Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Lost Stories of Angus: A Battle That Never Happened?

In this first look at the folklore of the county of Angus, we give a cautionary tale.  Stories apparently passed down through countless generations become barnacled with authority, veneered with the semblance of authority.  But sometimes 'the truth of tradition' can be less than truthful.  Whether a misunderstanding becomes elaborated through the years, or whether it is invented by a writer and then passes in to living testimony, sometimes remembered things never actually happened.
   In the east of Scotland there are faint, discernable traditions which remember the Vikings rampaging though the region.  But historic record shows that there was no large scale military conflict or settlement in these counties.  Did the ordinary people falsely recall Danish or Norse invaders or did antiquarians invent them?  The marks are on our landscape.  There are the so-called graves of three Danish sea kings in Stracathro kirk, and the three Laws of Logie parish were reputedly raised by Danes, though they are actually prehistoric.
   In the year 1010 parties of Viking marauders are supposed to have landed at Carnoustie and Montrose (a town which some writers think was burned by them in AD 980).  A Danish general named Camus came ashore at Ethie, or at Red Head on Lunan Bay.  Near the latter are the interesting place-names Denmark and Denmark Burn, plus a mound known as Corbie's Knowe where Camus planted his standard, the Black Raven.  (Note the similarly named Corbie Hillock near Kinnaird Castle.)
   Camus linked up with the northern party and they travelled south to Carnoustie.  A hastily gathered Scottish defence force spent the night at Dundee before heading east next morning.  The two sides met at the Battle of Barry, allegedly a major victory for the Scots.  As is often the case in folklore the rivers commemorated the bloodshed: the Lochty Burn ran red for three days with Danish blood:

                                     Lochty, Lochty is red, red, red
                                     for it ran three days wi bluid,
                                     there lies the King o Denmark son,
                                     wi twenty thousand o his horse and men;
                                     there lies the King o Denmark sleepin,
                                     naebody can pass that way without weepin.

   Camus tried to flee north to his fleet anchored at Burghead, but he was killed not far from the battlefield by one of the Keiths of Dunnotar.  The Camus Cross or Camustane was for long thought to mark this invader's grave, though it is in fact a richly decorated Pictish stone.
   The Scots sank several Viking ships in the Tay and slew the surviving invaders in the inland parishes of Kirkden and Aberlemno.  The famous battle scene Pictish cross at Aberlemno was reputed to have this legend written upon it:

                                     Here lyis the King o Denmark slain,
                                     wi twenty thousand o his horse and men.

   A further rogue tradition has the Danes occupying the coastal strip between Lunan and Dundee for a hundred years.  They slaughtered the Angus men and married the local women.

                                                       
                                                                   The Camus Stane.


 

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