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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Monday, April 10, 2017

Dumfries and Galloway Viking Saga Trail

Vikings in the landscape and in history.

Map Key
1. Kilmorie Cross, Kirkcolm- Viking/ Christian carved cross.
2. Ruthwell Cross- Anglo-Saxon cross with runic inscription.
3. Nithsdale Cross- Anglo-Saxon cross and Viking grave nearby.
4. Whithorn- Irish (Dublin) Viking connection.
5. Trusty’s Hill- possible Viking/Pictish carved stone.
6. Threave- Iron Age, Roman, Viking, Viking-Gael, Medieval centre of power.
7. Kirkcudbright-Viking grave, Viking Hoard display
8. Annandale- Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Bruce family castle and lands.
9. Carrick-Viking-Gael, Bruce family lands
10. Buittle- Viking-Gael, Balliol family castle and lands.

From Kirkcolm in the Rhinns to Ruthwell in Annandale, the discovery of Dumfries and Galloway’s Viking Hoard has opened up a new perspective on the region’s rich and complex history.

Without the Vikings, the region may well have remained part of the Kingdom of Northumbria to be absorbed into Norman England in the eleventh century- as Annandale and Eskdale nearly were. Alternatively, the region might have been absorbed into a Dublin dominated Irish Sea Viking kingdom- as much of Wigtownshire briefly was.

Instead, by introducing Gaelic speakers to the region, the Vikings helped create a ‘Greater Galloway’ in the south-west. As this Viking-Gaelic region was absorbed into Scotland, the descendents of Fergus of Galloway and Robert de Brus of Annandale became entangled in a power struggle which lies at the heart of Scotland’s story.

Vikings in Kirkcudbright
The presence -in whole or part- of a Viking Hoard in Kirkcudbright will attract visitors to the town. As well as the hoard, the visitors to the new art gallery will discover a set of paintings. Many of these paintings reflect the landscape of Galloway as it was over 100 years ago.

Over the past 100 years the landscape has changed. The expansion of forestry in the uplands and the intensification of dairy farming in the lowlands have changed the appearance of the landscape as well as the lives of those who making their living from the land.

Go back over 1000 years and the difference between the landscape as it was then and as it is now becomes even greater. Only the boldest features -the coastline, the rivers and hills- would be familiar. The farmed landscape, the roads, villages and towns, marshes and even some lochs, would all have been very different.

However, dotted here and there across Galloway and Dumfries are a few fixed points around which the region’s history has revolved.

For example the Kilmorie Cross at Kirkcolm near Stranraer combines Christian and Norse mythological elements drawn from the story of Sigurd the dragon-slayer. It is dated to the tenth century and shows that Viking settlers in this area of rich fertile soils had become Christian. It is therefore a near contemporary of the Hoard.

Kilmorie Cross, Kirkcolm

In the east of the region at Ruthwell is an older cross, a product of the Northumbrian church. It also has a fragment of an Old English poem, ‘The Dream of the Rood’ carved in runes on it. This is of great historic significance.

Gauin doun the sides ther a poyem carved in runes in the Auld Angles leid. Cryed the Dream o the Rood (rood bein the auld word for cross) this is noo the auldest text in Auld-Angles that we ken belangs Scotland. It is fae this self an same Auld-Angles tongue that the Scots spoken the day in modren Scotland is sprung. [Centre for the Scots Leid]

Ruthwell Cross with runic inscription.

Close to Thornhill in Nithsdale there is another, later Northumbrian carved cross. At Carronbridge nearby, a Viking was buried with his sword a few yards from a Roman road. Was the Viking part of a raiding party? Possibly, but the sickle he was also buried with suggests a more settled lifestyle.

Nithsdale (Thornhill) Anglo-Saxon Cross

At Whithorn there Northumbrian bishops from Pehthelm in 730 to (possibly) Heathored in 833. The church at Whithorn was destroyed by fire around 850, probably the result of a Viking raid.

Northumbrian control of Galloway and Dumfriesshire was disrupted by the Vikings. However, until the discovery of the Galloway Hoard, direct signs of Viking power in the region were few and slight. These signs included a Viking grave found in Kirkcudbright and Dublin Viking style houses dated to the early eleventh century.

Few, if any, locations in Dumfries and Galloway share the historic depth - over 1500 years- of Whithorn as a continuously occupied settlement. More typical of the ebb and flow of the region’s history is Trusty’s Hill beside Gatehouse of Fleet. This hill fort is most famous for its Pictish carvings.

Recent careful analysis of the carvings has suggested that although inspired by Pictish symbols the images on the stone were not carved by Picts. One of the images (on right) shows , a ‘dragonesque’ creature pierced by a spiked object, might be the Norse Fafnir; a greedy dwarf who became a dragon and was killed by Sigurd.

Trusty’s Hill rock carving

Kilmorie, Ruthwell, Nithsdale, Whithorn and Trusty’s Hill are locations where there was and still is good quality farm land. Such fertile soils could produce a surplus of food, supporting the people who cultivated the land as well as their churches and rulers.

Place name evidence suggest that the Vikings, like the Northumbrians before them, did not extend their settlements beyond the lower parts of river valleys and the coastal fringe of Dumfries and Galloway. However, the Viking Hoard was found well beyond the areas identified as Scandinavian settlements by place name research.

On the other hand, not far from where the Hoard was found, the medieval castle of Threave still dominates the good quality farmland of Balmgahie, Kelton and Crossmichael parishes. Threave is from the Brittonic word ‘trev’, equivalent to the Scots ‘Mains’ meaning the home farm of an estate.

Threave Castle- Historic Environment Scotland

But there is nothing like the Kilmorie Cross at Threave, no imposing Northumbrian monuments, no mysterious rock carvings like those on Trusty’s Hill.

However, among the treasures of the National Museum are the Torrs Pony Cap and Carlingwark Cauldron. Along with the complex of Roman forts and marching camps at Glenlochar, they are signs that Threave was ‘a centre of paramount wealth and power’ 2000 years ago. The Romans built their forts at Glenlochar to control the area. Archibald the Grim followed the Romans when he chose Threave as the site for his new castle in 1370.

Glenlochar Roman fort

A Viking warlord setting up camp in the district would therefore have been able to draw on the long standing wealth of the land to feed himself and his followers. No centre of Northumbrian power in the district has been found, but the complex archaeology of the Hoard find site might contain evidence of such a power centre, taken over by Vikings.

The survival untouched of the Galloway Hoard for over 1000 years suggests its owner died elsewhere and never returned. Otherwise a Viking kingdom may have emerged in the lower Dee valley.

Wigtownshire did become part of a Viking kingdom. Its ruler was
Echmacarch Rognvaldsson, described as ‘King of the Rhinns (of Galloway)’when he died in 1165. Also known as Echmacarch mac Ragnaill, his Viking-Gaelic kingdom included Whithorn but not eastern Galloway. Echmacarch had previously been king of Dublin and the Isle of Man as well.

In 852 an Irish monk described a new group of warriors fighting in Ireland. These were the Gall-Ghaidheal. Gall, ‘foreigner‘ is the word the Irish used to mean Vikings. Ghaidheal means Gaelic-speaking. There are very few other mentions of these Viking-Gaels in Irish records. The last time they appear is in 1234 when the death of Alan of Galloway ‘ri Gall-Ghaidheal’- king of the Viking-Gaels - was recorded.

The Gall part of Galloway also means ‘Viking’. The first Viking-Gaelic king to rule all of Galloway was Alan’s great-grandfather Fergus who reigned between 1110 and 1160. Fergus’ kingdom was only the southern part of a Gaelic speaking ‘Greater Galloway’ which stretched north through Ayrshire into Renfrewshire and east through Nithsdale into Annandale.

The first district Fergus ruled was the lower Dee valley, either from Kirkcudbright or, more likely, from a fortified base on Threave island. Later Fergus’ kingdom grew westwards and northwards to include the fertile lands of the Rhinns, Machars and Fleet valley along with the livestock rearing and deer hunting districts of the upland districts including Carrick in south Ayrshire.

While Fergus was building his kingdom, King David I secured eastern Dumfriesshire for his Scottish kingdom in 1124 by granting Annandale to a Norman knight- Robert De Brus.

Annandale Charter 1124

Fergus had two sons, Gille-Brigte and Uhtred. After Fergus’ death in 1161, they ruled jointly until 1174 when Gille-Brigte had his brother gruesomely mutilated- blinded and castrated. Uhtred died of his wounds, allowing Gille-brigte to rule alone until his death in 1185.

Gille-Brigte’s grandson was Niall, Earl of Carrick. He had no male heirs so his daughter Marjorie inherited Carrick. Marjorie was the mother of Robert Bruce who became King of Scots in 1306.

Uhtred’s grandson Alan had no male heirs. His youngest daughter Devorgilla of Galloway was the mother of John Balliol who became King of Scots in 1292.

When King Robert I died in 1329, his infant son became King David II. But in 1332, King John Balliol’s son Edward seized the Scottish throne, triggering a renewal of the Scottish Wars of Independence. Edward Balliol died in 1367 and David II in 1371.

Remains of Buittle castle, Balliol stronghold.
Their deaths did not quite bring Dumfries and Galloway’s Viking saga to an end. King David II had been unable to control Galloway’s Viking-Gaelic clans- the McDowalls, McCullochs and Mclellan’s. Instead they transferred their loyalty to Archibald the Grim who revived Fergus’ kingdom as a new, Douglas, Lordship of Galloway.

This new lordship survived until 1455 when King James II finally secured Galloway and its Gaelic inhabitants for the Scottish Crown. By 1560, when John Knox preached the Reformation to the common people of Galloway and Nithsdale, he was able to do so in Scots and Bible English. 700 years of Viking-Gaelic heritage had finally and silently faded away.

Lands taken by James II in 1455 from last Lord of Galloway