George R R Martin is a cheeky bugger.
Much of what we read in A Song of Ice and Fire has been borrowed from or inspired by true historial events and locations. Did you know there’s a town on the East coast of England called Craster? What about The Wall guarding the civilised world from the wildlings? Sounds like an idea Emporer Hadrian had once…
Head up to Scotland and you’ll find plenty of things which surely inspired GRRM’s writings – one of my favourites is Dundurn Hill.
Dundurn derives from the gaelic tradition of simply ‘saying what you see’: Dundurn, or dun dórn, means ‘Fort of the Fist”. Sounds suspiciously like the ‘Fist of the First Men’ just north of the Wall, no?
Walking up to the fort, the landscape around you is just beautiful. The Scottish Highlands hold a special place in my heart as the homeland of some of my ancestors from Clan Gregor who owned lands spanning from Loch Lomand to Loch Tay. St. Fillans, where you’ll find Dundurn, is on Loch Earn not far from Loch Tay.
It’s not hard to miss the giant rocky hill rising from the ground, it’s easy to see how it got its name too. A beautiful rocky fist rising in the middle of this flat grazing land (with a golf course nearby). I was taken aback by how similar it looked to my imaginings of the Fist of the First Men.
It’s not an easy climb, the hill is steep and the ferns are thick – we even collected a few ticks on our way up which really wasn’t pleasant but we were determined to get up there – mostly because Dundurn was once the site of a particularly important castle. If you brave the ferns and steep slopes you can really appreciate the strategic importance of this site. The views up to Loch Earn, or Loch of the Eireann (or Irish) as it was known to the Picts, are spectacular with equally good views of the Strathearn valley drawing in around it. This fort was perfectly placed for launching and defending against cross-border raids.
During the 6th-8th centuries, in the time of St. Fillan, Scotland was split between the kingdoms of Dal Riada and the Picts and the ancient frontier between these two kingdoms almost cleaves the modern-day St. Fillans in two.
Dal Riada, the Scottish-Irish kingdom which stretched upwards through the Western Highlands and Western Isles, had its easternmost frontier at the end of Loch Earn. Beyond this lay the kingdom of the Picts, with their stronghold of Dundurn maintaining the western frontier. Stories relating to the hill are sparse, but it is believed that the Pitcitsh King Giric breathed his last here in 889 A.D. Giric (or Gregory the Great as he became known).
It is an enchanting experience to stand atop Dundurn Hill, looking out over the mountains and Loch Earn, and just for a second imagining you are really North of the Wall, watching for a group of Rangers from the Night’s Watch.