Vikings were portrayed as uniformly violent and bloodthirsty by their enemies. The chronicles of medieval England portrayed them as rapacious “wolves among sheep”. Bloody raids, pillaging and deadly battles is how we see the Vikings of the age. And while this is true for many parts of Scotland (see here if you want to read about the nice, cuddly side of the Vikings!) Dundee was likely a prime target.  Longboats carried Vikings from their strongholds in Orkney and Shetland towards the mainlands to assault any settlements they could reach; nowhere with water access was safe, and Dundee was surely no exception.

Local historians agree that there is evidence of Vikings in the area, and DNA analysis suggests 8% of us have Viking ancestry in our genes. One account of such an invasion is the infamous Battle of Barry, said to have taken place in 1010. The first account of the battle is by Hector Boece, a 16th century historian. Sueno, king of Denmark and England, uphappy with the news of his army’s defeat at Mortiach, ordered a naval task force to set sail for Scotland.

The army landed at Lunan Bay and after sacking Montrose, the Army headed inland and razed Brechin to the ground. Camus received word that an army headed by King Malcolm II was in Dundee and ordered the Danes to march south. The Scots army set camp at Barry, a few miles to the east of Dundee. The two sides met and fought at the Lochty Burn, which is now where the Carnoustie town centre lies. The battle was fierce and raged on for many hours, so much so that the burn ran red with the blood of Scots and Danes.

On the losing end of the battle, Camus fled to the hills but was caught and killed by Robert de Keith at Brae Downie, where, it is said, the Camus Cross was erected in memory of him (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camus_Cross)

camus-cross

The battle also inspired a legend of the naming of Carnoustie. The Norse gods were so incensed by the loss of their favourite warrior that they put a curse on the neighbourhood, letting thousands of crows loose across Barry. The crows colonised the whole area around what is now Buddon Ness their numbers swelling so large that the area became known as Craw’s Nestie, which was later altered to Carnoustie.

When the village of Carnoustie gained burgh status in 1899 the local officials created a crest for the town featuring three crows flying over a tree. Crow’s continue to feature in the town’s stories and events, with the Craw’s Nest Tassie (http://www.carnoustiegolflinks.co.uk/tournaments/craws-nest-tassie) golf tournament – and there are still large numbers of crows in the area.

carnoustie-aerial

Many bodies have been uncovered from mediaeval times in the Carnoustie area, many of them who seem to have been slain in battle with limbs hacked off. In the 16th Century Raphael Hollinshed claimed that the bodies were those of the Danes killed in the Battle of Barry. However, later evidence uncovered by historians in the 19th century showed many of these graves to be of Pictish origin, and likely belonged to those living in the area, with battles between Picts and Scots a common affair.

Sadly all that remains of the battle are these stories, which, due to becoming lost in time, the battle itself is now regarded to be apocryphal (of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated as being true). No other written evidence of Camus exists, and it is likely to be a misunderstanding of the name ‘Camuston’ which was a village in the area at that time. The Camus Cross was also later discovered to be a Pictish era monument, likely named for the nearby village. A burial was found near the Camus Cross in the 17th century, believed to be that of Camus himself. The skeleton was described as huge with a sword wound on the back of the head the likely cause of death. What was found here was supposedly taken to Brechin Castle at the time, but little other information remains.

Whether the details of the battle are correct, there can be no doubt that Vikings visited the area, and it was unlikely that no blood was shed. The legend of the battle lives strong in the tales and stories of the area, and maybe next time a flock of crows flies overhead, you just might wonder if the Norse gods are still angry at the loss of their fearless warrior.

Dudhope Castle, one of Dundee’s oldest buildings, sits overlooking the city, near the foot of the Law. The castle was originally built in the late 13th century by the Scrimgeour family, appointed Hereditary Constables of Dundee by William Wallace in 1298. John Scrimgeour entertained King James VI at Dudhope in 1617, and was granted a charter of the lands and barony of Dundee on 11 December that year. He refused to sign the Covenant in 1639. Later, King Charles I created him Viscount Dudhope and Baron Scrimgeour of Inverkeithing in November 1641. He died in 1643 and was succeeded by his eldest son James. On the death in 1668 of John Scrimgeour, Constable, and first Earl of Dundee, King Charles II ignored the existence of the rightful heir, and made a grant of Dudhope Castle and the office of Constable to Charles Maitland, a younger brother of the Earl of Lauderdale.

Later, whilst experiencing financial difficulties, Maitland sold Dudhope Castle in 1684 to John Graham of Claverhouse. It was from Dudhope Castle that he departed for Killiecrankie in 1689; the victory which resulted in his death. In 1694, the King therefore made a grant of Dudhope Castle to Archibald Douglas. The Douglas family were the last family of occupants of the castle, continuing until about 1790. During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, James the 2nd Viscount Dudhope, sided with the Covenanters and fought the Royalist army at the Battle of Marston Moor in July 1644 where he was mortally wounded.

The castle was converted to be used as a woollen mill in 1792 but the scheme never really took off. In 1795 the castle and park were leased to the Ordinance Office for 95 years. The castle was used as a barracks between 1796 and 1881 but in 1881 the stores moved to Perth and the Castle was abandoned. Town Council of Dundee took the decision to create a public recreation ground of the Park and obtained a sub-lease from the Ordnance Office in 1854 for 35 ½ years. The Earl of Home wanted to develop the grounds as terraced housing. This was prevented when Dudhope Park was acquired for the people by Dundee Town Council and opened as a public park in 1895.

Dudhope Castle image courtesy of Lost Dundee

 

Mains Castle, in Caird Park, Dundee, was built on land which at one time belonged to the Stewarts, then passed to the Douglas Earls of Angus in the 14th century. Later, in the 16th century, it became the property of the Grahams and a castle was built by a David Graham; there is a date of 1562 over a doorway. At one time the castle was known as Mains of Fintry after the Grahams castle of that name in Stirlingshire. It originally had a courtyard, surrounded by buildings but most of these have been demolished. The unusually high stair turret is a 17th century addition – and may have been built to give views over hills to the south. The castle is located in Dundee’s Caird Park to the north of the city overlooking the Dichty valley. On the opposite side of the burn is located the mausoleum of the Graham family and the Mains’ cemetery, which was formerly the site of the district’s kirk.

The fate of Sir David Graham, the builder of Mains Castle, was a strange one. Throughout the alternations of the religious professions of the Scottish nobility during the reign of Mary, the Grahams of Fintry remained steadfastly attached to the Romish Church. They thus retained the friendship of many of the northern nobles who still adhered to the old religion, and were frequently engaged in the conspiracies which foreign ecclesiastics encouraged for its establishment in Scotland. But after the Reformation faith had gained a footing in Scotland—largely because of bribes of the confiscated Church lands—this tampering with superior forces brought retribution upon them. The story of the conspiracy known to history as “The Spanish Blanks” also lends a little interest to Mains Castle. If you are interested in whether or not there are any ghosts at Mains Castle, check out this link to read a paranormal investigation into the castle by Ghost Finders Scotland.

Photo by Mark Andrew Turner, courtesy of Lost Dundee