Eildon Hill is a triple peak that dominates the landscape around Melrose in Southern Scotland. The hillfort was occupied in pre-historic times, was used as a signal station by the Romans, and was re-occupied during the Romano-British period. It is associated with the legendary wizard Michael Scot, and the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer.
Although once thought to have been occupied just before the Roman invasion, settlement on the hilltop dates back to around 1000BC: the late period of the Bronze Age. The Northern Peak was completely surrounded by 3 concentric ramparts covering 3 Hectares. This surrounds the remains of some 300 hut platforms excavated from the solid bedrock to provide flat foundations for wooden roundhouses.
This was undoubtedly an important focal point for the native population and it has been estimated that over 2000 people may have lived within this exposed hill fort, a substantial settlement for this period in Britain.
It was believed until recently that Eildon was the population centre for the Selgovae tribe (mentioned by Ptolemy) who were the native people at the time of the Roman push into Scotland. There may have been a settlement here but it is hard to substantiate. What is obvious is that the Roman army realised the hill’s strategic importance and founded the fort of Trimontium (named after the triple peaks) under Agricola just below the hillside. They also built a signal tower on the hilltop that could be used for long range messages and presumably – with such a panorama over the surrounding landscape – as monitor over the local population.
The signal tower stood on the northern peak and was surrounded by a circular 10M enclosure protected by a ditch which is still visible. It would have been a wooden 2 story structure with a tiled roof, visible from miles around, and an obvious reminder of the occupying might of Rome. I have often wondered what life may have been like for soldiers manning these signal towers on the furthest reaches of the empire. Especially during my visit to the hilltop location, as the wind nearly blew me off my feet and I could hardly see due to the driving rain.
The fort of Trimontium was one of the most important in Southern Scotland and this area commanded important valley route-ways, and the whole of the Tweedale area. The fact that this is also one of the largest hillforts in Scotland again shows its importance through the centuries.
Evidence suggests that the fort was also occupied in periods from the 2-4th C AD, possibly between the Roman invasions of Scotland, as with Edin’s Hall Broch. These exposed hilltop locations must have been reserved for periods of unrest, as valley settlement would have been much more comfortable, if less easily defended from attack. Whether this is response to internecine warfare or threat of renewed Roman invasions is unclear.
Eildon Hill is the traditional location where Thomas of Erceldoune meets the Fairy Queen according to the 15th century romance and later ballad. He meets her at the Eildon Tree and goes into the fairy kingdom under the Eildon Hills. It is also the hill associated with the Lucken Hare in the story of Canobie Dick, where Arthur and his warriors sleep awaiting time of need. This is a tradition shared with many other hills in Britain.
The hills are also associated with the legendary Wizard Michael Scot who according to a tradition recorded in 1822 by James Hogg, split what was a single peak into the three peaks with his arcane powers. This is also recorded in the Lay of the Last Minstrel by Walter Scot.
The three peaks of Eildon can be a stiff climb rising as it does 305M above the landscape, and can be accessed via the Eildon Way which starts and finishes in Melrose and is just over 6K in length. The location of the Eildon tree is marked by the Eildon Stone which was put in place by the Melrose Literacy Society in 1929, and is just off the Eildon Way – although I confess I could not find it at all.