The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff – The 1965 Club

The Mark of the Horse Lord cover

Participating in The 1965 Club encouraged me to read The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff which I’ve had in the house for at least a couple of years. I would have read it sooner if I had realised that the setting is mainly in the exact place that I grew up – albeit some 2000 years or so earlier than when I was stravaiging about the land around Dumbarton Rock or Theodosia as the Romans called it, and Are-Cluta which is an ancient name for Dumbarton although it was more widely known locally as Alclutha. There is a handy map and glossary in my 1967 reprint of the book.

The Romans are in control of most of Britain and Phaedrus is a young red haired gladiator hoping to win his freedom after spending seven years as a gladiator. He does gain his freedom but a drunken night of celebration leads him into big trouble and imprisonment again.

He’s confused when he’s unexpectedly sprung from prison by a group of strangers, they had spotted how similar in looks Phaedrus is to Midris, their missing king. Eventually they talk Phaedrus into taking the king’s place and to try to eject the usurperer Queen Liadhan from Are Cluta (Dumbarton). Phaedrus will have to make the rest of the tribe believe that he is really King Midris. The real king has been blinded by Liadhan to make sure that he can never be accepted as their king again and he’s earning a living as a leather worker in the south.

While travelling north of the Antonine Wall to Dumbarton Phaedrus works hard at learning the history of all of the tribe so that he won’t be discovered as a fake Midris, and eventually a brutal battle ensues.

As you would expect of Rosemary Sutcliff this book is beautifully written, she does take some liberties with the geography of the area but not many readers would realise that. I was particularly pleased that she included an unusual character in the shape of a young warrior who just happened to be in touch with his feminine side when it came to clothes and jewellery. He was a bit of a fashion icon but the inclusion of Conory seems to have riled up the fundamentalist religious types one of whom cut her Goodreads rating right down to one star!!! for what she kept calling ‘content’. Honestly there is nothing in the least bit sexual in this book. Some people just go around their lives scouring everything for something they can object to, and if it isn’t there then they make up something that will feed their homophobia. I suppose it makes them feel superior somehow.
But we all know better don’t we?!

I’ll give it four stars on Goodreads. If you want to know what Dumbarton Rock (Theodosius) looks like have a keek at some of the posts on this link here.

For a much more detailed review have a look at Helen’s @ She Reads Novels
I read this one for The 1965 Club.

1965 club

Dumbarton Castle and environs

Dumbarton Castle and Rock

Last week I was at Dumbarton Castle which is an old friend to me as I used to play around it when I was a wee girl as I lived not far from the castle. It might be a disappointment to some people as it’s not much of a castle really, well not like Edinburgh or Stirling. But Dumbarton was the ancient capital of Strathclyde, so it’s more of a fort and has been used as such since at least AD 450. Built on a volcanic plug, as is Edinburgh, it’s located at a strategic point where the River Leven meets the River Clyde.

Dumbarton Castle and Rock

Over the centuries it has been well used and at one point a lot of French Napoleonic War prisoners were housed at the castle. Below is a photo of the prison but I believe that they were also living in a part of the castle which is now a ruin.

French Prison at Dumbarton Rock

You have to be fit to visit Dumbarton Castle as it has stairs all over the place. I used to think it was 365, they said there was one for every day of the year when I was a lass, but now they must have re-counted. I’m sure I saw a sign saying 555 stairs, all I know for sure is that my knees knew all about them the next day!

Dumbarton Castle stairs, Dumbarton Rock

Mary Queen of Scots sailed to France from here in 1435 when she went there to marry the Dauphin. But long before that it suffered attacks from the Vikings. It’s a very historic place.

I thought these photos might be of interest to people who have read Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles as the town is mentioned quite often in the books. Sadly the photos don’t do the distant mountains justice.

View from Dumbarton Rock

A few weeks ago there was a rumour going around the town that Prince Harry and wife would be given the title of Earl and Countess of Dumbarton. Wishful thinking I thought – so I was amazed to discover today that it is indeed true. I suspect that one day they will visit the town, the Georgian house (below) within castle is still used for special events, usually by the army. I just hope that nobody shows them the actual town!

Georgian House at Dumbarton Castle

There are guns aplenty scattered around the walls and strategically placed information boards.

View from Dumbarton Castle

Guns at Dumbarton Castle, Scotland

Dumbarton Castle

Weir’s Way

Tom Weir, climber, writer and broadcaster was a bit of a local hero when I was growing up as he lived in a village not far from Dumbarton. There are loads of films on You Tube of Tom, mainly bits from the Weir’s Way programmes which were so popular on Scottish TV in the 1970s. If you fancy a bit of armchair travelling this is a good way to do it.

Since Tom’s death a few years ago folks have been gathering money to erect a statue of Tom and it seems that the target has almost been reached, so he’ll be visible on his beloved hills yet again.

Below is a film of the Tillicoultry area and Loch Leven, places well known to me.

There’s a film about Dumbarton Rock below, Dumbarton is the town which I grew up in. It’s an old film and the place has changed quite a lot since then. For one thing the big red brick building which is belching out steam is long gone. It was the Ballantine’s whisky distillery.
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And in the interest of balance there’s a short film about the east coast village of Anstruther in Fife.

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There are Tom Weir films of just about anywhere in Scotland you can name, accessible on You Tube.

Seals and Swans in the Firth of Forth and River Leven.

For the past few days it has been absolutely chucking it down over the whole of Scotland and Glasgow has had the most amount of rainfall there since records began – and if you know Glasgow at all you’ll realise how bad it has been! Lots of flooding all over the country but we’re fine here. I just wish someone up there would turn off the taps! To cheer myself up I’ve been having a look at some photos which I took a couple of weeks ago in the time of blue skies. This one is of the old bridge at Dumbarton on the River Leven and there is a swan with cygnets just going under the bridge. These swans went at quite a lick and I had to run to get this photo, not something I do often, I’m more a dignified walk sort of a person. The River Leven often has well over 100 swans floating around this area but most of them seemed to be elsewhere.

 Swans in River Leven, Dumbarton

The Leven is just a wee river which flows into the River Clyde at Dumbarton Rock which you can see in this photo, but it’s still very dangerous and it seems that just about every summer some lads drown in it. They just want to have a lark but don’t realise how cold it is and it’s full of weeds which can fankle (entangle) you too.

Dumbarton Rock

I took this photo last week from the Fife coastal path at Kirkcaldy, just beyond Seafield Tower, walking towards Kinghorn. The rocks there are favourites with the seals and they were making themselves heard that day. Unearthly noises come from them at times, well they would be unearthly I suppose as they’re in the sea, but you know what I mean, positively eerie sounds.

Seals 3

I can quite see how the ancient sailors used to think that the seals were mermaids singing, especially when they hadn’t seen women for years!

Seals 1

I suppose it helped if they were in the water too rather than basking and looking enormously fat. It’s possible that some of these seals were about to give birth, maybe that’s what all the racket was about.

Seals 4

I can hardly believe that we had such lovely weather just last week. We seemed to be in a pattern of one lovely day followed by a wet one for a while but now it looks and feels like November and the schools are going back next week. That could be the cue for the sun to be splitting the pavements and a return of summer. Well maybe.

River Leven at Dumbarton

My family moved to Dumbarton from Glasgow when I was 5 years old and much as I love Glasgow I must admit that city life isn’t ideal for families. It was heaven to have such easy access to the hills when I was growing up and that is what I really miss now. I’m not keen on being hemmed in by the sea.

But I do love rivers and that’s what I like about old towns. Obviously they were settled by people aeons ago because of the proximity of fresh water. Dumbarton is certainly very old as it was the ancient capital of Strathclyde due to the castle/rock being an important stronghold and situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Leven and the Clyde.

The photographs were taken from just behind the High Street shops. It’s a pity about the big blue blot on the landscape, I think it might be a boat-house. But you can see Dumbarton Castle/Rock in the background or on the left hand side of my header.

Dumbarton Castle

Dumbarton Rock and Castle

Dumbarton Rock and Castle

If, in your travels you find yourself to be going just a wee bit north of Glasgow, then you should definitely find time to break your journey at Dumbarton Castle.

The name Dumbarton derives from Dun Breatann meaning fortress of the Britons. The rock on which the castle stands is a volcanic plug which is situated at the confluence of the rivers Clyde and Leven. To me it has always been a magical place and I can just feel the history oozing out of the stone. However if actual castles are your thing then you might be a bit disappointed as there isn’t really much in the way of castle, it is definitely mainly rock, albeit it in a very strategic position. Apparently The Rock is the oldest known continuously recorded stronghold in Great Britain, having been occupied since AD 460, at least.

It’s the perfect place to stretch your legs – and I really do mean that as there are supposed to be 365 steps to be climbed before you reach the top. It’s worth it however as the view from the top is just great.

I think the castle has been pretty much neglected over the years as a tourist destination and I know that there is talk of making it more high profile. When you think of all the history behind it, it certainly deserves to be made more of. There is a small museum which mainly has things to do with the old Dumbarton Volunteers Regiment but there just isn’t enough room to do the place justice. I know that there are things scattered around Dumbarton in various places like the library for instance, which should really be shown off properly with everything being in one location and a purpose built building near the castle would be great but I don’t suppose there is the money for it at the moment.

Another view, Ben Lomond in background

Another view, Ben Lomond in background

When we went over to the Greenock side of the Clyde recently, it was the view of the Dumbarton Rock which I really wanted to go for as most of the paintings, engravings and postcards have been done from that angle. Dumbarton has an elephant as its emblem and the story goes that it is because the rock is shaped like an elephant, which I had never believed. So I was pretty surprised to discover that it really does resemble an elephant when viewed from a particular part of the road near Langbank.

Unfortunately we couldn’t stop the car then, so you will just have to take my word for it.

Even if your legs won’t stand the strain of all those steps, it’s worthwhile going just to have a look at the river and the surrounding hills, which can be viewed from the small park at the bottom of The Rock. Imagine what it was like to stand there and see the QE2 go past when she was launched just up the river at Clydebank. Those were the days.

Dumbarton Castle

In celebration of Dumbarton Football Club being promoted to the Second Division, I thought I would photograph some of my collection of prints and postcards of Dumbarton.

Pictures and postcards of Dumbarton Rock etc.

Pictures and postcards of Dumbarton Rock etc.

Note the mediaeval instrument of torture on the left. (Only joking; but it is a Lochgelly tawse [strap or belt] used for generations in Scotland to punish pupils who misbehaved in school. The practice was only abolished 25 years or so ago.)

The Rock was a big part of my life, although I didn’t realise that until I moved away from Dumbarton and suddenly I didn’t have the wonderful west coast scenery as a backdrop any more.

More pictures of Dumbarton Rock

More pictures of Dumbarton Rock

When I was a wee girl I played at the bottom of the castle and the model of James Watt’s first steam engine was our climbing frame. I believe that it has been in various different positions in the town but I think it now lives at the Denny Ship Museum.

Old colour print of Dumbarton, plus Dumbartonshire Rifle Volunteers' badge.

Old colour print of Dumbarton, plus Dumbartonshire Rifle Volunteers' badge.

More postcards, prints or photos of Dumbarton.

More postcards, prints or photos of Dumbarton.

I have also lived at various locations around Britain. The last 20 years or so I have lived very close to the North Sea and believe me you have to be hardy to put up with that. It’s beyond me why anyone would want a sea view, especially when it is mainly grey sea and grey sky accompanied by a wind which usually feels like it has shards of glass in it, which cut right through your bones.

But – each to their own – and there are people in the Kirkcaldy area who can’t stand not being close to the sea. I suppose for them it’s like the hills of home.

Anyway, my Dumbarton collection cheers me up and I bet that there are plenty of people living there who can hardly believe that.

Division 2 here we come. It has really cheered up my husband Jack, my personal Son of the Rock, who has been a supporter of The Sons, as they are nicknamed, since before I knew him. In the daft days of my teenage years, I was even mad enough to go to Boghead with him.
Thirty-five years on from then, I spend my time visiting the Castle when he manages to see a home game.