Monday, May 1, 2017

The Rowan Tree at Eildon Hills

I am a musician 'by trade.'  However, my main instrument was trombone and over a long time, I have battled embouchure dystonia, mostly on trombone but also on and off on flute.  So, the point of my videos, sadly, is not to be the greatest musician, but to have fun demonstrating the Scottish and medieval music of my stories in Scottish and medieval settings, which I visit for research purposes.

Readers of The Water is Wide may remember Shawn and Niall's trip to the Eildon Hills, in their attempt to get Shawn back home.

As the sun lowered, they trotted past a frozen loch with mist dancing on its glassy surface.  A mountain rose to three sharp points.  "There it is," Niall said softly.  "The Eildon Hills."  He turned to Shawn, grinning.  "Perhaps now we can be done with one another."
"Thank God," Shawn returned.  "If I'm lucky, I won't drag too many of your stick in the mud fun killing morals with me.  You probably killed my reputation in your two weeks pretending to be me."
Niall snorted.  "It couldn't have gotten much worse.  Thanks to me, they'll be happy to have you back."
"Have your fantasy," Shawn said.  "It's all you got.  Now how do we work this thing?  Is there a fairy door?  A magic chant?  What did Thomas the Rhymer do?"
"The fairy queen rode past while he sat under a tree."  Niall pointed. 
"That's your plan?" Shawn asked in disbelief.  "Sit under a tree and hope an elf queen rides by?  Are you seeing the same flaws with this plan that I am?"
"What's your plan?" Niall challenged.  "Complain until God takes pity and delivers me from your eternal grousing?"
"That's got a better shot than sitting around waiting for a fairy to ride by," Shawn shot back.
Their Hobbins came to a stop where the land began to rise.  They stared up at it.  "They say she came on a grey horse," Niall said, "wearing a gown of green silk and a velvet mantle, and her horse wore fifty-nine bells."
"Well, then."  Shawn slid off his hobbin.  "We may as well make some of those delicious oatcakes while we wait for her and her fifty-nine bell horse.  Should we shout her name or something?  Maybe there's a fairy ticket counter.  One way ticket to the twenty-first century, please."

~~The Water is Wide, Book Three of The Blue Bells Chronicles

My travel companion and I hiked into the Eildon Hills, up to the top of one of the three peaks, getting a feel for what Shawn and Niall experienced in the time they spent there, hoping for a miraculous return of Shawn to his own time.  It's interesting that, although the site where the battle of Bannockburn took place is not preserved (except for one small part; in truth, experts disagree about the exact location), the spot where Thomas is said to have met the Fairy Queen is marked, 'halfway to the Trimodium.'  (We never did find the Trimodium, by the way.  It's a Roman fort that was there even in Niall's time.)


I have other videos played farther up in the Eildon Hills, but we also stopped at the stone that marks the location of Thomas's disappearance.  I tried to match Scottish songs to the locations.  Since he was said to have been sitting under an Eildon tree, and I lacked any Eildon tree songs, I played The Rowan Tree there.

Scottish legends, Scottish history, Thomas the Rhymer, fairy queen, Eildon Hills
I suppose I should back up and explain who Thomas is.  Elsewhere, I have briefly told the story of Thomas the Rhymer and the Fairy Queen.  What is fascinating about this story is that, remarkable as it is, Thomas--also known as Thomas of Erceldoune, Thomas of Learmont, or True Thomas (because one moniker is never enough!)--was a historical figure who lived c. 1220 to 1298.  His name True Thomas comes from the belief among all who knew him that he 'could not' (not merely did not, but could not) tell a lie--even as he told this amazing story of disappearing into Elf Land!  In fact, it was the Elf Queen who was said to have left him unable to lie.

In addition to complete honesty, he appears to have come back with a gift of prophecy, and while very little is known of him, other than that he was a 13th century Laird, the author of Sir Tristrem, we do have some of the prophecies attributed to him:

On the morrow afore noon shall blow the greatest wind that ever was heard before in Scotland. 

This prophecy is said to foretell the death of Alexander III in 1296 (oft discussed here and in The Blue Bells Chronicles.)

Who shal rule the ile of Bretaine
From the North to the South sey?
A French wife shal beare the Son
Shall rule all Bretaine to the sey
That of the Bruce's blood shall come
As neere as the ninth degree

Most think this refers to the eventual rule of all Britain by James VI of Scotland, who became also James I of England.

More prophecies of Thomas Erceldoune may be found at:


COMING UP:
  • Hiking the Grand Canyon, Daley and His Dogs, and other adventures on the road
  • More guest posts from Megan Easley-Walsh and other authors (Would you like to be featured here?)
  • June 24, 2017, 3 to 5 pm: Reading at Eat My Words Books
  • January 9, 2018: Talk with the Edinburgh Book Club

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5 comments:

  1. Your posts are so fascinating, and I love the excerpts from your books. I love this story about True Thomas and the Fairy Queen. Thank you!

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  2. Thank you, Patty! I do think True Thomas--being an actual historical figure--is one of the most fascinating stories of the time!

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  3. Nigel Tranter has a book called True Thomas that relates the story as it "really happened" rather than the fairy tale the locals related. It was very interesting. He is also in the book about Patrick, the 7th Earl of Dunbar. One of my favorite Steeleye Span songs is Thomas the Rhymer (from back in the 70's). Now I hear it in a different way after reading these books!

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    1. Hi, Suzanne! I actually read that book (as did Chris, my traveling companion) while we were in Scotland and the Eildon Hills. I do like his theories as to how all this could have happened...without Thomas ever telling a lie...at the same time I confess his story takes some of the magic out of it all! ;-) It is an amazingly enduring story!

      I didn't know there was a Steeleye Span song about him!

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  4. BTW...Nigel Tranter is one of my favorite authors. I LOVE his accounts of Scottish history and have repeatedly found in research that he is a very, very accurate source, despite writing 'fiction.'

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