Merlindale: 16. Merlin’s Grave 17. Tinnis Castle (Dun Meldred) 18. Altar Stone 19. Stobo Kirk 2018-07-03T14:17:23+00:00


17. Tinnis Castle 19. Stobo Kirk 18. Altar Stone 16. Merlin’s Grave

Listen to an Introduction:

tinnis Castle – Dun Meldred (17) The ruined stonework of Tinnis Castle that you can see on the crest of the hill is the remains of a rectangular mediaeval castle built in the late 15th or early 16th centuries and eventually blown up in a family feud. But this was on the site of a number of earlier buildings dating back to an original Iron Age fort.

The name Tinnis derives from Thane’s Castle reflecting the Angle occupation in the 9th century. Before that the stronghold was known as Dun Meldred, a palisaded hill fort on the knoll, with two outer ramparts further down the slope and the main entrance on the south-west side. There is evidence of a settlement on the lower slope. This is where Merlin was given shelter (under restraint) on his way to meet St Mungo. Dun translates as ‘fort’. So either it means Meldred’s fort or, if one takes the etymology further, Mel means ‘chief’ and drud means ‘fierce’. So it could mean ‘fort of the fierce chief’. Hence, in either case, the derivation of the modern name Drumelzier. While staying here, Merlin became aware that the Chief’s much younger wife was having a clandestine affair and she was aware that he knew. It was a crime punishable by death.

stobo Kirk (19) was probably originally a site of Pagan ritual. It was common practice for Christian missionaries to reuse Pagan sites as it showed the dominance of the greater power of their new religion. St Mungo’s Christian altar in his original chapel was brought from a nearby Pagan sacred grove and reutilised. It is now incorporated in the north transept.

Mungo’s chapel would have been a simple timber building with a thatched roof – a sanctum where he and his fellow monks carried out their rituals in an aura of mysticism. Communion for the people would have been given in the open air using a temporary altar. In the Roman church, this practice later developed into the splitting of a church into two parts, with the clergy divided from the congregation by a rood screen. Celtic Christianity depended heavily on visions, miracles and rituals which absorbed and adapted earlier beliefs. The elements which could not be reinterpreted became classed as magic and works of the devil (a figure unknown in the Pagan pantheon).

Merlin’s twin sister, the wife of the High Chief of Strathclyde, had secretly arranged a meeting to try and arrange a reconciliation between her Pagan brother and the Christian missionary which she hoped might allow Merlin to be reaccepted into society to spend the rest of his days in her care, in return for not publicly challenging the new Christian belief.  In a very public debate which lasted over a period of days – the two old men harangued each others’ falsehoods.

In the church transept a stained glass window depicts Merlin’s conversion to Christianity. This derives from Jocelyn’s 12th century account of the Life of Kentigern (aka Mungo) where he claims that Mungo gave Merlin communion.  Earlier accounts suggest the opposite and that Merlin refused to betray his traditional faith, preferring to return to his solitary existence as an outcast in the wilderness.

altar Stone (18) Mungo walked with him for the first few miles on his way back to Dun Meldred to a Pagan stone from which he had taken half for his altar at Stobo. The remaining half is still on the edge of the wood, which was probably a sacred grove.

Here Merlin and Mungo parted. In his 12th century Vita Merlini, De Monmouth gives Mungo the parting line: ‘Brother, do you still persist in your folly, without having revoked your spirit of irreverence? Therefore go in peace and may the Lord be with you.’ He then says that Merlin ‘leapt away from there like a wild goat set free from the hunter’s snare and joyfully made tracks for the desolate waste.’

Merlin’s Grave (16) In Merlin’s day the trackway ran along the north side of the Tweed and then crossed over at a ford just north of Drumlezier.

Until the 18th century the Drumelzier (Powsail) Burn from Drumelzier Bridge ran parallel to the track in a straight line down to the Tweed, but it was then diverted to make a better field for the Minister and now enters the river higher up. As Merlin forded the river to walk up to Drumelzier, he was ambushed. It is here that he met his triple death at the hands of assassins, presumably to ensure his silence regarding Meldred’s wife indiscretions. An 18th century painting shows the place as much more wooded and offering good possibilities for concealment. Do not be confused by a plaque mistakenly placed beneath a third tree on the banks of the Tweed where the present course of the burn enters the river

Merlin had predicted a triple death of being bludgeoned, pierced and drowned.  Before leaving for Stobo, he had given Meldred clear instructions as to where he wanted to be buried in the event of any misadventure – a quiet spot near the river and away from the Christian burial ground.

As he crossed the river he was stoned and clubbed until dazed, he fell backwards on to a stake for fishermen’s nets in the river.  Losing consciousness his head went underwater, and he drowned. His grave was probably originally marked by a cairn but the stones may have been used for the field wall. The spot is still remembered in the field on the east side of the gate.


How to get here

Merlindale Map

16. Merlin’s Grave Just before the village hall, a small road on the right leads to a car park. Walk back to the main road and turn right to pass over a small humpback bridge. on the left-hand side there is a track which follows the east side of the burn. The grave marker board is near the bottom of the track.

17. Tinnis Castle (Dun Meldred) Return to the car park and go through the arch in the hedge, across the bridge and beside a garden and take the track through the field up to the remains of Tinnis Castle.

18. Altar Stone Continue on the B712 towards Peebles. Just after Dawyck, the road crosses the Tweed. Take the first left making a u-turn on to a narrow road to Dreva. Follow this until you come to a farm on the left hand side. The Stone is on the edge of the road opposite.

19. Stobo Kirk Travel back to the B712 and continue towards Peebles until you come to Stobo Kirk which is well worth a visit.


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Places to Visit and Things to Do

Tontine Hotel Peebles
Tontine Hotel Peebles
We provide warm hospitality, all your home comforts, and locally sourced produce for a true, Scottish dining experience.
Broughton Ales was founded in 1979 in Broughton village. They produce traditional cask conditioned beer, bottled beer and keg beer.
Biggar Museum Trust aims to collect, store, preserve and record Biggar and Upper Clydesdale’s rich archaeological, social and historic heritage.
This striking building is home to a museum and gallery which host a lively programme of exhibitions and events all year round.


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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


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