Oor Arthur

The Forest of Caledon
"in silva Caledonis, id est, Cat Coit Celidon"

From coastal defence to jungle warfare, Arthur’s seventh victory was won in the Forest of Caledon. Nineteenth century Scottish historian W.F. Skene located the conflict in the Forest of Tweeddale around the upper reaches of the great river where the border lands of the Selgovae tribe (and the later notorious Border Rievers) begin to merge with Clydesdale and Annandale not far from Arthur’s Seat and Merlin’s Cave on Hart Fell. Others have suggested the Ettrick Forest set deeper south towards Hadrian’s Wall, but I would equate Caledon with Caledonia and the great forest of the same name lying to the north of the Forth/Clyde isthmus.

The problem is that the majority of Northern Britain was still deeply forested during the Dark Ages and the exact location of this encounter shall be a matter of debate for a long, long time. One thing is for certain; this battle was fought somewhere in modern day Scotland. Another thing we can be fairly sure of is that we have a contemporary record of the event. Cad Goddeu or The Battle of the Trees is ascribed to the Welsh speaking poet Taliesin who frequently mention’s Arthur in his heroic poetry. The poem is too long to quote in full, but here are some choice extracts:

. . . I fought, though small,
At the battle of Goddeu Brig
With Prydain’s ruler,
With his rich-laden fleet . .

Rush ye chiefs of the Wood
With the princes in your thousands
To hinder the host of the enemy.
The trees were enchanted
For work of destruction . . .

The Alders, first in line,
Thrust forward in time.
The Willows and Mountain Ash
Were late to the array . . .

The Yew was to the fore
At the seat of war.
The Ash was most exalted
Before the sovereign powers . . .

The Hazel was esteemed
By its number in the quiver . . .
Before the swift oak-darts
Heaven and earth did quake . .

The poem is quite explicit in naming numerous weapons made from the forest: the power of the yew bow, hazel arrows, swift oak darts, ash and elm for spears and shields, even wild rose and woodbine with ivy intertwined for trips and traps - This was total jungle warfare on a large scale between sovereign powers.

The first line makes reference to Prydain’s (Britain’s) ruler and his well equipped fleet (from Taliesin’s own evidence we know that Arthur had a warship called Prydwen). This suggests a naval assault in a Caledonian forest area surrounding a major river accessible from the sea. The geography points toward an area around or north of the River Forth accessed from the east coast, possibly a deep river raid into the Trossachs via the Forth, or a raid up the River Tay into Perthshire, even a raid to the north east from Loch Lomond. Any invasion of these areas would involve conflict with the Picts and we know that Artur MacAeden was in conflict with the Picts.

Artur’s father Aeden MacGabhran became King of Scots in 574, but he was also titled Lord of Aberfoyle (located in the Trossachs) and Prince of Forth. His father Gabhran appears to have had an influence in the Carse of Gowrie on the River Tay and around Blairgowrie. Any of these sites would fit.

Continuing with the theory that Artur MacAeden fought all these battles, then I suggest a date of autumn 569 for reasons that will become apparent during my interpretation of the next two battles -The White Castle and The City of the Legion.

ugh McArthur 2006


William F. Skene
The Four Early Books of Wales


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