Walk From Edinburgh Over The Border And Arrival At London
( Originally Published 1889 )
We left Glasgow on the morning after returning from the Burns Festival, taking passage in the open cars for Edinburgh, for six shillings. On leaving the depot, we plunged into the heart of the hill on which Glasgow Cathedral stands and were whisked through darkness and sulphury smoke to daylight again. The cars bore us past a spur of the Highlands through a beautiful country where women were at work in the fields, to Linlithgow, the birth-place of Queen Mary. The majestic ruins of its once-proud pal-ace, stand on a green meadow behind the town. In another hour we were walking through Edin burgh, admiring its palace-like edifices, and stopping every few minutes to gaze up at some lofty monument. Really, thought I, we call Baltimore the " Monumental City "for its two marble columns, and here is Edinburgh with one at every street corner ! These, too, not in the midst of glaring red buildings, where they seem to have been accidentally dropped, but framed in by lofty granite mansions, whose long vistas make an appropriate background to the picture.
We looked from Calton Hill on Salisbury Crags and over the Frith of Forth, then descended to dark old Holyrood, where the memory of lovely Mary lingers like a stray sunbeam in her cold halls, and the fair, boyish face of Rizzio looks down from the canvas on the armor of his murderer. We threaded the Canongate and climbed to the Castle; and finally, after a day and a half's sojourn, buckled on our knapsacks and marched out of the Northern Athens. In a short time the tall spire of Dalkeith appeared above the green wood, and we saw to the right, perched on the steep bank of the Esk, the picturesque- cottage of Hawthornden, where Drummond once lived in poetic solitude. We made haste to cross the dreary waste of the Muirfoot hills before nightfall, from the highest summit of which we took a last view of Edinburgh Castle and the Salisbury Crags, then blue in the distance. Far to the east were the hills of Lammermuir and the country of Mid-Lothian lay before us. It was all Scott-land. The Inn of Torsonce, beside the Gala Water, was our resting-place for the night. As we approached Galashiels the next morning, where the bed of the silver Gala is nearly emptied by a number of dingy manufactories, the hills opened, disclosing the sweet vale of the Tweed, guarded by the triple peak of the Eildon, at whose base lay nestled the village of Melrose.
I stopped at a bookstore to purchase a view of the Abbey; to my surprise nearly half the works were by American authors. There were Bryant, Longfellow, Channing, Emerson, Dana, Ware and many others. The bookseller told me he had sold more of Ware's Letters than any other book in his store, "and also," to use his own words, "an immense number of the great
Dr. Channing. "I have seen English editions of Percival, Willis, Whittier and Mrs. Sigourney, but Bancroft and Prescott are classed among the "standard British historians."
Crossing the Gala we ascended a hill on the road to Selkirk, and behold ! the Tweed ran be low, and opposite, in the midst of embowering trees planted by the hand of Scott, rose the gray halls of Abbottsford. We went down a lane to the banks of the swift stream, but finding no ferry, B- and I, as it looked very shallow, thought we might save a long walk by wading across. F- preferred hunting for a boat, we two set out together, with our knapsacks on our backs, and our boots in our hands. The current was ice cold and very swift, and as the bed was covered with loose stones, it required the greatest care to stand upright. Looking at the bottom, through the rapid water, made my head so giddy, I was forced to stop and shut my eyes; my friend, who had firmer nerves, went plunging on to a deeper and swifter part, where the strength of the current made him stagger very unpleasantly. I called to him to return; the next thing I saw, he gave a plunge and went down to the shoulder in the cold flood. While he was struggling with a frightened expression of face to recover his footing, I leaned on my staff and laughed till I was on the point of falling also. To crown our mortification, of had found a ferry a few yards higher up and was on the opposite shore, watching us wade back again, my friend with dripping clothes and boots full of water. I could not forgive the pretty Scotch damsel who rowed us across, the mischievous lurking smile which told that she too had witnessed the adventure.
We found a foot-path on the other side, which led through a young forest to Abbotsford. Rude pieces of sculpture, taken from Melrose Abbey, were scattered around the gate, some half buried in the earth and overgrown with weeds. The niches in the walls were filled with pieces of sculpture, and an antique marble gray-hound reposed in the middle of the court yard.
We rang the bell in an outer vestibule ornamented with several pairs of antlers, when a lady appeared, who, from her appearance, I have no doubt was Mrs. Ormond, the "Duenna of Abbotsford," so humorously described by D'Arlincourt, in his "Three Kingdoms." She ushered us into the entrance hall, which has a magnificent ceiling of carved oak and is lighted by lofty stained windows. An effigy of a knight in armor stood at either end, one holding a huge two-handed sword found on Bosworth Field ; the walls were covered with helmets and breastplates of the olden time.
Among the curiosities in the Armory are Napoleon's pistols, the blunderbuss of Hofer, Roy's purse and gun, and the offering box of Queen Mary. Through the folding doors between the dining-room, drawing-room and library, is a fine vista, terminated by a niche, in which stands Chantrey's bust of Scott. The ceilings are of carved Scottish oak and the doors of American cedar. Adjoining the library is his study, the walls of which are covered with books; the, doors and windows are double, to render it quiet and undisturbed. His books and inkstand are on the table and his writing-chair stands before it, as if he had left them but a moment before. In a little closet adjoining, where he kept his private manuscripts, are the clothes he last wore, his cane and belt, to which a hammer and small axe are attached, and his sword. A narrow staircase led from the study to his sleeping room above, by which he could come down at night and work while his family slept. The silence about the place is solemn and breathless, as if it waited to be broken by his re-turning footstep. I felt an awe in treading these lonely halls, like that which impressed me before the grave of Washington-a feeling that hallowed the spot, as if there yet lingered a low vibration of the lyre, though the minstrel had departed forever !
Plucking a wild rose that grew near the walls, I left Abbotsford, embosomed among the trees, and turned into a green lane that led down to Melrose. We went immediately to the Abbey, in the lower part of the village, near the Tweed. As I approached the gate, the porteress came out, and having scrutinized me rather sharply, asked my name. I told her ;-"well," she added, "there is a prospect here for you.' Thinking she alluded to the ruin; I replied : "Yes, the view is certainly very fine. " Oh! I don't mean that," she replied, "a young gentleman left a prospect here for you!"-whereupon she brought out a spy-glass, which I recognized as one that our German comrade had given to me. He had gone on and hoped to meet us at Jedburgh.
Melrose is the finest remaining specimen of Gothic architecture in Scotland. Some of the sculptured flowers in the cloister arches are remarkably beautiful and delicate, and the two windows-the south and east oriels-are of a lightness and grace of execution really surprising. We saw the tomb of Michael Scott, of King Alexander II, and that of the Douglas, marked with a sword. The heart of Bruce is supposed to have been buried beneath the high altar. The chancel is all open to the sky, and rooks build their nests among the wild ivy that climbs over the crumbling arches. One of these came tamely down and perched upon the hand of our fair guide. By a winding stair in one of the towers we mounted to the top of the arch and looked down on the grassy floor. I sat on the broken pillar, which Scott always used for a seat when he visited the Abbey, and read the disinterring of the magic book, in the " Lay of the Last Minstrel." I never comprehended its full beauty till then ; the memory of Melrose will give it a thrilling interest, in the future. When we left, I was willing to say, with the Minstrel:
" Was never scene so sad and fair ! "
After seeing the home and favorite haunt of Scott, we felt a wish to stand by his grave, but we had Ancrum Moor to ,pass before night, and the Tweed was between us and Dryburgh Abbey.
We did not wish to try another watery adventure, and therefore walked on to the village of Ancrum, where a gate-keeper on the road gave us lodging and good fare, for a moderate price. Many of this class practice the double employ-ment, and the economical traveller, who looks more to comfort than luxury, will not fail to patronize them.
Next morning we took a foot-path over the hills to Jedburgh. From the summit there was a lovely view of the valley of the Teviot, with the blue Cheviots in the distance. I thought of Pringle's beautiful farewell
" Our native land, our native vale,
The poet was born in the valley below, and one that looks upon its beauty cannot wonder how his heart clung to the scenes he was leaving. We saw Jedburgh and its majestic old Abbey, and ascended the valley of the Jed towards the Cheviots. The hills, covered with woods of a richness and even gorgeous beauty of foliage, shut out this lovely glen completely from the world. I found myself continually coveting the lonely dwellings that were perched on the rocky heights, or nestled, like a fairy pavilion, in the lap of a grove: These forests formerly furnished the wood for the celebrated Jedwood axe, used in the Border forays.
As we continued ascending, the prospect behind us widened, till we reached the summit of the Carter Fell, whence there is a view of great extent and beauty. The Eildon hills, though twenty-five miles distant, seemed in the fore-round of the picture.. With a glass, Edinburgh Castle might be seen over the dim outline of the Muirfoot Hills. After crossing the border, we passed the scene of the encounter between Percy and Douglass, celebrated in "Chevy Chase," and at the lonely inn of Whitelee, in the valley below, took up our quarters for the night.
Travellers have described the Cheviots as being bleak and uninteresting. Although they are bare and brown, to me the scenery was of a character of beauty entirely original. They are not rugged and broken like the Highlands, but lift their round backs gracefully from the plain, while the more distant ranges are clad in many an airy hue. Willis quaintly and truly remarks, that travellers only tell you the picture produced in their own brain by what they see, otherwise the world would be like a pawnbroker's shop, where each traveller wears the cast-off clothes of others. Therefore let no one, of a gloomy temperament, journeying over the Cheviots in dull November, arraign me for having falsely praised their beauty.
I was somewhat amused with seeing a splendid carriage with footmen and outriders, crossing the mountain, the glorious landscape full in view, containing a richly dressed lady, fast asleep! It is no uncommon thing to meet carriages in the Highlands, in which the occupants are comfortably reading, while being whirled through the finest scenery. And apropos of this subject, my German friend related to me an incident. His brother was travelling on the Rhine, and when in the midst of the grandest scenery, met a carriage containing an English gentleman and lady, both asleep, while on the seat behind was stationed an artist, sketching away with all his might. He asked the latter the reason of his industry, when he answered, "Oh! my lord wishes to see every night what he has passed during the day, and so I sketch as we go along ! "
The hills, particularly on the English side, are covered with flocks of sheep, and lazy shepherds lay basking in the sun, among the purple heather, with their shaggy black `dogs beside them. On many of the hills are landmarks, by which, when the snow has covered all the tracks, they can direct their way. After walking many miles through green valleys, down which flowed the Red Water, its very name telling of the conflicts which had crimsoned its tide, we came to the moors, and ten miles of blacker, drearier waste I never saw. Before entering them we passed the pretty little village of Otterburn, near the scene of the battle. I brought away a wild flower that grew on soil enriched by the blood of the Percy's. On the village inn, is their ancient coat of arms, a lion rampant, on afield of gold, with the motto, "Esperance en Dieu." Scarcely a house or a tree enlivened the black waste, and even the road-was marked on each side by high poles, to direct the traveller in win-ter. We were glad when at length the green fields came again in sight, and the little village of Whelpington Knowes, with its old ivy-grown tower, welcomed us after the lonely walk.
As one specimen of the intelligence of this part of England, we saw a board conspicuously posted at the commencement of a private road, declaring that "all persons travelling this way will be prosecuted." As it led to a church, however, there may have been a design in the expression.
On the fifth day after leaving Edinburgh, w e reached a hill,. overlooking the valley of the Tyne and the German Ocean, as sunset was reddening in the west. A cloud of coal-smoke made us aware of the vicinity of Newcastle. On the summit of the hill a large cattle fair was being held, and crowds of people were gathered in and around a camp of gaudily decorated tents. Fires were kindled here and there, and drinking, carousing and horse-racing were flourishing in ful vigor.
We set out one morning to hunt the Roman Wall. Passing the fine buildings in the centre of the city and the lofty monument to Earl Grey, we went towards the western gate and soon came to the ruins of a building, about whose origin there could be no doubt. It stood there, blackened by the rust of ages, a remnant of power passed away. There was no mistaking the massive round tower, with its projecting ornaments, such as are often seen in the ruder works of the Romans. On each side a fragment of wall remained standing, and there appeared to be a chamber in the interior, which was choked up with rubbish. There is another tower, much higher, in a public square in another part of the city, a portion of which is fitted up as a dwelling for the family which takes care of it; but there was such a ridiculous contrast between the ivy-grown top, and the handsome modern windows and doors of the lower story, that it did not impress me half as much as the other, with all its neglect. These are the farthest limits of that power whose mighty works I hope hereafter to view at the seat of her grandeur and glory.
I witnessed a scene at Newcastle that cannot soon be forgotten; as it showed more plainly than I had before an opportunity of observing, the state to which the laboring classes of England are reduced. Hearing singing in the street, under my window, one morning, I looked out and saw a body of men, apparently of the lower class, but decent and sober looking, who were singing in a rude and plaintive strain some ballad, the purport of which I could not understand. On making inquiry, I discovered it was part of a body of miners, who, about eighteen weeks before, in consequence of not being able to support their families with the small pittance allowed them, had "struck," for higher wages. This their employers refused to give them, and sent to Wales, where they obtained workmen at the former price. The houses these laborers had occupied were all taken from them, and for eighteen weeks they had no other means of subsistence than the casual charity given them for singing the story of their wrongs. It made my blood boil to hear those tones, wrung from the heart of poverty by the hand of tyranny. The ignorance, permitted by the government, causes an unheard amount of misery and degradation. We heard afterwards in the streets, another company who played on musical instruments. Beneath the proud swell of England's martial airs, there sounded to my ears a tone whose gathering murmur will make itself heard ere long by the dull ears of Power.
At last at the appointed time, we found ourselves on board the "London Merchant," in the muddy Tyne, waiting for the tide to rise high enough to permit us to descend the river. There is great competition among the steamboats this summer, and the price of passage to London. is reduced to five and ten shillings. The second cabin, however, is a place of tolerable comfort, and as the steward had promised to keep berths for us, we engaged passage. Following the windings of the narrow river, we passed Sunder-land and Tynemouth, where it expands into the German Ocean. The water was barely stirred by a gentle wind, and little resembled the stormy sea I expected to find it. We glided over the smooth surface, watching the blue line of the distant shore till dark, when I went below expecting to enjoy a few hours' oblivion. But the faithless steward had given up the promised berth to another, and it was only with difficulty that I secured a seat by the cabin table, where I dozed half the night with my head on my arms. It grew at last too close and wearisome; I went up on deck and lay down on the windlass, taking care to balance myself well before going to sleep. The earliest light of dawn awoke me to a consciousness of damp clothes and bruised limbs. We were in sight of the low shore the whole day, sometimes seeing the dim outline of a-church, or group of trees over the downs or flat beds of sand, -which border the eastern coast of England. About dark, the red light of the Nore was seen, and we hoped before many hours to be in London. The lights of Gravesend were passed, but about ten o'clock, as we entered the narrow channel of the Thames, we struck another steamboat in the darkness, and were obliged to cast anchor for some time. When I went on deck in the gray light of morning again; we were gliding up a narrow, muddy river, between rows of gloomy buildings, with many vessels lying-at anchor. It grew lighter, till, as we turned a point, right before me lay a vast crowd of vessels, and in the distance, above the wilderness of buildings, stood a dim, gigantic dome in the sky; what a bound my heart gave at the sight I And the tall pillar that stood near did not need a second glance to recognize the Monument. I knew the majestic bridge that spanned the river above; but on the right bank stood a cluster of massive buildings, crowned with many a turret, that attracted my eye. A crowd of old associations pressed bewilderingly upon the mind, to see standing there, grim and dark with many a bloody page of England's history-the Tower of London I The morning sky was as yet but faintly obscured by the coal-smoke, and in the misty light of coming sunrise, all objects seemed grander than their wont. In spite of the thrilling interest of the scene, I could not help thinking of Byron's ludicrous but most expressive description :
' A mighty mass of brick and smoke and shipping,
Of masts ; a wilderness of steeples peeping