The Pencil
The Pencil
This monument, which looks like a gigantic pencil, commemorates the defeat of a Viking fleet at this spot in 1263.


The western islands and coast of Scotland had been under Norse control since the early 12th century. The lords who ruled over the islands and small kingdoms along the coast acknowledged the overlordship of the Norwegian kings. In the middle of the 13th century the Scottish kings Alexander II and his son Alexander III tried to annexe the area to Scotland.

King Hakon of Norway retaliated by assembling a large fleet of warships and sailing around the northern tip of Scotland and down the west coast to the Firth of Clyde. A severe storm on 30 September drove several Norse vessels ashore near Largs. While the Norse attempted to salvage their ships, a Scottish force arrived under the command of Alexander of Dundonald, Steward of Scotland.

In a mix-up worthy of a comedy sketch, were the consequences not so serious, one part of the Norwegian troops ran to join the other, who thought their comrades were fleeing from the field and began to retreat hastily. After a full day of skirmishes, both sides suffered losses, and the Norwegians withdrew to their ships.

Though the battle was not a decisive victory for either side, worsening weather prompted the Norwegians to turn for home. Hakon died at Orkney on the return journey, and the lords of western Scotland soon submitted to the Scottish crown. Though the battle was not celebrated as a major one at the time, later generations of Scottish historians treated it as a decisive moment in the formation of a Scottish nation.

The monument was erected in 1912 to commemorate the Battle of Largs. The Pencil is built of whinstone and stands 70 feet high and is topped by a conical cap. The style is modelled after the round towers at Abernethy and Brechin, wrongly thought by historians at the time to have been built for defence against the Norse.

The location is supposed to mark the battle site, but owes more to tradition than solid history, and is almost certainly not where the battle actually took place. An annual festival to re-enact the Battle of Largs is held at The Pencil each autumn.