Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


29.11.09
  Summer Days in Oban

With all that rain and too warm wind these days, some sunny pics should brighten the spirits. And I found the sun where rumour has it you can seldom find it: in Scotland, back in June. The first photos show the view from my room in the B&B in Oban.

View from my room in Oban

It was one of those small family run B&Bs in an old Victorian house, with the tiniest sink I ever had (I assume the bathroom was added to the room at a later time). The atmosphere was very nice, and the view from my room spectacular. Got some yummy breakfast, too. The neighbouring house had a pub - nothing better than a cool ale after a day out.

View from my room; zoom in to Kerrera

Oban (meaning 'little bay' in Gaelic) lies at the centre of a bay that is protected from the worst Atlantic storms by the islands of Kerrera, Lismore, and Mull, as well as the granite mountains of the Morvern peninsula. A situation that today makes Oban the 'gateway to the Hebrides' because of its large ferry harbour.

View from my room; a different angle (with the mountains of Morvern in the background)

Oban, the inofficial capital of the West Highlands, has a resident population of 8.500, but during summer it can be crowded by up to 25.000 people. Makes me want to go back in winter. The town has been a popular holiday destination since Queen Victoria called Oban, 'one of the finest spots we have ever seen.' The scenery of the town and the Inner Hebridean islands - esp. Staffa - gave inspiration to a number of artists.

My B&B seen from the Mull ferry

My B&B is the second house from the right of the four Victorian ones in the centre of the photo. Pretty place, isn't it?

One of the many things I love about the Scottish Highlands are the white nights of summer where you can sit outside past midnight and it's still not dark. The pub I mentioned had seats outside from where you could enjoy the summer twilight on the water.

Oban with McCaig's Tower, seen from the Mull ferry

McCaig's Tower, better known as McCaig's Folly, is a building that looks a bit like the Colosseum in Rome that inspired it. It was commissioned by John Sturart McCaig, a rich banker in 1897, for the purpose of giving the masons of the area work during the winter months, and also as a lasting monument to his family. It has two tiers of lancet arches and a circumference of 200 metres. A museum and other additions were planned but never built after McCaig's death in 1902.

The hillside of Oban, seen from the harbour

Oban was a small fishing village until in Victorian times a steamer linked to it from Glasgow, and the upper classes started building houses there to spend a few summer weeks away from London. Can't blame them; Oban has developed into a pretty town with a number of nice walks, fe. along the Esplanade at the seaside.

A blind passenger on the Mull ferry

Here's another of my gull shots. I never could resist a chance when one of them sat still long enough - which didn't happen often.

Another aspect I love about Scotland is the sky. It's never boring and displays some of the most fascinating cloud formations I've seen. Just look at the photos for some of them, lol.
 


21.11.09
  A Sunny Day in Kilmartin Glen - Dunadd Hill Fort

One morning I took the bus from Oban to Kilmartin Glen and asked the driver to drop me off somewhere in walking distance of Dunadd Hill Fort. That's the nice thing about busses in the UK, the local ones will drop you off and pick you up where you want.

Dunadd Hill Fort

Kilmartin Glen is a place rich in ancient remains, mostly cairns and standing stones, though I didn't have time to see more than a few of those. What I had on my list first of all was the ancient hill fort of Dunadd. It is part of a hill strewn with boulders that sits in the middle of the Mòine Mhòr, the Great Moor, near the village of Lochgilphead, offering a good view to all sides and thus making for a perfect defensive position. It's no easier to get to the summit today than it was in former times. I didn't bring my trusty walking stick which proved to be a bit of a problem. Fortunately, there was a nice couple better equipped for hiking that lent me a spare one. They also gave me a ride to Kilmartin later albeit it was out of their way - there's still a lot of hospitality and kindness to strangers in Scotland.

The way up the hill (one of the easier parts)

Dunadd has been occupied since the Iron Age and later became the seat of the kings of Dál Riata. As so often in early history, dates and details are not known or not agreed upon, or both, but it is mostly assumed that Dunadd became the main seat of the Dálriatan kingdom in the 5th century under Fergus MacErc and his two brothers, invaders from Ireland. That is if we don't consider the migration of Cairpre around 400 as the starting point of the Dálriatan kingdom. But he probably didn't hold Dunadd.

The famous footprint (left) and basin (middle)

At the time of the Dálriatan kings, there was a stone fort on top of the hill, defended by natural rocks and perhaps some additional man made ones. It was no fun trying to climb that place when people threw pointy and heavy things at you - it's difficult enough without that. Which doesn't keep tourists from going there and walking through photo shots. What remains of the old ruins is mostly the famous stone with the carved footprint and basin, which are said to have been used during the inauguration ceremony for the kings of Dál Riata, though we don't know any details. It's assumed from the interrpetation of an ogham inscription that the king had to step into the footprint, but for what reason can only be guessed.

The summit with remains of the ancient fort (and tourists)

Legend also has it that Dunadd was the original place of the Stone of Scone which was later brought to Scone near Perth where it was used in the coronation ceremony for the kings of the Scots until Edward I took it to Westminster as booty in 1296. The stone was returned to Scotland in 1996 and is now kept in Edinburgh Castle. But no one can be sure where that Stone originally came from though it has made quite a career for a mysterious slab of red sandstone.

View over Kilmartin Glen

According to the Annals of Ulster (AU 741.10) in 736, "Óengus son of Fergus, king of the Picts, laid waste the territory of Dál Riata and sized Dunadd [...] and bound in chains two sons of Selbaig, king of Dál Riata." The names of the sons are Dúngal and Feradach. The fort may have been difficult to conquer but not impregnable. Óengus mac Fergusa was a powerful king of the Picts for some twenty years who expanded his realm to a considerable extent. He is mentioned also in sources outside the Irish/Scottish ones, like the Welsh Annales Cambriae and the Historia Regum Anglorum. Got some attention, the guy. There are discussions about the importance of Óengus' connections to Irelands and their importance for the merging of Picts and Dálriatans before Cinaéd mac Alpin. I'm tempted to get back to Óengus and the unfortunate sons of Selbaig who obviously had to do without the support from Ireland that had aided in the rise of the kingdom of Dál Riata.

View to the other side of the glen (you can see the bogs here)

Another important time in the history of Dunadd was the reign of Cináed mac Alpin, King of Dál Riata (also called King of the Scots) finally defeated the Picts and merged both people in the kingdom of that would later become Alba. Cináed claimed descent from both royal lines, though his ancestry is not clear from the sources. The Picts had subsequently lost power, to a good extent due to the Viking attacks, while Cináed obviously had a better hand in dealing with them. The official date for the end of the Pictish kingdom is 843, and for some years Dunadd was the political centre of the new, 'united' kingdom, until Cináed moved his seat to Scone (and maybe took the mysterious Stone with him). Cináed is another historical character who deserved his own blogpost. *sigh*

The path downhill, with another view of the glen

There have been three official excavations in Dunadd which brought to light brooches and metal workings that can easily be associated with the seat of a king. Some of those, plus carved stones and other items from the Iron Age and Pictish and Dál Riatan times are displayed in a museum in Kilmartin.
 


6.11.09
  Soaring Spires - More About Castle Hanstein

Here are some more photos of a castle I visited in 2007, the charming ruins of Castle Hanstein, situated on a cliff high above the Werra river.

I had mentioned that the Hanstein first appeared in historical documents when the chronicler Lambert of Hersfeld notes that it belonged to Otto of Northeim but was destroyed by the Emperor Heinrich IV during their feud. But Otto obviously didn't lose the property as such and must have rebuilt the castle when he made peace with Heinrich, because it was part of the dowry his granddaughter Richenza brought into her marriage with Lothar of Süpplingenburg. Later it came into possession of their grandson, Heinrich 'the Lion' Duke of Saxony.

During the time of Heinrich the Lion, a certain Boppo of Hanstein is mentioned in documents a few times, 1145 as Boppo of Hanstein or Hanenstein, 1151 and 1170 as Boppo Count of Hanstein. If this is the same man and not a son with the same name, he held the castle a fairly long time and must have been one of Heinrich's trusted vassals.

The castle did not play a significant role during the war between Heinrich of Saxony and the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa, and we don't know Boppo's fate. When Heinrich returned from his exile in England in 1185, he was given back his allodial possessions around Braunschweig and Lüne-burg, but not the duchy of Bavaria and the lands he had held from Friedrich as vassal. Since the Hanstein was part of the inheritance of his oldest son, Heinrich Count Palatine of the Rhine, it must have been an allodial property. During a division of the allodial possessions of the House Welfen in 1202, the castle came to Heinrich the Lion's youngest son, Otto IV.

The next part of the history of the Hanstein involves the archdiocese of Mainz which held lands all over the place, even in Thuringia (the Eichsfeld) far away from the Rhine. Archbishop Siegfried of Mainz was interested in getting his hands on a castle that protected a Werra ford on the way to his possessions farther east. Otto IV, who faced a lot of opposition on his way to become Holy Roman Emperor, needed a favour and thus agreed to give the Hanstein to Siegfried (1209).

The next time the Hanstein appears a chronicle is 1236 when a vassal of the archbishop of Mainz, one Hethenricus of Hanstein (spelled Hanenstene) is mentioned. His family came from Apolda and was in a feudal relationship to Mainz since at least 1150 when they appeared as bailiffs of lands in the Eichsfeld. The now held the fief of Hanstein and took their name from the place. I don't think they are related to the above mentioned Boppo Count of Hanstein because the archbishop would have prefered to install one of his own vassals in the castle.

A sidenote: The Eichsfeld is still a Catholic enclave in lands that nowadays are mostly Protestant. They get some extra holidays which they spent on shopping tours in the surrounding Protestant towns. I've already mentioned the Eichsfeld in a post about Heiligenstadt, another of those pretty, little German towns with some old churches.

The photos show part of the inner bailey and the palas, sitting on a bedrock cliff. And a somewhat blurry fir tree swaying in the wind.


To be continued
 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.

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