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Thursday, 17 April 2014

A kingly name but can we be sure?

SCOTLAND does not lack in its tales of history, mystery and imagination.

Such stories are rife throughout Dumfries & Galloway; indeed, our Dales are ‘no’ blate’ when it comes to taking advantage of these legends and tales.

Both television and film make lightly-disguised use of them. We have tales woven around Bruce, John Paul Jones, Burns, Armstrong, Peden, The Reivers, Picts and Scots, so why should we not use some local names, such as King Schaw’s Cist.

But who was King Schaw?

He was a tribal chief of some sort but was he ever a king? Without doubt, he would have led a battle between two tribes but who were the Picts or the Scots?

According to Sir Water Scott in his Tales of a Grandfather: “These peoples of Northern Scotland whom the Romans had been unable to subdue were not one nation but were divided into two nations called the Scots and the Picts who fought one another but always joined together against the Britons or the Romans.”

So what were they doing, according to legend, fighting and killing each other in foreign territory away to the south?

The name of Schaw or Shaw derives from an old Norwegian word, meaning a wood. It occurs in a number of places in the area, usually as a place name.

The name King could mean exactly as it says or it could derive from the Celtic word, Caen or Head, where the Black and White Waters conjoin to form the Esk at the King Pool. With my limited knowledge, that would be guesswork; nevertheless, it is an interesting conjecture.

But to get back to my walk of the week – we drove past Boyken, Benty, Boonies and Billholm until near the highest point on the road we saw a small post indicating King Schaw’s Grave.

We walked past a number of small quarries or pits where road metal had been excavated for the network of forestry roads.

After half a mile, a seldom-used path presented itself and after 100 yards, quite an elaborate sign stood at the edge of a ring of tree posts. This colourful and descriptive historical notice truthfully pointed out that it could not guarantee the veracity of the grave.

And so, on we plodded. We were back among the felled trees of this vast area while the panorama was getting wider but after another mile we were back at the spruce trees perched above the White Esk.

In a clearing four forestry roads came together and so I selected the road which climbed back up out of the trees. It proved to be a poor choice because after half a mile, the road ended at yet another clearing. We had no choice but to return into the spruces and continue on downhill to where the White joined the Black to become the Esk.

At the King Pool the sky suddenly turned black and by the time we came out of the trees, a strong, cold wind blew into my face and the wind-driven sleet started. Gone are the days when I enjoyed such travails and, in fact, looked for such weather in the Highlands and Islands. Now, I am older and wiser or, perhaps, I am only a lot older.

The ground around us, with all its tree detritus, was white with snow. When, suddenly, the snow stopped and the sun returned, it displayed Eskdale in all its winter finery.

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