Thursday, 13 March 2014

Yan Tyan Tethera - Strathclyde Welsh Cavalry

“Yan tyan tethera” means “one two three”, in the Cumbric language once spoken across a wide tract of the north-west of England and south-west Scotland. The language now survives in some place names, and a few vestigial bits of dialect like this, used by farmers to count.

This was the language of a country, variously called Ystrad Clud or Alclud, Rheged or Strathcylde, that once stretched from Loch Lomond in the north to Rochdale in the south.

This part of Britain is generally not a soft, comfortable landscape. Anyone who has not visited it can get a fantastically evocative and extremely accurate view of it by reading George MacDonald Fraser's excellent "The Steel Bonnets". Whilst the main subject of this book is the later Border Reivers, the geography that forms the backdrop is unchanged. Much of the country is bleak, formed of bare, stony fells and harsh-carved hills. In many other, gentler, parts there is only a thin layer of poor soil laying over the same rocks just below. Outside of the coastal plains, this makes for poor farmland, hard to plough and harvest. If it is hard to plough now, how much harder would it have been with an ox-drawn ard plough? The land does, however, provide adequate grazing, for cattle lower down, and tough sheep on the higher slopes.

This hard land has always bred hard people. Apart from Cornwall, this was the last part of England that retained its Celtic language. Long before the Angles arrived, the people of Strathclyde had already spent centuries fighting off the Picts and Scoti, and having resisted them quite successfully they went on to resist Northumbrian dominance longer than anywhere else in the North. The northernmost part remained a semi-autonomous area even later, allied to but separate from, the Kingdom of Scotland. 

Referred to in Saga as “Strathclyde Welsh”, these men, used to a mobile life following their herds, fight mainly as cavalry. Riding men, armed with spears and raiding indiscriminately, were of course a feature of this area even later. In a sense, these cavalry seem the direct ancestors of the later Border Reivers.

Here are the first of my Strathclyde cavalry warriors. These are all built using Wargames Factory Ancient Germanic Cavalry, with some weapon arms taken from Gripping Beast Dark Age Warriors, and a selection of GB Saxon thegn and West Wind Sub-Roman heads.

The only, very slight, issue is that the men with the shield arm held close to the body are problematic in terms of what shields to use. These figures are obviously designed to work with the elongated hexagonal shields in the kit, and the round shields simply do not fit convincingly, and nor did any others that I had in the spares box. A quick measure up gave me a figure for the maximum diameter I could use. A swift rifle through the workshop turned up a length of steel tube of this diameter, which was sharpened to make a disc punch. I used this to chop out a series of discs from a sheet of planked plastic card. A bead of thick cyanoacrylate added around the circumference, allowed to dry and sanded slightly flat formed the shield rim, and the boss was a small disc of plastic card, punched out, with a drop of CA in the centre. Lovely!

In order to get these finished, I built the horses "out of the box". The next ones will get a little more work, to make them more like Fell ponies. It won't be a lot - WF have done a good job with the sculpting, so a bit of feathering on the hooves and a longer mane will do it.

This first set are conveniently numbered yan tyan tethera (from left to right). Yan has a GB Saxon head and upright spear arm, tyan has a West Wind Sub-Roman head, while tethera has GB head. In the last two, the arms ars from the original kit.

Yan, tyan, tethera... 

A 28mm cavalry figure on the table for just over a pound is a really bargain, and with the tiny bit of work I've done I'd say these stand up well against figures I've paid a good deal more for. For those prepared to make the small changes required, I would recommend these without hesitation. As well asSaga, these will give good service as British light cavalry in Dux Brit or Dux Bell, which makes them even better value.

And again!

Comparisons are sometimes helpful, so here's one for you. From left to right we have a  Gripping Beast late Roman on a Conquest horse,  the three WF Strathclyde Welsh and a Newline Design Pict,.

Unlikely looking allies!

Here they are again, side on. I don't know if this matchup is any more plausible!

Let's do it!

Merry meet again!

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