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The Story of Mortimer’s Deep

For seventeen years I was privileged to police the waters of the River and Firth of Forth. Over that time, I developed a great deal of local knowledge about the Forth as we patrolled up and down in the Police Launch.

Patrolling the Forth

Inchcolm Island off the coast from Aberdour was a place of great interest and it draws many visitors to its shores each year. The island is most famous for its stunning medieval abbey. The Augustinian abbey was founded in the 12th century, although there are some who place its origins even earlier than that.

All these centuries later, it remains in a remarkably good state of preservation. Perhaps the inscription above the abbey entrance may have something to do with that. The inscription translated reads,

“May this house stand until an ant drains the flowing sea, and a tortoise walks around the whole world”.

Inchcolm Abbey

The deep-water channel that separates Inchcolm Island from the town of Aberdour on the Fife coastline, is called Mortimer’s Deep. It fell within the patrol area of the police launch and I have sailed through it on more occasions than I care to recall. If we had guests out for a trip on the launch, I would entertain them with stories about the various parts of the Forth including how Mortimer’s Deep got its name.

Seals at Inchcolm

When my daughters were youngsters, they were both into Fighting Fantasy Books like Ian Livingstone’s “The Warlock of Firetop Mountain” and “Deathtrap Dungeon”. It would be fair to say that I too enjoyed an adventure through these books. Inspired by the concept, I concocted my own adventure book for the girls called “The Mad Monks of Mortimer’s Deep”.

First, I drew maps of the island and then all the different passageways and rooms of the abbey and various other buildings on the island. Then I created a scenario whereby the girls were captured and held prisoner by the mad monks in the abbey. Clues and dangers were hidden in the creepy rooms and corridors. The girls were given two or maybe three options about what they did, what they looked at, what rooms they went into, who they spoke to, who they hid from. Depending on their choice I would then explain what happened next.

I suspect I had more fun putting it together and playing it with them than they got trying to find a way to escape from the mad monks. Dastardly fun….

In 2006 I wrote the monologue about how Mortimer’s Deep got its name. I wove a mixture of historical fact, legend, and fantasy together to generate a light-hearted story about dark deeds. The tale is set during the reign of King David 1 of Scotland. The Heiress of Aberdour, Anicea Veteriponte, marries the villain of the story in 1126. He was called Sir Alan de Mortimer and at the time of their marriage, his bride was only 15 years old. But by marrying her, Mortimer acquired the Barony of Aberdour. Legend has it that his marriage was more about land acquisition and financial gain than love of Anicea.

But, as in all good stories, the villain gets his comeuppance.

The Evil Duplicitous Cad

MORTIMER’S DEEP

There once was girl called Anicea, who lived in the reign of David the First

Her choice in men it was woeful, but her choice of husbands was worse

For she fancied Sir Alan De Mortimer, an evil, duplicitous cad

Sadly Mortimer, he didn’t love Anicea – but he fancied the land that she had

They were soon engaged to be married, and when the wedding feast it was o’er

There was singing a drinking a plenty, through the streets of old Aberdour

But Mortimer, he was so treacherous, a two-faced tyrannical swine

After consummating the marriage, he said, “Your land is all mine now – all mine!”

It would be fair to say that Anicea, wasn’t too chuffed at this news

And as fury coursed through her body, she blew her proverbial fuse

“A curse – A curse on you Mortimer” cried his hysterical wife

“A curse – A curse on you Mortimer – the foulest man in the Kingdom of Fife”

“I place a curse on you Mortimer – may nightmares take over your sleep”

May your body be food for the fishes – and creatures that lurk in the deep”

Well Mortimer he just laughed at poor Anicea – tossed his greasy hair back with panache

And it was then, that Anicea first noticed, that he had waxed his pointy moustache

“Stand aside wife!” roared Alan de Mortimer, “For I have work that needs to be done”

“I have taxes to extract from the peasants – and boy – it’s going to be fun!”

For Mortimer he had decided, using lots of evil intent

That he would top up the gold in his coffers by doubling the poor peasants rent

And woe betide any tenant, who refused, or wasn’t able to pay

From their houses they would soon be evicted, and banished from Aberdour Bay

But each day at sunrise and sunset, that curse was made by his wife

“A curse – A curse on you Mortimer – the foulest man in the Kingdom of Fife”

“I place a curse on you Mortimer – may nightmares take over your sleep”

May your body be food for the fishes – and the creatures that lurk in the deep”

Now Mortimer feared he would never see heaven, when the time came to pass on from this life

And each night he dreamt that the devil was doing a deal with his wife

So, he donated half of his lands, to the monks, out on Inchcolm’s fair Isle

To secure a Christian grave, where his remains could be buried style

In the grounds of that beautiful Abbey, where the monks spent their time deep in prayer

There was no chance of his wife, or the devil, condemning his poor soul from there

And so, Sir Alan De Mortimer, he reigned with terror and threat

And he robbed all his poor starving tenants, of all he was able to get

Since the dawn of time there had never, been a man with such horrible ways

But illness it struck, without warning, and ended his bloodthirsty days

“A curse – A curse on you Mortimer” was the cry of now smiling wife

“A curse – A curse on you Mortimer – the foulest man in the Kingdom of Fife”

“I place a curse on you Mortimer – you were a conniving, cold callous creep”

May your body be food for the fishes – and the creatures that lurk in the deep”

Now the folks of old Aberdour, were delighted to hear he was dead

And they cheered as Mortimer, was laid out, in a coffin constructed from lead

And that night the monks came from the Abbey – they sailed o’er the surf and the spray

To collect the malevolent Mortimer – And ferry the tyrant away

But half way back to the island, the monks they encountered a storm

With the wind at gale force eleven, the waves, round the small boat did swarm

The boat was taking in water “We’ll sink! We’ll drown!” the monks cried

So they grabbed De Mortimer’s coffin, and they chucked it o’er the side

With a splash the lead coffin it vanished, and at once the howling gale eased

And as calmness returned to the waters, the monks were exceedingly pleased

Some said that the storm, it was God’s will, to send Mortimer down to the deep

For a man as evil as Mortimer, in an Abbey you never should keep

Some placed the blame on his widow, and the bitterness Anicea nursed

Did she really make that pact with the devil, to make sure that her husband was cursed?

Make you own mind up if you go sailing, past that beautiful Isle of Inchcolm

Or if down by Aberdour sands, some evening, you happen to roam

Somewhere, down in those waters, lays a coffin constructed from lead

And some say that, when it hit bottom, the lid of the coffin was shed

And now there is no trace of De Mortimer, that conniving, cold, callous creep

Cause his body was eaten by fishes and the creatures that lurk in the deep.

And some say that on a really wild night, as the waves, down on the shore crash

An ugly old seal, pops up preening, his waxed and pointy moustache.

Ganmars, Fulnets and Green Sea-Going Chickens

In the early summer of 2018, my good friend Malcolm and I were lucky enough to be selected to take part in a NTS work party to carry out maintenance and conservation work on St Kilda.

The work party consisted of a team leader, a cook, and ten volunteers, and we would stay on the main island of Hirta for two weeks, living in the cottages once inhabited by the St Kildan people prior to their evacuation to the mainland in 1930.

Cottages Nos 4, 3, 2 and 1

To visit the archipelago of St Kilda is an amazing experience. But to stay there for two weeks takes it to whole new level. The remoteness and wildness of the islands got under our skin and in a very short space of time we became quite possessive of our new home. When visitors arrived on day trips to the island, it felt like they were intruders, and we were grateful come evening time when they left and we once again had the place to ourselves.

Village Bay on Hirta

Staying in the islander’s old stone cottages in Village Bay had the effect of immersing us in the amazing history of St Kilda. It gave us just a sense of what life might have been like to live there permanently. We were all completely smitten with the place.

Between painting, cleaning out field drains, beach cleaning, general maintenance and repairs, we had time to explore the spectacular topography of the island. Hirta sports the highest sea cliffs in the UK and, surrounded as it is by the Atlantic Ocean, it is home to enormous colonies of sea birds.

Sea cliffs on Hirta (for scale there are 3 people near the skyline)

Everyone on the work party had understandably come armed with cameras to record our time on the island. With this in mind we set ourselves that challenge of recreating an image of three islanders returning from the cliffs with a catch of fulmars. Sea birds formed a significant part of the islanders’ diet and the way they harvested the fulmars, gannets and puffins from the precipitous cliffs of the archipelago became the stuff of legend.

My friend Malcolm concocted a plan of how and where this photograph could be taken. He would need three of the men to play the part of the islanders and three of the ladies to play the part of the sea birds.

Taking our places for the photo shoot

The final image (Copyright Malcolm Lind)

I tracked Malcolm down to Cottage No5 which is used as the tool store and workshop. I interrupted his hard work and asked him to explained how he planned turn the ladies into Fulnets and Ganmars, two now extinct species of sea bird that were apparently related to Green Sea Chickens, once found on St Kilda.

 

Green Sea-Going Chickens arriving at St Kilda

The following link will explain all you need to know about Ganmars, Fulnets and Green Sea-Going Chickens. It will also illustrate the strange effects living on an isolated island out in the Atlantic Ocean can have on your mind.

Ganmars, Fulnets and Green Sea-Going Chickens