Exploring Beyond Rosslyn
- The Celtic Kingdom Of Gododdin

 
There seems no end in sight to the public interest in Rosslyn in relation to mediaeval Templar-Grail mysteries, even though the chapel was constructed far too late to have been built by the Knights Templar order. Yet surprisingly little attention has been paid to the surrounding area, which has a longer history than Rosslyn Chapel or Castle, stretching back into the Celtic Dark Ages and beyond. The question of course must be: is there any earlier link to the Grail legends? If the Templars did come here and bury secrets, why did they choose this area? Are there are other 'mystery' sites in the area? The answer is yes …. you just need to look at the surrounding historical place names.

… The district we are looking at is the region of Lothian, a name whose root occurs in the Arthurian Romances (King Lot etc). It first appears in written history in the Roman era as the land of the ‘Otadini tribe in Ptolemy’s 2nd-Century Geography, by the waters of Boderia and Bodotria, now the River and Firth [estuary] of Forth. (The apostrophe in ‘Otadini probably indicates a missing ‘Celtic’ glottal Gw- sound, difficult for others to pronounce – which could explain why the name went from ‘Gwo-dothin’ to Lothian.) Along with Strathclyde, it was one of two buffer kingdoms, enclosed by the two Roman Walls (Hadrian’s and Antonine) that stood between the Romans and the Picts.
After the Roman era, it appears as the kingdom of the Gododdin (with the double-d pronounced as ‘th’). Its most ancient known tribal capital, east of Edinburgh, the hillfort of Dunpelder on Traprain Law, was a major Celtic crafts centre, producing bronze ‘jewellery’ items which were later exchanged for Roman goods, and a considerable treasure hoard has been found. (‘Law’, is from Norse hlaw a hill, while Traprain may mean ‘palisaded hill’ or derive from Typiaun, son of the the tribe’s 5th-century patriarch, Cunedag.) Prince Kentigern, who became Scotland’s own Saint Mungo, first Bishop of Strathclyde, was the illegimate grandson of a later ruler, his mother being cast out of the hillfort by King Lot in disgrace. The layout of Rosslyn Chapel is thought by those who reject the Templar theory to be modelled on the East Quire of Glasgow Cathedral, which itself was built atop Kentigern’s grave.

Right: Traprain Law east of Edinburgh, site of the Iron Age hillfort capital of the Celtic Iron Age Wotadini - later known as the Gododdin. They also established strongpoints at Edinburgh and Stirling.

 


The territory of the Gododdin, including what became their heartland district of Lothian, together with their western neighbours the people of Strathclyde [Ystrad Clud].

Traprain Law east of Edinburgh

Map of Scotland: the sepia square is the historic Kingdom of Gododdin

Left: On the map of Scotland, the sepia square approximates the extent of the historic Kingdom of Gododdin.
It held a key position between the kingdom of the Picts in the north, the new Irish kingdom of the Scots in the northwest, and the English in the south. The narrow gap in the hills between Edinburgh and Stirling at Scotland's "waist" was its most vital strategic gateway in the Dark Ages and later.

The kingdom had several natural strongholds built on volcanic ‘plugs’ at strategic sites overlooking the Forth, all offering, then and now, far-reaching, commanding views over the area. The main two, both now with mediaeval castles, were Iodeo, now Stirling, and the larger Dun Eidyn, now Edinburgh.

The Latin name (given in the Ravenna Cosmography), Ewidensca, may mean a vantage point looking out over water (e-videns-isca?), with a view over the Firth and landward approaches. As defence and vantage points, Edinburgh actually has three main hills: Calton Hill, Castle Rock and Arthur’s Seat. Calton Hill is 355’ high and according to legend once had an ancient ring of stones atop it, where Druids supposedly met. The 445’ high Castle Rock supposedly had, pre-Castle, a Pictish tower, mentioned in the legend of a Pictish princess. The 822’ Arthur’s Seat is what would be called in the Highlands a ‘ben’, and is a grassy saddleback hill with crags on one side. Because of the way Britain is angled, the old road between Scotland and Wales ran south from here, past Rosslyn.
Less than ten miles from Edinburgh, Rosslyn itself (earlier spelt Roslyin), does not itself appear as a name in surviving Celtic-era records, but is probably another water-feature name, with ros probably meaning reddish, and lyn or lin a pool. If a settlement existed there in the Dark Ages, it would have been a cross-roads outpost of Dun Eidyn, where the east-west road from the coast met the main road south. The 17th-C Blaue Atlas shows it as an enclosure [pictured below] with a ‘Colledge’ – a term associated early on with the Druidic order whose 'political' teachings prompted Caesar to invade Britain.

Below: Edinburgh, with the castle in the background.

The Fortress Of Eidyn
Long before the present Castle was built, Edinburgh was a military centre. Arthur's Seat may be the original ‘Mt Eidyn’ rather than Castle Rock, and it's possible the name of the hill is more than just the usual folkloric name found around Britain. In an obscure early poem found in the 12th-C. codex The Black Book Of Carmarthen, the site of a battle involving Arthur and his company, two of whom ‘were each determined to defend Dun Eidyn’ – so they were defenders rather than attackers.
Eidyn would be the home base for the local warband whose pre-battle feast at the great hall there is commemorated in the 7C eulogy or battle-lament poem ‘Gododdin’ credited to the bard Aneirin. It is in this poem, perhaps the oldest surviving work of British literature, we have our earliest mention (in passing) of renowned Arthur, and of the seer Myrddin (Merlin). The court has a poetic epithet here that would befit fictional Camelot, one literally meaning mountain court of the many treasures. Edinburgh would become capital of Scotland, with its Palace of Holyrood just below Arthur's Seat becoming the residence of monarchs from Mary Queen Of Scots on.

 

'Roslyin' on a 17th-century atlas.

 

'Roslyin' on a 17th-century atlas. Note the "Colledge" inside the fenced-off estate, below the name "Paradise." Whatever could they have been getting up there?

Left: An early photo of Holyrood Palace with Arthur's Seat in the background. The question of whether the name Arthur's Seat's refers to the famous Arthur, though one folktale reference suggests Arthur's men defended it at one point against the "dogheads" - whoever they were.
There are caves in the mountainside there - some boys hunting rabbits in 1836 found 17 miniature coffins containing four-inch-long carved wooden figures, most of which have since crumbled to dust, with a few on display in the Museum Of Scotland. How ancient the figures are remains unknown.

 

Holyrood Palace just visible in the middle distance from Calton Hill, looking SE. The newer buildings on the right are mainly the new Scottish Parliament buildings. Between them these two adjacent sites represent the seat of government, Holyrood being where the monarch stays when in Scotland.


BBC's CGI rendering of Stirling Castle c1314 , at the northern end of the Gododdin tribal territory, for their recent documentary The Quest For Bannockburn. It and its predecessors commanded a key route between the Highlands and Lowlands.
Mouse over screenshot to see the 2nd image, t
he Battle Of Stirling Bridge 1297.
This was the first famous example of using the area's bottleneck points. It was William Wallace's great victory, though the film Braveheart does not depict it authentically. The battle is believed to have occurred just upstream of the present stone bridge over the River Forth, by a spot where an earthen causeway led towards Abbey Craig, where the Wallace Monument now stands, and from where Wallace was watching, attacking when around half the English troops were across, splitting their army disastrously. The illustration is from a Victorian edition of the earliest account, c.1470, by the minstel Blind Harry, which claims Wallace sabotaged the wooden bridge so it collapsed.

 

Stirling guarded the key Bannockburn crossing, where the battle that gave the Scots their independence was fought in 1314. By the burn was "the great ditch" that cost many of the English army in the battle their lives, as an early [c1346] account, the Lanercost Chronicle, describes. (Mouse over screenshot to see the 2nd image, both from the recent BBC documentary The Quest For Bannockburn.)

Citadel In The Land Of The Sea-God
The 'Father of English History,' the Venerable Bede, said the old Roman (Antonine) Wall had a seashore citadel near each end (Strathclyde's stronghold Alclud, now Dumbarton Rock, stood at the western end). He said Iodeo was also halfway along the 'Merin Iodeo', which would be the Forth tidal estuary at a time when the tide came farther inland. This would explain how the flood-plain (now reclaimed land called the Carse Of Stirling) was then named (in the Historia Britannorum of Nennius) Manau Guotodin, or 'the Gododdin Manaw': as a tidal zone it was naturally ruled by Celtic sea-god Manawyddan Son Of Lyr. (The root-name survived in its successor usage, Clackmannanshire.) Recently discovered is a secondary Dark Ages citadel up on the cliffside of Stirling's 300'-high Abbey Craig, where the 220' William Wallace Monument now stands. At the eastern end of the Roman Wall, near Falkirk, also stood the Romano-British settlement of Camelon, which some think to have been inspiration for 'Camelot.'

 


To the north-east the town (Latin urbs) or citadel (arx), of Iodeo or Iuddew, identified as Stirling Castle Rock, guarded the Forth from the north, at the point where it became a fordable river. This has been regarded as the key strategic position in Scots history - Stirling is a corruption of its earlier name, Strivelyn ("Strife-Pool"?). Celtic languages came in P- and Q- versions, and the name Iodeo could be the Q-Celtic version of Ptolemy's Latinised Boderia, which would likely be from a root word meaning the spirit of Victory (as with Boudicca), and more materialistically, the booty or honourable spoils over which wars were then fought. Bede calls it Urbs Giudi, which indicates it should be pronounced Judi (Latin had no J and used capital I instead, as in Iulius). Bede's spelling makes it unlikely it's from the same root as Gododdin. As iudex or judex meant a lord or judge, it could also refer to a seat of judgement.

The Treasures Of Britain
The Gododdin Manaw citadel of Iodeo or Iuddew was also a treasure centre, where the some of the fabled Treasures Of Britain were kept, these being referred to in a 7th-century incident, the Restitution Of Iudew (Atbret Iudew). These were presumably war booty, but seem to have included some sacred or magical relics referred to elsewhere. Most of these have now vanished, but now held in Edinburgh Castle with the other 'Honours of Scotland' is the Scottish 'Stone of Destiny'. This may have been the mysterious speaking or screaming coronation stone known as the Lia Fail, brought to the west of Scotland by the Irish Scotti settlers there. Another legend says it was the altar stone of St Columba, Irish missionary to the Picts. One Jewish tradition suggests it later became the pedestal of the Ark of the Temple before being secretly removed to Spain, from there to Ireland and thence to Scotland.
It was also known as Jacob's Pillow as one legend has it the stone which inspired visions when the Biblical patriarch Jacob used it as a makeshift pillow in the wilderness, and which he made the cornerstone of his temple. The 152 kg red sandstone relic was removed to Westminster Abbey in 1296 to crown English kings on, though it was briefly seized back again at Xmas 1950 by Scottish Nationalist students. There is a rumour the current stone is a replica (the monks having given Edward I the stone cover of the local cess-pit), but that the location of the real stone was lost when the monks who hid the original died.
The citadel or caer overlooking the meanders of the river Forth guarded the ford across the Forth leading to Pictland. It was here in 843 that Scots king Kenneth MacAlpin finally defeated the Picts, leading to the unification of Scotland, and was crowned on the Stone Of Destiny.

 

The Grail Castle Of Caer Bannauc?
The volcanic plug rock itself atop which Stirling Castle now sits was named (in the Life Of St Cadoc) as Mount Bannog, a landmark which gave its name to the nearby Banog Burn - the strategic site of Bannockburn, where Robert The Bruce's victory over England in 1314 (supposedly with Templar help!) laid the foundation for Scotland as a nation-state.
Thus, Stirling also became Caer Bannog or Bannauc, a name appearing in various spellings in the romances as the elusive Grail Castle, all the way up to Monty Python And The Holy Grail (where it gets the proper Scots pronunciation, via the Merlin-like enchanter at the Perilous Bridge). Having a real-life prototype for the Arthurian Romances' Grail Castle situated in a tidal zone would explain an odd feature of the tales: sometimes the questing knights reach it on horseback and at other times, by boat.
The name Carse derives from carrs, a geological term for peaty areas in an intermediate state between sea and dry land - lowlands that are regularly flooded, and can be treacherous to cross for invaders unfamiliar with the safe spots. 'Fata Morgana' style mirages have been reported in the Firth, and in winter the country is often foggy, so that the volcanic rocks can loom out of the mist without any apparent foundation. It's quite possible the early mediaeval romancers heard stories of these features, and worked them into their fictional tales as the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't, hard-to-reach Grail Castle of Caer Bannauc.

A postcard view of Stirling in the 20th Century, looking south from Abbey Craig, where the William Wallace Monument stands, with the river Forth winding through the fertile lands of The Carse.
The travel writer H.V Morton, in his classic In Search Of Scotland, wrote:
"The view from the ramparts of Stirling Castle can hold its own with any view in this world & the Forth making its silver loops through the green plain ... so fantastic are the windings of the Links of Forth that six miles by land are twenty by water & the only navigable river in Europe on which a sailing ship would in the space of a few miles require wind from every corner of the compass. The smoothness of the Carse of Stirling is as lovely as the Vale of Avalon from Glastonbury Tor."

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