Land of Gododdin
Walking the links of Aberlady or looking over the rich and fertile plains of East Lothian from the sites of ancient hill forts, it is sometimes very easy to connect with our ancestors. Those Iron Age ancestors are the warrior aristocrats of the Gododdin, who lived, worked and fought to the very end for this treasured land.
View from Whitecastle fort in the Lammermuir foothills looking NW
An epic poem of the same name immortalises the warrior culture of the Iron Age Gododdin peoples.
Gwyr a aeth Gatraeth gan wawr
Gwyr a aeth Gatraeth oedd ffraeth eu llu
Men went to Catraeth with the dawn
He stains spears with blood,
Warriors went to Catraeth, their host was swift,
The Gododdin is one of the earliest recorded British poems in the language of the Britons, that which we know today as Welsh. It is a set of elegies to Aneirin’s fallen comrades.
Fourteen centuries ago a band of 300 warriors of the British kingdom of Gododdin feasted and drank mead for a year before setting out from their stronghold of Dun Edin (Edinburgh) in Lothian to ride south to fight 10,000 pagan Anglo-Saxons in a bloody pitched battle. After a week of ferocious fighting all but three of the original 300 warriors lay dead.
The slaughter at present day Catterick, Yorkshire was the beginning of the end for the Old North, the true British kingdom. But it left one enduring legacy. In the battle’s aftermath, one of the three survivors, Aneirin, rode back to Lothian to compose his epic verses in tribute to his heroic comrades.
Most Welsh-speaking children were brought up with this poem. It was taught perhaps as a reminder of a warrior aristocratic heritage, and to remind them that their language was once spoken here in the Old North. It is worth speculating that if those 300 warriors had won their battle, Welsh could still be the predominant language of these islands.
Described by modern day poet, Gwyneth Lewis as "part of the Welsh literary DNA", this eulogising epic captures in time each of those 300 warriors - some heavy, some shy, some brave. Because The Gododdin was written in their language, Welsh poets have always laid claim to it as their poem. However, the story is actually set here in the Old North. The poem and the people of the Gododdin are our heritage.
The above map, origin unknown, depicts the Old North of the late 6th century.
The tri-circular traces of their fort on the Kilspindie coast at Aberlady may still be seen from the air. The area of golf course containing the crop marks was surveyed in 2008. Ground Penetrating Radar confirmed that they were indeed the surviving footprints of the ramparts and ditches of the Iron Age fort. See the Archaeological Record within the left hand menu of the home page for the survey report. These earthworks were still visible in the mid-18th century when they are depicted on the Roy Military map as "Roond Point".
The tri-circular crop marks of the Gododdin fort are visible from the air
Roy May 1746-49
Copyright National Library of Scotland
Illustration by David Simon
The footprints of the Gododdin forts may also be seen at Traprain, White Castle, North Berwick Law, Chesters and Doon Hill. Their land is our land..
You can hear more about the Land of Gododdin in the audio clip below. Taken from the Sunday Feature - 'In Search of Gododdin', broadcast on BBC Radio 3 is an extract from the programme.
Copyright Trustees of the National Museum of Scotland
The Roman brooches seen above were found in the Glebe area of Aberlady, between the kirkyard and the shore. This site has shown evidence of continuous occupation since the Early Historic period. Their presence suggests that the local Iron Age peoples were trading with the occupying Romans.