Chapter One

Scotland is a land of rocky mountains, deep waters and harsh climate. It takes a hearty breed of man to tame this awesome corner of God’s magnificent world. There are a number of people and events that played significant roles throughout the history of Scotland. These stories will weave together with the stories of the places we visited throughout the week.

In the beginning, God created man. As time passed, they traveled to the four corners of the earth. The men who came to inhabit the islands that are now known as the United Kingdom, the Celts, traveled from the mainland of Europe. Only the strongest were able to survive the journey north. As the generations passed men fathered more men, and eventually the mountains of the highlands were filled with tribes of people. These were hunters and gatherers, very territorial in a place where there was plenty of land, but not much food. They warred between tribes over trivial matters, only to join in unity against a greater enemy.

Very little is known about these people, though signs of their habitation are evident throughout the northernmost reaches of Scotland. They built incredible fortresses, called brochs. These tall circular buildings were made of stone without mortar. They were well designed with thick walls, and stairways leading to upper floors. We were unable to visit any of these buildings, since the surviving examples were too far away. Some other clues to their lives are found around Scotland, such as stone circles and carved standing stones. These people were very talented at designing these stones that tell stories long since forgotten, with pictures of animals and people from ages past. We were able to visit Croftmoraig in Perthshire, a stone circle that is much smaller than Stonehenge, but just as mysterious. We do not know why the early settlers spent so much time building these ancient sites, but these stones have stood vigil over the River Tay for nearly 5 millennia. It is likely that the larger circles are regional centres, places of pilgrimage for the people, and the local community used the smaller circles like Croftmoraig.

When the Romans arrived on the island early in the century after the birth of Christ, they found a variety of peoples who came from common roots. Names attributed to these groups are Picts, Angles, Scots and Britons. The Angles and Britons settled in the south, the Scots on Ireland and the Picts to the north. The Romans saw them all as barbarians meant to be subdued by the Empire in their quest to rule the world. The people of Britannia all fought valiantly, though in the south the Romans were able to settle into the activities of the land, leading the uncivilized locals into lives enhanced by Roman leadership, technology and culture.

Throughout the land, however, there were men who refused to be tamed by the empire. A military road was established in northern England from east to west between the Tyne Estuary (New Castle) and Solway Firth (Carlisle), with a number of forts along the way. These were outposts and customs toll posts, which were manned by Roman auxiliary soldiers. As the soldiers tried to move further north the native people banded together to fight against this common enemy. These men won a few battles and lost a few battles, but in the end, they remained free. The Roman army retreated back to the south, finding the climate and terrain of Scotland to be too harsh to be worth cost of their time or men.

Emperor Hadrian, in an effort to keep peace in his kingdom, decided to build a wall along this military road, seventy-three miles long. At the beginning of construction, the wall was designed to be ten feet wide and fifteen feet high. It took seven years to complete. During the building of the wall, the Picts continued to attack the Romans, so in an effort to complete the project more quickly, the wall to the west was made smaller, and at the western-most reaches, it was only a turf wall with a timber palisade. There were 156 turrets, 79 milecastles and 16 forts. It took twenty-seven million cubic feet of stone and was built by legionaries, the elite troops of the Roman army who were also skilled in civil engineering. Twelve thousand men were needed to man the wall. These soldiers were provided with many of the luxuries of Roman society, including bathhouses and temples to worship the god Mithras. I wonder if being assigned to Hadrian’s Wall was like being assigned to Minot, North Dakota for us Air Force folk today.

Hadrian’s Wall is a World Heritage site. Along the 73 miles of original wall, there still stand many sections that can be visited, including several forts, milecastles and turrets. The wall no longer stands fifteen feet high, since farmers have used the stone to build their own rock walls over the 1700 years since the Romans left Britain. At the western end of the wall, near Brampton, we visited Lanercost Priory, a monastic community that used much of the stone to build their buildings. Since this particular priory was often overrun by the marauding Scots (including William Wallace, a name you’ll hear more about later in this history), perhaps the monks would have been better off leaving the wall and finding stone elsewhere for their walls.

There are several museums you can visit along the wall, which describe life in this furthest corner of the Roman world. We visited Housesteads, a Roman fort that sits atop a hill. At this site, there still stands a length of wall several miles long and several feet high, a favourite place for hikers to visit. The views in every direction of rolling fields, grazing sheep and cozy farms is breathtaking!

We also visited Carrawburgh, a later Roman fort with a temple to Mithras, one of the more popular Roman gods with the legions stationed in Britain. This tiny temple was small by design, like that of a cave, in remembrance of the story of Mithra. There are many theories about Mithras, but since the religion was a secret society, most of it is based on conjecture. There are some that say it has to do with astrology, and that Mithra is a god bigger than the cosmos. There are some parallels between Mithras and Christianity, but the religion was wiped out when Christianity became the state religion.

Life in Roman times was quite advanced, with their central heating and bathhouses. Even in the furthest reaches of the empire, the forts had glass windows, mosaics and fine fashion. The food they ate was typical of the time - seafood, ham, peacock, venison, asparagus, cabbage, parsnips and turnips. They ate plenty of fruits and vegetables and had pastries and nuts for dessert. A favourite among the Romans was snails. Here’s the recipe for those of you interested in this delicacy.

Cocleas - Snails
Quoted from Roman Cook Book, by Frank Graham

“We cannot miss out this notorious Roman recipe although none of our cooks who checked the recipes used in this book were willing to make it.
    Take the snails and clean them. Remove the shells and place in a vessel with milk and salt. On the second and following days add milk regularly, remove the snails’ excrement when necessary. As soon as they have become so fat they cannot get back into their shells fry in hot oil. Serve with oenogarum (wine sauce) hot or cold.”

The decline of the Roman Empire was a slow one. There is some evidence that the northern forts were burnt to the ground, though there is no record that tells who or how these forts burned. It is likely that the rebellion of the Picts of Scotland managed a victory or two. At the same time, the Saxons (in England) and the Scots (of Ireland) rebelled in their own way. They were held off for a time, because they were not unified. However, the army was moved onto the mainland of Europe to fight against rebellion there, leaving few soldiers to fight in Britannia. The final soldier and administrator were removed from the island in 410 AD.

Chapter Two

Chapter One - Chapter Three - Chapter Four - Chapter Five
Chapter Six - Chapter Seven - Chapter Eight - Chapter Nine

More Pictures from Scotland

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