Wood of Calidon.  

The Scottish chronicler Hector Boece (1465-1536) wrote that "the water of Clyde rises out of the same mountain within the Wood of Calidone, from which rises the Annan."(1)  The Cat Coit Celidon, is usually taken to refer to the wooded country north of Car;isle (11).  The Calidon wood probably covered Annandale and Upper Tweeddale and would be part of the much larger Ettrick Forest.  The Ettrick Forest covered a large part of southern Scotland reaching up into the Lothians.  This  forest was dominated by Oak(12).  However, north of that was the Caledonia Forest covering a huge part of Northern Scotland and comprised mainly of Scots Pine trees.   A reduced form of the word Caledonia is Caledon - Dictionary of the Scot's Language.(8).  There would appear to no connection, in a woodland sense, between the words Caledon and Calidon.   There were very few pine trees in the Ettrick Forest/Calidon Wood area (2) - more below.


There is a standing stone feature named the Meggat Stone at the parish boundaries of Tweedsmuir and Lyne - more about this on the Standing Stone Feature page of the Standing Stone Features section of this website.  Its is suggested that this stone could be an ancient boundary stone of the Ettrick Forest(4).  However it could equally be also a boundary marker for the Wood of Calidon?  There is an unrecorded standing stone in Gameshope - image on left that could also be a forest boundary stone.  This also on the Standing Stone Features page.

The Borders Forest Trust have purchased the Corehead Farm in the Devil's Beeftub.  The farm is located on what was part of the bushy glades of the Forest of Calidon - saltus nemoris calidonis(3) - and is only a mile or so away from Merlin's cave on the mountain of Hartfell.  For more about Merlin see page Merlin Caledonius.  The Trust had also acquired  the Carrifran and Gameshope/Talla estates and planted the fantastic wildwoods at all three locations.   A portion of these wildwoods are in the Talla-Hart Fell Wild Land Area(5)- see Map 02.    The mix of trees for the wildwoods were chosen from trees known to have been in the area c4000 BC and this had been dictated by pollen records from core sampling and from other data, includes alder, aspen, ash, elm, cherry, birch, hazel, holly, oak, thorn, rowan, willows and juniper.(2)

 For more about the Corehead Farm woodland site see

Some of the trees that would have been in the wood of Calidon are mentioned by Monmouth(3) namely Hazel, Oak (acorns), Ash, Apples - many times and Mulberry.   Merlin survived on nuts, fruit and berries during his time in the wood.

As can be seen the Calidon Wood had Hazel, Ash and Oak, trees that are  also listed in the wildwood mix.   What is not listed in the wildwood mix are Mulberry and apples.   It is surprising that seeds of the crab apple - Malus Sylvestris - were not found in the pollen counts from core sampling as the tree is counted as a native of Britain and grows wild in oak woods.(10)

Apples were mentioned by Monmouth on several occasions.  At least the words poma and pomerum are which have been translated to mean apples/apple trees but the translation should really be fruit trees.   It would appear that the connection between Merlin and apple trees can be traced to a Welsh poem in the Black Book of Carmarthen Yr Affallenan and Yr Oianau - ie to the Welsh Merlin.  Apple trees did favour Oak woods (10). However , it would appear that apples did feature in the Gaelic feast of Samhuinn - Halloween.   The remnants of this feast still persists particularly in Scotland where children still dook for apples, trying to pull them out of tubs pf water with only their teeth.(9).

It is highly unlikely that Mulberry could have survived this far north.   Hence Monmouth could be in error here and probably what was meant was Juniper.   The Juniper berries do turn  a dark purple and are not dissimilar from the berries of the Mulberry.   Juniper does feature in the pollen count and on the list of trees planted.  

As part of the Corehead Farm project a Community Orchard has been planted with 16 varieties of apple, plum and crab apple.  It is good that crab apple has been planted - see above.  More about the orchard on the Forest Trust Website mentioned above.   An apple orchard in the Calidon Forest only a mile away from Merlin's cave!

Monmouth mentions apples several times in his Vita Merlini, not all in the context of the Calidon Wood.   One mention is with regards to Greek Mythology - The Island of Apple Trees - Insula Pomerum Insula Vitae.   John Buchan latched on to this quotation from Monmouth and wove a fantasy short story around it titled The Far Islands.  This short story is collected in The Watcher by the Threshold.(6) It is said that this story, amongst others, inspired Tolkien.(7).


1)  Clarkson, Tim; Scotland's Merlin, A Medieval Legend and it's Dark Age Origins, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2017. p60-61.

2)  Ashmole, Myrtle and Philip; The Carrifran Wildwood Story, BFT, Ancrum,2009.  Appx B for list of trees, Appx C for shrubs.

3)  Geoffrey of Monmouth, translated by John Jay Perry; Vita Merlini, The Life of Merlin, 1925.  pp2-5.

4)  Anderson, M. L; A History of Scottish Forestry, 2 Vols Edinburgh, 1967. Vol 1, p105.

5)  Scottish National Heritage;

6)  Buchan, John,(Lord Tweedsmuir); The Watcher by the Threshold - The Far Islands, Unified Edition, Nelson, Edinburgh, 1922. pp110-111.

7)  Anderson, A, Douglas - Editor; Tales before Tolkien The Roots of Modern Fantasy, Ballantine Books, New York, 2003. p195. 

8)  Dictionary of the Scot's Language;

9)  Moffat, Alistair; Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2012. p36.

10) Field Guide to the Trees and Shrubs of Britain, Readers Digest, London, 1986. p82.

11)  Wood, Michael; In Search of the Dark Ages, BBC Books, London, 1987. p56.

12) Smout T C, Macdonald Alan R, Watson Fiona, A History of the Native Scottish Woodland 1500-1920. Edinburgh Uni Press, 2007. p27.