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district, the character and position of the Catrail, indicate that it was the defensive work of the latter people. The Angles were the aggressors from the east; the Cymri the defenders on the west. The character of the line itself points to it as a constrained not a natural boundary-line. It follows no range of hills, no line of valley or watershed, except at broken intervals. It crosses in the most artificial manner sloping ranges of hills and water-courses. It keeps the heights when it can, always running right under the highest tops of the hills, with these generally to the west of it. It looks exactly like a boundary made by tribes in a district who had been driven backwards into their native wilds, but were determined still to maintain what of their territory they could.
Before Rydderch Hael succeeded in 573 in consolidating the kingdom of Strathclyde, we know that the Cymric area extended down the Tweed to a point a little east of Calchvynyd or Kelso, that it ran along a line from this point across the Bowmont Water to what is now Wooler, followed the ridge of the Cheviots (Montes Ordelucorum) south-east and then south-west along their whole line to their dip in the valley of the Liddel, then went southwards in a varying line across the Southern Wall to Derwenyd or the Derwent. But this territory to the east and south very soon came to be encroached upon by the Northumbrians. There was indeed a retrocession and then recovery of ground on the part of the Cymri. But in the century immediately succeeding Rydderch Hael their fortunes were at a low ebb, and part of their territory was occupied by the aggressor.
Æthelfred of Northumbria, one of the most formidable opponents of the Cymri, cut off the Northern Britons from their kinsmen in the south by the battle of Chester in 607. Before that, in 603, he defeated the combined forces of Aidan, King of the Scots of Dalriada, and the Strathclyde Britons, at Degsastan, recognised as Dawstane, a place on the southern boundary-line between Strathclyde and Northumbria. From the locality of the battle and other circumstances, it is almost certain that Æthelfred had already occupied or rendered tributary Strathclyde south of the Solway—that is, the district between the Derwent and the Solway. pushing into the heart of Strathclyde proper.
Æthelfred's successors, Oswald and Oswy, in the seventh century further harassed the Britons, and no doubt encroached on their territory. It was not until the fall of Eegberht at Nechtan's Mere, when the supremacy of Northumbria was fatally damaged, that the Britons of Strathclyde, along with the Picts and Scots, recovered their territory and independence.
In the map of “The Four Kingdoms,” which represents Scotland at the beginning of the seventh century that is, immediately after Æthelfred's great victory over the Scots and Britons at Degsastan—the line of the Strathclyde kingdom has shrunk westwards to the headwaters of the Yarrow, Ettrick, and Tweed, and they have lost nearly the whole of the Cheviots as a southern boundary. In fact, they have been driven into the high hills of the central Lowlands, still of course keeping their country to the west and north, and still stretching
Skene, Celtic Scotland, i. 228.
southwards to the Derwent, in the way at least of occupying that territory. After this date, too, we learn that, while still retaining their independence, they made no attack on the Bernicians for more than thirty years. This was a period of comparative quiet, and the tribe of Strathclyde was wholly on the defensive. This, I think, was the period when the Catrail was constructed, and it formed the defensive boundary-line of their now shrunken territory. And this line, I further think, continued to be the limit of the Strathclyde kingdom on this side for at least two hundred years; for in the map of “The Monastic Church ” of the eighth century the boundary of the kingdom to the east remains the same as in the earlier period. The Angles of Bernicia remain on their frontier as the aggressive occupying race. The fact that this battle of Degsastan, so disastrous to the Britons, was fought at a point now known to be on the line of the Catrail, is suggestive, if not a positive proof, of the occupation by the Angles of their territory up to this line along the hills.
This seems to be the most probable date and purpose of the formation of the ditch and ramparts of the Catrail. It represented the shortened boundary of the Britons, though now consolidated into the kingdom of Strathclyde-Damnonii, Gadeni, Ottadeni of Ptolemy, all of Cymric speech. The territory to the north of the Southern Wall, and westwards to the slopes of the mountains of Teviotdale, Ettrick, Yarrow, and Tweed, was held by the encroaching Angles of Bernicia. The defeated Britons were glad to withdraw westwards to
1 Skene, Celtic Scotland, ii. 178.
their high and remote mountain fastnesses. They now threw up this work as a boundary-line, in haste perhaps, with breaks and difficulty. They flanked it as frequently as they could with their rude rounded hillforts, and behind the line they patiently waited the issue of events. There in the high solitary mountains, even within the line, they had many posts of strength. Their dwellings on the braes and in the haughs even were numerous, their remains now show. They had, besides, ample and strongly fortified camps to which they could withdraw with cattle, women, and children in case of sudden or serious assault. But this ditch of the Catrail was their outside line of defence, and however imperfectly constructed, amid obvious natural difficulties, yet with their nimbleness, readiness to descend on their crescent line of rampart and hill-forts, they would doubtless prove a formidable foe to Angle combination. And this they did through many centuries, for it was not until fully four hundred years after the date of the rampart that they were merged, not in the Angles of Northumbria, but in the mixed Scandinavian and Angle people of the Lowlands of Scotland; and their longmaintained independence finally passed away, not through hostile conquest, but through a natural absorption in the princedom of Earl David, and then in the monarchy of Scotland.
CYMRIC WORSHIP-EARLY CHRISTIANITY-NINIAN—
THE religious worship of these early Cymri of the Tweed, and the efforts made to bring them to Christianity, recall to us names that figure dimly in the early history of this northern part of the island. Their worship was what is known as Druidical, that is, it was a natureworship, darkened by a mysterious haunting belief in the efficacy of human sacrifice. They were lovers, and probably worshippers, of hills, rivers, and fountains. They raised and venerated stones, or rather, amid their stone-circles on the sunny hillside, they worshipped the sun-god, the representative of the brighter side of nature -Baal, the fire-giver-and to him on the hill-tops they lit the fire on a day in the first week of May, the Beltane. The word still survives by the Tweed; the practice was not dead in last century. It has suggested to Motherwell a fine allusion :
“ The fire that's blawn on Beltane e'en
May weel be black gin Yule ;
In which fond love grows cule."