The day dawns heavily overcast... so much so that the very sky seems to be inexorably forcing the landscape into a uniform plane more reminiscent of Essex, my home county, than the Scottish Borders. Trouble is I've set my heart upon visiting Cow Castle, seemingly impressive when viewed from White Hill late yesterday afternoon, but its c1,000ft summit currently obscured by a thick, impenetrable wall of grey vapour. What to do? The answer comes to me from Anna and Graham Ritchie's well-thumbed 'Oxford Archaeological Guide to Scotland'... or what's left of it. Head approx north-east toward Romannobridge and Whiteside Hill. Apparently another rather good hillfort and might, perhaps, be clearer. So that was decided upon.
At Romannobridge the B7059 heads south to follow, approximately, the course of Lyne Water, a tributary of the iconic River Tweed, no less. After about a mile I park opposite a church at Newlands Bridge and set off up the signed farm track to its right, heading for Whiteside Farm. Well, wouldn't be a farm track otherwise. If you decide to come hopefully you will see Whiteside Hill rising above to the east (your left), as I later do upon returning to the car... however.... the cloud base is no higher here this morning, forcing me to either rely on the compass or back down. I decide that if I'm unable to reach and identify a bloody great hill fort in mist I should really hang up my boots immediately. Start playing Grand Theft Auto, or something. Fair enough. On we go, then. The track continues past the farm for a fine view of Lyne Water receding into the distance, whereby I veer left (approx east) to ascend - hopefully - to the summit of Whiteside Hill alongside a substantial drystone wall. Before engaging upon the final, very steep ascent, I come across what looks very much to me like the grassy remains of a relatively large, overgrown cairn. Sadly it's not marked on the map and I can find no reference in Canmore.
So, up into the mist we go.... unfortunately not metaphorically, but meteorologically speaking. Eventually the angle of attack eases and then relents, massive ramparts suddenly looming out of nowhere. Granted, not quite the derelict spaceship materialising from the fog in Alien - you know the scene - but no doubt the nearest I'll get to such a Geigeresque otherworldly vibe. These banks are much larger than I anticipated and appear of tri-vallate configuration, with ancillary enclosures to north and south... although I found the latter to be quite difficult to define coherently, possibly since the northern is apparently 'unfinished'. Then again I wouldn't be surprised if the swirling vapour induced a mildly claustrophobic disorientation. There is also an 'cross-bank' upon the col separating Whiteside Hill from White Knowe to the north-east. According to Canmore this latter defensive feature is "45 yds long, consisting of a ditch about 15ft wide with a bank on its SW side. The earthwork is probably contemporary with the pre Roman fort [RCAHMS 1967]".
As I walk the substantial earthworks - well, it makes a welcome change to walk around in circles intentionally - the cloud base begins to peel away, enabling this latter day visitor to appreciate the fantastic landscape context of this top drawer hillfort. Yeah, set overlooking the confluence of Flemington Burn with Lyne Water, I wonder, perhaps with some degree of justification, whether there were other than just military aspects taken into consideration when choosing to establish the enclosure here? Yeah, nicely defensive.... but is there more to it than that? An attempt at inducing some metaphysical protection, too? Is that really a Bronze Age cairn down below?
Whatever, by all accounts people appear to be have been quite taken with Whiteside Hill, a later walled enclosure being erected partly overlying the innermost rampart, presumably following the Roman withdrawal from these Isles. It seems that a final phase of occupation saw a small earthwork being established within this enclosure. I can picture the Dark Age wife now.... "Is that the best you can do. Haven't you heard what the great lord Vortigen has built in the far away land of the Cymry. And I've got to live in this?" Dark Age warrior (mumbling)... "at least his dragons are inside the rock"....
Posted by GLADMAN
7th October 2013ce
Edited 8th October 2013ce