THE FALL OF CAER GUENDDOLOU: 11. Liddel’s Strength 2018-05-18T18:13:32+00:00

The Fall of Caer Guenddolou

11. Liddel’s Strength

Listen to an Introduction:

The fortifications at Liddel’s Strength have never been excavated but in the Middle Ages it was the site of a mediaeval tower which probably sat on the motte (possibly built at the same time) within the inner bailey.

The outer rampart, which encloses a sizable area, suggests the site of an earlier stronghold. The inner rampart ditch is massive – 4.1m deep externally and up to 8.2m below the inner rampart. Part of it has been eroded away by the river but without excavation it is impossible to date what belongs to what period. The site is on top of a 160-foot high cliff and commands the junction of the rivers Esk and Liddel – the last high ground before the Solway plain.

The old name for the Carwinley Burn is Arthuret or Arfderydd. Arf translates as “weapon” and terydd as “ardent” or “fierce”. so it seems that this old name holds a folk memory of a battle which, according to a fifteenth century historian, took place on open ground between Liddel Water and Carwanalow/Carwendolou (present day Carwinley).

Carwendolu was actually Caer Guenddolou – Caer meaning Fort and Guenddolou, the name of the High Chief, Merlin’s cousin. In the east, Guenddolou’s territory bordered Ebrauc (Yorkshire) and a minor land dispute, perhaps around Catterick, may well have provided the excuse for the attack. Caer Guenddolou had originally been ruled by York, but in 505AD had been sliced off to form a separate High Chiefdom for Guenddolou’s father. The battle is described as futile and little more than a squabble over ‘a lark’s nest‘. It was led by two brothers, heirs to the high chiefdom of York (Ebrauc), but York had fallen to the Angles thirteen years earlier. Their main motive was probably booty, rather than reclaiming territory. Guenddolou was powerful and wealthy and there were rich pickings to be had. The attack turned into a genocide. The whole clan was wiped out.

Guenddolou mustered about 2100 men but they were outnumbered by the York brothers’ band of freebooters. Guenddolou and his three brothers fell in the first charge. The fighting went on for another six weeks. The High Chief of Strathclyde sent a token force under his eldest son to join the attack, partly no doubt to get a share of the booty, but mainly to allow the 16 year old boy to win his spurs with some real battle experience. The lad’s mother was Merlin’s twin sister and in the melee, Merlin killed his own nephew. Half out of his mind with horror and remorse, he escaped into the forest together with many other victims of PTSD. It is said that 300 men of Guenddolou fought to the last and were buried in a mass grave, now under the back gardens of a row of farm cottages.


How to get here

Fall of Guenddolou

From Caerlaverock continue east along the coast road via Annan and Gretna to Longtown. Just after crossing the River Esk turn left to Netherby. Carry on and you will come to a fork at a white cottage with a sign left to Upper Moat. Take this left turn and follow it for a couple of miles.

Before you reach Upper Moat Farm, slightly before the double-storey farm cottages on the right, there is a track to the left which leads down to the site of the old railway halt. You can park the car here if you are certain of the terrain, or park respectfully at the cottages and walk down the track.

To the right of the railway track, there is a track leading uphill. Follow this to the end, keeping left (adjacent to the river) and you will come to the ramparts of Liddel’s Strength. The site is heavily overgrown and can be difficult to access in late spring to autumn due to plant growth underfoot. The battle of Arfdrydd (Arthuret) was probably fought in the fields on your right.

Places to Visit and Things to Do

Roman Army Museum
Roman Army Museum
Lying in magnificent countryside next to a sweeping section of Hadrian’s Wall and based at the site of Carvoran Roman Fort, the Roman Army Museum is an authentic and dramatic tribute to Rome’s extraordinary military legacy.
Liddesdale Heritage Centre and Museum
Liddesdale Heritage Centre and Museum
Visit the museum in the old Townfoot Kirk full of the history of Liddesdale from the Reivers to the Railway, through the weaving to farming and forestry. From school days, war days, fun days, and music & prose days through to family research days.
Vindolanda, Hexham
Vindolanda, Hexham
Bringing history to life – Vindolanda dramatically explores Roman life on the edge of the empire 2000 years ago.
The Burnswark Site
The Burnswark Site
The native hill fort dominates the area for miles around, and was possibly the site of a siege during the early conquest of Scotland, with large marching camps built on both the north and south sides.

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Liddel’s Strength

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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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