real life King of Strathclyde in the latter half of the 6th century, a man with a cathedral at Glasgow and a court at Al Clut (Dumbarton).  And no other single figure contributed so many key features of the Arthurian legend. So in conclusion...

King Arthur was a Weegie.

A Weegie called Roderick.

Friday 17 February 2017

Caithness Impressions

Caithness. A bleak place. It's funny because we love Orkney, and the Caithness landscape is not that different to the Orcadian one. Perhaps it is the larger scale, or the long line of inhospitable seacliffs. Driving north, the contrast between sylvan Easter Ross and the bareness of Caithness is more immediate than the transfer to an island landscape. Certainly there is nothing in Orkney as magnificently wild as the hills bordering Sutherland under snow.

Opposite Caithness, the rigs of the Beatrice oil field can be seen. How strange it must be to work on these rigs for several weeks at a time, able to see the lights of the mainland yet unable to visit! I'd find that very claustrophobic.

Graves and platform:

On our way to Orkney we stopped at Dunbeath harbour, a quiet oasis burrowing into the land with the waves crashing in against the seacliffs, Dunbeath Castle perched above. (A former stronghold of the Sinclair clan). We'd never stopped before in Caithness, always driven through, and the nature of the A9 means it is easy to bypass these semi-secret villages completely.

Dunbeath Castle:

It occurred to me that I haven't explored Caithness nearly enough. If you look at the interactive map of loveofscotland blog posts, Caithness is a big empty blank. It is drive-through country for us on our way to Orkney. Next time, I'd like to stop and explore this county.

Thursday 9 February 2017

We Knew Who to Blame

The train for Glasgow had been stuck just outside - not at, or we could have gotten off, just outside - Preston Railway Station for nearly four hours.

The buffet carriage had run out of sandwiches. More urgently, it had run out of booze. And the toilets had been unable to cope with the demand. A pool of pish seeped under the door of the carriage and threatened our shoes.

The stress was getting to some folk. The carriage had slowly filled with the acrid haze of cigarette smoke. A group of kilted rugby fans returning from the Scotland vs Wales game in Cardiff had a great idea to cheer people up. One of their number started playing the bagpipes at ear-splitting volume, marching up and down all the carriages in the train.

This tipped one wee Weegie wifie over the edge, who stood up to scream in the piper's face "shut up! Shup up! Fucking shut up!" 

The elderly gentleman opposite me had taken in the scene with gentle amusement. He leaned over and tapped me on the knee to get my attention.

"You know," he said in cultured tones, "this reminds me of when the Luftwaffe used to bomb the railways during the War."

"At least then we knew who to blame."