Yorkshire – born Oliver Robinson has spent years delving into the murk of Yorkshire’s Dark Ages. He looked into the years between the departure of the Romans, and the flowering of the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria. Here he found poems celebrating an Ancient British King, Urien, who led a King-Arthur like campaign against invading Anglo-Saxons. ,
Oliver particularly delights in the Dales, he says, for what is hidden. “For instance,” he comments, “Last weekend, I found a waterfall near Askrigg that I’d never seen before. Then I learned there was another one 400 yards up, that I’d never seen. It’s fabulous, I’m always discovering amazing things.”
Oliver believed that stories of the landscape from the deep past would help him to enjoy it even more. And, knowing how much the Welsh, Scots and Irish value such ancient tales, Oliver dreamed of finding such tales for Yorkshire. “But,” he says, “I was sure that it didn’t exist – because if it did, then it would be famous.”
But, being a Yorkshireman, he did not allow this to stop him searching. He began to delve. His quest took him through the internet, bookshops and libraries, and beyond to specialist University sources.
Oliver searched for works in Brythonic – the language spoken by Britons before, during, and after, the Roman invasion. It is sometimes called Cumbric, or Old Welsh – a name that confuses, as it was spoken all over Britain, not only in Wales.
Oliver discovered works in Brythonic celebrating Urien, King of Rheged. The exact borders of Rheged are uncertain, but it is believed to have included modern day Cumbria. Then, recalls Oliver, he found a scholar who believed that Urien’s capital was at Catterick.
He smiles, “Imagine my delight. To start expecting to find nothing, then to find a credible academic says Catterick.”
If Urien was based at Catterick, it means, says Oliver, “That the oldest literature composed in a native language of Britain was in Yorkshire.”
Oliver adds that archaeologists have dug at Catterick. “Catterick shows clear evidence of occupation after the collapse of the Roman Empire in Britain, and it is exactly the type of small town, at a strategically important location, that rose to prominence in the aftermath of Roman rule.”
Furthermore, he believes that one battle took place at Bainbridge. He says, “The idea of the battle being at Bainbridge is my discovery. It was a strategically important place, with a Roman fort and road, and it’s in the right place, heading towards Catterick.”
“I think from the detail and style of the poems that they are eyewitness accounts. This is an incredible first hand statement of what happened. What makes it amazing is that they’ve survived so long.”
Oliver has spent long hours studying these texts. Why does he think it’s worthwhile? “We can feel connected to people all the way back,” he says. “All people desire that connectivity with landscape, and that layer of meaning to it.”