TWEEDSMUIR PARISH HISTORY.

Merlin Caledonius.  (Caledonius is Latin for Scottish).  

We are indebted to the Scottish Chronicler William Boece - 1465-1536 - who was probably the first person to mention the location of the Wood of Calidon,where Merlin lived as a Wild Man for many years(10), in the context of Scotland.  He wrote that "the water of Clyde rises out of the same mountain within the wood of Calidone, from which rises the Annan."(1)(4)  This would have meant nothing to those south of the Border and to those in Scotland it would refer to some vague spot in the south west of Scotland.  For more about the source of the Clyde see page Annan, Tweed and Clyde.  The Calidon wood probably covered Annandale and Upper Tweeddale and would be part of the much larger Ettrick Forest.  At the Wood of Calidon location The Borders Woodland Trust , in addition to their wildwoods at Carrifran and Gameshope/Talla, have a wood at Corehead Farm in the Devils' Beeftub.  For more about the Corehead Farm woodland site see www.bordersforesttrust.org/places/corehead-devils/.)

The next Scottish Chronicler of note was probably George Chalmers - 1752-1825 in his Caledonia(2).   He was familiar with the Welsh poems attributed to Myrddin Wyltt, deducing from these that Merlin's homeland was "Caledonia the land of the Picts".   Later in the same volume he followed a description of prehistoric burial mounds in Peeblesshire with the words "But, what are the barrows of the warriors to the grave of Merlin."

However it was the venerable Professor John Veith 1752-1825(3) who categorically stated that there were at least two Merlins and that the last was Scottish.   He wrote "There were apparently at least two men of the name Merlin.   The earlier was called Merlin Ambrosius, Aurelius, Myrdin Emrys.  By some he was identified with Vortimer, the son of Vortigern, by others with Uther Pendragon... But the Merlin of Tweeddale is a somewhat later and different personage.  He was called by the Welsh Myrdin Wyllt, or Merlin the Wild, Merlin Caledonius."   There is an imazing poem about Merlin Caledonius in a book of poems by John Veith.(3A).  

The above chroniclers proved that there was a Scottish Merlin who lived between the years 540 to 684 AD based in the southwest of the country.   However, it was not until the twentieth and twentyfirst centuries that the true identity of the Scottish Merlin has emerged teased out from the Welsh/English Merlins.   The above chroniclers/ writers have all based their findings on old Welsh manuscripts that were collected  in the works, in Latin, of Geoffrey of Monmouth, 1100-1155 AD(10).  The Scottish Merlin is still emerging, albeit with some question marks.(1.4.5.6.12.)

First, it would appear that the real identity of the Scottish Merlin was in fact Lailoken and he had a twin sister named  variously as Gwenddydd(1) or Langoureth(6).  His second cousin Guenddolou was his  clan chief - the clan being part of the Selgovae tribe that were in the area at the time of the Romans(4).  Guenddolou's citadel was at Caer Guenddolou known today as Liddel's Strength in an area known as Arfderydd - a few miles north of Carlisle.(1.6) 

Merlin's clan would have been Christian.  Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman empire in 312AD.  Carlisle was the military HQ for Hadrian's Wall where there is evidence of pockets of Christianity along the entire length of the wall.(6).   By the seventh century the town of Carlisle had a settled Christian community with a convent and a dioesan church.(8).   However, Merlin himself was a druid clinging on to some of the old ways.   He was a connection between the two beliefs.

Circa 573 AD a bloody battle took place at Arfderydd.   This would appear to have been the result of a dispute over land.   Guenddolous and his clan were more or less wiped out but Lailoken managed to escape to the forests of Tweeddale.  His entire life had been annihilated in a bloodbath of genocide.  The horror of what he had witnessed unbalanced his mind.   It is recorded that he went mad.   Post-traumatic stress disorder was as common in the Dark Ages as it is today(6).

Merlin took refuge in a cave on the mountain of Hartfell just north of Moffat.(4) and lived in the forest - the bushy glades of the Calidon Forest - saltus nemoris calidonis(10).   Merlin lived as a "Wild Man" for many years surviving on the fruits of the forest - nuts/ berries etc.  (The shoulder of Hartfell is where the Hartfell Spa - chalybeate spring - and the site of Merlin's cave can be found(6).  The forest lies on the lands of the Corehead Farm mentioned above.)  It could have been as long as ten plus years before Merlin met up with Kentigern - St Mungo.   The meeting could have been at the location of the present day sites of Tweeds Cross/Crown of Scotland towards the source of the River Tweed that had been a site of druidical worship(7).

However, the more likely location of the meeting was at or near Stobo.(6.9). It is said that Merlin was baptised by Kentigern.  However Merlin had probably already been baptised at his home at Arfderydd.   He would certainly have taken communion with Kentigern at the nearby Alterstone.(6.9).   Merlin would have appreciated the location for the communion on an alter of stone in woods near the river Tweed.  View from the alterstone over looking the Tweed is below.  There is a stain glassed window in Stobo Kirk celebrating the occassion of baptism/communion - image at head of page.  He died a few days later at nearby Drumelzier and was thought to have been buried there beside the Tweed.   

The route that Merlin took from Hartfell to the Stobo area must have taken him past the present day hamlet of Tweedsmuir(6).   There he would have stopped and perhaps spent a few days with the druids who had repurposed the ancient standing stone circle and the Chapel Knowe(11).  These sites were adjacent to the River Tweed the waters of which he would have first encountered previously at its very source in the Wood of Calidon and which he would have now crossed via the ford at Chapel Knowe.   He would have continued his journey along a well worn pathway beside the Tweed to Stobo/Drumelzier via the way marker stone at the site of the present day Crook Inn at Tweedsmuir.   See page the Pilgrim's Way to Stobo/Drumelzier and the chart from that page which is reproduced below image. Merlin had a strong association with the River Tweed.

View looking south from the site of the Alterstone over the River Tweed, seen in the foreground, towards Dawyck. 

 

  

Clarkson(1) and Crichton(6) below are a Must Read.

References.

1)   Clarkson, Tim; Scotland's Merlin A Medieval Legend and Its Dark Age Origins, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2017. For Boece Pp60-61.

2)  Chalmers, George; Caledonia: or an Account, Historical and Topographical, of North Britain, from the most Ancient to the Present Times, Cadell, London, 1807. Vol I.

3)  Veitch, John, Prof; History and Poetry of the Scottish Border, Blackwood, Edinburgh, 1893. Second Edition Vol I. Pp224-225.

3A) Veitch, John; Merlin and Other Poems, Blackwood, Edinburgh, 1889. Pp. 4-36.

4)  Tolstoy, Nickolai; The Quest for Merlin, Coronet Books, 1986. For Boece p83. For Hartfell and Selgovae p88.

5)  Ardrey, Adam; Finding Merlin The Truth Behind the Legend, Mainstream, Edinburgh, 2012.

6)  Crichton, Robin; On the Trail of Merlin in a Dark Age, Edinburgh Film Production, Edinburgh, 2017. For Christianity p19.

7)  Buchan, J.W, Paton, H, Rev.; History of Peeblesshire, Jackson Wylie, Glasgow, 1927. Vol III p370.

8)  Wood, Michael; In Search of the Dark Ages, BBC Publications, London, 1981. p57.

9)  Randall, John; Stobo Kirk a Guide to the Building and its History, Walter Thomson, Selkirk, 1997. p9.

10)  Geoffrey of Monmouth, translated from the Latin by John Jay Perry; Vita Merlini, The Life of Merlin, 1925.

11)  Armstrong, John, Mostyn; A Companion to the map of the County of Peebles or Tweeddale, W Creech, Edinburgh, 1775. p104.

12)  Crockett, W.S. Rev; The Scott Country, A&C Black, London, 1930. 6th edition Pp107-108.

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