The plague arrived in the British Isles, via a Gascon sailor, in Melcombe in Dorset in June 1348. The first city to witness its ‘grievous ornament’, the tell-tale black pustules or ‘buboes’, would be Bristol. London’s outbreak coincided with Candlemas (1 November); by the following July it had reached Durham. On hearing of the pestilence ravaging England, the Scots decided to take advantage, amassing an army in Selkirk Forest on the Scottish borders in autumn 1349. Unwittingly, their camp was a perfect breeding ground for the plague, and as they fled back north they carried the infection with them, devastating Edinburgh and the Scottish Lowlands. In mainland Britain, only the sparsely populated Highlands and the mountain fastness of Snowdonia seemed to escape the plague. In Ireland the plague entered through the ports of Howth and Drogheda, decimating Dublin and the relatively densely settled Norman-held east; eight years later it would leap to the dispersed Irish clans in the west.
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