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his area was inhabited by a tribe whom the Romans called the Selgovae – the Hunters. This may be the origin of the “Sel” in “Selkirk”. When the Romans first invaded Scotland in 79AD, the Selgovae retreated into the Cheviots which were densely forested and provided ideal cover for guerrilla warfare and surprise ambush. The Romans treated it as a no-go area.
Their road system encircled the area and kept the Selgovae contained. But once or twice a year there were trade gatherings where skins, animals and produce were exchanged for imported luxuries. The area was a major supplier of bears for the Roman arenas. Later, around the beginning of the 5th century, the boundary was marked by a massive dyke running over 50 miles across country known as the Catrail, It crosses the road at Yarrow Ford and climbs up the hillside to the north before running along the hilltops of the Minchmoor to Galashiels.
Just after Yarrow Ford, there is a track on the left to Whitfield Farm. At the top of a rise, surrounded by wooden fencing, there is a standing stone with an inscription in Latin down the left-hand side which translates as: “This memorial marks the fatal battle of Prince Nudd of the Damnoni (Alt Clut). In this grave lie the two sons of Liberalis”. These two princes belonged to the royal family of Southern Strathclyde who shared the epithet “liberalis” (‘hael’ in Welsh), meaning generous. When the stone was turned up by a plough in 1807/08, it was then lying flat covering the the princes’ bones.
In the next field to the east is the Glebe Stone which marked a large burial of human bones.
And a further few hundred metres east, a third standing stone, known as the Warriors’ Rest, is the site of eight Christian burials apparently on top of earlier burials dating back to the Bronze Age. The stone may originally have been a capstone sits but its phallic shape suggests it may have been part of an earlier pagan site. In an adjoining field there were also another twenty or so smaller cairns containing early Christian cist burials. The indications are that this was an important Christian burial site, which would have had its own chapel, and that it had also been a major site of burial and ritual in earlier times.
The evidence clearly points to a scene of slaughter here. Upstream from Yarrow Bridge is an area, beside the river, known as Dead Lake. It is arable farmland today but as recently as 1857 this was “a marshy pool in the haugh”. According to tradition, while the burials on the hill mark where the (Christian) leaders fell, the bodies of the (Pagan?) rank and file were thrown in here. Without carbon dating it is impossible to say for sure whether the bodies in Dead Lake would have been the victims of battle or alternatively of the plague.
The Selgovae territory was certainly absorbed into Strathclyde. But was the battle fought here when Strathclyde seems to have taken over the territory in 556AD? Yarrow runs east to Selkirk. The Ravenna Cosmology mentions Locus Selgovensis. Was this present day Selkirk? If Yarrow fell, Selkirk would automatically follow. During the Angle occupation, Selkirk was an important place. The evidence so far does not exist to show that it was equally important earlier but, as it was significant in Roman times, continuous occupation seems a logical possibility.
The Prince Nudd in the inscription on the Yarrow Stone succeeded as High Chief in about 575 and ruled until around 600AD. As Alistair Moffat points out, only victors raise monuments so the battle was clearly a victory. But a victory over whom – the original Selgovians or the invading Angles? In the case of the Angles, it fits in with the joint campaign under the command of Urien of Rheged and Rydderch Hael of Strathclyde which between 583 and 590AD retook all the territory occupied by the Angles north of the Humber and drove them back to their last stronghold on Lindisfarne. But on the eve of final victory, Urien was assassinated by a treacherous ally. The alliance fell apart and the Angles were spared. They came back with a vengeance, winning a decisive victory over a strong confederate force of the Men of the North in 603AD at a place in the Borders called Dagsestan, (wherever that was). By around 615AD Selgovia was completely under Angle occupation.
How to get here
Yarrow. Keep on the A702 through Peebles in the direction of Galashiels. At Innerleithen turn right to Traquair and drive on over the hill to the Gordon Arms. Turn left on the A708 to Yarrow.
Places to Visit and Things to Do
Traquair, Scotland’s oldest Inhabited House has been visited by 27 Scottish Kings and Queens. Traquair dates back to 1107 and has been lived in by the Stuart family since 1491. [photo: Mark Hope]
At The Tontine Hotel, we provide you with the perfect, active Scottish break. Situated in Peebles, we’re a gateway for you to explore everything the Scottish Borders has to offer.
Welcome to The Gordon Arms, an old coaching Inn nestling in the Yarrow Valley in the Scottish Borders. It is well known for its Traditional Music & Real Ale, and a warm welcome to walkers, cyclists and all other visitors to the area. [Photo: Jonathan Billinger]
This area, loved by poets, would once have been clothed in ancient forest of oak, hazel and birch (remnants of the Caledonian Forest). See the Ettrick Water and marshes and wonder at the flora and fauna still living in this beautiful place.
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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