Jul. 15th, 2012

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Today was one of those very rare days when I actually took some time off to enjoy myself! Instead of shackling myself to the word processor and tap-tap-tapping away all day...

It was a bit of a busman's holiday, because a trip to Largs means a trip to a place which features in my second novel.  Though things have changed a good bit in the intervening centuries - in the late medieval period, Largs was a church and a couple of cottages in a rural setting.  Today, it's a bustling holiday resort loved by many west of Scotland day-trippers.

Peeling away the layers of history is fun in Largs. One of the dominant monuments is 'The Pencil', a Vicorian edifice built to commemorate the Battle of Largs, which took place in 1263, and which was fought between the local Scots and a bunch of marauding Norsemen, led by King Hakon.

The Scots won, for once, though they probably had God on their side this time. Or at least, the elements, because the Norse fleet had already taken a battering as a result of bad weather before they made landfall in the bay at Largs.

'The Pencil' is a curious thing.  It's a replica of the circular towers that can be found at monastic sites in Ireland, and to a lesser extent in north-east Scotland.  They were built in the high medieval period as a means of defence for monastic communities threatened by marauding bands of Norsemen who did all those things that modern scholars of Norse archaeology really try to downplay in their attempts to make the Vikings more cute and cuddly and socially acceptable. They rampaged, they killed, and they looted, which is why you usually find, on structures of this kind, that the entrance is on the first floor, and accessed by a ladder rather than a stair.



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This nineteenth century replica faithfully follows the original design, with its first floor access, nicely adorned with some faux Romanesque:-



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Seen close up, the carvings are rather nice.  I found what appears to be a rather glum griffin, and was rather taken with him.  I'd like to think it's a Very Good Sign, considering that the working title of my book is The Gryphon At Bay, and that a reasonable portion of it is set in and around Largs:-


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Largs is also a hot spot for prehistoric monuments, in particular those dating to the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.  This standing stone overlooks the bay near The Pencil, and throughout the centuries it has accumulated additional meanings in local tradition.  It has, of course, been attributed to the Battle of Largs, as have the finds of Bronze Age (aka 'Danish') axes that have been unearthed through the centuries. 


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I particularly like this photo because you can see Goat Fell (on Arran) in the background.  Arran was a major focus of activity in the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age, and I think the juxtaposition of this view towards Arran and the standing stone was not entirely co-incidental...

Somewhere else in the town there is a Neolithic chambered tomb called 'Haco's Tomb' after King Hakon.  I didn't get round to sniffing it out today, but I will do so next time I visit. This will of course mean another lunch at Nardini's, with an ice cream sundae!  Oh, what an arduous life I lead, seeking out obscure and interesting places and tales for your enjoyment!

Oh, and in case you're wondering, King Hakon didn't even die here. He was wounded in the battle, but made it as far as Shetland, I think it was, before he finally succumbed to his wounds.

Next week, I shall return to my French posts, and - time permitting - introduce you to the beauties of Narbonne....

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