English Border Towns - The Ettrick, Carterhaugh, Oakwood, Tushielaw, Thirlestane, Ettrick Kirk
( Originally Published 1914 )
AND now we shall go—as they say in Selkirk—" up the Watters," a phrase which, to us of " the Forest," used of old to convey the idea of going on a vast journey. " Did ye see the Eclipse, on Monday ? " asked a Selkirk man of his crony. " Man, No ! I was up the Watters that day." Which reply conveyed, perhaps not so much the feeling that an eclipse was a frivolous affair pertaining to geographically remote Selkirk alone, as that the answerer had been too deeply engaged up the waters with other business to have leisure to attend to such petty trifles as solar phenomena. Business " up the Watters," one used to understand, was not seldom protracted far into the night, and at times there were lunar phenomena observable, such as double moons, and stars whose place in the heavens was not definitely fixed.
Leaving Selkirk by the Ettrick road, in about a couple of miles we come abreast of the spot where Yarrow drowns herself in Ettrick. And here below Bowhill, on the sunny, wooded peninsula formed by the two rivers, lies Carterhaugh, scene of that famous fairy tale "The Young Tamlane." Tamlane when a boy of nine was carried off by the Fairies.
"There came a wind out of the north,
The Queen of the Fairies " keppit " (caught) him as he fell, and bore him off to dwell in Fairyland. There he remained, neither increasing in years nor in stature, but taking at will his human shape, and returning to earth for a time when it pleased him. Carterhaugh was his special haunt, and here, if they did not altogether shun that neighbourhood, young women too often had cause to repent having met him.
"O I forbid ye, maidens a',
" Fair Janet," however, was one who would take no warning :
" I'll cum and gang to Carterhaugh, And ask nae leave o' him,"
said she. And she went. But
" She hadna pu'd a red red rose,
" He's ta'en her by the milk-white hand, amang the leaves sae green,"— and Janet rued her visit. Later, Tamlane tells her how he may be rescued from Fairyland, and the ballad relates Janet's successful venture.
A mile or two up the river from Carterhaugh, on Ettrick's right bank, stands the interesting and well-preserved old tower of Oakwood, the property of the Scotts of Harden, in whose possession it has been since 1517. Locally, the belief is implicitly held that this tower was, in the thirteenth century, the residence of the great Michael Scott, the Wizard, out of whose tomb in Melrose Abbey William of Deloraine took
" From the cold hand the Mighty Book,
There was a Michael Scott who once owned Oakwood, but that was long after the Wizard's day. In spite of all tradition—for whose birth Sir Walter is probably responsible—it is not likely that the veritable Michael (Thomas the Rhymer's contemporary, and a Fifeshire man) ever was near Oakwood. Certainly he never lived in the tower that stands now on the steep bank hard by the river. That is no thirteenth century building. I fear, therefore, that the story of Michael and the Witch of Fauldshope, and of how, bursting one day from her cottage in the guise of a hare, he was coursed by his own dogs on Fauldshope Hill, can no more be connected with Selkirk-shire than can the legend of his embassy to Paris, to which city he journeyed in a single night, mounted on a great coal-black steed, who indeed was none other than the Foul Fiend himself. There is, however, a Witchie Knowe on Fauldshope; perhaps the Michael who really did live at Oakwood, sometime about the beginning of the seventeenth century, may have had dealings with the woman, which in some way gave rise to the legend. This " witch," by the way, was an ancestress of Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd.
Oakwood Tower is not very old, and it never was very strong—as the strength of peel towers is reckoned; its walls are little more than four feet in thickness, which is almost flimsy compared with those of its near neighbour, Newark. Above the dungeons, Oakwood is three stories in height, and its external measurements are thirty-eight by twenty-three and a half feet. Into one wall is built a stone on which are the initals L'M', initials of Robert Scott and his wife, probably a Murray. Between them is the Harden crescent ; and below, the date, ANO. 1602, which is no doubt the true year of the present tower's erection. Tradition tells of a haunted chamber in Oakwood ; the " Jingler's Room," it was called, but what the story was, the writer has not been able to learn. The tower now is used chiefly as a farm building, and if there are any hauntings they probably take the unpleasant form of rats.
Following up the Ettrick, presently we come to the village of Ettrickbridgend, near to which are the picturesque Kirkhope Linns and Kirkhope Tower, a well preserved Border peel. In this tower in old days at times dwelt Auld Wat of Harden, or one of his family. Tradition tells that it was Wat who first spanned Ettrick with a bridge. It was a penance, self-inflicted, because of a mishap that occurred at the ford here to a young boy, heir of the Nevilles, whom Wat had carried off from his home in Northumberland. Wat's bridge stood a little way above the site of that which now crosses Ettrick at Ettrickbridgend, and I am told—though I have not seen it—that a stone from the old bridge, with the Harden coat of arms carved on it, may now be seen built into the present structure. A little higher up, there falls into Ettrick the Dodhead Burn, at the head of which is " the fair Dodhead," the reputed residence of Jamie Telfer, hero of the famous ballad. These Border hills have produced from time to time many a long-distance runner of immense local celebrity, —such for instance, as-the far-famed Will of Phaup—but few of them, I imagine, could have " lived " with Jamie Telfer in that burst of his across the trackless heather and the boggy moors from the Dodhead, over by the headwaters of Ale, across Borth wick, across Teviot, on to Slitrig at " Stobs Ha'," and from there back again to Teviot at Coultercleuch. It must be a good sixteen miles at the least, across a country over which no runner could travel at a pace so fast as that with which the ballad credits Jamie. But if anyone did this run, I fear it was no Jamie Telfer. At least in the fair Dodhead " up Ettrick there was at the supposed date of the ballad, and for generations before, no Telfer, but a Scott. The Dodhead of the ballad must be some other place of the same name, possibly that near Penchrise, by Skelfhill.
Following up Ettrick, past Hyndhope and Singlie, we come to Deloraine, an ancient possession of the Scotts, for ever famed through its association with William of Deloraine and the " Lay of the Last Minstrel " :
" A stark moss-trooping Scott was he,
There are various theories as to the derivation of the name " Deloraine." One, in accord with the local pronunciation of the word—" Delorran," with the accent on the second syllable —gives its origin as from the Gaelic, " dal Orain," the place or land of Orain, who, I understand, was a Celtic saint. There is also the explanation given by the Rev. Dr. Russell of Yarrow, in the Statistical Account of the Parish of 1833. " In 1503, James IV endowed his Queen, the Lady Margaret of England, with the Forest of Ettrick and Tower of Newark, which had formerly been the dowry of Mary of Guelders. Hence, probably, our two farms of Deloraine (de la reine) received their name, or afterwards perhaps from Mary of Lorraine." One would prefer to adopt Dr. Russell's interpretation of the name, but probably the place was called " Delôrran " long before the day of any of the historical characters mentioned.
Higher still up Ettrick is Tushielaw, with its fragment of a ruined tower, the home in old days of that formidable freebooter Adam Scott, "the king of the Border," or "king of thieves." Local tradition tells that he was hanged by James V to the branch of an ash tree that grew within his own castle walls—retributive justice on a man who had himself, in like mariner, sent to their doom so many poor wretches from the branches of that same tree. The ash no longer stands, but in Chambers' Gazetteer for 1832 there is this note concerning it : " It is curious to observe that along its principal branches there are yet visible a number of nicks, or hollows, over which the ropes had been drawn wherewith he performed his numerous executions."
Like too many local traditions, however, the story of his execution will not bear examination. Adam Scott was arrested and hanged in Edinburgh, a full month before the King set out on his memorable expedition to pacify the Border. James certainly laid a heavy hand on the freebooters; and he appears also to have very materially altered the face of things in other ways in these Border hills. The timber which clothed them began from this time to disappear—birch and oak it appears to have been for the most part, interspersed with ash, mountain-ash, thorn, and hazel, to judge by the numbers of stumps and pieces of decayed trees still found in mossy ground. They mostly suggest timber of no great size, but now and again the remains of a fine tree are come upon, even in exposed and high-lying situations. The remains of a very large oak, for instance, were discovered some years ago during draining operations among the wild hills right at the head of Jed.
Probably James destroyed a great deal of timber in his efforts to convert the country into a sheep-run. According to Pitscottie, the king soon had "ten thousand sheep going in the forest, under the keeping of Andrew Bell, who made the King as good an account of them as if they had gone in the bounds of Fife."
James V no doubt was a good husbandman,—it was his boast that in these wilds he "made the rush bush keep the cow,"— but he was a better husbandman than he was a sportsman, at least as we now understand the word. We should now probably call him a pot-hunter. It was early in June when he started on his expedition ; young calves are then with the hinds, and the harts are yet low in condition, and "in the velvet" as to their horns. Yet Pitscottie says : " I heard say he slew in these bounds eighteen score of harts." However, if his expedition had to be made then, his army—and it was an army—must necessarily be fed; and no doubt if he wanted to run sheep there, the stock of deer had to be cleared out. But what a place for game of all kinds this forest must then have been. One may learn from the place-names which still linger among the hills what manner of beasts formerly inhabited this part of the Border : Ox-cleuch, Deer-law, Hart-leap, Hynd-hope, Fawn-burn, Wolf-cleuch, Brock-hill, Swine-brae, Boar-cleuch, Cat-slack. The Hart's-leap is said to have got its name owing to an incident that occurred during King James's expedition in 1530 a deer, in sight of the king, is said to have cleared at one bound a distance so remarkable that James directed his followers to leave a memorial of the leap. Two grey whinstones here, twenty-eight feet apart, are said to be those which were then set up. Ox-cleuch was probably so named from some ancient adventure with a Urus, or wild bull, or possibly because it was a favourite haunt of those formidable beasts. Their skulls are still occasionally dug up during the process of draining swampy lands among our Border hills. There is a very fine specimen now at Synton (between Selkirk and Hawick), home of one of the oldest branches of the Scott family. If one may judge from that skull, the horns must have been something like twice the size of the ox of the present day. He was the ancestor, I suppose, of the fierce wild cattle of Chillingham.
Half a mile, or a little more, above the inn at Tushielaw—a comfortable hostelry, and a good fishing centre—the Rankle Burn flows into Ettrick. Up this burn's right bank, through the lonely vale and over the hills runs a road leading to Hawick, and on your right, as you head in that direction, a few miles up is Buccleuch, one of the earliest possessions in the Border of the great Scott clan. Near the road, in a deep ravine or cleuch, is pointed out the spot where, they say, the buck was slain from which originated the title of the present ducal house. Farther on, just upon the water-shed between Ettrick and Teviot, is Bellenden, which became the Scotts' mustering place and whose name was the clan's slogan. As Mr. Thomson's sketches show, it is a wild country enough ; in winter its bleakness at times is surely past the power of words to tell: It must be a hardy race that can live and thrive here. A land of swamp, and sullen, dark, moss-hag, this must have been in days of old. Still among the hills, bogs and lochs innumerable are scattered ; of the latter, Clearburn, Kingside, Crooked Loch, Windylaw, Hellmuir, Alemuir, and various others, all within a few miles, but not many, I think, such as need tempt the wandering fisher.
A couple of miles up Ettrick, above Tushielaw, is Thirlestane, the seat of Lord Napier and Ettrick, surrounded by its woods. It is a mansion built something less than a hundred years ago, but close to it are the remains of the old Thirlestane Castle. I do not know if Hertford's long arm was responsible in 1544 for its ruin. It is probable enough. The stronghold belonged then to Sir John Scott, a prominent man in those days, and the only Scottish baron at Fala-muir who did not refuse to follow James V into England, for which reason the king charged " our lion herauld and his deputies for the time beand, to give and to graunt to the said John Scott, ane Border of ffleure de lises about his coatte of armes, sik as is on our royal banner, and alsua ane bundell of launces above his helmet, with thir words, Readdy, ay Readdy, that he and all his after-cummers may bruik the samine as a pledge and taiken of our guid will and kyndnes for his true worthines." Lord Napier is this John Scott's descendant.
Across the river from Thirlestane are the ruins of another castle—Gamescleuch, built by Simon Scott, named Long Spear, a son of John of Thirlestane. Tradition says that Gamescleuch was never occupied, but was allowed to fall into decay because its owner, Simon of the Spear, was poisoned by his step-mother the night before he should have been married and have taken up his abode there.
We are getting far into the wild hills now, near to the head of Ettrick, by Ettrick Pen, Wind Fell, and Capel Fell, all hills considerably over two thousand feet in height. But before crossing over to Yarrow and St. Mary's, there remain to be noticed Ettrick Kirk, and James Hogg's birthplace, Ettrick Hall. Ettrick Kirk, of course, is inalienably associated with the Rev. Thomas Boston, " Boston of Ettrick," minister of the parish for a quarter of a century, a man who left a deep mark on the religious life of Scotland. He died here in 1732, and his monument stands in the little graveyard by the kirk, not far from the head-stone to the memory of the Ettrick Shepherd, and near to the spot where, as the stone tells us, "lyeth William Laidlaw, the far-famed Will of Phaup, who for feats of Frolic, Agility, and Strength, had no equal in his day." Laidlaw was Hogg's grandfather.
How many persons now-a-days are familiar with, or indeed, perhaps, ever heard of, Boston's " Fourfold State," or his " Crook in the Lot "? Perhaps in Ettrick there may yet be, in cottages, an odd copy or two, belonging to, and possibly yet read by, very old people. But Boston, who as a theologian had once so marked an influence, is now little more than a name, even to the descendants of his flock in Ettrick, and his books, which formerly were to be found in almost every peasant's house in Scotland, are unknown to later generations. Nor, perhaps, is that great matter for wonder. It must be confessed that these writings, which, up to even quite a recent date, had so great a hold on the Scottish peasant, and which, indeed, with the Bible formed almost his only reading, do not appeal to present day readers. The plums in the pudding to modern eyes seem few and far between. But there are plums to be found, and many a forcible expression. In "The Crook in the Lot," for instance, where his theme is profligacy, the expression is a happy one whereby he warns the vicious man against the possibility of a " leap out of Delilah's lap into Abraham's bosom."
Like most of his class and creed in those days, Boston was stern and unbending in his Calvinism, and when he came to Ettrick in 1707, he was faced by a state of affairs that bred for a time great friction between minister and congregation. The flock had been for a while without a shepherd, and laxity had crept into their church-going. Boston had to complain of the " indecent carriage of the people at the kirk, going out and in, and up and down the kirkyard the time of divine service." But he speedily drilled them into a line of conduct more seemly ; and whereas when he dispensed the Sacrament for the first time in 1710 there had been present only fifty-seven communicants, in 1731 when he dispensed it for the last time, there were no fewer than seven hundred and seventy-seven. Crowds of people from other parishes came vast distances over the pathless mountains in order to be present. Where did they all find food and accommodation, one wonders. The farmers, then as now the most hospitable and kindly of human beings, fed and housed numbers, as a matter of course, but they could not accommodate all, and there was then no inn at Tushielaw, none indeed nearer than Selkirk. Great must have been the fervour of those many scores of men and women who resolutely tramped so far over the wild hills to be present at " the Sacrament." There were no roads in those days, or practically none. Even at late as 1792, the Statistical Account of the Parish says : " The roads are almost impassable. The only road that looks like a turnpike is to Selkirk, but even it in many places is so deep as greatly to obstruct travelling. The distance is about sixteen miles, and it requires four hours to ride it. The snow also at times is a great inconvenience ; often for many months we can have no intercourse with our neighbours. Another great disadvantage is the want of bridges. For many hours the traveller is obstructed on his journey when the waters are swelled." Such was the condition of the hill country sixty years after Boston's death. In his day it must have been even worse ; probably the only road that resembled a road in 1792 was a mere track earlier in the century.
Close by Ettrick Kirk is Ettrick Hall, where Hogg was born. Though in name suggestive of a lordly mansion, it was in reality but a mean, and rather damp, little cottage, or " but and ben," of which there are now no remains. I under-stand that the walls fell down about the year 1830. There is now a monument to " the Shepherd " where the cottage stood ; and there is of course the commemorative statue over by St. Mary's, hard by " Tibbie Shiels." Hogg was, as the late Professor Ferrier said : "after Burns (proximus sed longo intervallo) the greatest poet that has ever sprung from the bosom of the common people." But to how many of those who visit his birth-place, or look on his monument over in Yarrow, are his works now familiar? How many of us, indeed, have any but the merest nodding acquaintance even with "Kilmeny"? And of his prose writings, who of the general public, except here and there a one, knows now even the " Brownie of Bodsbeck," a Covenanting story that used to thrill every Scottish boy ?