Saturday 30 April 2022

Happy Beltane!

Welcome to Day 30 of my April daily blogs to do with the writing of Before Beltane.

Beltane is in the titles of 2 of my Historical Fiction Celtic Fervour Series, though why Beltane? (alternative spellings may be: Bealtaine/ Beltain)

Beltane literally means shining/bright fire, and the Beltane festival has a central fertility theme. Beltane, the end of spring festival, is celebrated roughly half-way between the Vernal equinox and the Summer Solstice. The festival traditionally marked the arrival of the summer, Beltane being one of the larger and more important Celtic festivals. Imbolc heralded the Spring; Beltane the summer; Lughnasadh the autumn and Samhain the winter.

It’s believed by some historians that the Beltane festival was celebrated on the day that the group of stars named the Pleiades appeared on the horizon, at sunrise. Nowadays, it is celebrated by neo-pagans and interested onlookers on a fixed day, the 1st May. You'd need to be up pretty early in my part of the world, to know if that happens this year on the 30th April into the 1st May! Googling it tells me it should happen at 05:21 hrs. 

For the Ancient 'Celtic' Iron Age tribes of Britain, the rituals of Beltane heralded a time of optimism and hope that the coming seasons would be fruitful for the land, the animals and the people. Abundant crops and productive animals were crucial to survival, living off the land the way of life for them as most Celtic tribes were basically farmers. The rituals of the festival were therefore designed to encourage successful growth for the animals and crops. Driving the animals through a 'fire-corridor' was designed to purify them, and to rid them of potentially deadly disease. Fertility of the tribe may also have been an important feature of this particular festival. I leave that bit to your imagination. 

My late Iron Age tribal characters in the Celtic Fervour Series celebrate Beltane when they can – though the invading Roman Legions spoil their festivals on quite a few occasions over the duration
of the series which span a generation!  Beathan of Garrigill, who is the main character in Book 5 of the series, is the amazingly capable son of Lorcan and Nara. Spoiler alert here would be that Bethan is conceived during a Beltane Festival in Book 1. You can work out why this current Prequel to the series is called BEFORE BELTANE and Book 1 is called THE BELTANE CHOICE. 


Tonight into the 1st May 2022, will see a re-start of the Beltane Festival on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland,  after having had to go online due to Covid restrictions. I've never been to view it, but obviously would love to be there. 

You can buy Before Beltane  HERE since it really is properly launched now! 

Happy Reading.


Friday 29 April 2022

Launch Day for Before Beltane!

Welcome to day 29 of my series of blog posts in April that have something to do with the writing of Before Beltane.

Today really is launch day for what is effectively Book Zero of the Celtic Fervour Series - Before Beltane. It's a busy day since Before Beltane is being featured on some blogs, for which I thank the blog blog owners very much. 

You can find a post about what Lorcan and Nara are seeing around them, and hearing around them, on Mary Anne Yarde's fabulous Coffee Pot Blog

You'll also find a different post about the reasons for writing the Prequel on my wonderful friend Cathie Dunn's Ruins and Reading blog  She's an absolute star since she has even made a fantastic new banner for my visit! But you need to hop on over to her blog to see it, so click that link! 

The day has flown past in a flurry of making some new promotional material to use online, but since my Before Beltane paperback copies are about to have a very first outing at the FOCUS Craft Fair at the Garioch Heritage Centre in Inverurie, my local Aberdeenshire county town, I've been making some posters to display there as well. 

I have lots of spanking new copies of Before Beltane, for those who can take up the special paperback price - just for tomorrow! 

Happy Reading.


Thursday 28 April 2022

Stanwick- Cartimandua and Venutius

It's an exciting time of the month! It's Day 28 of my April blog posts that have some relevance to Before Beltane, and there are only a few hours left before the official launch of the eBook of Before Beltane (as I write this).

Today's post is about Stanwick Hillfort the stronghold of King Venutius, or Queen Cartimandua,… or both?

So much of this Brigante stronghold of Stanwick is unknown, but many theories abound about it.

Only a tiny part of what developed into a very sizeable Late Iron Age Brigante hillfort at Stanwick has ever been excavated. Starting off quite modest in size, the area now named as ‘Hill of Toft’ was covered by small defences, though were enlarged and grew to being extremely large. Eventually, the rampart and ditch is estimated to have enclosed some 310 ha (766 acres). Those numbers have only come to mean something more tangible to me since I learned that Durno, the largest Roman temporary camp found in Aberdeenshire (to date), covered some 58 ha. Stanwick, in comparison, would be about 6 times bigger than that Roman encampment which might have comfortably sheltered some 30,000 Roman soldiers with plenty of space for horses.     

Wheeler's Wall - Stanwick
Wikimedia Commons

The Stanwick hillfort has been referred to as an oppidum, meaning a larger native settlement which seems to have been relatively rare in the northern areas of Britannia. It probably began as a modest hillfort at some point before the Claudian Roman invasion of Britannia in AD 43. The dealings that Queen Cartimandua and her (then) husband had with the Roman Empire seems to have kept full-scale invasion of the area at bay for a couple of decades, yet there were sizeable expansions of the settlement during that time.

In the early 1950s, the renowned archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler supervised excavations of a small area which dated the site as being first century AD.  Lots of conjectural theories have emerged over who used the site, and what the political situation was at that time. The only main historical prime source for the location and era comes from the Roman writer Cornelius Tacitus. He wrote that Cartimandua (or perhaps her husband as well)  had made some form of treaties with Rome which meant that their lands remained largely uninvaded, probably so long as her Brigantes did not attack any Roman settlements or installations built to the south of Brigante territory (which was extensive across northern England).

A Stanwick archaeological find-
Wikimedia Commons

Some theories to explain the increase of land covered by the settlement at Stanwick cover the ideas that not all Brigantes were happy with Cartimandua’s dealings with Rome. A read of Tacitus indicates that Cartimandua’s handing over of Caractacus in AD 51 to the Romans was a turning point. The ‘betrayal’ of Caractacus, who had been a bastion of Roman resistance, was perhaps a dealing too many for many of the Brigante tribes. At some point between AD 51 and 69, the ripples of insurrection amongst Brigantes came to a serious conflict between those who followed Cartimandua and Rome, and those who followed King Venutius and resistance.  

During those years leading to what is termed the Brigante civil war, the expansion of Stanwick probably happened as the rallying call went out.

By AD 69, it may be the case that  Cartimandua retreated to a southern hillfort (Almondbury?) after a defeat against Venutius. Her fate is unknown, but has been a subject of conjecture amongst scholars for a very long time.

Venutius’ fate is unknown, but it may be that he survived till the end of the period when Petillius Cerialis was Governor of Britannia (71-74).  By the mid to end of the AD 70s, it’s thought that the influence of the Stanwick hillfort had declined, the main reason being that the Roman invasion of Brigantia had been successful and resistance to Rome had been largely stamped out. The hillfort excavations point to the possibility that there was fire destruction, possibly caused during a confrontation with the troops of the Legio IX, under the command of the  Roman Governor Petillius Cerialis.

A grave site was discovered near Stanwick which indicated a burial of some importance. It has been suggested it was the burial site of King Venutius. 

In Before Beltane, I have included scenes where Lorcan of Garrigill is in the company of King Venutius. My details are scant, but sufficient to indicate that the area covered by Stanwick Hillfort is quite extensive. I’ve also included mention that Lorcan is given hospitality by Chief Thoft,  a venerable chief of the area, though I don't mention in the novel that the area of the original Stanwick Hillfort may have been Thoft/Toft's land before being used by Queen Cartimandua and King Venutius!

Happy Reading.


Wednesday 27 April 2022

Cernunnos – the Horned God

It’s now Day 27 of my April daily blog posts to do with the writing of Before Beltane.

Cernunnos is the topic of the day. Cernunnos is thought to have been the horned god of the Celtic world. The derivation of the name is unclear but may have an association with the word for horn. References to the god have survived in only a few inscriptions and a few images thought to refer to the god Cernunnos show him wearing antlers. He is deemed to have been the god of the forest and of its creatures.

Gundestrup Cauldron

Varying references name him as a peaceful god, the lotus-style seated position on the Gundestrup Cauldron an indication of this. Other portrayals of Cernunnos are of a fickle god of the forest who can be nasty to humans who disturb his environment in some way.

I saw the incredible Gundestrup cauldron when the Celts Exhibition was on at the British Museum in London (perhaps 2016?), and it is truly awesome to view. Although it depicts objects that were used in central and western Europe, it was found in a bog near Gundestrup in Denmark, which would have been beyond the northern boundary of what would normally be assessed as the Celtic regions of Europe. However, it’s thought that the designs suggest that it was not made in the area but was fashioned much further east. The strange animals and lotus pose of the antlered figure give an Asiatic impression. The scenes all around the cauldron are thought to depict ancient tales that have been lost to us.

I can't legally show on here any of the images of Cernunnos that you'll find on Etsy, or other internet sites, but since Cernunnos features in neo-paganism, there are plenty of highly artistic representations of him. 

Cernunnos is mentioned in Nara's story in Before Beltane when she takes a couple of the younger acolyte priestesses into the forest to give them further instructions in stalking and hunting. Their aim that morning is to kill a young deer that will become a focus of their feast for their Festival of Imbolc (1st Feb). 

Happy Reading.

There are only about 36 more hours (as I write this) to Pre-Order  Before Beltane at the bargain price of £1.99. Launch day is 29th April 2022!


Tuesday 26 April 2022


Welcome to Day 26 of my blog posts about the writing of Before Beltane.

Today's topic is about food and about how tricky it can be to avoid repetition when writing about it. Food eaten in Before Beltane can be as repetitive as describing a roundhouse that either Lorcan or Nara visits, or lives in. They were unlikely to find any dwellings that looked different inside, or foods that were different. 

Unlike the possibilities when describing varied interior decor today, the roundhouses of 2000 years ago were likely to have been fairly similar, though not exactly the same. Tiny details I've added in my Celtic Fervour Series about the construction of curtained-off, or partially-separated sleeping areas in a larger roundhouse - to afford some privacy - are an embellishment. Unfortunately, the archaeology I've managed to study regarding this isn't clear enough to be sure that it was indeed privacy, as we conceive it today, that made those Iron Age settlers choose to separate the areas. Nevertheless, archaeological interpretation gives me an idea to work with, and I try to represent something feasible, though being historically correct is difficult to prove. 

A crannog fire pit. 

It's similar when I describe food eaten in Before Beltane, and indeed in the other books in the series. The archaeological study of human faeces in a waste/midden area, and soil studies, can provide me with information that at a given site, oats and barley were a staple diet of the people who inhabited it during the era of the late 1st century AD. What those studies can't tell me is exactly how the food was cooked. 

Since the central fire pit in a roundhouse provided heat, cooking and a certain degree of light, the cooking facilities were pretty basic. A suspended pot or cauldron was used to produce a thick porridge from flaked or hulled oats mixed with water, occasionally made slightly different by the addition of stored nuts - particularly hazelnuts - which would have been easily collected and stored. There were plenty of hazel and other nut-bearing trees growing in the geographical areas of southern Scotland (Nara) and north England (Lorcan). Fresh fruits in season might also have been added e.g. tiny wild strawberries, bilberries or other locally-sourced edible berries. Berries could be dried and stored to provide a longer season for their use. Honey may also have been collected, and as well as being used to produce a mead-type drink, some honey might have enlivened porridge if the honey stores needed to be used up. Honey also has beneficial healing properties so, again, it could have been added for more than just giving the food a better taste. 

A thin, or thick, brose could have been made from the barley with added water. And as with porridge, nuts and fruits might have perked it up.

Soups (broth) of some sort could have been made in the cauldron with added herbs, stock from fowl,  boiled meats, or other vegetable additions. The vegetables eaten in northern Britannia would have been limited to what could be picked in season, or seeded and grown on the strip farms and harvested. Storage of vegetables would have been less likely than today. From soil samples and midden/ faeces studies it's thought that a plant we now consider to be a weed named fat hen was eaten, as was wild garlic and some indigenous brassicas (cabbage type plants). Some vegetables we think of as being very traditional in Britain like onions were introduced by the Roman invaders, but it would probably have taken some time (even many decades?) for those to have been grown and eaten by local Brigantes or Selgovae tribespeople. Roman soldiers at the fort of Trimontium (Newstead/ Melrose in the Scottish borders) cultivated their own fields- there are plenty of findings of farming tools to prove this - but whether they introduced vegetable crops to the area is something for me to investigate again, since I can't remember any details.  

Both oats and barley could be used to make breads and long lasting biscuits like oatcakes, though without the salt content found in them today. The flat stones around the central fire pit would have been hot enough to slow bake flatbread and bannocks. Results might have varied depending on additions like milk, or eggs, or herbs, fruits and nuts. 

Evidence points to domestic fowl having been at roundhouse dwellings, giving eggs and possibly meat when past their laying-age. Other domestic animals are likely to have been the small form of goats found in the north which might have provided milk as well as meat. Sheep breeds of the era were more like the small Soay variety that can still be found on Scottish islands. These sheep would have provided wool, milk, and also meat. Pigs were possibly less common, but evidence of them has been found in domestic settings. Horses were revered as an indication of wealth and status, but if a horse got to the end of its natural life, or died from some other cause, it's hard to believe that the meat would not have been used for human consumption. The hides of all of the animals provided materials for clothing and other coverings, and for leather scabbards, pouches and wraps. 

Meats obtained from wild animals would have included wild boar; wild goats; deer; and smaller animals like hare and squirrels. However, there are some folk tales handed down orally through the centuries which indicate that for some tribes the consumption of hares was unlikely, if they were thought to be an embodiment of a local god or goddess. Similarly, some believed that in particular areas the human consumption of fish was rare, as they were thought to have had spiritual qualities. Bones of smaller fish do not survive well in the archaeological record, so whether or not they were eaten is a matter of debate. If fish was easily sourced and little else was available, it's difficult to believe (for me) that they would not have been regularly eaten. In coastal areas, there's evidence for consumption of shellfish and molluscs. Meats would have been boiled in a large pot, or roasted on spits over the central fire, the choicest meats given to guests, or to the upper levels of the tribal hierarchy first.

Wild birds would have been killed with spear or sling shot, and eggs harvested when available. 

The above may sound like there is plenty to write about when it comes to food for my Lorcan and Nara -  the trick, for me, is to remember all that I've just outlined! 

Happy Reading.


Monday 25 April 2022

Sacrificial Weapons

Welcome to Day 25 of my blog posts to do with the writing of Before Beltane.

Today’s post is a short one about ancient druid sacrificial weapons. I didn’t find a huge amount of archaeological evidence when I was writing the scene where Lorcan is in the Sacred Groves with the Druid Maran, but found just enough to inspire me to imagine what was used in addition to what I'd term a more regular sacrificial blade.

Lorcan is somewhat relieved to find that the wicked looking sacrificial knife that he sees poised and ready in a crack, on the flat surface of the natural elm table in the Sacred Groves, is used to slice the throat of a young goat rather than him. After some incantations he has never heard before, Maran uses the sacrificial blade to open up the insides of the animal. 

The Chief Druid, Irala, then proceeds to use a pair of special flat spoons to remove and sift the innards before presenting them for Lorcan to view. Lorcan has no idea of what Chief Druid Irala is speaking about as vital organs are dissected and pointed out to him, as Irala divines his future, but he is entirely impressed with the leaf shaped flat spoons used for the process.

Wikimedia Commons

The idea for the flat sacrificial spoons came from some research I did in 2021. I can’t remember my original source, but on renewing a search today I found the same items in a Wikipedia article. If the article is correct, eleven pairs of these flat decorative blades have been found. It's possible that the tiny hole in one spoon was used to 'drip' liquid (blood?) down onto the other blade and the pattern interpreted. 

A read of Before Beltane will decide if I describe my spoons well enough.

Happy Reading.


Sunday 24 April 2022

Slings and Slingstones

Welcome to Day 24 of my April blog posts about the writing of Before Beltane.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about Celtic spears and Roman pila. Today I’m looking at my use of the less imposing, yet still deadly, weapon named a sling. Slings have been around since men first began to hunt. I presume that when early man realised that a stone thrown at an animal could wound, but not quite kill, they worked out that the force of the throw and the distance covered wasn’t quite sufficient. A simple aid was needed which could help them reach their target with greater accuracy and with enough power behind it to stun, or directly kill the prey.

Wikimedia Commons

The artistic impression above of a Balearic slinger depicts a second sling used as a headband for ease of access, should a first sling become unusable during a conflict. 

The earliest slings mentioned throughout the classical world were simply made of natural materials – plant or vegetable fibres, or animal sinews/gut. The act of whirling a stone that’s cradled in a pouch nestled between the two cords, and let fly at the optimum moment, meant a greater force was obtained and the distance of throw was considerably longer than throwing a stone by hand. Slings can be constructed in varied lengths, giving a slinger a wider range of use, and they are easily transported.

Sling stones were made more sophisticated by smoothing stones to a well-rounded shape or, later on, were crafted in metals like iron, or were made of clay. Different shapes were developed to include a shape more like an almond nut.

Sling stone archaeological finds are fairly common, but the actual slings less so since their materials degrade in the ground over time. Since slings are rarely found as grave-goods, it’s thought that slings would have been too ordinary a weapon to add to the weapon stock that a warrior might need in the Afterlife/Otherworld.

Some sling stones found have very interesting properties. A large collection uncovered near the Burnswark Hillfort, southern Scotland, had holes in them. It’s possible that the whooshing/ singing noise those stones made was intended to terrify the enemy.

Slingers on Trajan's Column -
Wikimedia Commons

Both Late iron Age Britons and Roman armies are likely to have had expert slingers in their midst. A sling stone well-fired could kill an enemy outright, or stun them long enough for other action to be taken to kill them using spear or sword. 

Equally, a sling-stone could kill a small animal or bird outright, or stun them long enough for the slinger to reach their prey and kill, before the animal got away. 

In Before Beltane, Lorcan uses a sling to kill moor birds, described as being like grouse or capercaillie. Nara adds her sling and sling stones to her pouch when she ventures out to fend for herself when abandoned at the Hillfort of Tarras. 

You can read about their use of sling-stones in  a Paperback copy, or Pre- order the eBook (Launch day 29th April) 

Happy Reading.


Saturday 23 April 2022

Basic Necessities

It's now Day 23 of my April blog posts about the writing of Before Beltane.

Today's post is about basic necessities. There are a few absolute basic necessities to sustain life and it depends very much on circumstances if a person ever actually gets to a point where they find themselves faced with sourcing basic things to keep them alive. Today, it depends on where in the world you live that you may face this life or death situation more often than others. If a person lives in a drought area of high temperatures, they may face starvation not because of the will of the locals around them to work, it may just be that forces of nature - excoriating heat levels and lack of water - are beyond their control. In other cases, it may be war that makes basic life a day-to-day experience. 

In Before Beltane, Nara finds herself cast adrift. She can no longer live at the priestess nemeton home on the Lochan of the Priestesses. Instead, she is given the most basic of shelters at the hillfort of Tarras, though her father Callan, chief of the hillfort, would rather she be banished altogether.  The roundhouse is dilapidated and has been abandoned for some time. It is entirely bare inside, so she must find ways of keeping herself alive since Callan has ordered everyone at the hillfort to shun her. They must not help her, or they will face severe punishment. 

The most basic needs of life are shelter; water and food. Though distraught over her situation, Nara knows what she must do...

Here is a small excerpt from Before Beltane: 

Fending for herself meant collecting fresh water, a brief forage for food, and a swift gathering of firewood. There was a spring-fed well in the hillfort, but she had no intention of being turned away from it. She would not give her father that satisfaction.

She knew where the nearest spring-fed burn was situated, only a few copses away, so she made water-gathering her first task. As she passed through a hazel grove to get to the burn, she collected the few nuts that she could find still littered under the decayed leaf fall and popped them into her sack. From the dearth of nuts lying around, she could tell that others had been successful in seeking them moons ago, and not just the squirrels in preparation for the long sleep of winter that they were now awakening from.

On reaching the burn, she paused to pay homage.

“I come in great need, Coventina of the spring. Accept my humble thanks for your life-giving waters.”

Unable to donate any of her personal items, she added a pledge to do better on her next visit then bent to fill her water skin. She tied it tightly at the neck and attached it to her belt, knowing from the growing dimness around her that time for her tasks was scarce.

One good thing she knew about dusk was that the small creatures of the forest tended to rise from their rest to look for their own food. Pulling her sling free from her leather pouch, she looped it over her left wrist and fisted some sling-stones, thankful that she always maintained a good supply. Though having a few at the ready did not mean she could throw caution to the winds. The animals of the forest did not make the hunt easy, and nor should they. She would have fed off some oats if she had them, rather than unnecessarily kill any of the small creatures, though it was unlikely she would be having a share of the Tarras cereal crops.

The scurrying of a squirrel descending from one of the oaks ahead set in motion the perfect hunting conditions. Her spear flew from her fist, but shockingly it fell far short of the target. How that had transpired was mystifying; her aim was never normally so poor. She looked down at her hand. It was trembling. And must have been trembling before she fired the spear, though she had been unaware of it.

“Andraste? Have you also deserted me?”

Flurries of the littlest brown birds rose into the upper branches on hearing her wail, but it was one of the slightly bigger ones that she kept in her sight as it tapped away at gnarled old oak trunk. The startlingly coloured feathers striped black and white, with a red underside, meant only a small feast would be had from that type of tree-pecking bird, though it would suffice till the new dawn. Sidestepping very slowly, she concealed herself behind a gnarly-trunked holly tree.

The whirling of her first sling stone only served to warn the bird enough for it to fly off to a nearby rowan, not its preferred place as far as Nara had observed when hunting. Affixing a second stone as silently as she could to her sling, she sent a silent plea to Cernunnos to afford her one small kill. Without unnecessary movement, she sidled around the trunk and let it fly. This time it made its mark and the bird plummeted to the ground from the rowan that was still leaf-free.

Bowing her head over the dead bird when she reached it, she gave thanks to the forest god. “My thanks to you Cernunnos, lord of all the creatures within your domain. I appreciate your bounty. Know that I only kill to survive another day.”

The bird carcass was added to the collection that hung from her belt before she began the task of retrieving her spear.

On the way back to the forest fringes, one by one she plucked up an armful of longer branches and dragged a few even heavier ones behind her. The routine task kept only some of Nara’s swamping thoughts at bay. What mostly filled her mind was what she needed to do to continue to survive her dreadful situation.

Near the edge of the forest she dumped her pile on the ground, removed her short cloak and opened it out. Yanking out her long knife, she hacked at the branches to make them a tidier pile for carrying, and set them onto the opened material. Her last gathering up was of smaller twigs; mosses to dry for tinder; and long dried brackens to make a torch.

When the pile was as much as she could reasonably manage, she bound it up tightly with grass twine from her pouch and swung it up onto her shoulder, bracing her arm around it to balance the weight. She plucked up her spear from where it was propped against a bush, dipped her chin and closed her eyes.

“My thanks to you Cernunnos, lord of the forest. I promise I will use your gifts wisely.”

By the time she was out of the trees, darkness had fallen and the clear dark blue above was being replaced by a deeper bluish-black. Her trek back to Tarras was lit by the goddess Arianrhod, her full silver globe having replaced the yellow disc of Bel.

Nara sighed and awkwardly shifted her burden to her other shoulder, her spear transferring from hand to hand, when the looming presence of the outer ramparts of Tarras came into sight. Few visitors, or tribespeople, entered through the outer defence ramparts at night. She guessed that her arrival would not be a welcome one, but prayed to her favourite goddess Rhianna that she would be given some clemency – especially if it was the hostile Afagddu who was still at the gate.

You can Pre-order Before Beltane eBook  HERE 

 Or buy a Before Beltane  paperback  HERE

Happy Reading.


Friday 22 April 2022

Pilum versus Spear

Welcome to Day 22 of my blog posts on some aspect in Before Beltane.

Today is about the weapon that was commonly used in pitched warfare in northern Britannia during the era I write about.

Lorcan finds that a spear is all too sharp right at the beginning of his story. The spear, having been wielded by a hostile Brigante is of the type used by the Bronze and Iron Age tribes for millennia – a hunting spear.

Warrior- Pixabay

The spear would typically be a wooden shaft with a spear tip for piercing the flesh of the prey. In the most basic spears it would be the wood itself that was sharpened to a deadly point. Some spears would have had a fire hardened wooden tip but others had a bone, flint, bronze, iron or steel point fastened to the pole. The typical tip shape was a triangle, lozenge (diamond), or an elongated leaf.

Later in Lorcan’s story, his young companion from King Venutius’ stronghold finds himself the target of a Roman spear, a pilum.

A Roman pilum, or javelin, was a spear often around 2 metres (7 feet) long. The Roman auxiliary or legionary used the pilum for thrusting towards the enemy, or for a long throw. The Roman pilum usually had an iron shank which was joined to the wooden shaft by either a socket, or a flat bracket. The tip was more of a pyramid shape of hard metal, of iron or steel. The shank was a softer metal and it’s thought, by some historians, that a softer shank would be more likely to bend on impact. Though this theory seems yet to be proven. If such buckling of the shank happened, the weapon would have become useless to the enemy since to pick up an already bent weapon, and throw it back at the Roman lines, would have been pointless as it’s trajectory could not have been guaranteed.

If the pilum impacted on a Celtic shield and buckled, then the Iron Age warrior (Briton) would have had a useless shield. It would have taken time to yank the bent pilum from the shield, time the warrior did not have during an active engagement with the enemy.

Vegetius, a Roman writer of the fourth century AD/CE wrote in his work De Re Militari:

“As to the missile weapons of the infantry, they were javelins headed with a triangular sharp iron, eleven inches [279 mm] or a foot long, and were called piles. When once fixed in the shield it was impossible to draw them out, and when thrown with force and skill, they penetrated the cuirass without difficulty…

…They had likewise two other javelins, the largest of which was composed of a staff five feet and a half long and a triangular head of iron nine inches [230 mm] long. This was formerly called the pilum, but now it is known by the name of spiculum. The soldiers were particularly exercised in the use of this weapon, because when thrown with force and skill it often penetrated the shields of the foot and the cuirasses of the horse.”

 Happy Reading.


Thursday 21 April 2022


Welcome to my 21st April post on something to do with the writing of Before Beltane. 

In Before Beltane, there is a scene where Nara is engaged in teaching younger acolytes the skills of tracking and hunting. To reach the particular woods where they might encounter a suitable deer to kill for their Imbolc Festival, they have to go to the far end of the Lochan of the Priestesses. I haven’t indicated exactly how large the lochan is, but it's sizeable enough for them to use a coracle to return to the Islet of the Priestesses. Though I haven't mentioned it in the text, the implication is that to return by boat is a shorter duration than them walking along the shoreline, or cutting a way through the fringing woods. I write this blog post after my final Before Beltane publishing files are meant to be done and dusted, but now realise that my concept of them returning in a single coracle together, along with a small deer carcass, would need a coracle big enough for three people plus the deer. Alternatively, I still have the opportunity to change the eBook files to indicate 3 coracles are waiting for them for their return journey. 

Today, I’ve looked at the possibility of there being a larger coracle used in southern Scotland 2000 years ago. From previous research, I knew that coracles were not always constructed for just one person. The challenge was to find evidence of larger ones. A secondary challenge was, what changes in design might require to have been made to the woven willow structure, with a ‘waterproofed’ hide covering, to enable more people to be floated in it?

There’s sufficient archaeological evidence for the historical use of a coracle type-boat in Southern Scotland. The word coracle is an English spelling of the Scottish currach, or the early Welsh cwrwgl. It was originally a small rounded boat, with a very lightweight framework of interwoven willow. Animal skins would originally have been used as a covering, with a waterproof coating of some sort of fatty substance like a natural resin from sheep wool. In more recent centuries, and I mean well-beyond the year 71 AD that I write about, the use of coracles for small scale fishing in Scotland was still quite common.

Coracle design is adaptable but does need to conform to the circumstances the vessel might be used in. Whether circular or more oval in shape, the flat bottom is necessary to spread the load, so if a coracle needed to ferry three people plus a cargo of some sort then the diameter or oval would need to reflect the required composite weight balance on the water. Also, the depth of the water the vessel is plied on was an important factor for the builder of the coracle to take account of.

Indian coracle

Unlike a rowing boat, a coracle was designed to move through the water by arm power alone, to minimise disruption to the water below so that the movement created was a float, rather than a more disruptive displacement of water.

In Before Beltane, just imagine that the coracle was made big enough for around four priestesses to be transported over the water...or alternatively three one-person coracles. 

Happy Reading.



Wednesday 20 April 2022

Medicinal Remedies and Wound Treatment

Hello! It's now the 20th April and only 9 days till the eBook launch of Before Beltane. 

Today's post is about the medical treatment meted out by the healer in Lorcan's story, and the things that Nara does as a priestess healer. 

I’ve read various articles about medical matters in the early Celtic world which seemed too fanciful, or too gruesome to include in Before Beltane, but I've made mention of practices that seem to me to be reasonable and sensible for 2000 years ago. 

Ancient Roman surgical tools,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n._11141_-_Museo_di_Napoli_-_Strumenti_di_chirurgia.jpg

Fear of the supernatural and the power of the druids was likely to have been highly prevalent in the world that Lorcan and Nara inhabit. However, since I’ve been trying very hard to create a believable world for my characters, I’ve avoided including more fantastical details, because adding spells and invoking supernatural powers goes beyond a degree of normal credibility. I’ve tried to convey to the reader that it’s natural for my characters to believe that pleas to their gods will hopefully bring positive results, though the gods do not always show favour to everyone.

Lorcan makes plenty of invocations to his goddesses, though it's possible that some Iron Age people would have made even more. I’ve pared down the details of Lorcan’s responses to the medical treatment he gets for his wounds. I think that the harsh life people led would have made injuries more common and the attitude to having them fixed would have meant less wimping, and perhaps even none at all.  I’ve named the woman who sews bits of him back together as a healer, a catch-all word, but she’s a young woman rather than an old crone. 

Nara's training to be a healer has been part of her general induction process into the priestesshood. I have no written proof of such a situation happening, but if there was a druid priestess who lived near a community, had some medical training, and was able to be summoned for help quickly, then she would have been an ideal healer. She would have had the skills and training to invoke the goddess spirits to assist (or otherwise) through incantations, spells or via the issuing of charms. In addition, practical skills would have been used to administer treatment or to heal, as much as was known or thought to be useful. Those basic medical skills would have been passed down to the next healer via priestess teachers. 

In the absence of a nearby priestess healer, it would have been practical for a tribe to have a herb-woman, a wise-woman who was well-versed in the use of herbal remedies and other practical issues to deal with injuries or sickness. There are many customs that have passed down though the ages which reference women with these skills though, sadly, some would have been branded as witches - even if they were only conducting benign and helpful treatments. 

I’ve highlighted that Nara and other healers rely on herbal remedies, and on what I’d term basic first aid. I've named only a few herbs in the story and described a few other plants. It was a big decision for me, since I've no idea what the Celtic woman of 2000 years ago would have called the red poppy seeds, but I'm sure their soporific, sleep-inducing powers would have been known.

I deliberated over whether to have Lorcan’s wounds only cleaned and bound, the cleaning supported by classical references (J. Caesar) and by Roman military surgical practice. There were also the references that ‘Celts’ were noted for some degree of personal cleanliness, so even if the person doing the wound cleaning had no idea of infection control some blood clean-up would have been acceptable.

Iron Age tribes had skilled weavers. Using a bone needle to put a garment together could have been little different from stitching a gaping wound together before binding the area. There is historical evidence in the Greek and Roman world of wounds being stitched (Galen) thousands of years ago so, wrongly or correctly, I decided that my healers could mange to do some basic sutures (stitches) using a fine bone needle. There's also evidence of a wide array of medical instruments used by Roman Army surgeons, so I'm sure the Celts had more to hand than just the type of sacrificial druid needle that can be bought via the internet these days. 

Druid ritual needle as seen on Etsy

In 1996, a number of graves were found near Colchester, England, one of which contained the cremated remains of a person of some status. The grave goods were substantial and included the little pots and containers that Nara has in her drawstring bag that she slings across her chest, her medical tool kit that she rarely leaves home without. The grave also had some tools that were similar to the Roman medical kit above. The instruments included scalpels, sharp and blunt retractors, needles, a probe, forceps and a surgical saw. The grave is known as that of 'The Druid of Colchester'. The sex of the person is unknown but a couple of metal rods are thought to possibly have been diving tools, hence the naming as 'The Druid'. 

Happy Reading.


Tuesday 19 April 2022

Nara's goddesses

 Hello! It's Day 19 of my April blog posts about Before Beltane. 

Today's theme is the goddesses mentioned by Nara. It's reasonably easy to do an internet search to find out a little about Celtic goddesses, but it's not so easy to be sure that the information found is legitimate. Since actual written references to goddesses of northern Britannia are scarce to the point of mainly being from epigraphic sources, being sure of what was a god/ goddess name in a particular geographic area is almost impossible (for me). 

Nara is of the Selgovae tribe, and from the Ptolemy map references noted around 120-150 AD, the Selgovae probably inhabited what we'd now call the central areas of southern Scotland. I spent some time trawling the internet, and my own stock of Celtic books, and made my own decisions on which names to use for the situations Nara finds herself in. 

Epona -Goddess of Travellers

We know from Ancient Roman texts that people of polytheistic faiths tended to pay homage to a huge list of deities, some local and some more universal. One site I visited mentioned the possibility that the Iron Age peoples of Britain may have worshipped as many as 300 deities. That seems way too many for the average person to remember. So it seems judicious, to me, that each person may have been taught to revere a small list by their parents/ druid teachers/ local elders. Moving away from the area that a person grew up in, whether on a temporary visit or for a longer duration, was probably likely to have exposed that person to a number of new-to-them deities that they absorbed into their repertoire. 

Choosing personal favourites to worship seems realistic, so that's what Nara (and Lorcan ) do in Before Beltane

Nara's most mentioned female deities Arianrhod; Rhianna; Brighid; Dôn; the Cailleach and Coinchend.

A search of the internet brings up many variations of what a goddess was revered for, but I did a bit of picking and choosing so that they fit the scene I was writing. 

Arianrhod is quoted as the goddess of fertility and rebirth. Aspects of her name indicate a silver wheel, the wheel of time and she is associated with life cycles and the interweaving of fate and cosmic time.  I've also seen her quoted as the goddess of karma and retribution. She is in other places linked to the moon. Other common spellings of her name are Aranhod and Arianrod.


(Rhiannon) is also associated with fertility. She's linked with the moon, and over night and death.  Her name is believed to mean “night queen”. Horses are also associated with Rhianna linking her to the goddess Epona. The great queen- Rigantona- may be another name. 

Brighid 'oversees' may aspects, quite a varied collection of daily rituals regarding domestication- poetry, prophecy, healing, agriculture, and fire. She is sometimes seen as the goddess of the hearth. She is also thought to be a triple deity: the healer; the inspiration of the poet and contrastingly the smith. She may have had some domestic animal associations. Brighid's festival is Imbolc (1st Feb.),a welcoming to springtime.

Dôn is probably of Welsh origin and is believed to be the mother goddess, and the mother of Arianrhod. I 'borrowed' Dôn since I need a goddess to be the 'founder' of the nemeton on the Islet of the Priestesses in Before Beltane.

Coinchend isn't quite a goddess but is a female warrior of the Otherworld, semi divine and a spirit guide. 

I've left Cailleach to last since this is the most notable name in Scottish folklore and forms of Cailleach are part of place names still used in Scotland. I've used the Cailleach (Bheur) in other books in the Celtic Fervour Series. She is the old hag, a destroyer goddess who ruled over disease, death, and wisdom. She had a function during seasonal rites and weather magic. In Ireland she is known as the Cally Berry -  meaning “old gloomy woman”.  Weather, the seasons, winds and winter were under her control. She appears as a veiled old woman, and was a protector of animals, particularly wolves.

Happy Reading.


Monday 18 April 2022

Horses – Celtic and Roman

Hello again and welcome to Day 18 of my April blog posts about Before Beltane.

Horses feature quite a bit in Before Beltane since they are both beasts of burden, and the main non-pedestrian transport method for my characters.

The Celtic peoples were horsemen who valued their beasts very highly, some even considering them their most valued possessions. It took time and patience to train horses and they were expensive to keep. However, this is a good time to point out that the animals referred to in Late Iron Age Britain were what we would term ponies today.

The Fell pony is an ancient breed, used to the harsh conditions of the Cumbrian highlands and is probably similar to the ponies that were common in northern Britannia of 71 AD. Fell ponies grow to around 14 hands high, at best, and could be ridden by children and adults. They would have been agile enough for pulling along the smaller Celtic chariots that would have been both status symbols of wealth, and also symbols of prowess in battle. Fell ponies are often black but can be brown, bay or grey.

Dales ponies might also have been commonly kept in northern Britannia, though they tend to be smaller and generally reach a maximum height of just over 12 hands.  

Further south in Britannia the horse stocks may have been more influenced by New Forest ponies, another very ancient breed. They are often chestnut, bay or grey in colour.

Roman horses are more difficult to determine. In my writing I know what purposes I have for Roman horses when included, but describing the breed of horses they ride is tricky. It’s hard to find definite information on what kind of horses were most commonly ridden by the Roman cavalry, but it’s believed that some horses were transported over to Britannia from the continent (probably Gaul).  It's known that Roman soldiers (cavalry and officers) rode Iberian horses, an ancient and hardy breed. Ancient Iberian horses (of which Andalusians are descended) average about 15.1 hands high.

The horse above would do absolutely perfectly to represent the horse I mention in Before Beltane. Near the end of Nara's story, the warrior Cearnach is instructed to take a Roman chestnut stallion to a Selgovae hillfort named Raeden, where the local chief has a Roman mare, thought to be of a similar breed, that can be used for mating. Chief Callan of Tarras has named the chestnut stallion Rowan. Rowan becomes a very important horse in Book 1 of the Celtic Fervour Series, The Beltane Choice

Another horse which features in both Before Beltane and The Beltane Choice, is the filly that Nara rides, named Eachna. Eachna is imagined, by me, to be more of a Fell pony. 

The Asturcon, an Iberian Celtic pony breed, may also have been ridden by Romans in Britannia. Pliny the Elder mentions this horse, though it apparently had an unusual gait.  

You can read about horses in Before Beltane by: 

Pre-Ordering a Kindle copy HERE, or buy a paperback HERE

Happy Reading.


 The post below, that I wrote some years ago, is about the Celtic Horse Goddess, Epona.

Sunday 17 April 2022

Eboracum- York!

Welcome to my 17th April blog! 

If you celebrate Easter, or Ramadan, or Jewish Passover, or any other religious festival then I wish you a happy day.

Today’s daily entry is about Eboracum. Nowadays we’d call the city of York, England.

AD 71 is the acknowledged date of the beginnings of the fortress built at the site the Romans named Eboracum. It was fairly customary for the Roman legions to explore the countryside for areas which would provide the best conditions for them to create a more permanent base. Though they do seem to have been extremely efficient at building a fort/ fortress for themselves, it still took a while to find, cut down, and amass the wood supplies needed for the fortress ramparts, and for the interior buildings.

Establishing an encampment at the chosen site allowed the legionaries to have a protection for themselves during the construction phase of the fortress. It’s very difficult to determine exactly when the very first timber foundations were laid at Eboracum, but 71 AD is the generally accepted date.

This falls into the possible overlap of the governorships of V. Bolanus, and Petillius Cerialis whose term as governor began sometime in 71.

Before Beltane is set in 71. King Venutius sends Lorcan, and a couple of other warriors, to do some surveying of the already established encampment at Eboracum. Though they see a well-set-up camp of tents which can house thousands of men, they also see more soldiers approaching from the south to join those already there.

So, why did the Roman surveyors/ land engineers choose the site we now know of as Eboracum?

The site needed to be near enough to the area inhabited by the Brigantes, the largest tribal grouping of northern Britannia. It needed to be able to be well-defended since it was essentially going to be occupied by an invasion force. It needed a plentiful water supply with sufficient wooded areas nearby for construction timbers, and wood for heating and cooking.

York/ Eboracum is situated on a slightly elevated piece of ground that conveniently nestles near the confluence of two rivers, the Ouse and the Foss. It was a perfect site since the River Ouse carries on all the way to the eastern coastline of Britain and was sufficiently wide and deep enough for flat bottomed boats to ply up and down the river. They would have provided supplies, which probably included men, food stocks and the ironware/ hardware necessary for a huge military campaign to suppress and subdue the whole of Brigantia.

York Museum-,_York_(Eboracum)_(7685208580)_2.jpg

The above tombstone is of Lucius Duccius Rufinus and is dated as being somewhere between 71 and 125 AD. It's less likely to have been the earlier date since the fortress was only being established but it is a substantial monument of dedicated to a standard bearer of the Legio IX Hispana.

The four corners of the fortress were situated at the compass points N, S, E and W with the main fort streets, via principalis and via praetoria, running diagonally as seen from a ‘birds-eye view’. Built by the Legion IX Hispana, they may have taken the name from the locals who possibly named it Eburacon – the place where the yews grow, or the place of Eburos. At some time after the initial building, the legions possibly thought the place had associations with, and was to do with boars so they adopted the boar as the emblem of the Legio IX.

Anglo-Saxon invaders renamed it as Evorwik, and even later the Vikings repronounced it as Jorvik, leading to the one we know of today as York.

Happy Reading.


Saturday 16 April 2022

Druids in Before Beltane

Hello and welcome to Day 16 of my daily April posts about the writing of Before Beltane.

Including scenes with druids in my writing of the Celtic Fervour Series has been a challenge. Like most of the historical background to Late 1st century (AD) Roman Britain, writing about druids is difficult since they left no written records that are known about. I’ve always tried really hard to create believable worlds for my Celtic Fervour Series characters but when there’s little direct evidence, it's not simple. It’s the same when including scenes with druids as in Lorcan’s case, or the druid priestesses that Nara lives with on the crannog of the priestesses. Author interpretation has to kick in since authentication is impossible.

I’ve read many novels which have included druid figures that have been scary, designed to terrify the people of the world they inhabit. I’ve enjoyed the fantasy aspects, but when it has come to including druids in my own writing, I’ve wanted them to be aloof, highly respected, yet also believable – if also terrifying in some cases. They were men or women of religion but definitely different from the main population. Giving the druid characters life has meant enhancing their abilities, yet not to the point of being fantastical. I adore the druids in The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien but what they achieve is, for me, too much for my series.  

This is a relatively new video (2020) that has a wealth of interesting information that you may enjoy about druids. It also has loads of fabulous images that I can't include on my blog. 

As far as it is known, druids were the upper echelons of Celtic society. They were the shamanic priests of the religion and they were diviners. They were teachers and truth-seekers; they were scientists and healers; but highly importantly they were also the lawgivers and the judges. It seems to have been all of those incredibly important skills, especially the political and socially influencing ones, which were feared by Julius Caesar and other important Roman emperors who followed him. Across the Roman Empire there was a general tolerance of religions, since their legions were full of men from many different parts of the empire who worshipped their own deities. What Rome could not tolerate was the threat of the political power that the druids held.


There are many references to druid ways in Before Beltane. Nara has a novice priestess background and Lorcan travels with the Druid Maran and finds himself in the Sacred Groves. A fearsome place to be, those who unwittingly entered the hallowed areas of the Sacred Groves have not been normal afterwards. 

Lorcan of Garrigill, however, is a favoured one; his foretold future an exciting prospect that’s choc-full of dangers! 

And Nara’s prophecy sends her on an entirely different pathway from that which she was expecting!

Read about druids in Before Beltane -  Pre-Order an eBook  HERE or buy a paperback HERE

Happy Reading.