Allow me a moment to introduce myself. My name is Damo, a Lancashire poet-type who has found a second home in East Lothian, & who has also recently acquired a gorgeous Lhassapoo puppy called Daisy. Crossed between the shaggy, temple-guarding, Tibetan sentinel Lhasa Apsu & the hypoallergenic circus Poodle, & cute as hell, she’ll be my companion for the next decade & a half. She’ll need to get out, obviously, so what better than mixing my literary skills into these trips & write a weekly blog in which the dog & I shall wander the tracks & pathways of this very special corner of the British Isles.
Our first outing was a trip to Fa’side Castle, near Tranent. Its easy to park the car up on a farmer’s track just off the main road by the turn-off to North Elphinstone Farm. A great location to start the walks was this, with East Lothian spreading 360 degrees, via the Firth of Forth & the Lammer Law.
After parking up, its a pleasant one & a quarter mile pathway to the castle, which can be seen in the distance as soon as one leaves the car. This would be Daisy’s first largeish walk – I’d had her practicing up the Garleton Hills, but she would now be doing a full 2 & a half miles (there & back). Fingers crossed she’d make it.
I needn’t have worried, though, she was fine, scampering about & even making a pal of Rocky, whose owner was a resident of the nearby village of Elphinstone. Born in Edinburgh, she’d married a Musselburgh man & inexorably crept into the country to bring up their kids. A few decades later, walking to the castle was one of her many, lengthy daily walks in the area, & she kindly gave me a couple of routes for the future.
The pathway to the castle was in excellent wintry condition; with gentle slopes, long straights & the occasional meandering, adding to the variety of the outing. Nature, of course, is rather absent this time of year, & instead I looked at the decay of plants, such as dark, wilted nettles & the shrunken brambles, like broken baubles on a pineless Christmas tree.
On reaching the castle we parted ways, but not before she complained about the public path to Wallyford just by the Fa’side. Completely grown over, ‘like a jungle,’ she quipped, its been a bone of contention between locals & the council for a while now. Hopefully it will be cleared up by the summer.
There has been a noble house on the Fa’side site since 1189, when the monks of Newbattle Abbey granted land to Saer de Quincy, 1st Earl of Winchester. The castle was burned by the English before the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, which was fought nearby on 10th September 1547, suffocating or burning all those inside. Two decades later, after the castle was rebuilt, Mary Queen of Scots left Fa’side on the morning of 15 June 1567 for the Battle of Carberry Hill. She changed into a short skirt, apparently, and left her fine clothes behind in a chest. By the late 20th century the Castle had fallen on hard times & was just about to be demolished before it was saved for posterity, & is now a splendid & iconic historical monument on the East Lothian skyline.
For mystery buffs, Fa’side Castle holds the key to the authorship of some of the 13th century Arthurian sagas. These sprang up on the pages of the French poets, a great deal of which is contained in what is known as ‘The Vulgate-Cycle,’ a vast collection of tales which abound with stories of Arthur’s knights all aquesting for the Holy Grail. During my studies I became convinced that one its creators must have had local knowledge of Edinburgh & its environs. In Scotland he places a certain water-protected fortress on a lofty ‘Saxon Rock,’ which perfectly matches Edinburgh castle, once half-surrounded by the now-drained ‘Nor Loch,’ & which Nennius stated as being given to Henghist & co back in the 5th century. The Vulgate-cycle adds that the Rock lay in the region of ‘Arestel,‘ which given the Anglo-Norman prediliction for changing ls to rs, perfectly connects with Edinburgh’s Lestalrig. Also in the area, says the Cycle, lay the ‘Narrows of Godalente,’ which fits in with Lothian once being the demense of the Brythonic tribe known as the Gododdin, who Ptolemy called the ‘Otalini.’
Now then, in the 16th century a Scottish poet called William Dunbar wrote a poem called the ‘Lament for the Makaris,‘ a lovely elegaic piece dedicated to the dead poets of Scotland. One of the stanzas reads;
Clerk of Tranent eik he has tane,
That maid the Anteris of Gawane;
Schir Gilbert Hay endit hes he;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He’s basically saying (in Old Scots) that the Clerk of Tranent wrote about the gràilquesting Sir Gawain, whose stories were sometime later finished off by Sir Gilbert Hay. The mention of Gawain is significant, for in it we can see that the Clerk of Tranent connects to the Vulgate-Cycle in two ways – through geography & subject matter. With the Vulgate Cycle being written in the early 13th century, between 1210 & 1230, our investigation naturally leads to the ruling nobility of Tranent at that time. These were the De Quincys – Robert de Quincy had married Orabilis, a lady of Leuchars in Fife, through which he found himself in charge of lands about the East Lothian town of Tranent. He was from Northamptonshire, & was very much a post-conquest, French-speaking Anglo-Norman, which provides the language of the Vulgate-Cycle. Dying in 1204, he was succeeded by his son, Saer, but his other son, Simon became the CLERK to William I, King of Scots, in the early 13th century. Everything fits together so neatly here, & I believe that the identity of the Clerk of Tranent has now been ascertained. With the De Quincys being the builders of Tranent’s Fa-side Castle, we can now imagine Simon De Quincy composing the Vulgate-Cycle in its towered keep, fresh from his wanderings around Edinburgh.
Dunbar shows how the Clerk of Tranent, ie Simon, was responsible for writing the ‘Anteris of Gawane.’ Some scholars have suggested the ‘Anteris‘ are the same as the very famous medieval poem Gawain & the Green Knight, as recently modernized by the Yorkshire poet, Simon Armitage. A clue comes with the incomplete ‘Hugh de…‘ written at the top of the Gawain & the Green Knight manuscript. This is where the fun begins. Returning to the De Quincy’s of Tranent, we discover that Simon De Quincy’s niece, Hawise, was married to a certain Hugh de Vere, the 4th Earl of Oxford. He also held the important rank of Master Chamberlain of England, a pre-parliamentary position which gave him access to the Kings’ Court – the Curia Regis – during times of national decision-making. The Curia Regis was also known as the Aula Regis, which means we now possess a perfect match for Hugh De Vere & ‘Huchoun (little Hugh) of the Awle Royale,’ who appears in the 14th century Chronicle of Andrew of Wyntoun;
Hucheon, þat cunnande was in littratur.
He made a gret Gest of Arthure
And þe Awntyr of Gawane,
To this Huchoun – ie Hugh de Vere – are also attributed the ‘Anteris of Gawane,‘ which really does indicate that the true origins of ‘Gawain & the Green Knight’ lie in the 13th century literary scene that surrounded the De Quincys of Tranent.
It was time to leave my Arthurian musings behind. Entering the Fa’side grounds, I basked a moment in the excellent – tho misty – views of Edinburgh & the Forth, before whistling Daisy back to my feet & heading home to the car. She was in a right nick by now, bedraggled & soggy, but happy. Welcome to my world our precious wee Daisy!
On the way back we had a passerine escort, skipping the naked treetops on our left for a while, before leaving us when the trees gave way to nubile fields & two marching lines of pylons. Back in the car I made a mental note of buying more suitable, waterproof footwear, & off we drove ’til the next week.