The North-East of Scotland

By Bob Watt

Much of the information was found in a book written in 1858 called ‘Buchan’ by John Pratt. It has been ‘spiced up’ by including some local folklore.

The Vikings had a major influence in the cultural development of Orkney,  Shetland, the Hebrides and the West coast of Scotland. They did not have the same influence on the East coast, although they did visit the area.

This information sheet ‘looks’ at local legends in Aberdeenshire and  along the Moray Coast. It deals with Viking raids on the area.

Some time between 954 and 962 a party of Vikings from Orkney, led by the sons of King Eric Blood-Axe raided the Buchan coast but were defeated by the natives. The exact site of this battle is unknown but one account would suggest that it was on the slopes of the Aldie Hill at Cruden.

In 1004 Gamrie (Gardenstown) was attacked by a party of Norsemen who were  in search of provisions for their fleet which was storm-bound. These raiders were defeated and the skulls of three of their leaders was built into the walls of the church which was under construction at the time. The ruins of this church (St John’s Church) can still be seen today and the recesses in which the skulls lay are still in existence, although the skulls have gone. This church and churchyard is supposed to be the second oldest still to be seen in Scotland. One of the teachers in St Combs school comes from Gardenstown (Gamrie) and she assures me that it is said locally that the battle was won because the local ‘ladies’ attacked the  Vikings with their stockings filled with sand and stones. I can’t make up my mind whether this is true or whether my leg is being pulled. You’ll have to decide for yourself. The skulls were supposed to have been removed by University archaeologists.

A large force of Danes under the command of Canute (later King Canute)  landed at Cruden in 1012. They built a fort on the links where the golf  course now stands. King Malcolm II gathered an army and following a very fierce battle the Norsemen were defeated. Casualties on both sides were very high.

The peace treaty which was made following this battle had the following terms:

  1. The Vikings had to evacuate the North-east of Scotland.
  2. During the lifetime of King Malcolm and King Sueno of Denmark, neither country would wage war on the other.
  3. The field of battle was to be consecrated and made a burial place for the dead.
  4. The Danes as well as the Scots were to receive a decent and honourable burial.

The King of Denmark is supposed to have sent a blue marble stone to be placed on the graves of some of his high ranking officers. This stone was later moved and placed against the wall beside the East gate of the Parish church of Cruden.

One account states that some of the Danes, instead of leaving Cruden by boat decided to join their countrymen in Moray by going overland. They were involved in fighting at Memsie. Cairns were erected to mark the graves of the dead. A huge cairn can still be seen at Memsie today.

It is said that the name Cruden derives from Chroch Dain, Croja Danorum, Croya Dain or Crushain which in different languages means ‘slaughter of  the Danes‘.

Along the Coast, near Inverness, on the Black Isle is a bay called Port an Righ which means ‘Bay of the Kings’. Legend has it that three Viking kings were wrecked here in the tenth century. The legend also suggests that it was three sons of Danish kings that were drowned here when they were on an expedition.