Discover Dark Age Galloway

‘In Galloway, on the fringes of what had been Roman Britain’s northern frontier, the kingdom of Rheged emerged in the fifth and sixth century AD.’

So says Discover Dark Age Galloway, a new leaflet produced by GUARD Archaeology for the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society. This attractive little publication is available free of charge from a number of tourist venues in the area.

It’s well-written and informative, and also nicely illustrated. The colourful reconstruction drawings of the hillforts of Tynron Doon, Mote of Mark and Trusty’s Hill, and of the monastic site at Whithorn, are certainly worth a look. As previously reported here at Senchus, last year’s excavations at Trusty’s Hill yielded a wealth of data relating to what was happening there in the sixth to eighth centuries AD. People of high status lived on the summit, in a settlement associated with a rock on which Pictish symbols were carved.

This was indeed the era of Rheged, a place identified by the authors of the new leaflet as a kingdom centred on Galloway. They believe that the archaeological evidence from the fort on Trusty’s Hill supports the view that it was an important site within the kingdom. They may be right. If they are, I’ll stop musing on the possibility that the core of Rheged lay further north in the valley of the River Tweed.

Click the link below to see an announcement about the leaflet (and a reduced online version) at the Galloway Picts Project website. Those of you with your own theories on the location of Rheged may be interested in this part:
‘Rheged, for so long a lost kingdom, thought to be somewhere in South-west Scotland or North-west England, can now perhaps for the first time be fixed to the ground, not in Cumbria or Lancashire or Dumfriesshire, but in Galloway.’

The Galloway Picts Project – Discover Dark Age Galloway

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15 comments on “Discover Dark Age Galloway

  1. Beth says:

    I’d agree that the finds from Trusty’s Hill are consistent with the kind of kingdom Rheged appears to have been, although I don’t think there being a centre of power in Galloway is necessarily mutually exclusive with the territory extending out elsewhere. Without rock-solid place name evidence, though, or some other source such as a long lost inscription (chance would be a fine thing!), I don’t see how we can ever know for sure where Rheged was. I do like the reconstruction of Trusty’s Hill – hope to visit the site itself sometime in the future!

    • Tim says:

      Definitely worth a visit, Beth, and on a clear day the view from the summit repays the effort of the ascent.

      You’re right about the location of Rheged being unknown and out-of-reach. As you say, the discovery of a Latin inscription would be a big help, ideally the tombstone of Urien Rheged himself:

      VRBAGEN FILI CINMARCI

      or something like that…. 🙂

  2. Mick says:

    Hi Tim,
    How long has the hill been named ‘Trusty’s’ – and do we know the origin of this name ?

    • Tim says:

      I once assumed the name to be ancient, but it turns out to be of fairly modern origin, invented by someone who lived nearby in the 1840s.

  3. Beth says:

    Oh yes, Urien’s tombstone would be good! Even better would be a whole suite of gravestones, commemorating Cynfarch, Owain and other family members, all in the same general location, so we’d know for sure that they hadn’t just been buried at a place conveniently near to, say, a battle where they fell, which may not have been in their tribal territory. It continues to be a source of frustration to me, actually, that we have plenty of chieftains mentioned in poetry, histories, etc, and plenty of memorial stones, and yet matches are as rare as hen’s teeth. Clearly, we need more memorial stones. Or some heretofore unknown manuscripts. But preferably both. 😉

    Well, Trusty’s Hill has been on my ‘must visit’ list for while; since before the excavations, in fact – I won’t be able to make it this year, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for next summer!

    • Tim says:

      Quite a contrast between Wales and the North, with several matches between the names inscribed on Welsh stones and people whom we can trace in the historical texts (e.g. Voteporix, Cadfan, Eliseg). Nothing similar for the North Britons. Even the large collection of Strathclyde sculpture at Govan is completely bereft of inscriptions (excluding the initials of deceased people from the 17th/18th centuries whose families re-used the Govan cross-slabs). Attempts have been made to identify the North British figure Nudd Hael as the ‘Prince Nudus’ commemorated on the Yarrow Stone, but it’s wishful thinking.

      I’ve only ever made one ascent of Trusty’s Hill. Been to Mote of Mark a few times over the years – another good one to visit on your next Galloway trip.

      • Tim says:

        Beth, here’s a kind of footnote to the above…..

        Urien Rheged’s contemporary (and neighbour?) Rhydderch Hael of Dumbarton is supposedly buried under the Clochoderick Stone in Renfrewshire. The name Clochoderick derives from Gaelic cloch+Rhydderch, ‘Rhydderch’s Stone’. Not exactly a historically accurate match of king+stone, but a curiosity nonetheless.

        Like you said, we need more memorial stones with inscriptions.

        • Beth says:

          I suppose in a society with a stronger oral tradition, inscriptions may not have been thought necessary on something like the Govan sculptures. A shame, though. Thanks for reminding me about the Clochoderick stone! As you say, not quite a match of king and memorial, yet it is in the right neck of the woods, at least. A few more inscribed stones would be a real boon – always assuming they commemorated people we’d heard of, of course 😉 – and as they can turn up in rivers, or as gateposts, I suppose there’s a possibility that there might still be some unknown ones lurking out there.

          I’ve never actually been to Galloway, so have slowly been building up a list of places to visit, of which the Mote of Mark is one. It’s going to be quite a long list by the time I get there, I think…

          What a shame about the name of Trusty’s Hill – it would have been so interesting if it had been Pictish (Drust or Drustan), given the symbol stone. (Makes me feel less bad about giving it a completely different name in my fiction, though.)

          • Tim says:

            Beth, I think a visit to Galloway is going to be very inspirational for the novel you’re writing. Plenty of sites associated with the 6th century, from Trusty’s Hill and Mote of Mark, all the way across to Kirkmadrine in the Rhinns (with Whithorn in between). Hoddom and the site of the battle of Arfderydd are also on the way if you’re travelling from the east.

            • Beth says:

              I think so. 🙂 I’ll be in Cumbria in July, so Arthuret (along with Birdoswald) is a definite. Hoddom might have to wait a bit longer!

        • I wonder how much stuff that might help this enquiry lies under modern Carlisle, myself. Even if it weren’t in Rheged, if Rhun actually was a bishop, and Nora Chadwick’s point of view that there were few other places that make sense for him so to be be accepted, that’s where I’d expect his father’s burial to be…

          • Tim says:

            Carlisle is certainly the obvious focus for ecclesiastical power at the head of the Solway (even if we didn’t have the presence of elite Northumbrians there in 685) but I’m struggling to associate it with Urien and Rhun. If Rheged lay in a different region, such as (for instance) the Tweed Valley, then Urien’s primary royal church might be a long way from Carlisle. Also, if Rhun really was a cleric, we need not assume that he undertook his vocation in his home territory, or even within a kingdom under British rule.

            On the other hand, the theory that Urien was born in Carlisle (Urbgen = ‘city-born’ according to some) would have a kind of neat symmetry if his grave turned up there 🙂

  4. Harry says:

    Given the supposed circumstances of Urien’s death and the treatment of his corpse, I wonder whether there would actually have been body to physically buried. This must have been a common problem in medieval society but I’m not entirely sure how they dealt with it.

    Given Carlisle’s undoubted importance in the late and post-Roman period it would have been an excellent llys for a leader such as Urien, though whether it actually was is beyond proof; incredibly frustrating!

    Whilst I’m not entirely in agreement with Dark’s ‘civitas to kingdom’ model I do favour a Cumbria/Pennies location for Urien, at least as his heartland.

    Looking forward to your Peebles theory reaching press.

    • Tim says:

      Yes, if we give any credence to the idea of Urien being beheaded by an assassin near Lindisfarne we may need to imagine a headless corpse (or a corpseless head) being brought back to ‘Rheged’ for burial. I can’t imagine his grave being in the heart of Bernician territory.

      On this topic I’d need to refresh my memory by digging out a few articles, e.g. Lovecy, Sims-Williams.

      I often wish I still envisaged Carlisle and the Eden Valley as the core of Urien’s realm. It would make things a lot neater. I’m not particularly attached to my Tweed/Peebles theory, but I’ll post it here at some point and see what you and other folk think. It isn’t likely to shake the foundations of the current consensus on Rheged, but I feel it’s worth a go.

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