Caledonian Wood, Wood of Celyddon
Welsh: Coed Caledon
Latin: Silva Caledoniae
Aledon, Caledon, Caledonia, Caledoniae, Calidoine, Calydon, Celidon, Celyddon, Cylyddon
The Caledonian Forest is a temperate rainforest that once covered a significant portion of the Scottish Highlands. This ancient and once-vast woodland was one of the most significant forested areas in Britain. The forest covered northern England and southern Scotland, around the area of Dumfries, Carlisle, and the River Tweed.
The Caledonian Forest held cultural and mythological importance in ancient Scottish folklore and traditions. It was often associated with mythical creatures and served as a backdrop for tales of ancient heroes and legends.
In the Welsh poem Y Gododdin, the term Cat Coit Celidon, meaning The Battle of the Wood of Celyddon, is mentioned. This refers to a legendary battle site within the Caledonian Forest where the warriors of the kingdom of Gododdin fought courageously. The battle site and its heroic significance became part of Welsh lore and poetry.
In the Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen, which is one of the oldest Arthurian stories, Arthur’s huntsman Mabon possesses the hunting dog Drudwyn, whose leash is fastened to a marble stone in the Wood of Celyddon. Welsh legend has the region ruled by Cilydd. Merlin (and Lailoken) was said to have roamed through Caledon like a wild man after he had gone mad at the battle of Arfderydd.
In Nennius, it is the site of Arthur’s seventh victorious battle against the Saxons, won by King Arthur and his ally Hoel. This seems rather far north for a fight against the Saxons, and some scholars have conjectured that, if the battle really took place, Arthur was fighting Picts allied to the Saxons rather than the Saxons themselves. Geoffrey retains the battle but changes the Saxon leader to Colgrim.
In the Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal, we learn that it was the haunt of the fearsome Papagustes serpent. Inglewood, which plays a large role in several Middle English poems, was one of the forests in the Caledonian region.
Caledonian Forest | History
Ancient Origins and Post-Ice Age Expansion
The Caledonian Forest has ancient origins, with evidence suggesting that a diverse woodland ecosystem has existed in the Scottish Highlands for thousands of years. The presence of native tree species such as Scots pine, birch, and oak indicates a long history of forest cover.
Following the last Ice Age, as the climate warmed, the Caledonian Forest likely expanded and established itself as a dominant ecosystem in the upland areas of the Scottish Highlands. This process occurred over several millennia.
Human activities, including early agriculture and settlements, had some impact on the forest, but it persisted as a significant natural habitat. The use of wood for construction, fuel, and other purposes by early human populations likely influenced the forest structure.
Iron Age and Roman Period
During the Iron Age and Roman period, there is evidence of increased human impact on the landscape. Iron Age communities engaged in agriculture, and the Romans conducted military campaigns in the region, potentially leading to deforestation.
Medieval Period and Royal Forests
In the medieval period, there was further clearance of land for agriculture and timber extraction, the forest had become fragmented, with smaller remnants scattered across the landscape. The forest likely faced increased pressure during this time, as population grew and demands for resources intensified. Some areas of the Caledonian Forest were designated as royal hunting forests by medieval Scottish monarchs. These areas were managed for hunting purposes and had restrictions on timber extraction.
Decline and Fragmentation
Over centuries, the Caledonian Forest faced a decline in extent due to a combination of factors, including agricultural expansion, logging, and land-use changes. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, large portions of the forest had been lost or fragmented.
Conservation and Restoration
In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, conservation efforts have been intiated to protect and restore the Caledonian Forest. Tree planting, habitat restoration, and the establishment of protected areas, including within national parks, aim to reverse some of the historical degradation.
The Caledonian Forest holds cultural significance in Scotland. It is often celebrated in folklore, literature, and art as a symbol of the country’s natural heritage.
Caledonia | The Legend of King Arthur
Historia Brittonum | Probably Nennius, early 9th century
Culhwch and Olwen | Late 11th century
Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
Idylls of the King | Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1859-1886