OODIIINN!! Hell, I've wanted to do that ever since I saw Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis (with Bronx accent - right on!) in that dodgy 'Vikings' film as a kid...
I wake at my Whiteadder camp to torrential rain, Scotland's way of reminding me not to become complacent, I guess. Needing an 'easy' site to visit before the long journey back to Essex, I choose Edin's (or, surely, Odin's) Hall, a Historic Scotland charge recommended in Anna and Graham Ritchie's 'Oxford Archaeological Guide'. That'll do nicely, then. Taking the (un-signposted) Abbey St Bathans road from the A6365, I'm immediately tail-gated by some fool in one of those 'cut price, budget moron-mobiles'.... all tacky spoiler and 'broom, broom' exhaust. Just managing to squeeze myself off the road beside the obscure public footpath signpost, another clown passes by, sounding his horn, then another and another. I mean, how was I to know a rally is being held in Duns today named after some Jim Clark bloke. Whatever.... it takes all sorts, I guess.
The scenic, waymarked path descends sharply, via steps, to riverside before climbing away to arrive at the site in approx a mile. The first thing to strike this visitor is a) the size of the broch and then; b) the fact that there is a broch here at all.... in Lowland Scotland. Yeah, it's certainly a biggie. Too big, in fact, to have plausibly risen to any great height in its heyday, I'd suggest having had more of a low, but incredibly solid, 'blockhouse' profile than that of an elegant, Mousa 'cooling tower' (not that I've been to Mousa yet, I must admit). The drystone walls are immensely thick (we're talking Norman donjon here) with the usual storage chambers, mural stairway and guard chambers incorporated within. The entrance way is pretty 'solid', too, with a cyclopean vibe.
However, perhaps the greatest surprise for me is the extent - and multivallate nature - of the surrounding ramparts of the hillfort. To the west these are very substantial, indeed, and still pretty well preserved to east and south. The broch itself, defended by its own rampart, is set to the north in the most defensible position. Nice. Within the enclosure stand several round houses, one covering a very large area and therefore suggesting a hall or, perhaps, the former residence of the 'Big Man'? Possibly.
Artificial defences were enhanced by the choice of highly defensible site, a steep drop to the Whiteadder Water rendering an assault from north or east more or less impractical. These people obviously knew what they were doing, so I can only conclude that the dominating hillfort, upon Cockburn Law to the south west, was either occupied by a skeleton garrison of 'lookouts', or was not occupied concurrently.
Finally, I guess I should emphasise what a gorgeous location this is, towering above a loop in the Whiteadder Water. Lack of time rules out a visit to Cockburn Law, but Edin's Hall is a fine, somewhat unexpected way to end this tour.
Odin's Hall Broch (AKA Edinshall, Woden or Wooden)
One of the main reasons for this trip was to convert the castle-buffs Jam n Sam to brochs- and I think it worked! We also came here cos it's one of the nearest brochs to Edinburgh and one of the best preserved in southern Scotland. The drive down here is amazing- passing through the megalithic wonderland of Whiteadder. We, of course, got lost- I was driving so that's not great surprise! We stopped to ask which was the quickest way to the site as we knew we weren't that far off. The local said 'oh- you mean the brocchhhhkkkkkkcckkkhh'- yeh- one n the same asshole. Excuse me for being Lowland Scots. We parked the car and headed across the fields along a fabby path by the Whiteadder Water. This is a complex site comprising of the broch itself as well as a fort and settlements that surround the broch. The walls of this one don't quite match the dizzying heights of those in the northwest, but they still stand about 2 metres high. Saying that, this broch is much larger (at about 17 metres in diameter) than its northern counterparts. The wall is mega thick (5.2 metres) as with all of these places. We stopped to have (a very cold) lunch here and feasted on macaroni cheese pies- class! Jam was hyper that day and we all went a bit mad hiding in the guard cells, jumping off the walls and generally running about like a bunch of loonies! A great day was had by all and two more folk won over by these places.
Note- all maps, books etc refer to this site as Edin's Hall, but it is assumed that all alternative names are derived from Odin.
The distance of the Hall from the Whitadder on the north, was two hundred yards, down a very steep bank. There is a deep hollow on the west, with a small run of water in it. This place has been sometimes called Woden, or Odin's Hall, but for what purpose it was erected nobody can tell. It is now completely levelled with the soil, and most of the stones have been removed. In the tradition of the neighbourhood, Edin's Hall is said to have been the residence of a giant - and Cockburn-Law, on the northern slope of which it stood, is reputed to have been the last place where the Picts made a determined stand in Scotland! G.H.
..Edin's Hall, which at that time present little beyond a green mound, with a little rough masonry visible here and there, in the centre of an extensive system of earthworks. Local tradition connected them with a certain giant who, "once upon a time," made it his abode, and lived, as giants were wont to do, on his neighbours. Returning one day with a bull over his shoulders, he was incommoded by a pebble in his shoe, and jerked it to the side of the opposite hill, where it is still to be seen in the form of a good-sized boulder.
The history of the building is totally unknown. The ordinary name is Eetin's Hald; though usually presented in books as Edin's Hall or Ha'. Antiquaries speculate on its having been a palace of Edwin, king of Northumbria in the seventh century - the same prince from who Edinburgh is supposed (altogether gratuitously) to have taken its name.
It is to be feared that here an obvious meaning of the name has been overlooked. The Etin, in old Scottish tradition, is a giant (from the Danish Jetten:) thus we hear in our early national literature, of the tale of the Red Etin. Sir David Lyndsay, in his Dreme, speaks of having amused the infancy of King James V. with 'tales of the Red Etin and Gyre-carling.'
Considering that the people of Lammermuir have a fireside story representing Eetin's Hald as having been anciently the abode of a giant, who lived upon the cattle of his neighbours, and did not always respect their own persons - whose leap, too, they shew in a narrow part of the streamlet near by - it is rather strange that the name of the place has not been detected as meaning merely the Giant's Hold.
The red-etin is a monstrous personage, supposed by the common people to be so named on account of his insatiable penchant for red or raw flesh. [...] He is still a popular character in Scotland, and is supposed to go about searching for what he may devour, and constantly exclaiming, as in the story of Jack and the Bean Stack,
Snouk Butt, Snouk Ben,
I find the smell of Earthly men.
Snouk signifies, to search for with the nose like a dog or hog, and here communicates a dreadful idea of the personal habits of the Red-etin.
'According to one local legend, it was said that the area was inhabited by a giant called Etin or Edin. He had three heads and was blamed for the loss of cattle, sheep and people. Many tried to kill him, only to fail miserably. Eventually three brothers attempted to try to kill the giant, but they each decided to try separately. As the first brother left, he gave the others a knife which he said would shine if all was well but would rust if he was in danger. The lad set off and came to the giant's broch. The giant decided to ask the boy questions about Scottish history- none of which he could answer. The giant then turned the boy to stone. The second brother noticed the knife had rusted and set off to find him. The outcome was the same for him, and he was turned to stone. Then the third brother decided he had to find the other two. On the road, the third lad met a poor old woman, with whom he shared his food. She told him many stories about Scottish history, and from a bag she took out a large bundle which she told the boy to use if he was in danger. When the lad arrived at the broch, the giant pulled him in and before eating him asked him questions about Scottish history. This time the brother was able to answer the questions. The giant, somewhat surprised, was going to kill the boy anyway. But the lad pulled out a double-headed axe from the old woman's bundle. Bringing it down on the giant, he severed all three heads at once. The two brothers were then restored, as were all the other missing people.'
From 'Myth and Magic: Scotland's Ancient Beliefs and Sacred Places' by Joyce Miller 2000.
It is thought that the fortifications were built first (pre-Roman Iron Age), then the broch (around 100 to 140 CE) followed by the settlement under the pax Romana of about 140 to 180 CE. The broch and some of the smaller structures were excavated numerous times before 1879. All finds are now in the National Museum of Scotland. These consist of a stone whorl, piece of jet ring, an amber bead, fragment of translucent glass bracelet, bones, teeth and oyster shells.
The fort consists of a double rampart up to 4.5 metres in height in places and covering an oval area of around 135 metres by 75 metres. The overall diameter of the broch is around 27 metres which is very large for one of these sites.