History Surrounds Us With Stuart S. Laing

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Originally posted on Layered Pages:
It is always a pleasure to have Author and history enthusiast Stuart S. Laing visit Layered Pages. He talks with me about the images he captures of Edinburgh and gives us a glimpse of it’s fascinating…

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Don Canleone and the Bru bottle mafia

via Don Canleone and the Bru bottle mafia

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Edinburgh 1742


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The latest news from Steven A. Mckay. Dunadd Hill Fort and The Druid

via Dunadd Hill Fort and The Druid

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Searching for Inspiration

Candlelight cellar 1c

Writing my latest book feels like searching for the key to open the cellar door when you have no idea where it is.

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The Druid (Warrior Druid of Britain Chronicles Book 1)

The Druid 2Northern Britain, AD430
A land in turmoil. A village ablaze. A king’s daughter abducted.

In the aftermath of a surprise attack Dun Buic lies in smoking ruins and many innocent villagers are dead. As the survivors try to make sense of the night’s events the giant warrior-druid, Bellicus, is tasked with hunting down the raiders and thwarting their dark purpose.

With years of training in the old ways, two war-dogs at his side, and unsurpassed skill with a longsword, Bellicus’s quest will take him on a perilous journey through lands still struggling to cope with the departure of the Roman legions.

Meanwhile, amongst her brutal captors the little princess Catia finds an unlikely ally, but even he may not be able to avert the terrible fate King Hengist has in store for her.

This, the first volume in a stunning new series from the bestselling author of Wolf’s Head, explores the rich folklore and culture of post-Roman Britain, where blood-sacrifice, superstition and warfare were as much a part of everyday life as love, laughter and song.

As Saxon invaders and the new Christian religion seek to mould the country for their own ends one man will change the course of Britain’s history forever. . .

. . . THE DRUID.

Anyone who has read any of Steven A. McKay‘s previous books will know that he consistently delivers powerful stories full of action and high drama, but more than this he fills his tales with memorable characters that have you either cheering on his heroes (and heroines) and booing his excellent villains. In The Druid he does this again – and then some!

From the opening scene where a night of feasting, singing and celebrations comes crashing down in a nightmarish attack by mysterious assailants you know that you are in for another page turning, nerve shredding ride through the dark days of British history.
What always impresses me when reading one of the author’s books is his wonderful gift for transporting you to a Britain which is at once recognisable and yet completely alien to the nations we know now. Here Scotland is a land of small kingdoms where petty kings vie against their neighbours to wield power and influence. A Scotland where violence is seen as inevitable as the rain. It is also a Scotland where faith in the old ways still lingers far from the influence which the Romans had imposed on the southern lands. Here the Druids are still revered. Ancient beliefs are followed and honoured. It is a land where a man’s honour is all he truly owns, and where he must be prepared to kill to protect it.
In the southern lands the power vacuum created by the departure of the Romans has left England as bereft as a child without a parent. It is unsure what to do with itself. Gone are the ancient tribes who once ruled these lands, gone are the Iceni, the Catuvellauni, the Trinovantes and the Astispumantes*
This is not the England of leafy shires and warm ales by the cricket pitch, this is a land beset by the growing spread of the Saxon hordes who having secured a base along the east coast have turned their attention on grabbing ever more territory as their own. To achieve that they are prepared to do anything, even contemplate the wholesale genocide of the native people if they refuse to bow down to their Saxon invaders.
The Druid 1As the tale unfolds through an exquisite series of memorable scenes we follow the mighty warrior druid Bellicus as he dogs the footsteps of the kidnappers, willing him to catch them and destroy them.
From the attack on the village where the young Princess Catia is stolen by Saxon invaders we are taken on a breathless adventure across the length and breadth of Britain from the rolling hills of Strathclyde and the mighty bastion of Dumbarton Rock through the wild Borderlands and deeper and deeper into a land which will become England until the superb climatic and atmospheric scene amid the standing rocks of Stonehenge.
One aspect of all this which I particularly enjoyed was that while the bulk of the story is obviously taken up with Bellicus’ quest to rescue Catia in the background is the no less compelling tale which is revealed to us in little morsels which constantly whet the appetite. While Bellicus heads southwards, back at home his king is becoming increasingly reckless as anger leads to him to shatter the code which the separate kingdoms have followed in war until now. His desire for blood threatens to destroy all he has hoped to achieve as far away in the north-east castle of Dunnotar a Pictish king, aided by a former friend and fellow druid of Bellicus, see the opportunity to expand his own kingdom. As anger grows towards the kingdom of Strathclyde will Bellicus and the little princess have a home to return to?
All I can say is that I hope Steven A. McKay has his nose pressed to his laptop screen, busily writing book 2 of the Warrior Druid Chronicles.
Book 1 is a wonderful addition to his work and one which I heartily recommend.

*one of these tribes may not be real.

Follow Steven on facebook and check out his other books on Amazon  

Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. His first book, “Wolf’s Head”, came out in 2013 and was an Amazon UK top 20 bestseller. “Blood of the Wolf” is the fourth and final book in the Forest Lord series which has over 100,000 sales so far.
He plays guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up (which isn’t often these days to be honest).

Check out his website here

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The Maiden’s Leap

114_2739.JPGI was lucky enough to visit the beautiful Huntingtower Castle yesterday and while it is best known for murderous plots, kidnapping and attempted assassinations there was one story in particular which caught my imagination: The Maiden’s Leap.

Before we get to that tale though, first a very brief history of what Huntingtower is better known for – dirty deeds!
The castle is located on the outskirts of the city of Perth, roughly three miles from the city centre and is just south of the Highland Line where the rolling south of Scotland lurch upwards into the towering mountains and glens of the north. It was built originally as a single tower house in the 1400s with a second tower house added towards the end of the century. The two towers were set 9 feet apart but linked by a wooden bridge below the parapet level. It is believed this was for defensive purposes. If one tower was attacked and taken the family could move safely into the other and destroy the bridge between them.
By 1582 the castle, then known as Ruthven Castle, was in the possession of William Ruthven, the 1st Earl of Gowrie who formed a band of confederates to seize control of Scotland and limit feared Catholic influences on the monarch by controlling the young king James VI, the fifteen year old son of Mary, Queen of Scots who had visited Huntingtower at least twice in her life. James VI was invited to visit the Earl where he was seized on the 22nd of August 1582, and held captive for 10 months.

James VI

King James VI as a child

The main conspirators as listed by the 17th-century historian David Calderwood named the Ruthven Raiders, as they became known, as the Earls of Mar and Gowrie, the Master of Glamis, the Laird of Easter-Wemyss, Lewis Bellenden, Lord Boyd, Lord Lindsay, the Abbot of Dunfermline, the Abbot of Dryburgh, the Abbot of Paisley, the Prior of Pittenween, and the Constable of Dundee.
To prevent a rescue attempt by the king’s supporters led by the Earl of Arran, the Earl of Mar stationed an armed force at Kinross to break their march north. The Earl of Arran’s brother, William Stewart reached Ruthven and fought the raiders, lost two fingers and was captured. Arran himself arrived and was captured leaving the young king firmly in the control of the Raiders.
The resultant Gowrie regime favoured what has been described as an ultra-Protestant regime and was approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland as the ‘late act of the Scottish reformation’. The Regime was approved by influential ministers of the Kirk of Scotland from the pulpit. Queen Elizabeth I of England, herself an ardent Protestant who saw Catholic conspiracies everywhere, backed the Gowrie Regime to the extent of paying £1000 towards funding the king;s guards.
Elizabeth’s support proved to be ineffectual and the King finally regained his freedom in July 1583.
William Ruthven, despite being the ring-leader of the Gowrie conspirators was actually pardoned by the king. However he hadn’t learned his lesson and was caught once again plotting against James in 1585. This time there was to be no leniency: he was tried for treason and beheaded. Ruthven Castle was seized by the crown but returned to the family a year later.
By 1600 the sons of William, 1st Earl of Gowrie were following in their father’s footsteps and plotting against James VI. John Ruthven, aged 23, and his 20 year old brother Alexander lured James to their townhouse, Gowrie House in Perth, under the falsehood of having captured a mysterious foreigner who had a large sum of money on him. What happened next is a confused picture of deceit, treason and attempted assassination. Whatever really happened in Gowrie House it left the brothers dead and James determined to put an end once and for all to the Ruthven’s trying to uusurp his rule.
He abolished the name of Ruthven and decreed that any successors would be ineligible to hold titles or lands. Thus the House of Ruthven ceased to exist and by royal proclamation the castle was renamed Huntingtower. The Castle remained in the possession of the crown until 1643 when it was given to the family of Murray of Tullibardine. In 1694 Lord George Murray was born in Huntingtower, he would go on to be the military genius who masterminded every Jacobite victory during the ’45 Rising. The one time Bonnie Prince Charlie completely ignored his advice was at the Battle of Culloden which ended in absolute disaster for the young prince and his cause.

The Maidens Leap

The Maiden’s Leap where Dorothea jumped from one tower to the other

Now we turn to the meat of the matter, a beautiful young woman named Dorothea Ruthven, the daughter of William, 1st Earl of Gowrie (yes, the chap who abducted the king, and sister to the ill-fated brothers) At the time the castle was still two separate towers with the family in one and staff and visitors in the others. Young Dorothea was head over heels in love with a young man in the East Tower while she pined in the West Tower. What was a girl in love to do? Simple. Sneak across the bridge to have a late night liason with her young beau. And this is exactly what she did. Unfortunately while she was happily getting to know the lucky young gallant her mother was harbouring suspicions about what was going on under her roofs. After brooding on the matter for some time she determined to discover the truth. Finding her daughter’s bedchamber firmly locked she turned her attention elsewhere. By the light of a lantern she set out across the bridge, her footsteps echoing off the planks.
Young Dorothea, probably gathering her breath after enjoying the loving attention of her companion heard the unmistakable clatter of her mother’s angry footsteps. What to do? She can’t go down the twisting turnpike stairs for that would lead her directly into her mother’s path. She can’t hide in a closet, she would be found within seconds. Her only choice was upwards to the roof, and this is where she went. Shivering on the narrow parapet clad only in a flimsy nightgown and hearing her mother demanding to know where her daughter is. The poor young man, desperate to buy her some time denies everything but to no avail. The mother is searching the room and will eventually think to look up.
Dorothea, still shivering looks out into the moonlit night until a desperate plan comes to her. The gap between the towers is nine foot wide with a dizzying drop to the stones far below. Drawing in a deep breath she gathers her courage as she climbs onto the ramparts, says a quick prayer and leaps out into the night. From being head over heels in love she is now on the verge of tumbling head over heels to her death…


Artist’s depiction of the castle in the 16th century. Point 1 shows where Dorothea jumped from while point 2 shows where she hoped to land

Miraculously she manages to land on the opposite parapet without tumbling to her death and once she has gathered her wits hastens to the window to her bedchamber which she had fortunately left open to allow fresh air in.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

The new section built in the late 17th century to connect the towers into one.

A few minutes later her mother is once more hammering on her door. This time feigning sleepiness our heroine opens it to prove to her mother that she has been safely sleeping all along in her own bed. Still suspicious but unable to prove anything her mother eventually returns to her own bed but only after ordering a servant to keep watch on Dorothea’s bedchamber door to make sure she doesn’t leave.
The following day the young lovers knowing that the eye of suspicion is firmly fixed on them take every precaution to avoid arousing any further notice. Separately they slip out of the castle, meet and elope.
From then on their story is unrecorded but I fervently hope that they lived, and loved, a long, happy life together and Dorothea managed to escape the curse which seems to have hung over the rest of her family.

These days the castle is a beautiful, peaceful site where you are more likely to see some of the resident bat colony than daring, flying maidens but the gap between the towers is still known as The Maiden’s Leap.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Another view of the scene of Dorothea’s leap

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