Oor Arthur

The Welsh Clyde

Ben Arthur
Ben Arthur (The Cobbler)
Arthur's Seat is the Crag on the Left
Photograph by Hugh DP McArthur

To the west of Loch Lomond, or The Lake, is Ben Arthur (Arthur’s Mountain) now more commonly known as The Cobbler. Soaring from sea level to a height of nearly 3,000 feet and collared with majestic horseshoe shaped crags, Ben Arthur personifies the mantle of Arthur’s power on the very boundary of The Kingdom of the Britons and Dalriada (The Kingdom of the Scots). The southwest crag is called Arthur’s Seat and local lore recalls the site as one of warrior and Druidic initiation.

To the west of Ben Arthur on the west flank of Glen Kinglass is a massive rock outcrop known as Agaidh Artair ~ The Face of Arthur. As one crests the Rest and Be Thankful on the A83 and rounds the corner into the descent, straight ahead in the distance, the entire left flank of the glen portrays the profile of the legendary man. The face lies at an angle of about 30° projecting from the hillside. At the top a furrowed brow and long shaggy hair streams back into the hillside, with an arched eyelid clearly defined immediately below. The nose is long and shallow, almost absent, underlined with a craggy moustache and a full craggy beard that tumbles towards the valley floor. Frozen in time, Arthur stares back at his mountain The Lake and his kingdom beyond.

At the west end on the north shore of Loch Tay lies Tir Artair (The Land of Arthur). The name dates from at least as early as the 15th century and this eight merk piece of land is bounded by Creag Tir Artair (The Rocks of the Land of Arthur) to the north and Allt Tir Artair (The Stream of the Land of Arthur) to the east.

Greenock town lies on the western tip of the southern shore of the Firth of Clyde - In Gaelic it is know as Grianaig, close to the original spelling of Arthur’s mother’s name Ygraine. Even Arthur’s legendary father, Uther Pendragon, can be found in Greater Glasgow’s royal burgh of Rutherglen reinforced by the name of Glenouther a little to the south west. We will come to the real identity of Uther (and Ygraine’s husband Gorlois) somewhat later.


Arthur's Cross
Arthurlie near Barrhead

Photograph by
Hugh DP McArthur

To the south west of Glasgow is Barrhead and south west of Barrhead, the ancient settlement of Arthurlie sits high on the southern flank of the Clyde Valley. Arthurlie, pronounced Arthur Lee, has two local traditions regarding the origin of the name. One tale recalls that Arthur camped here on his way back from a battle at the River Irvine. This would be the battle remembered at Darvel in Ayrshire, where the Glen Water meets the River Irvine. The monk Nennius, writing in the 8th century, recorded that Arthur's first battle was at the River Gleinn. The second Arthurlie tradition recalls that Arthur's Lee was in fact Arthur's Camp - The training camp for the Strathclyde warriors located strategically in the heart of Cymric territory. In the heart of Arthurlie stands the remnant shaft of a Celtic stone cross slab, listed by Historic Scotland as Arthur's Cross.

Four kilometres west of Lanark, the waters of the River Clyde combined with the Mouse, Douglas, Medwin, Culter and Duneaton, are forced by Arthur's Craigs (Rocks) to change their course northwards. Located at the east end of Hazelbank village this impressive metamorphosed sandstone extrusion reaches a height of about twenty metres. The A72 to Lanark clings to the top of the steep outcrop which has recently been stabilised by the addition of a concrete retaining wall at the base and netting to the face.

The remnants of the bright pink hard rocks on the north bank of the Clyde indicate that Arthur's Craigs must have been a very significant landmark on the old Lanark road. No local tradition is known, as yet, surrounding the place name, however an old Scottish faery tale records that there was also a Merlin's Crag near Lanark.

Arthur's Seat - Hart Fell
Arthur's Seat
Hart Fell north of Moffat

Photograph by Hugh DP McArthur

Seven kilometres to the north and two kilometres to the east of Moffat, Arthur's Seat sits at 730m on the southern shoulder of Hart Fell. Hart Fell is easily the largest peak in the area rising to 808m. Five kilometres down the west slope, at the head of Annandale, three springs spout from the near 200m shear walls of "The Devil's Beef Tub" to form the headwaters of the River Annan. Over the 30m rise, a couple of kilometres to the north, nine wells spring at Tweed's Well to form the headwaters of the mighty Tweed, while again over the rise just three kilometres to the north west, the Clyde springs from Clyde Law. Within a nine kilometre radius to the west of Hart Fell, three of the greatest rivers in Southern Scotland are born, presided over by Arthur's Seat.

Turning south, away from the spectacle of the "Beef Tub" at the 380m high view point, Annandale (the homeland of Robert the Bruce) lies open to full view, with the Lake District looming in the distance. I have not yet sat in Arthur's Seat, but I guess the chair will offer the best vantage to overview the birth of the three great rivers, as well as extensive views into Strathclyde, Lothian and Cumbria. Assuming that Hart Fell has primary associations with the deer and therefore the Goddess, we find Arthur seated next to Gods in Northern Britain.

I once read that there are over two hundred Arthurian place names in Scotland, so far I have traced over forty, many located within the Central Belt. Other sites include the famous King Arthur’s Seat on the Salsbury Crags near Edinburgh (one of at least seven Arthur’s Seats in Scotland), Arthur’s O’on near Camelon at Falkirk, Loch Arthur in Dumfriesshire and Arthur’s Leg in Ayrshire. Not all these places can necessarily be ascribed to the legendary King Arthur, but many of them are and most are places of significance and status, not likely to be named after a lesser mortal.

Copyright Hugh McArthur 2001

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Mason, Gordon W.
The Castles of Glasgow & The Clyde
ISBN 1899874186
Alastair Campbell of Airds
A History of Clan Campbell Volume 1
ISBN 1-902930-17-7
SEND YOUR COMMENTS TO:
hugh.mcarthur@clannarthur.com


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