Friday, 26 March 2010

A Thousand Years, My Rear End

“Rained all night,” says one of my breakfast companions at Hawthornden. “I wonder if the Picts built fires in their caves, or thought the caves were enough?” (The Picts (for those like me who didn’t know) were pre-Celtic people “of uncertain antecedents” who ruled, if not terrorized, most of Scotland for more than a thousand years, harassed the Romans and the Britons, were eventually Celticized, Christianized, and confined until “nothing more was heard” from them after 844 AD.)
We’d toured their caves upon arrival here at Hawthornden Castle, more a great house built onto the remains of a castle, that had been built of sandstone on an impressive jut of stouter rock, in which last night the Picts may or may not have huddled in their caves out of the rain.

The Picts where short folk. For me, not so short, a tour of their caves meant dodging both the puddles of water and the stone roof. I spent the whole time stooped over with my hands on my knees. This is how they lasted for a thousand years, I reckoned. No one else could stand more than two minutes in one of their caves.

“It’s thought,” says my companion, “the Picts were covered with tattoos, or painted themselves blue. Imagine, running naked across the heather, painted blue.” Well that would be fine, it seemed to me. There’s room in the caves to paint yourself blue.

Living up in the house/castle has been something of a Pictish cave-tour experience in some ways. I can’t fit my knees under the breakfast table. The climb up the spiral staircase to the top floor is a little like feeding a long towel through a wringer washer. And if I want all of my body, including the top third, under the shower nozzle, I have stoop and squeeze, without extending my rear end through the shower curtain where it might drip water onto the floor and from there, as the sign says, go “underneath the lino and cause problems below”.

But the prize—richer than rain, brighter than fog, lead-glazed glory for a man’s rear end—is pictured here:

1 comment:

Belén said...

Sure blue eyed Saskatchewans, a developed and extended version of the diverse primitive pre-Celtic and post-Celtic European clans ('civilized' imperialist Romans not considered here), would feel less constrained under the high open prairie skies. Those old caves, castros and castles were built for duchesses and dukes (never of a large size by Canadian standards).