A Hoard of Treasure

Whenever I’m in Edinburgh, I find myself drawn to the National Museum in Chambers St.

One of the greatest finds of treasure in Scotland can be found here – over twenty kilos of silver, discovered on the top of Traprain Law: As far back as the second century, the latter held a large hill fort covering some forty acres – the royal headquarters of an early Scottish tribe, the Gotodini. The treasure was believed to have been paid by the Romans – a bribe to keep the tribe from raiding over Hadrian’s Wall into Britain. For the most part, the silver had been hacked into pieces: its value lay in its weight. Skilled local craftsmen would have melted the silver, refashioning the items to suit their own function and styles.


This period is often regarded as primitive but such an array of items shows the extraordinary beauty and utility of the artifacts.The horn or Carnyx, resembling a boar’s head, was used as a trumpet to terrify enemies, to impel warriors to superior acts of valour, or for ceremonial purposes. It certainly impressed the Romans during the invasion of Caledonia (one of the early names given to Scotland). This one was found dismantled and buried in a peat bog. And who wouldn’t want one of these beautiful and functional bowls in their home today?

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I love this this caricature of a Pictish gentleman on a horse, apparently having a wee dram on the way home.The poor horse looks so weary as if he’s been waiting for hours for his owner to finish his night out!


Below are statues – a unique and eerie rendition by sculptor, Eduardo Paolozzi. Within their angular bodies, metal figures hold exquisite jewellery from the period to highlight the contrast between old and new forms. I know some folk don’t warm to them but these characters drawn in stone intrigue me. Their extraordinary impact draws me back to the museum time and again. I fancy they might come alive at night with creaks and groans, and deep growling voices!

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Moving forward to 1831, a wild Atlantic storm shifted layers of sand and debris to uncover these quirky chess pieces from beneath the sand hills of Uig on the western fringe of the Hebridean Isle of Lewis. During the Viking period, these enigmatic items carved from ancient walrus ivory were abandoned. Having walked those white, sandy beaches, I’ve often wondered about the elusive details of such a drama. Why did the owner bury these precious items, and then fail to return? One of Scotland’s many mysteries!

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Next time, more of my favourite pieces at Scotland’s National Museum…

Dollar Glen and Castle Gloom

In central Scotland, the pretty community of Dollar nestles beneath the picturesque Ochil Hills. My great, great grandmother came from this ancient ‘hillfoot’ town so it always gives me great pleasure to visit. And there’s a secret cleft of nature behind the village.. a gorge which takes you up into the hills!

The walk itself is not overly strenuous but care needs to be taken viewing the precipitous ravines. Well-made paths aid the walker. Tiny bridges criss-cross cascading waterfalls, filled with mossy rocks and fallen trees. Wander through cool ferns and bracken. Perhaps you’ll catch sight of the great spotted woodpecker or a pied flycatcher: a deer might wander past or a cheeky squirrel test your eyesight midst the forest canopy.

Onward, you’ll see signs for the Burn of Sorrow, and Burn of Care, and could be forgiven for thinking that terrible events occurred here: some say a woman was imprisoned nearby long ago. Who was she, I wonder?

In the distance, you’ll catch sight of grey, forbidding walls. Known initially as Castle Gloom (or Glume), it looks eerie but its name may stem from the Gaelic “glom’ for chasm.

A clear statement of power and wealth, the stone tower grew tall in the 15th century. Constructed for John Stewart, lord of Lorn, it was later acquired by Sir Colin Campbell, the first earl of Argyll, who married into the family. Renamed, Castle Campbell served as the family’s lowland stronghold from around 1465 for almost two hundred years.

The imposing ruins are now managed by Historic Scotland whilst the glen falls under the auspices of the National Trust. (A tiny word of warning, there’s currently no cafe so if you fancy some treats, take a picnic and have it on the garden terrace.)

Dollar lies in Clackmannanshire, the smallest county in Scotland. One legend tells of Mannan or Manau, a Celtic Sea God: the Picts believed that a whinstone boulder (or ‘Clack’) on the nearby Forth shoreline was the dwelling place of the spirit of water. The sea is never very far away in Scotland!

Another legend suggests an alternative origin for the shire’s unusual name: when Robert the Bruce was out riding with his men, he left behind his glove on a rock and told Sir James Douglas to go back ”to the Clack, to fetch my mannan (Gaelic for glove)…and the good Sir James replied, “Sire, if ye’ll just look about ye, I’ll be back directly.” Some think that was how the county got its name, and motto: ‘Look about ye’?

There’s even a road up above the castle, ‘Look Aboot Ye’ Brae, as well as the king’s stone. Perhaps Robert was on his way to Clackmannan Tower, set beneath the bare rounded hills, where a later line of the Bruce family flourished. It’s well worth a visit!

The Reformation of the 1550s saw the religious reformer, John Knox, preach a sermon with the full support of the Calvinist-leaning Campbells. And Mary Queen of Scots attended a wedding in 1563 – another in the Stewart/Campbell dynasty. Perhaps a blind eye was turned concerning the queen’s fiercely-held Roman Catholic beliefs.

Embroiled in the fight against the Royalists, the later earls of Argyll were strong supporters and leaders within the Covenanters’ movement when Scottish churchgoers rejected unwanted interference into their long-held religious practices: many were prepared to, and did, die for their beliefs.

A hundred years on, in 1645, and the lands around Castle Campbell were laid waste by Sir James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose, and his men, the MacLeans – longtime adversaries of the Campbells. Combine clan rivalry with religious differences and you have a conflagration in the making.

Almost a decade later during the tumultuous English Civil War, Scots – angered by the execution of Charles I – sacked the castle in retaliation for Argyll’s support for Cromwell. But when Charles II ascended the throne, the 8th earl, Archibald Campbell, lost his head for treason in Edinburgh. Archie’s kinfolk decided to leave the building to its ghosts, and moved into a smart town house just down the road from Stirling Castle; now known as Argyll’s Lodging, it is open to the public.

Next came the 1715 Jacobite rebellion which seems to be the last time the castle served a political cause.

Over the years, the forests around Dollar must have echoed with the clatter and jangle of armies on the move, but in later, more peaceful times, came the sound of ponies clip-clopping along the rocky pathways carrying cloth woven in the village homes. With the famous softness of the wool and skill of the weavers, the wool trade flourished and the local people must have been relieved to get on with their lives.

There is so much to see and do in the area but do check out the castle ruins: on a clear day, you’ll feel you can see all the way to Edinburgh and beyond. But when you take in the glories of the glen, don’t forget to ‘look about ye’!

References: http://www.clackmannantower.co.uk; http://www.historicscotland.co.uk; http://www.nationaltrust.co.uk

N.B. Marie MacPherson, a Scottish author, offers an entertaining fictional account of John Knox’s life and times in her books- The First (and Second) Blast of the Trumpet, Knox Publishing.