If any out there are wondering what the picture at the top of these screeds represents, it’s an old engraving from The Pictorial History of Scotland, from The Roman Invasion to the Close of the Jacobite Rebellion. A.D. 70—1746, by James Taylor, D.D. Published in London by Virtue, no date. Though it will be about 1860 maybe. The engraved title page bears a picture of “Calgacus Addressing his Army”, totally imaginary of course, but it’s a predictable subject, seeing that the Caledonian chief made a rousing speech to his followers, as we’re told by the Roman historian Tacitus. It’s a great piece of oratory, totally imaginary of course! Yet it contains that wonderful stigmatisation of the Roman imperial fist, Solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant – “They make a desert and they call it peace.” And this is told us by Agricola’s son-in-law!
Anyhow, halfway through the first volume is the picture reproduced above, “Linlithgow Palace”, in West Lothian some miles west of Edinburgh, noteworthy for being the birthplace of James V and his daughter Mary Queen of Scots. The name is Brythonic in origin, evidently meaning “Lake by the wet hollow”, though the Gaelic name on the local signage and in Dwelly’s great Gaelic Dictionary is Gleann Iucha, which is obscure in meaning. Still, it crops up in a number of Gaelic expressions, such as tobraichean Ghlinn Iucha, “the wells of Linlithgow”, one of the marvels of Scotland, going by an old rhyme:
Glasgow for bells,
Lithgow for wells.
And there’s tomhas Ghlinn Iucha, “a Linlithgow measure”, one of the old weights and measures for dry goods (peas, grain, salt and so forth) established in 1617 which fell into disuse and were officially abolished in 1824.
The town has its own “Riding of the Marches” ceremony every June, and it’s then that the band plays the traditional tune they call The Roke. This sounds quite mysterious, but it’s really only the Scots way of saying “Rock” – the tune is called The Rock and the Wee Pickle Tow, after words written to it, but it originally appeared as A Scotish March in John Playford’s Musick’s Hand-Maid in 1663. It also appears as Montrose’s March, and its later title by 1731 – the original words are said to be somewhat coarse, and are unfortunately lost (which can be said, I should add, about quite a lot of old Scottish songs). However Alexander Ross wrote new words in the 1760s. Look it up on the internet: http://www.awest.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/roke.html. There’s also some videos on YouTube. Here’s the song as it appears in The Scots Musical Museum, volume V (1796).