Saturday, 24 October 2015

Folly...not likely - reblogged



It's a rainy wet Saturday morning and I'm off to sell my books at a FOCUS Craft Fair at the lovely town of Insch, Aberdeenshire.

I've published my every-second-Saturday post at The Wranglers blog. You'll catch that post HERE ... although I've now reblogged it below, since I'm home again.

Today, I’m out with my FOCUS Craft Fair group at an Aberdeenshire town named Insch (Scottish Gaelic: An Innis or Innis Mo Bheathain), about 14 miles North West of my home.

The Gaelic name for Insch is intriguing to me, especially the Bheathain part, because one of the minor characters in my Celtic Fervour Series is named Beathan. Beathan means ‘lives by a clear stream’ and when writing Book 1 of the series, I also found a reference to it meaning 'one with a great future' That sounded like a perfect name for a child who had been predicted by Nara's ( my main female character) druid brethren to be one who would, in the future, be a leader of the tribes. Back in 2011, I chose to simplify the spelling to make it easier for my readers - but now I'm not sure I should have.

Beathan is in Book 4 of my series (currently being written and that's an 'oh, dear still at it' moment) and, according to my long term plan, he will be the major character in the last planned book of the series - Book 5.
Wikimedia Commons
But back to Insch. (pronounced IN SH) Today, is the first time I’ve visited Insch to sell my novels and like all of the new venues that I’ve visited during the last year, I’ve learned a little about the place I’m visiting. Though it’s only a small town of just over 2 thousand inhabitants, it’s on the train line between the main cities of Aberdeen and Inverness. That might not seem like earth shattering information but most Aberdeenshire towns and villages don’t have a direct train link.

I’ve driven past Insch many times and have always admired the imposing structure that’s up on the nearby hillside. From a distance it resembles a folly but it’s not - it's a lot more than that.

The Hill of Dunnideer (locally also spelled as Dunnydeer) was the site of an ancient hillfort, thought to be of the Middle Iron Age ( maybe 350 B.C.-190 B.C.) though dating of it is uncertain. As with many of the other high hills around Aberdeenshire, the view from the top of Dunnideer is spectacular. It’s easy for me to imagine how those ancient inhabitants of the hillfort observed what was going on in the valleys below them. It’s not too far a stretch of the imagination to envisage a system of ‘fire’ signals between these high spots which would have alerted the tribespeople of the Garioch area to any substantial threat to their livelihood – like the huge threat of the Ancient Roman invaders I write about in my Celtic Fervour Series and in The Taexali Game, my time travel novel for teens. As a centre of power, religious or secular, those walls would have made an impressive impact. 

There's almost nothing left of the structure of the original hillfort. What’s still visible now is the arch of a pointed medieval window, which originally gave light to a first floor hall of a rectangular tower house. When intact, the tower house must have been a sight to see towering even higher over the landscape than the hillfort would have done. It was possibly very threatening to what would have been a simple agrarian community working the foothills below. By then, it would have stamped the 'serfdom' status of the people of the land as few other things would have done. It wouldn't have seemed that the overlord was an 'out of sight -out of mind' ruler. His tower house was definitely 'in their face' and would have been a daily reminder of who was boss. 

The building was first mentioned (in writing) as the stronghold of Sir John de Balliol in 1260, though it's likely to be much older than that.

Possibly the earliest tower house of its kind in Scotland, one of the walls has been known as Gregory’s Wall and it may have been built by Gregory the Great in AD 890. If not by Gregory, it could have been constructed by order of David, Earl of Huntingdon and Garioch in 1178. This David became King David I of Scotland

These sites give more details on David I, some of which may explain why he was possibly the one to commission the building of the tower house. 


What's also unusual about the remains of Dunnideer Tower house (sometimes named Dunnideer Castle) is that the granite blocks used to build it had been vitrified.  A vitrified hillfort was one where extreme heat caused a fusion of the stones, and some form of integrated wood, the continued conflagration melding them together. Charcoal deposits from the vitrification process have been carbon dated which have furnished us with the 'B.C' dates mentioned above. 

This vitrification process of adding such extreme heat on purpose is not well understood, yet. The reasons for it remain unclear though archaeologists don’t believe the ‘heat’ process was done to strengthen the building during construction. One theory is that vitrification took place after a deliberate destruction of the stronghold, either because it was under threat from an enemy or because the structure was no longer needed for its original use. Some theories indicate that the hillforts were not built for protection reasons but were perhaps religious or spiritual centres, and that the eventual destruction may have been due to a change in the belief system, or because the site was no longer used for the same sacred purposes. 

I'd very much love to know a whole lot more about these ancient hillforts. 

How about you?   

Here are a couple of photos taken from my phone camera on the way home today- a bit far away but what a beautiful early dusk!

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