To say that the last couple of weeks of devising the Walk Largs tour have been hectic is something of an understatement. Having set myself a tight deadline to get up and running, what ensued could be described as controlled chaos as I scoured as many sources as possible looking for relevant information to include in the tour. One of the most useful of the sources that I came across was a locally produced booklet entitled ‘The Buildings of Largs’ which is to be found in the local interests section of the library and out of which I hoped to garner some information regarding another matter entirely when I perused upon the information that the great Romanticiser of all things Scottish Walter Scott once resided at 1 Gallowgate Square.
Perhaps I should be looking for more than one source before announcing to the world that the famous novelist once lived in Largs, but whatever the case he did certainly have some knowledge of the town. We have much to thank Scott for – or to blame some might say – for his great tartanisation of the nation particularly due to his contrivance of clan tartanry at the pageant for the visit of George IV in 1822. His reputation as as a writer who pioneered the hills, heather and claymore wielding Highlander Romantic notion of Scotland caused me to wonder whether he employed his shortbread tin inclinations on the events surrounding the Battle of Largs. The only writings I could track down by him concerning the subject is from his book entitled Tales of a Grandfather in which he gives a fairly factual, if less than accurate, portrayal surrounding the events of 1262. It would only be of academic interest to take him to task on any of his several embellishments of the truth he makes – for instance, he has the gallant Scottish army of Alexander III turn up from the moment that the Norsemen set foot on Ayrshire soil rather than two days after a storm drives the fleet of Hakon ashore -, however, what is more interesting is that he makes mention of a mound in which the Norsemen buried their dead.
‘The traces of the battle of Largs… are still to be found on the shores where the action was fought. There are visible great rocks and heaps of stones, beneath which lie interred remains of the slain. Human bones are to be found in great quantities, and also warlike weapons. particularly axes, and swords…’ (1909:54)
Today that mound is to be found roughly between the Room restaurant and the old kirkyard in a patch of overgrown ground which is now, almost entirely, surrounded by development. Like much of Scott’s writing, we should be wary of his account of the fantastic antiquaries that were found on the site, but given that the site is catalogued on Historic Environment Scotland’s Canmore site we can be sure, like much of Scott’s writing, that there is some truth to the tale. Still, trying to explain that to the very dilligent worker of the residential care home on Lade Street as to why I was peering over the wall of their midden was quite another matter.
Walk Largs tours take place every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 11am and 2pm meeting at Magnus. Alternatively, Private tours for individuals or groups can be booked at agtmediaandevents.com or through facebook.