Gallows, Ghosts and Guns: Mugdock Country Park’s intriguing past (part 1)

Mugdock Castle at the heart of Mugdock County Park

There’s a wonderful passage in Paul Gallico’s book The Adventures of Hiram Holliday where Hiram speaks of ‘…the cries of history that swirled up around him, rising, seemingly from every crack in the pavement.’  I love the idea that the history of a particular place can be felt like that, almost as if it were echoing up through the soles of your feet. And no matter where you go, you’ll always find landscapes rich with tales of the past.

Mugdock County Park, north of Glasgow, is no exception. From the northern boundaries of Milngavie to the edge of Dumbrock Moor and the Campsie Fells, the park covers an area of 260 hectares that is rich in wildlife, plant life and history.  Go for a visit, and it won’t be long before you begin to understand some if its intriguing past.

The mighty tower of Mugdock Castle

Perhaps the most visible evidence of the past lives of the people of this area is Mugdock Castle itself. No one knows exactly how old this once formidable stronghold is, though it must have existed at least as far back as the 14th century for a document relating to the castle – an agreement over land between the castle’s owner, Sir Patrick Graham, and one Angus Hawinroyss – was signed there on the 24th of August, 1372.

Over the years the Grahams extended their lands and the estate prospered, becoming both a centre for regular markets and fairs, and also the seat of the Barony court, where ‘justice’ would be meted out. If you were tried and found guilty in the Courthall of the castle what happened next?  Where would be your fate be determined?  Read on!

During the Dark Ages and Medieval times Mugdock Loch was far larger and deeper than it is today. On a small island, only a few hundred yards from the castle, was the Moot Hill, or Hill of Judgement. It was on this spot that the unfortunate criminal would hear his sentence: seldom a happy one!  In many cases it would be straight back across the causeway and over to the grimly named Gallowhill for execution.

A reconstruction of a crannog (c) Education Scotland

A reconstruction of a crannog (c) Education Scotland

In earlier times Moot Hill was home to Bronze Age and Iron age crannogs, dwellings built out on the water for protection from enemies. Some were reached by circuitous stone paths hidden just below the surface of the water, others by wooden or stone causeways above the water, linking the crannog to the shore. Gallowhill too has many archaeological remains and may have housed a large Iron Age fort or even a village.

Next to Gallowhill was the equally fearsome Drowning Pond, where unfortunate women accused of witchcraft were forcibly held under water: if you drowned you were innocent, if you survived you were guilty and burned at the stake. A lose-lose situation if ever there was one!   Walk round the pond today and listen for the ghostly laments of its victims.

The Mugdock Anti-aircraft battery overlooking Glasgow

The Mugdock Anti-aircraft battery overlooking Glasgow

From a war much nearer our own time are the silent remains of the Mugdock anti-aircraft gunsite built in 1942 in the aftermath of the Clydebank Blitz. This gun emplacement was part of a series of anti-aircraft batteries constructed around the Clyde Basin to protect the heavy industries in and around Glasgow. The nearby Nissen huts housed the army personnel stationed to man the guns, complete with showers and sleeping accommodation.

Michael Gambon and Iain Cuthbertson, the rugged stars of 'The Borderers'!

Michael Gambon and Iain Cuthbertson, the rugged stars of ‘The Borderers’!

But to go back to Mugdock Castle. Here’s a question: what’s the connection between Mugdock Castle and Michael Gambon? The answer: Gambon starred as heroic young Gavin Ker of Slitrig,  in the 1960s/70s television series The Borderers, which was filmed at Mugdock Castle. It was an exciting historical drama, set in the 16th century, which told the tale of the Warden of the Middle March (Iain Cuthbertson) and his family during the troubled and violent times of the Border Reivers. The Warden’s dashing young nephew, Gavin Ker, fought to protect his family and remain a decent man. It was stirring stuff!

So as you take that stroll in the park on a peaceful afternoon, stop for a moment and think about all that’s happened around you.  You’ll be surprised just how rich and varied the past has been!

Mugdock County Park

“Cradle of Scotland” – a colourful history of Forteviot

The Forteviot Arch

The Forteviot Arch

There’s a lovely Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin asks his father why old photos are always in black and white, and didn’t they have colour film back then?  His father answers by telling him that old photos were in colour, but that the world was black and white and didn’t turn into colour until the 1930s!  While he’s just teasing his son, sometimes, looking at the remains of ancient buildings today, it can seem that the past really was only in black and white!

"Cradle of Scotland" exhibition at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow

“Cradle of Scotland” exhibition at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow

Perhaps that’s why it was such a pleasure to see the digital re-colouring of the Forteviot Arch at the wonderful Cradle of Scotland exhibition currently on at the Hunterian Museum: a major exhibition that, through the archaeology of this ancient landscape, “explores the evolution of society from the loosely connected communities of early farmers in prehistory to the centralised kingdom of Alba (Gaelic for Scotland).”

And it’s quite a journey! From Neolithic Forteviot of 3000 BC with its burials, cremations and huge palisaded enclosure; through the Bronze Age and the forging of the striking Forteviot Dagger; to Iron Age hill-forts and the arrival of the Romans, which in turn saw the Caledonians becoming the Picts thanks to the Romans describing the people of this area as ‘Picti‘ – the ‘painted people’.

The richly decorated Bronze Age Forteviot Dagger

But what really intrigued me is the particularly interesting change in the course of the 9th century, when the kingdom that called itself Pictland eventually came to call itself the Kingdom of Alba.  What brought Kenneth mac Alpin eastwards from his western stronghold and how did the Kingdom of Scotland really come about?

Not so long ago I read an interesting account of this period which suggested that there wasn’t a swift and brutal take-over of Pictland by Kenneth and his Gaels, rather that there had long been much coming and going between the Gaels and the Picts.  But then growing pressure from Viking attacks from the 830s onwards created a Scotland full of turmoil and uncertainty, and it was this turmoil that may have prompted many Gaels to move eastwards.

3D illustration of the Dupplin Cross, also known as Constantine’s Cross with King Constantine mac Fergus mounted on his steed

Forteviot, long a spiritual, political and cultural centre of the southern Picts, as well as a fertile and wealthy part of the country, would have been an obvious place to head for.  The arrival of this new political elite may have slowly altered the balance of power, with the language and culture of the Gaels eventually superseding that of their cousins, the Picts.  In all events, Kenneth mac Alpin became the first king of this new Scottish dynasty with Forteviot at its centre.

It’s a fascinating exhibition and shows just how much archaeology continues to tell us about the past.  With 3D illustrations and magnificent contemporary exhibits, it’s definitely not a dull black and white past that unfolds, but one full of colour and vibrancy, depicting lives lived amidst both the mundane and the sacred.  Just watch the Forteviot Arch as the colour appears and the figures stand out in new depth and detail, almost cartoon-like in their appearance, but it will make you see our ancestors in a whole new light!

Links:

The Cradle of Scotland exhibition runs until 3rd January 2016

SERF : Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot

“Discover Bute”: a lasting legacy?

Rothesay's largest ever visitor?

Rothesay’s largest ever visitor?

Over a period of four years from 2008 to 2012 the people of Bute took part in a wonderful project that brought the island’s rural landscape to the fore. Through the Discover Bute Landscape Partnership Scheme (DBLPS), and under the able guidance of its coordinator Bridget Paterson, a huge range of projects flourished and were enjoyed by thousands of people. There was the unforgettable first outing of the Big Man Walking, the restoration of hedgerows and woodland, the creation of new walks across the island, the discovery of artifacts more than 4,000-years-old in the Bronze Age Barrow at Scalpsie, the building of new bird hides at Ettrick Bay and Loch Quien, the repairing of dry stone walls, dozens of school visits, an abundance of related training courses and an unprecedented participation of volunteers – islanders and visitors alike.  It was wonderful!

Part of the legacy of Discover Bute - a DVD and booklet covering fantastic walks across this beautiful and historic island

Part of the legacy of Discover Bute – a DVD and booklet covering fantastic walks across this beautiful and historic island

At the same time there was a community forest buy-out at the north end of the island, with Discover Bute again involved in the creation of new pathways and the building of new bridges to open up this area for all to enjoy.  There have even been brilliant bench-making courses for anyone who wanted to try their hand at that!

But what now? Could the momentum and involvement that was generated back then be continued?  The answer to that is undoubtedly – and thankfully! – ‘Yes’!

Much of the historical legacy of Discover Bute is now being carried forward by Paul Duffy, who was Discover Bute’s archaeological director. Through his new venture Brandanii Archaeology, Paul hopes to continue and expand the connection between the people of Bute and their island’s rich heritage.

While walkers, and those who’ve ever tackled Bute’s unique West Island Way, will be delighted to see that another group, the Bute Conservation Trust, have just set out their plans – and hopes – for the coming year.  It’s good to see that so much is being done to build on Discover Bute’s achievements, and that so many people are still willing to be involved and give up their time and energy to make Bute a great place to live in and visit.  Long may it continue!

Bute Conservation Trust unveil their plans to maintain the legacy of Discover Bute

Bute Conservation Trust unveil their plans to maintain the legacy of Discover Bute

Scalpsie Bay – A Walk through Time

Scalpsie Bay looking across to Arran

Scalpsie Bay looking across to Arran

The Isle of Bute, although lying in the Firth of Clyde and close to the main centre of population in Scotland, is often called ‘The Undiscovered Isle’.  Many people think of it only in terms of the main town, Rothesay, once a thriving summer coastal resort, now rather run-down and tired.  But beyond the town lies beautiful countryside, magnificent bays and a wealth of history – just waiting to be discovered!

Scalpsie Bay, on the south-west of Bute, is home to a populous seal colony, as well as having magnificent views over to Arran.  It also holds thousands of years of history – from a Bronze Age barrow and Iron Age dun, to the water channels built by the 19th century engineer Robert Thom to power the islands then flourishing cotton mills and the “Russian Cottage” used during the Cold War to listen for possible Soviet submarines in the Firth of Clyde.  But there is much, much more to this beautiful bay than this, so go and discover it for yourself!

Fragments of Bronze Age pottery found in the Scalpsie Barrow in 2010

Fragments of Bronze Age pottery found in the Scalpsie Barrow in 2010