As August comes to an end and Andalucía starts to cool down after several months of scorching temperatures, the final summer festivals and celebrations will be under way throughout the region. One of these is the XIII edition of the Douglas Day festival, which will take place in the town of Teba, in the region of Guadalhorce-Guadalteba, from Friday 25 until Sunday 27 August.
This festival recalls one of the most epic stories in Teba’s history, a legend that goes back 700 years, to pay tribute to the exploits of Sir James Douglas.
The festival commemorates the adventure of this Scottish knight, also known as the Black Douglas, when he was carrying the embalmed heart of King Robert the Bruce on a crusade to the Holy Land.
As a friend of Robert the Bruce, Douglas attempted to fulfil the king’s dying wish that his heart be taken to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in a silver casket.
However, it was while attempting this mission that the Black Douglas met his end. On his way to the Holy Land, Douglas received confirmation that Alfonso XI of Castile was preparing a campaign against the Muslim kingdom of Granada. He had with him a letter of introduction to King Alfonso from Edward III of England and so he sailed to Seville, where he was received by Alfonso with great honour. Douglas and his company joined Alfonso’s army, which then set out for the frontier of Granada to besiege the castle of Teba.
Sir James Douglas fought the Nasrid dynasty with the Castilian troops, but he was killed during the campaign, although how he died has remained uncertain.
Although his mission was unsuccessful, the Black Douglas has remained such a legend in Scottish history that thousands of people descend on the town of Teba in August to commemorate his death.
One group that has attended the festival for the past ten years is the Strathleven Artizans from West Dunbartonshire. The group was formed in 2006 and focuses on the history of Robert the Bruce, and of course, Sir James Douglas. Shortly after the group was formed, members visited Teba to pay homage to the Black Douglas and to see the site where the famous battle took place.
Duncan Thomson, Chairman of the Strathleven Artizans, told SUR in English that he was a little reluctant when first offered the opportunity to visit the town.
“One of our members was invited to a wedding in Cordoba and he asked if I would like to go. I said that two men in kilts in the middle of Spain was a big no, but he persuaded me by saying he would take me to the place where Sir James Douglas was killed,” the chairman explains.
Duncan immediately fell in love with the town and he, and several members of the Strathleven Artisans, have been visiting ever since.
“After the wedding we travelled to Teba and were not disappointed. What a wonderful village. We stayed at a hotel on the hill and had the most amazing view of the castle at night. As it turns out, we had missed the first Douglas festival by a few days,” Duncan says.
The group developed a bond with the town and now they visit every August to commemorate the battle of Teba. This year, twelve members will travel from Scotland to attend the celebrations.
The Artizans were first taken in by Mark and Lindsay Comer at La Calera Hotel, which looks over the battlefield, and they have supported the festival, and the Strathleven Artizans, from the beginning.
The couple, originally from Chester, have owned the self-catering accommodation for twelve years and they are extremely happy with their annual Scottish visitors.
Lindsay explained that festival attracts thousands of people from all over, but the Strathleven Artizans have become part of the festival and she is always glad to see them.
“The Artizans have been coming for a number of years and they are fabulous. There are normally around 12 of them and this year they are bringing a piper and a six-piece band,” Lindsay says.
The festival is organised by Teba town hall, which has recently turned the once derelict tower of the old castle into the Sir James Douglas Museum. The town also bears a plaque dedicated to both James Douglas and King Robert the Bruce.
During the three-day festival, visitors will enjoy a medieval market, mock battles, displays and exhibitions of weapons of the middle ages, Arab and Scottish musical performances and various workshops.
More than three thousand people attended the festival last year and because of a rising interest in the legendary Black Douglas and Robert the Bruce, the event has become one of the most important of its kind.
The heart of Robert the Bruce was eventually buried in Melrose Abbey, while the remains of James Douglas rest in the Douglas Valley Church in South Lanarkshire. The Douglas coat of arms bears a heart and the word ‘Forward’, a reference to his most famous phrase, “Forward, bravo heart, where you go Douglas will follow or die.”
The determination and vehemence that characterised the Black Douglas’ career emerged in the lives of many of his descendants, however, it will be Sir James that the pipers will be saluting next weekend.