22. Marchidun (Roxburgh)
Listen to an Introduction:
n a narrow triangle between the rivers Tweed and Teviot, just before they join, is a superb site for a stronghold known as Marchidun (Fort of the Horsemen). The haugh below the fort is large enough to grow several crops of hay and graze a breeding herd all the year round.
In the early Dark Age it was perfectly positioned to defend the Gododdin frontier with Bryneich (which later became the Angle Bernicia). It was probably the capital of Calchvyndd, the Gododdin chiefdom of the Lower Tweed. The motte is very steep and may well have been reinforced in later times with a dry moat.
The history of the chieftains of Calchvyndd is vague and complicated. After the death of Lot, in about 520AD, the High Chiefship passed to his eldest son Gawain who was committed more to religion than politics and ruled in absentium from a monastery in Wales. This was a recipe for a decentralisation of power within the Gododdin. The chieftains seem to have become increasingly autonomous. In Roman times, Bryneich had originally been part of Gododdin but had been split off around 410AD.
But in around 530AD Calchwyndd, either by inheritance or by conquest, seems to have passed back into the hands of Bryneich. In 547AD, Bamburgh, the capital of Byrneich, fell to the Angles and over the next decade Bryneich was reduced to a rump in the mountainous interior. The defeated pretender, Morcant Bulc, seems to have made his capital at Merchidun and joined the alliance of Urien of Rheged and Rydderch Hael of Strathclyde in 583AD to reclaim all the lost territory from the Angles. But before the final battle at Lindisfarne in 590AD, he arranged the assassination of Urien, hoping to claim the victory of the final battle for himself, but the coalition disintegrated. Seven years later he also murdered Urien’s heir, Owain.
The Angles returned in force and the battle of Dagsestan in 603AD almost certainly sealed Morcant’s fate and that of Calchvyndd. Merchidun passed into Angle hands and became Hrocs burgh (Roxburgh). It continued to be important during the Angle/Northumbrian period and in mediaeval times grew into the third most important city in Scotland. It is where urban life in Scotland began with four churches and a royal mint. But being close to the English frontier, it was constantly subject to surprise attack and, after an exploding cannon killed James II in 1460AD, the Castle was dismantled and the city was burned by the Scots. All that remains of the great mediaeval city are a few chunks of the city walls.
How to get here
Marchidun. Return to Hawick on the B5399 and take the A698 to Kelso. At Kelso, turn off on the A698
to St Boswells. Cross over the bridge and after about a mile the road turns sharply to the left with the site of Roxburgh on you right. At the end of the ridge is a motte and just round the corner a public footpath down to the River Teviot. The site is privately owned by the Duke of Roxburgh.
Places to Visit and Things to Do
Wander among the remains of a spectacular example of Scottish monastic architecture. Kelso Abbey was founded in the 1100s and was one of Scotland’s largest and wealthiest religious houses.
This outstanding Scottish Borders Castle was built in 1721 for the 1st Duke of Roxburghe. It is Scotland’s largest inhabited castle. [photo: Timo Newton-Syms]
Wander around this remarkably complete medieval ruin by the River Tweed to grasp the appeal of monastic life. You can still see plaster and paintwork inside the chapter house dating from when it was built.
Visit a place that inspired Sir Walter Scott. Ancestors of the great Romantic novelist had called the tower home, and Scott learned the power of border ballads as a young infant living on the estate.
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Buy the Book by Robin Crichton
The History behind the Legend
This is the true story behind the legend of Merlin. Born of a royal family to a life of privilege and luxury, his place in society was ordained until he lost everything in a bloodbath of pillage and genocide. Forced to live on the run he survived as an outlaw hiding out in a cave, living off what the forest could provide.
It is the story of the clash between Christianity and traditional belief – a duel between St Mungo the priest and Merlin the pagan, played out against a webs of late 6th century political intrigue and the strife of a land tearing itself apart.
Until now, our Early Dark Age heritage has been largely ignored by historians because of the lack of cross-checkable written data. This book combines history, archaeology, etymology, topography, botany and folk memory in a giant jigsaw. With nearly 150 colour illustrations and maps, the book is accompanied by a gazetteer of 28 Dark Age sites. It presents the evidence, suggests various interpretations and invites the reader to be the historical detective.
For further information: contact Robin Crichton – Email firstname.lastname@example.org