The Blacksmith Shadows chase across the faces of my children. The forge is lit, flames spit to the bellows breath. Buried in the fire, metal melts, soon I shall fashion another sword for Urien. My wife cradles our youngest life, she is troubled but hides it well. Like her mother, she has the gift of far-sight, claims to see visions being played out in the dancing flames. I have no time for such notions! I have a King to arm, children to feed! My hammer falls, pounds at my growing fear. Yesterday, she looked into the forge and saw only fire!
The Fisherman’s Wife Pity the fisherman’s wife who grieves by Merin Rheged. The sea has devoured her life, a husband and three sons drowned by a storm that feasted a full four days. Now, even the gulls mourn, and the waves weep upon the broken shore. See, how she picks her way through the bleached bones of driftwood. Eyes ever seaward, hair streaming like seaweed at the tide’s turn. What can we offer her? Only the warmth of our eyes, our quiet pity. Wrapped in her pride, she walks the edge, wearing her tears like jewels. (Merin Rheged = Solway Firth)
The Wise Woman They call me the wise woman of the wood, That I hold the secrets of the ancients. I belong to no cult or sisterhood, I just see the forest for what it is. Many here are jealous of what I know, The same people who call me pagan! Yet, they still come to me with their woes, Faith in their God is easily shaken! Some Rosemary, perhaps, to chase nightmares? Saint James Wort to ease your bruises and banes? Chamomile to soften a headache? A touch of Hemlock to dull a pain? Tonight, I’ll face south at sunset, and while The world sleeps, I’ll gather in … and smile.
(Herbs picked whilst facing south at midnight, were thought to be more potent. An interesting concept!)
Urien In his longhouse in Caer Ligualid, A figure stands by a smouldering hearth. This is Urien, Son of Cynfarch Oer Son of Meirchian Gul Son of Cenain Son of Coel Hen King of Rheged. He is staring at the rising sparks, Imagining figures forming in the smoke. There is his lady, Morgan de Fay. His sons, Owain Rhiwallon Elfin Rhin Pasgen. Urien looks up, Watching his family drift Up to the dark roof timbers, And wonders if this Is what we all become, Nothing but spirit and ashes, A flickering of memory. He fingers the cross Around his neck. His eyes seek the ravens On the shield by the door. He walks towards the light, Crosses over the threshold, And steps into his world. (Caer Ligualid = Carlisle)
Situated 10 miles west of Stranraer, Dunragit is a pretty insignificant village. Except, of course, if you study the origin of the name. Merin Rheged refers to The Solway Firth.
Dunragit The story is in the name, Dunragit, Dun Rheged, Fort of Rheged, home of King Urien, Shepherd of the Solway, scourge of Bernicia, who was laid low at Lindisfarne, victim of treachery. Now, who cares where the fort was? Or fears the kiss of Merin Rheged, with it’s threat of Northumbrian sails, bringing Angles and fire. We have buried King Urien in the earth of our dark age. Rheged has passed into myth, leaving only the name, and the ghosts of heroes, who whisper of times when death was a way of life, and Dunragit, was a place to be reckoned with!
In the Post Roman era and Early Medieval Ages, Rheged was one of the Kingdoms of the Hen Ogledd (Old North) which straddled, what is now, North West England and South West Scotland. It is intimately associated with the legendary King Urien and his family. Its inhabitants spoke Cumbric, a Brittonic dialect, closely related to Old Welsh.
It is recorded in several poetic and bardic sources, although its exact borders are not described in any of them. King Urien was fortunate to have Taliesin, one of the greatest of bards to sing in Welsh, to record his deeds and thus preserve his fame for eternity.
As a native of Galloway, in South West Scotland, with an interest in ancient history, Rheged holds a particular fascination for me. Through the years, I have written a few poems based on the old Kingdom and tried to populate it with ordinary people as well as Warlords, Kings and Poets. This is an on-going project and this seems the perfect time and place to start gathering everything together!
Till I am old and failing, In the grim doom of death, I shall have no delight, If my lips praise not Urien
(Taliesen, 6th Century)
A wee bit of daftness that, hopefully, may bring a smile in uncertain times. Three historical characters with a connection to Dumfries (Scotland, obviously!) I’m sure you’ll recognise who they are.
Three Rants frae Dumfries i “Ye did whit!, jist stabbed him Richt there in the Kirk! Ye big eejit, whit were ye thinkin! Ye ken whit yon English are like. He’s no richt deed!, ach gae me yer dirk, A’ll mac siccar, an waash yer hauns. Honest tae Goad Rab, whit next! Ye’ll be waantin tae be King o Scoatland!” ii “Weel then, fancy yersel as a wordsmith? Then min o this, yer a plooman! An folks roond here kent yer faither! So ye cannae fool us aa son. Anither thing, yer aways foo an unca happy An hae a trail o wumin in the family way! Cut it oot!, or mark ma wurds Rabbie, Years hence, naebody wull mind yer name!” iii “A fortune, a fortune aa spent on ye! Sendin ye tae Dumfries fir education. An whits this aa see afore me? A daft wee book o waens fiction! An ageless hero wha fancies a fairy! A pirate wi a hook, feert o a tick-tock, An island foo o loast boyes!, Goad Almichty!! Tell me this Jimmy, wull ye never grow up!
There I was on the Ardrossan to Arran ferry and instead of taking in the beautiful views, I took some minimalist pics of the funnel and deck. Ah well…took in the view on the way back though!
During the 18th and early 19th centuries, the small coastal village of Carsethorn, on the Solway Firth, was a busy port with regular sailings to Liverpool, The Isle of Man and Ireland. Some 21,000 emigrants left here for a better life in the New World. The remains of the pier they left from is a stark reminder of the cruelty of the Scottish Lowland Clearances, seldom mentioned but just as traumatic as the better known Highland Clearances.
At Carsethorn beach… The tide is on the ebb, Slowly, old pier posts, Emerge like black fingers. They grasp nothing, All is quiet here now. Time has tamed this shore, Tides have cleansed its story. But, they’re still here, The thousands that left, Deep down you sense them. You see faces in the stones, In the breaking of waves, You hear a murmur of voices, And the breeze is a finger tip, Tap-tapping your shoulder.
I was just out for a wee run on the bike and came across a row of old garages. All flaky paint and rust. Love when these spontaneous things happen!