One of the places I will revisit once we can travel more than 5 miles. Before moving to Edinburgh, or the Little Rome as I call it, I lived in a small town called Paisley near Glasgow for a couple of years. The location was perfect for exploring the west coast and Largs was very often a favourite day trip getaway. It's a small seaside town with not even a proper beach for most sun lovers, so what so special about it?
The Battle of Largs, 1263.
During the Norse rule in Scotland, mainland belonged to the Scots, while most of the west coast islands pledged their allegiance to Norway, including the isles of Bute and Great Cumbrae just a few miles from the Largs. In early 1200's both countries were united under very powerful and ambitious kings - Haakon IV of Norway and Alexander II of Scotland. Both kings laid their claim to the islands and no one was ready to give them up. Alexander II believed that the islands should be his and led an attack in hope to take them from the Norsemen but died of fever before he could achieve his victory. However, his son Alexander III was determined to back up his father's claim to the west coast islands and ordered raids deep into Norse territory, with determination to cleanse the Norse out once and for all. Haakon could not ignore this and decided to command his fleet personally. He was joined by the Norse forces in Orkney and by the time they reached river Clyde, Haakon had a fleet of around 120 ships. Alexander, based in Ayr back then, knew he could not defeat such force in the sea, so he stalled in hope that the autumn storms would do what his forces could not. Anchoring his ships near Great Cumbrae, Haakon sent envoys demanding Alexander to give up his claim, but the Scottish king dragged out the negotiations, patiently waiting for the weather to get worse. It was the 30th of September, 1263. The weather finally broke. The storm was sudden and powerful as if conjured by magic. Haakon's ships were scattered, some of them driven ashore in Largs. Next morning Haakon with 1,000 men went ashore to salvage the ships & the cargo and that's when the Scots attacked. His bodyguards managed to drag the Norse king back to the longship that arrived to reinforce the men fighting ashore, but in the end there was no decisive victory on either side. Haakon had no choice. Winter was coming, his supplies getting low and he agreed to winter in Orkney, sworn to return in spring and have his revenge on Alexander. But Haakon IV didn't live to see the spring and died on December 16 in Kirkwall. Haakon's son Magnus had no interest in continuing the fight and he gave the western isles to Scotland in return for 4,000 marks in silver and an annual payment under the Treaty of Perth, giving up the Norse power in the west coast of Scotland forever. His father became the last Norwegian king to mount an attack on Scotland.
Nowdays, there is the Pencil Monument, built just outside the town centre as a reminder of this important battle. I've spent many a sunny day sitting on the rocks, imagining the storm and the fight around me. And many rainy and windy days just wandering along the shore looking for ghostly shipwrecks in the fog. They also have a wee Viking festival going on in September with a torchlight procession and burning of a boat at the end. The Viking experience centre Vikingar is worth to visit to take the tour. And definitely go say hello to my friend Magnus. You can find him people-watching on the beach. Despite being a 16 feet tall Norseman, he's a very kind and friendly pal.