Picture from Bob Williams, Arx Cynuit
They congregated up in the hills, far away from judging eyes. This would be the last time that any of these people would see these Northern barbarians. Fight or die Cobanorum had said and they would follow this exhortation to the end. Far below they could see the torches zigzagging up the heather-clad slope. The Norsemen had beached their boats at sunset and after making their usual offerings to their ineffective Gods had decided the auspices were right for an assault on the lonely village.
Toothless old men, young boys, women with babies at the breast, young girl, all were assembled at the call to repel this parasitic invader. Those who would take their women and children, mock their Christ, their priests, and without compassion, maim, disfigure and take the life of their brave fighting men.
Their weapons were the tools of the field but they had one advantage, they were fighting for their lives, their homes, all that was held dear. Death had no meaning, for life would never be the same if they were defeated. In their favour was the gift nature had bestowed upon them, the sheer sea cliff, the stone, turf-clad walls, built to protect them from this predicted onslaught. All they had to rely on was the knowledge and belief that their courage would be as strong as the mighty earthen banks built over time with the strength of theirs and their ancestor’s own arms.
The result of their struggle is well known and I am happy to tell you of their victory. Thus was the legend born we know as the battle of Arx Cynuit, the last attempt by the accursed Danes to subdue this island race.
“There it is,” the high-pitched cry pierced the gloom. As one, we looked across the dark, calm waters of the loch. Where once had been foreboding darkness we watched as the beam of a lantern appeared, illuminating one of the openings high in the castle wall. It was a wonder that no-one else could have seen it but it was our agreed signal. We trotted down to the shingle bank and positioned ourselves on either side of the little wooden boat resting just above the seaweed strewn tideline. Taking up positions either side we pushed the boat into the water stern first. Then all four of us, standing knee deep in our breeches in the cold water, clambered aboard. We took up the oars and carefully fed them through the muffled rowlocks. Each one wrapped in strips of cloth to cover the sound of the creaking oars.
“Easy lads,” the coxswain breathed, “we don’t want any splashing to be heard or the game will be up.” We strained at the oars and the dinghy slid silently across the waters with barely a ripple. It was only a short pull but we realised the current was against us and though the evening was cold I could feel the sweat forming under my tunic and salty streams running down my brow. We finally got to the shore below the castle wall and shipping the oars ran the little craft up the sand. We three oarsmen leapt over the gunwale and leaving the coxswain seated in the stern, we started to drag the boat out of the water.
The lantern still shone from the walls but the beach seemed ominously quiet. It was supposed to be a secret mission. Our purpose was to take the sole prisoner held in the castle back to the mainland where a troop of horsemen were waiting to accompany her carriage on the route to Edinburgh.
From high on the wall we suddenly heard a shout and more lights started to appear. When the first discharge was heard we realised the plan had failed. We scrambled back into the boat and started to pull for our lives. Musket balls were raining down and forming fountains all around the boat but luckily none of us were hit.We finally arrived at the far side and found it deserted. It appeared everyone had run away when the first shots were heard. We thought it best to do the same ready to plan our next attempt at rescue.
It was a long walk but it was worth it. I had followed the old drover’s road from the beach at Porlock Weir. In times past the only way that the necessities of life could be carried to the outlying small settlements on the moor was either by pack-horse or pulled on sledges, called truckles. Their way had for centuries been blocked by a fast-flowing stream which had it’s birth on the high moor till it finally plunged into the sea at Becky falls. A total length of over forty miles as the crow flies but much further with all the twists and turns as it followed the contours of the land. This old bridge was the only crossing point. Still standing after probably hundreds of years but virtually disused; having outlasted it’s reason for being, now only serving as a mystery to any hiker who happened to come upon it in their travels.
Surrounded by dappled sunlight, I decided to rest, breathe in the cool air and enjoy the idyllic scene. I stretched out, my back propped against my rucksack on the large granite rock which formed a firm foundation for the little archway, like the roof support of some parish church nave. The only sound was of the rushing stream, each ripple and wavelet jostling it’s neighbour in the race to pass through the narrow channel. In my drowsy state I imagined I heard the sound of whinnying, snorting and shouting. The use of the whip being unnecessary as the proud little Exmoor ponies would have known the direction they were heading and the path they needed to take. Back up to their homeland to discharge the sand for the farmers to mix in with with their cloying, damp, peaty soil from which to try and wrest a few reluctant crops.
The names of those who built this stout bridge are long forgotten but the moss-lined, grass-topped, faced stones remain as testimony to their skill as they helped others to carve a life from the inhospitable region they were proud to call their home.
“Take the gun.” the second’s voice barked. With trembling hands I grasped the grip and slid the pistol from the velvet and silk case. My opponent, the Right Honourable Sir James Leeson Esquire and I turned and then stood back to back, he with a condescending smile, myself a frown, not of determination but resignation at this farce. We walked fifteen paces, counted out by my friend Tom Skeene and turned to face each other. My pistol held out at arm’s length straight in front of me pointing at James Leeson’s chest. Two shots sounded. I felt no pain, he had missed. I looked at his astonished expression. His arm dropped to his side, I saw the red stain spreading over the upper arm of his frilled, white blouson. It was done, honour was settled, without the senseless waste of life that usually accompanied such events. There was no elation, only intense relief. We both returned our weapons to the seconds and while the doctor attended to Sir James I slowly walked away.
My first and instant reaction to the photo was a flashback to an amazing concert I was lucky enough to attend a few years ago. A Pogues annual tour where the band played their amazing Xmas hit, the wonderful, “Fairytale of New York,” which of course includes the melodic, lyrically masterful phrase, “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot.” What else would you expect me to think of?
All dash to the scene
in the hope no life is spared
a wreck to plunder
On the screen before me, the world of King Henry, the eighth to rule this land. A court of intrigue, deceit and religion. We know each character in this pageant but will never truly know this volatile man.
I looked up at the clock on the windowsill. It was obvious that time was running out. New candles needed.
Gaydon had been celebrating. Darts night in The Cottage Inne and his team had just won. It was time to go home. Rosie, his wife would be waiting up for him. On his way he saw some people dancing in the moonlight. They grabbed his hands and he found himself spinning faster and faster till he collapsed. He awoke alone and continued his walk home to tell Rosie he had been pixie-led. Fool, she said, you should have turned your coat inside out and you would have been safe from their spells.
Aproaching the twilight of my earth bound time I made a personal pilgrimage to the Tuscan countryside of my youth. The farmhouse was strikingly familiar, memories came flooding back. Despite the passage of over fifty years I still held the fantasy that as I approached the stable door that familiar long blonde nose framed with gold, would peer out and in that curiously American accent my great friend, with his own particular lip-smacking sound would greet me as before; ready to offer advice and his own style of philosophical thought. Sadly it was not to be, “Mister Ed,” the wonderful talking horse was long gone to the glue factory in the sky.