1 From ‘The Ruin’, translated by K. Crossley-Holland, The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology, Oxford World’s Classics, 2009.
2 vita: the medieval hagiography, or ‘life’ of a saint. Famous examples include the Vita Wilfridi (Saint Wilfrid) and the Vita Columbae (Saint Colmcille). Plural vitae.
3 The so-called Kentish Chronicle forms part of a narrative sequence in the collection of early manuscripts known as the Historia Brittonum and popularly, if incorrectly, referred to as the work of Nennius. Vortigern is pre-eminent among those British leaders remembered by later historians for their ignominious dealings with the first Germanic warlords who won lands in Britain. The compilation belongs to the early ninth century.
4 From ‘The Ruin’, translated by K. Crossley-Holland, The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology, Oxford World’s Classics, 2009.
5 shieling: a north-country word for a small hut and its associated enclosures, used by transhumant communities, later just shepherds, as upland summer settlements.
6 crannog: a circular wooden dwelling supported on piles driven into a lake bed close to the shore and connected to it by a raised causeway. There are superb reconstructions at the Crannog Centre on Loch Tay, Perth and Kinross and on Llangorse lake in the Brecon Beacons, Wales.
7 St Marnock: originally an Irish familiar name, from my (mo) Ernán. The name Marnock is associated with at least three church foundations, notably that of Kilmarnock; but there are several candidates for the historical figure, including an uncle and companion of Colmcille.
8 Bede, Historia Ecclesiatica,V.12. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, ed. and trans. B. Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, Oxford Medieval Texts, 1969; repr. 1994. The monk was Dryhthelm of Melrose who, when asked how he could bear the cold, replied, ‘I have known it colder’.
9 There are other possible candidates for the principal royal fortress of the kingdom—Dunollie, near Oban, is cited as an alternative. But no site matches Dunadd for its wealth and its setting.
10 The exact source is unclear, perhaps somewhere in Francia. Colmcille’s hagiographer Adomnán mentions a glass drinking vessel used by the Pictish king Bruide. Other glass objects from Dunadd include Byzantine tesserae and beads of Irish or Viking type.
11 Princes: those sons of great men deemed eligible for kingship. The Irish equivalent was rígdomna, literally ‘material of a king’.
12 ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818.
13 The Romans may have introduced rabbits to Britain, but it was only after the Norman Conquest that they (the rabbits) and pheasants began to reproduce significantly in the wild.
14 The Laws of Wihtred, Decree 28, in English Historical Documents Volume I: c.500–1042. Edited by Dorothy Whitelock, Eyre Methuen, 1979, 2nd edition.
15 The civitates were the native tribes identified by Roman military strategists and administrators, through whose chiefs regional control was exercised. They were given undefended capital towns, connected to the road system and their kin given jobs to keep them sweet.
16 The list forms part of the British Historical Miscellany compiled in about 810 from a variety of sources and often published under the name of Nennius with the Historia Brittonum and Annales Cambriae. Many of the names on the list cannot ever have been cities or even towns—Lindisfarne, for example, was no more than a monastery, though it may once have had a fortress.
17 Wealh, the Old English name for the Britons, came also to mean ‘foreigner’; but since those identifying themselves as Anglo-Saxons seem to have dispossessed many native Britons of their lands and rights, it may at times have carried implications of a lower caste, even a slave.
18 Reginald was a monk of Durham Cathedral, author of hagiographies on Sts Cuthbert and Godric. His otherwise unsatisfactory Vita of Oswald was written in 1165 and derives much of its material from Bede; the raven episode appears to originate in local tradition. John Leland, visiting the site in the sixteenth century, heard more or less the same story. By his day the raven had become a more impressive but less significant eagle.
19 Oswald’s uncle, Edwin, also died a Christian martyr and later became the focus of a cult at Whitby.
20 Edward Lhuyd (1660–1709): a keeper of antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, linguist, antiquarian and naturalist of considerable talents. He is credited with first use of the term Celtic to refer to the ancient Brythonic and Goidelic languages of Britain and Ireland.
21 Augustine, the missionary sent by Gregory to bring the pagan English into the Universal church, arrived in Kent in 597, founded a church there and established sees at Rochester and London before turning his attention to what he believed were the archaic and unorthodox practices of the British church. See Chapter Nine.
22 cantref: more or less the Early Medieval British equivalent of the Northumbrian shire and the later Anglo-Saxon hundred, an estate made up of units from which food renders and services were demanded and brought to a central place, the villa regia; early Wales comprised around fortycantrefi; the ‘trefs’ of which cantrefi were composed has its equivalent in the ‘tech’ of Scottish Dál Riata and, perhaps, the generally larger vill of Anglo-Saxon England.
23 Celia Fiennes, Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary.
24 De temporum ratione (‘On the reckoning of time’), written c.725 at Jarrow. Apart from calendrical calculations and instructions for determining the correct date for Easter, Bede also explains daylight length and the seasons and gives a historical account of the Julian and Anglo-Saxon calendars.
25 Beowulf, line 1359, from the translation by Michael Alexander, Penguin, 1973.
26 wic: Old English term for a farm or specialised settlement, often found as a suffix: for example, Keswick—‘cheese farm’; Goswick—‘goose farm’. When it occurs, especially with topographic variations, on coasts with gently sloping shores, it seems often to denote a periodic or opportunistic site for a beach market. The Gaelic and Brythonic equivalents may be ‘port’ and ‘strand’—as in the Strand on the River Thames, which may have been the site of Anglo-Saxon Lundenwic.
27 pannage: the practice (and valuable right) of grazing pigs on beech and oak mast (nuts) in autumn; verderer: an official with legal powers to administer forest law and rights and practices on common lands.
28 Bede, Historia Ecclesiatica, I.30, ed. and trans. by Colgrave and Mynors.
29 Richard Morris, in Churches in the Landscape (see Recommended Reading, p. 443) cites two examples of the place name Stokenchurch, in Buckinghamshire and Middlesex, which seem to reflect the presence of a ‘stockade’ church of similar construction. Greensted is sometimes cited as the oldest surviving wooden church in the world.
30 The term ‘heptarchy’ belongs to the post-Medieval period; the idea that the Saxons ‘established seven kings’ can be traced as far back as Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum of the early twelfth century.
31 The Tribal Hidage is a list, drawn up perhaps as early as the seventh or eighth century, which records the tribute owed by subject tribes or smaller kingdoms to an unnamed king, possibly Edwin of Northumbria. Hide: generations of historians have argued over this very difficult term. If thevill is a place – a real piece of land with boundaries, fields, settlements—then the hide (Bede used the term familiarum) was a unit of render from the farms within a vill. But there is no arithmetical equivalent, no standard number of hides in a vill. The hide was a concept used to calculate how much such-and-such a settlement or kingdom owed in tribute or render; it was also used as a shorthand for value, but that value depended, naturally enough, on the productive surplus and wealth of that land.
32 Known as Æthelræd Unræd: an Anglo-Saxon pun. The whole name translates as ‘Noble-counsel Ill-counsel’.
33 The Battle of Maldon. English Historical Documents Volume I: c.500–1042, edited by Dorothy Whitelock, 2nd edition, Eyre Methuen, 1979.
34 Their supreme commander was known, in the late fourth century, by the impressive title of Comes Litoris Saxonici per Britanniam: Count of the Saxon Shore.
35 Bretwalda; a term which first appears in the ninth-century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, denoting a king able to wield imperium over all the other kings of Britain. In his Historia Ecclesiatica Bede makes claims for the overlordship of the same kings, but does not use the term.
36 Beowulf, lines 2649–56, translated by J. R. R. Tolkien, Harper Collins, 2014.
37 From The Wanderer, translated by K. Crossley-Holland, The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology, Oxford World’s Classics, 2009.
38 Rendered indefensible by the demolition of palisades and gates and the filling in of some ditches.
39 Light + raDAR is a remote-sensing technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser and analysing the reflected light.
40 Adomnán’s term – though by the late sixth century the name is archaic; Gaul has become Frankia.
41 E-ware: a form of handmade pottery identified on many Early Medieval sites along both sides of the Atlantic coasts of Britain, often in association with royal or monastic settlements. It is believed to belong to the late sixth to seventh centuries and to have been made somewhere in south-west Francia. The vessels are for domestic use, and may have been the property of merchants; some of the globular forms seem to have held valuable products such as dyes and spices.
42 Pelagius, born probably in Britain in the late fourth century, was accused of preaching the doctrine of free will and rejecting the idea of original sin, anathema to later church orthodoxy. His teachings seem to have been especially popular in his native land; Gaulish orthodox bishops took it upon themselves to stamp his ‘heresy’ out.
43 The whirlpool is caused by an underwater chasm nearly seven-hundred-feet deep which runs adjacent to a pinnacle just seventy feet below the surface, across which the yard-high tidal discrepancy must flow.
44 St Michael the Archangel was a heavenly warrior rather than an earthly martyr, and early visions of him by Pope Gregory and others seem to have occurred on hills. The Benedictine monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel is the most famous of these elevated foundations.
45 In spite of a great deal of speculation, no one has been able to convincingly demonstrate that it was anything other than an accident caused by reckless driving and sheer bad luck.
46 Richard Morris is a distinguished polymath, Early Medievalist and church archaeologist, a veteran of the York Minster excavations of the 1970s and former Director of the Council for British Archaeology. He was one of my most inspirational teachers, and a generous patron and consultant in our later work at Christ Church, Spitalfields.
47 Nennius: British History and the Welsh Annals, cited in John Morris, Phillimore, 1980.
49 Gildas, De Exidio et conquestu Brittaniae, in Gildas: The Ruin of Britain and Other Works, ed. and trans. Michael Winterbottom, Phillimore, 1978.
50 Augustine’s legacy was more complex; its long-term success can be attributed to the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore (669–90), and his endorsement by Oswald’s younger brother, King Oswiu, after the Synod of Whitby.
51 In tenths of nano-Teslas.
52 A Lifelong Learning community that actively researches Early Medieval Northumbria: www.bernicianstudies.eu.
53 Bede: Historia Ecclesiastica, III.5, translated by Bertram Colgrave, Oxford Medieval Texts, 1969.
54 Anglesey is an Old Norse name: ‘the island of the Angles’ (or English); first recorded in 1098. Môn and Man were collectively known in the Early Medieval period as the Mevanian isles.
55 Hogan: a circular, square or multi-sided wooden or stone dwelling roofed with bark or turf whose joints were and are packed with earth or mud for insulation.
56 Sections 40–2 which come part-way through the Kentish Chronicle, after Vortigern’s granting of Kent to Hengest.
57 The smallest administrative division of a province in the Western Roman Empire from the later third century.
58 Keeper of a small trading post or hostelry where horses and accommodation might also be obtained. The term gave rise to the surname Chapman.
59 ogham: a twenty-letter alphabet of Old Irish inscriptions formed by carving vertical and diagonal strokes across the corners of memorial stones recording the name of a deceased person. It often accompanies a Latin inscription and may have derived from a direct transliteration of Latin. More than four hundred examples are known from Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Scotland.
60 Afon: Welsh for river; so River Avon is a pleonasm. Aber in Brythonic means mouth or confluence, the equivalent of Gaelic Inver.
61 The other island, ironically, is owned by that latter-day hard man, Chief Scout and intrepid adventurer Bear Grylls.
62 Following King Oswiu’s ruling at the Synod of Whitby in 664—see Chapter Nine. The Irish and British churches disputed Rome’s means of calculating future Easter dates, the correct form of monks’ tonsure and other matters of discipline and liturgy. Wilfrid denied the legitimacy of British or Irish bishops to ordain.
63 ‘Eddius Stephanus: Life of Wilfrid XXII’, translated by J. F. Webb in The Age of Bede, Penguin Classics, 1983.
64 Sanctus: holy; sanctior: holier; sanctissimus: holiest.
65 Chiselled recesses on opposite faces of a stone block into which fit the points of a pair of levered calipers which grip as they lift.
66 total station theodolite (TST): measures distances and angles very accurately by bouncing a laser off a prism placed on the object or surface to be measured. The data are recorded digitally in three dimensions.
67 Eccles names: deriving from Latin ecclesia (and surviving in Welsh ‘eglwys’), the name is believed to denote the presence of a late Roman British church; in each case, linguistic rules are applied to determine if the root of the name is indeed ‘ecclesia’ or something similar but unrelated.
68 Dumfries would return a ‘No’ vote of 66 per cent to 34 per cent, and the Scottish Borders a ‘No’ vote of 67 per cent to 33 per cent.
69 Confiscations of land by the English crown and its colonisation by English and Scottish settlers, almost all Protestant, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
70 ‘Everted’: to turn inside out.
71 Crucks were formed from the long curved trunk of a tree split lengthways to make a matching pair. Two pairs formed the gable ends of a timber building.
72 Ireland boasts more than forty thousand of these sites called, depending on scholastic nomenclature, ringforts, raths or cashels. There are dozens on Inishowen; so many that to represent them on my map would be to give it a dose of the measles.
73 In the wake of the abolition of customs checks between European Community member states as part of the European single market, and the easing of the security situation following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
74 Harnessing the Tides: the Early Medieval Tide Mills at Nendrum Monastery, Strangford Lough (Northern Ireland Archaeological Monographs) by Thomas McErlean and Norman Crothers, Stationery Office Books, 2007.
75 Vill; shire: the vill was the fundamental territorial unit of the Anglo-Saxon rural economy. In the north of Britain these have survived as townships; in the south they equate roughly to, but predate, the old church parishes. The vill (tref in Wales; ‘tech’ on the West coast of Scotland) was the customary unit from which services might be rendered; in time, the term vill was applied to the settlement or central place at the heart of its territory, and the name of the vill was applied to the place. Early Medieval shires, unlike the counties with which they have been conflated in the modern period, were groups of vills with an important central place, belonging to a lord of at least the rank of gesith. The villa regia, or royal estate centre, is probably represented by the Anglo-Saxon palaces at Cheddar in Somerset, Rendlesham in Suffolk and Yeavering in Northumberland.
76 An insight offered by Alex Woolf in his great survey From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070, Edinburgh University Press, 2007.
77 A brewster is a female brewer, giving rise to a rare female surname; a baxter is a female baker. Other female surnames include Kempster (a wool-comber—as in ‘unkempt hair’) and Webster (a weaver).
78 The Origins of Newcastle upon Tyne by Robert Fulton Walker, Thorne’s Students’ Bookshop, 1976.
79 A Z-rod looks like a stylised lightning bolt often with decorated terminal; it is often found inscribed over a double disc (shaped like the link in a bicycle chain). V-rods, shaped as the name suggests, are often found inscribed over crescents.
80 ‘Bede: Life of Cuthbert XXVII’, translated by J. F. Webb in The Age of Bede, Penguin Classics, 1983.
81 dene: a north-country word for a small valley, often wooded; the south-west equivalent is combe.
82 There was an unintentional break between my arrival home and the continuation of the journey—several months, in fact, during which I had to strip down and rebuild the bike’s brakes, have a puncture fixed and then sit on my thumbs as winter’s ice made a long bike journey too perilous.
83 bastle—a two-storey dwelling in which cattle were byred on the ground floor, with external steps leading to accommodation above. The Old English word botl and French bastille share a similar etymology.
84 A settlement constructed for retired legionary veterans, given special privileges. Britannia had five: besides York, at London, Lincoln, Colchester and Gloucester.
85 Via a letter sent to Bishop Mellitus a month after his first injunction to the king.
86 The other four were: Nottingham, Stamford, Leicester and Derby. They were retaken during the campaigns of Æthelflæd of Mercia and her brother Edward the Elder of Wessex during 916–17, reconquered by King Olaf of York in the 940s and finally recovered a year later by King Edmund.
87 hundreds: administrative units originating in Anglo-Saxon England and equating to the Welsh cantrefi.
88 Liudhard may have died shortly after the arrival of Augustine, whose fellow missionaries, according to Bede, first worshipped in the church before being allowed by the king to travel more freely and to restore or build their own churches.
89 R. J. Cramp, ‘Monastic sites’ in The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England, edited by D. M. Wilson, Cambridge University Press, 1976.
90 Snorri Sturluson, King Harald’s Saga, translated by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Pálsson, Penguin Books, 1976.
91 gesiths: the hereditary male warrior elite of Anglo-Saxon England, deriving from words that mean ‘spear’ and ‘shield’. Once proven in battle, gesiths would expect to be rewarded by a gift of land on which to dwell and raise a family and from which to draw render as income.
92 Bede: Historia Ecclesiastica, II.16, ed. and trans. Colgrave and Mynors.
93 English Historical Documents Volume I: c.500–1042, edited by Dorothy Whitelock, Eyre Methuen, 1979, 2nd edition.
94 carr: wet, scrubby land characterised by stunted trees—dwarf birch and willow, etc.—bog, reeds and tussocky grasses; usually low in fertility.
95 Discovered in a field by a metal detectorist in 2009, it is a hoard of material scavenged from a battlefield, comprising more than seventeen hundred objects and fragments of gold and silver, precious stones, millefiori and cloisonné, weighing a total of less than fifteen pounds. A suggested deposition date between the mid-seventh and eighth centuries may yet be refined by ongoing analysis.
96 Bede, Historia Ecclesiatica, III.23, ed. and trans. Colgrave and Mynors.
97 The Laws of Wihtred in English Historical Documents Volume I: c.500 –1042, edited by Dorothy Whitelock, Eyre Methuen, 1979, 2nd edition.
98 Bede translates Streanæshalch as sinus fari; some historians doubt his ascription, since the name is better translated as ‘a secluded spot used by lovers’. Strensall, near York, is a modern equivalent.
99 Stephen Leslie, Bruce Whinnet et al., Nature, volume 519, 19 March 2015, 309–33.