In North Fife, a couple of miles from the coastal town of Newburgh, there once stood an impressive Iron Age fortress called Clatchart Craig. Before it was quarried out of existence, it cannot be denied that Clatchard Craig was an impressive elite-level fortress. The fort was first mentioned in the 17th century by Sir James Balfour of Denmilne and Kinnaird, who wrote; ‘. . . thair a great rock on the tope of the w(hi)che stuid thair a strange castell double trinshed leueiled with the ground by Martius Comander of the Thracian Choorts under the emperour Commodus, the ruine of thes Trinches may to this day be perceiued’.
So here we have a folk memory of an agressive late 2nd century Roman incursion into Fife, but why would Martius take such pains to level the defences, The answer is, I believe, that Clatchart Craig was once the capital of the Venicones, & that the campaign of Martius dragged them under the Roman yoke, so to speak. The supporting evidence is as follows.
THE NAME CHANGE
Clatchard Craig took its Gaelic name (clach – stone, ard – high, creag – rock) from a prominent geographical feature, a projecting pillar of rock some 90 ft (27 m) high and 25 ft (7-60 m) wide, known as the High Post, which ‘rose in one columnar mass from the base to the summit of the craig’, closely adjoining the precipice. This pillar was blown-up with dynamite in 1846 – Edinburgh and Northern Railway. With ‘Clatchard’ being a Gaelic name, & the iron-age hillfort that once stood there being dated before the Irish Scots ‘conquer’d’ northern Britain, then logic tells us that it would have been previously known by a different name.
Clatchard is/was a quite complicated site to study; the ramparts are late iron age, while a pre-Roman Iron-Age occupation is attested by pottery dated fourth century
BC to the first century AD, Two small metal finds also suggest occupation in the
second century AD, which leads us through a certain soundness of natural thought to support that Clatchard was once the capital of the Venicones tribe, Orrea.
NEAR THE RIVER EDEN
This Iron-Age site’s singular mention in the annals comes in Ptolemy’s geography, dated to about 150 AD. It reads; The Venicones, whose town is Orrea (24*00/58°4). Ptolemy sites the ‘mouth of the Tina river,’ at 24*00, 58°30, i.e. very close to Orrea. With the mouth of the Tina being sited between the Forth & the Tay, the river is clearly the River Eden (E-Tina) which flows east through Fife to the North Sea.
LINDORES: THE GROVE OF ORREA
That Clatchard Craig was Orrea comes in its clear proximity to Lindores, which chispology renders as;
Lindores is a very sacred site – an abbey was established there – while the wee church of Abdie is of high antiquity. In 1300, Abdie was referred to as Ebedyn, a modem descendent of an old ecclesiastical term denoting a ‘shrine’ connected with an abbey or monastery. As Abdie was known to have existed before Lindores Abbey was built the shrine would have bore some relationship to pre-Christian spiritual practices. Lindores was given in 1178 as ‘Lundors,’ & if we see this as deriving from the Old Norse lundr (“grove, tree”) we gain a possible translation of ‘Grove of Orrea.’ Groves were sacred spaces in pre-Christian Europe, upon which sites were built many churches of the new faith. That Vikings were naming places in the very area is supported by nearby Tayside Wormit, whose name can be traced back to Danish, and means place of worm or serpent.
OTHER ORREA SITES
On the NE shore of Lindores Loch is a small mote-hill called Inchrye, at one time surrounded by lochs of which only Lindores Loch remains. This could mean island (inch) of Orrea, for the -Rrea element pleasantly transchispers into Rye. An even better match comes with Inchyra, on the north bancks of the Tay, while at Carpow, near Perth, where a Roman fort was built that was called “Horrea Classis” or “Poreo Classis”, with the latter name influencing the ‘Pow’ of Carpow.
Cunedda has been a bit of a theme recently, & its nice to chuck him into the equasion. Just to the north of Lindores rises Kinnaird Hill, on whose summit aerial photographs have identified a possible fort on the summit of Kinnaird Hill. The name reflects Cunedda, who in recent posts I have shown was a Pictish King called Canutalahina. With Fife being a Pictish centre, it would make sense that he had a fortress there, & of course the ‘Cune’ of Cunedda reflects the ‘Cone’ of Venicones. That Cunedda settl’d & named Venedotia / Gwynned in North Wales, strongly supports his place among the Venicones. Nennius tells us that Cunedda migrated from ‘Manau Gododdin,’ with modern scholarship identifying it with the Clackmannan region near Stirling at the head of the Forth estuary. This area is about 20 miles to the SW of Clatchart Craig, suggesting that Manau Gododdin may have stretched as far as the Tay.