English Border Towns - Peebles, Neidpath, Manor, Lyne, Drummelzier, Dawyck
( Originally Published 1914 )
WRITING of Peebles in the year 1847 or [848, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder speaks of "the singular air of decayed royalty that hangs over it, and which so strangely blends with its perfect simplicity and rurality." More than any other of the Scottish Border towns, Peebles has a right to talk of " royalty." A royal poet has sung of her Beltane Feast ; —the evidence is at least as much for, as against, acceptance of the time-honoured belief that King James I was author of "Peblis to the Play." Professor Veitch strongly favours that conclusion. And unbroken tradition points to the King as the author.
From earliest times the town was a favourite residence of the Scottish monarchs, and to this day its place-names, such as King's Meadows, King's House, King's Orchards, for example, suggest royal traditions. The Burgh Records of Peebles, go back very far—to October 1456, in the reign of James II. It is a town of much interest and of much beauty, beautiful especially as regards its situation and surroundings, and there are still in it many remains that speak eloquently of the past. There is the old five-arched stone bridge, dating from about 1467, altered, of course, and widened since that date, but still the same old bridge. Until the erection of the bridge at Berwick early in the seventeenth century, I suppose that this was the only one spanning Tweed in all its course. Then there is the ancient Cross of Peebles, which, after various vicissitudes and excursions, at length stands once more on the spot where it was originally placed. It is said by the writer of the Statistical Account of the Parish to have been "erected by one of the Frasers of Neidpath Castle, before the time of Robert the Bruce, and bears the arms of the Frasers."
There are still to be seen within the burgh the ruins of the Cross Church, and of the Church of St. Andrew. The former got its name from the fact that in May, 1261, "a magnificent and venerable cross was found at Peblis," which was supposed to have been buried close on a thousand years before that date. Shortly after the unearthing of this cross, there was found near the same spot a stone urn, containing ashes and human bones, and on a stone the words carved : " The place of St. Nicholas the Bishop." On account of the miracles which were reputed to have been wrought where the cross was discovered, Alexander III caused a church to be erected on the spot, " in honour of God, and of the Holy Rood." This Cross Church in some unexplained way escaped practically unscathed during the English invasion of 1548-49, and from 156o till 1784 it served as the Parish Church—deprived, no doubt, of many an interesting relic of the past. At the last-named date, our zealous forefathers, more majorum, pulled it down—all but a fragment—in order, out of the material so obtained, to build a new Parish Church. (They had in those times a perfect genius for wrecking the beautiful and interesting, and for erecting the ugly and the dull.)
The other old church, that of St. Andrew, was founded about the year 1195. It, however, unlike its neighbour, suffered badly at the hands of the English in 1548, after which it gradually fell into ruin, and met the fate that was wont to wait on most of our venerable Scottish buildings. The tower alone remained, impervious to wind and weather, defiant of man's destroying hand. Thirty years ago, it was restored by the late Dr. William Chambers,--" more honour to him had he been less successful in concealing the old work," says Sir Herbert Maxwell, in his "Story of the Tweed." It was in the Church of St. Andrew, tradition says, that Cromwell's troopers stabled their horses in 165o when siege was being laid to Neidpath Castle.
Peebles at one time was a walled town, and I believe that some fragments of fortification remain. But the names : " Northgate," " Eastgate," " Portbrae," still recall former days. There was a castle also, a royal residence but though it yet stood in the end of the seventeenth century, or even a little later, there is now not a vestige of it to be found. Again, no doubt, the ruthless hand of our not very remote ancestors !
An -interesting and very ancient custom continues to be observed in the town. Annually, on the second day of May, there is chosen from among the youthful beauties of Peebles one who is styled the "Beltane Queen "; and Beltane Sports and Festivities are held. Chambers says : "The festivities of Beltane originated in the ceremonial observances of the original British people, who lighted fires on the tops of hills and other places in honour of their deity Baal; hence Beltane or Beltien, signifying the fire of Baal. The superstitious usage disappeared . . . but certain festive customs on the occasion were confirmed and amplified, and the rural sports of Beltane at Peebles, including archery and horse-racing . . . drew crowds not only from the immediate neighbourhood, but from Edinburgh and other places at a distance." "Peblis to the Play" is a description of the Festival as it was held in the day of the author; "a picture of rustic life and festivities, of the humorous and grotesque incidents of a mediaeval Feast Day in an old provincial town, the centre of a rural district," says Professor Veitch.
" At Beltane, when ilk bodie bownis
Space does not permit me to quote more than the opening verse.
Before moving on up the valley, one may recall the fact that at the Old Cross Keys Inn at Peebles Sir Walter found, in its then landlady, the original of his " Meg Dods " of " St. Ronan's Well." Guests arriving now-a-days at this Inn—which is as often called " the Cleikum " as the Cross Keys-still drive into the yard under the "old-fashioned archway " of the novel; still there is shown "Sir Walter's room," overlooking the yard ; and still, it may perhaps be noted, there is to be found at the head of affairs one who, while leaving out Meg's "detestable bad humour" and asperity of tongue, in all essentials is worthy to rank as her successor. " Her kitchen was her pride and glory ; she looked to the dressing of every dish herself, and there were some with which she suffered no one to interfere. . . . Meg's table-linen, bed-linen, and so forth, were always home-made, of the best quality, and in the best order ; and a weary day was that to the chambermaid in which her lynx eye discovered any neglect of the strict cleanliness which she constantly enforced." The most fervent patriotism cannot, I fear, blind one to the sad fact that a majority of Scottish country inns do not strive very successfully to vie with Meg in those qualities which made her so shining an ornament of her sex. Too often one is left to the greasy attentions of a waiter of foreign tongue, whose mercies it might be desired were more tender than the scrag-end of the cold beef to which, in a parlour of the lethal-chamber variety, he somewhat tardily introduces tired wayfarers. And the beef itself might in many cases taste none the less of beef, if it were served on table-linen not quite so elaborately decorated with outlines of mustard pots and Worcester Sauce bottles, left by the day-beforeyesterday's commercial traveller.
This Cleikum, or Cross Keys Inn, is a building of more than respectable age; it dates from the year 1653, when it was the town house of the Williamsons of Cardrona, a tower a few miles down Tweed, nearly opposite to Horsburgh. Probably both the Cross Keys and its neighbour the Tontine Hotel—Meg's " Tomteen," the " bottle " of which she spoke so wrathfully--were in Sir Walter's mind when he wrote the novel.
And now we may set out once again up Tweed—not forgetting, however, that Peebles with its mills also contributes no small share to the pollution of that much-injured river. A mile or so out of the town, there is the old castle of Neidpath, in very remote days a stronghold of the Frasers of Fruid and Oliver Castle, in Tweedsmuir. A Hay of Yester, ancestor of Lord Tweeddale, succeeded the Frasers in 1312, by marriage with the daughter of Sir Simon Fraser; and after the Hays, by purchase came the Queensberry family, of whom, the fourth Duke, " Old Q.," Wordsworth's " Degenerate Douglas," " unworthy lord," did his best to wreck the estate in 1795• What he could spoil and disfigure, he did spoil and disfigure. And here at Neidpath he swept off the face of nature every stick of timber, old and young, that could be felled or destroyed, leaving, as far as lay in his power, the landscape bare almost as it was when primeval chaos ended. Replanting could not be set about as long as "Old Q." lived, and a hundred years scarce repaired the damage he did. It is curious to note how one who in all respects during his life was so very far removed from grace, at the end wished to lie (where I believe his body does lie), under the Communion Table of St. James's Church, Piccadilly—in his estimation perhaps a sort of side-gate or private entrance to Heaven. The path is steep and the way thorny to most of us. And how fares " Old Q."? I hardly think that the inhabitants of Peebles, had they been Roman Catholics at the time of his death, would have paid for Masses for the soul of the dead "Old Q.," as they did lang syne for the soul of the dead King James the First.
Neidpath Castle is said by old Dr. Pennecuick to have been in reality the stronghold which was anciently called the Castle of Peebles. But there are allusions to the "'Castel of Peebles " in the Earl of Tweeddale's Rental book for 1685, and Neidpath was Neidpath centuries before that date. On this subject, Professor Veitch, writing about 1877, says : "The Castle of Peebles was standing and inhabited in the early part of last century. It was afterwards pulled down, and the materials converted, according to the morality and taste of the time, into one of the least architecturally attractive parish edifices in Christendom." As to Neidpath's age, there is no sure record, but as it was a seat of that Sir Simon Fraser who defeated the English three times in one day at Roslin Muir in 1303, its antiquity must be very great. And what a place of immense strength it must originally have been, before the days of artillery. Its walls are ten feet thick, put together with that ancient form of cement which, when dry, became hard as the stones it bound together ; and it stands on a high rock over-hanging an elbow of Tweed where the water is deep, and was therefore on the river face unassailable. But the day of artillery came too soon for Neidpath. It fell before the guns of Cromwell in 1650, after a most gallant resistance under the young Lord Yester,—father, I suppose, of the Lord Yester who wrote the fine old ballad "Tweedside."
Like every other part of the Vale of Tweed, here also it is beautiful. Looking back towards Peebles from above Neidpath the view is very fine, though perhaps an eyesore may be found in the unwholesome speckled appearance given to the castle by the way in which the " facing" of its walls has been done.
Little more than a mile from here, Tweed is joined by Manor Water, a stream now probably best known as that beside which stands the cottage of "Bowed Davie," the original of Scott's "Black Dwarf " of Mucklestane Muir. Sir Walter was staying at Hallyards, on Manor Water, in 1797, with his friend Adam Ferguson, and it was on that occasion that he first saw David Ritchie, a poor misshapen dwarf, embittered by the derision which his extraordinary personal appearance every-where brought on him, and who had retired to this unfrequented valley, where he built himself a cottage of dimensions in keeping with his own stature. The cottage still stands, " where from his bole the awsome form peer'd grim on passer-bye," but at least the exterior has been modernised, and an addition has been made ; his garden wall, with its ponderous stones, is much as Bowed Davie left it. The "Black Dwarf " was not written till a good many years after Ritchie's death. His grave is in Manor Kirkyard, not, as he himself originally meant it to be, in a secluded spot of his own choice, surrounded by the rowan-trees that it comforted him to think could be relied on to keep witches, and evil spirits generally, at a respectable distance. Poor Davie ! There were worse things than witches to be taken into account. It is said—Dr. John Brown mentions it—that his body proved a temptation too great to be resisted by resurrectionists. They dug him up, and carried the poor "thrawn" frame to where it could he sold. Perhaps in death he still excites that derision or pity which in life so angered him; his bones may now lie in some city anatomical museum.
Within the Vestry of Manor Parish Kirk, there is, according to the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland edited by Mr. F. H. Groome, "a table made of oak that had been used for church building not later than the thirteenth century ; and a bell in the belfry bears the Latin inscription : `In honore Sanct. Gordiani MCCCCLXXVIII."' And far up the vale, near Kirkhope, is the site of this St. Gordian's Kirk, " marked by a granite runic cross, with the old font stone at its base."
Manor Valley in days of old must have been a " mischancey " spot for any stranger whose intentions were, so to speak, not " strictly honourable." There were, in and about it, not fewer than nine or ten peel towers, two at least of which—Barns and Castlehill—belonged to the Burnets, than whom none bore higher reputation as reivers and men of action. In 1591 no Borderer was more renowned for his exploits and for his conduct of midnight forays, than William Burnet, the " Hoolet of Barns." His tower, Barns, is rather nearer Tweed than Manor, but it is included in the strongholds of Manor Valley. It is still in excellent preservation, but the roof is modern, and the upper part of the tower has been greatly altered from what it was originally. The accommodation in such towers must have been something of the most cramped ; in this instance the outside dimensions of the tower (three stories) are only twenty-eight by twenty feet. On the lintel of the door is the date 1498, but there appears to be some uncertainty as to whether the figures were not added at a later time. Castlehill, now a ruin, " hollow-eyed, owl-haunted," was somewhat larger and stronger than Barns. Higher up the valley is Posso, now mere fragments of walls. It was of old a seat of the Bairds, who were succeeded in the sixteenth century by the Naesmiths. At Posso Craigs was the eyry whence Henry Ashton in the "Bride of Lammermuir" got his hawks. And here under the craigs is the Ship Stone. The whole valley teems with objects of antiquarian interest—the tumulus called the Giants' Grave, up Glenrath Burn ; the "cup-marked fallen monolith," that was once an old woman whom the devil turned into stone ; the old Thief's Road, trodden of old by many a mob of "lifted" cattle ; numerous hill forts. And from the bosom of the wild hills springs Manor; a tiny rivulet from Dollar Law-(is " Dollar " a corruption of " Dolour," the Hill of Sorrow ?)—from Notman Law another; infantile rills from Shielhope Head, Black Law, Blockhouse Heights, grim round-shouldered hills that rise all of them to a greater altitude than two thousand feet. And everywhere is the music of running water.
" In its far glen, Manor outspreads its arms
Cademuir, by the way, the hill on Manor's right at its junction with Tweed, is the supposed scene of Arthur's seventh battle against the Pagans. Cad is Welsh for battle,—Gaelic, cath, hence Cad-more, the " great battle." Professor Veitch hesitates between , this site and that of the neighbouring pre-historic hill fort, the Lour, near Dawyck, but thinks the former the more probable. Just below the height of the Lour, till the beginning of the nineteenth century there stood, he says, an almost perfect cromlech, consisting of " two or more upright stones, and one flat stone laid across as a roof, all of remarkable size." This cromlech was known in the district as Arthur's Oven. It is humiliating to have to confess that it, the neighbouring old peel tower of Easter Dawyck, the Tower of Posso, and the ancient Kirk of St. Gordian, were all made into road metal, or used as material for building walls or farm buildings, by Sir Walter Scott's father, of all people in the world. One may wonder what were Sir Walter's thoughts when he came to know.
A little way up from Manor Valley, and joining Tweed from the northern side, is Lyne Water. It is not possible to pursue all Tweed's tributaries to their source, however full of interest each may be, for their name is legion. But Lyne cannot be passed without note being taken of its little—very little—early seventeenth century Parish Church. And adjoining it are remains of a great Roman camp—Randall's Wa's, it has been called locally from times long past. Perhaps it was here—at least it was on Lyne Water--that Sir James Douglas captured Randolph before the time came when the latter finally cast in his lot with the Bruce, Farther up, on an eminence at the junction of Lyne and Tarth Waters, stands the massive ivy-clad ruin of Drochil Castle. Built by the Regent Morton in the sixteenth century, Drochil was never completed, and never occupied. Just before the building approached completion, Morton, judged guilty of complicity in the murder of Darnley, was executed, beheaded by " the Maiden "—a sort of Scottish guillotine—on 2nd June, 1581 ; and the home of a Regent of Scotland, "designed more for a palace than a castle of defence," is now a ruin, of use only as a shelter for cattle !
Happrew, on Lyne, is the scene of the defeat " wrought by the lords William de Latymer, John de Segrave, and Robert de Clifford, upon Simone Fraser and William le Walleys at Hopperowe," in 1304. And on the elevated heathy flat below which Tweed and Lyne meet, there is what is called the Sheriff's Muir, of old a mustering place for Scottish forces during the wars with England.
And now, as we run up Tweed's left bank, we have on the one side Stobo, with its ancient church—of which mention has been made earlier in this volume—and its fine woods ; on the other bank, Dawyck, and the castles of Tinnies and Drummelzier. From the thirteenth well on into the seventeenth century, Dawyck was the home of a distinguished Tweedside family, the Veitches, once the Le Vaches, of Gascony, of whom one, William le Vache, signed the Ragman Roll at the Castle of Peebles in 1296. At the same time that the Veitches held Dawyck, Drummelzier was the headquarters of another powerful Border family, the Tweedys ; and for the delicate questions involved in the origin of this family's name, readers may consult Sir Walter's introduction to "The Betrothed." Of necessity, as things went in those days, these two families quarrelled, and from the quarrel emerged a feud long and bloody, in which, ere it ended, half the countryside was involved. Wherever a Veitch and a Tweedy met, they fought, and fought to kill. On the haughs of the river one summer's day, young Veitch and young Tweedy, each, perhaps, looking for trouble, came together face to face. The grey of next morning saw of the latter but
" A face upturned to the breaking dawn,
He lay beside the quiet water, and over him, it is said, like a snowy pall drooped the clustering May-blossom.
"His mother sought him on the haugh,
In 1590, the head of the Veitches, "the Deil o' Dawyck," an immensely powerful man, had for his ally William Burnet, "the Hoolet o' Barns," a man equally powerful. These two daunted the Tweedy of that day; the feud for a space lay dormant. But, most unhappily for the Veitches, it chanced that "the Deil's" son rode into Peebles alone one morning. And that was the end of young Veitch. For nine Tweedys, in two parties, trapped him near Neidpath, came on him in front and from the rear as he rode towards home ; and it was no fight, but bloody murder that reddened the grass that day. Four days later, two Veitches met John Tweedy, Tutor of Drummelzier, in the High Street of Edinburgh, and young Veitch's bloody death was avenged ; " a tooth for a tooth," no matter how many were concerned in its drawing. And so it went on ad nauseam, a Veitch killing a Tweedy, a Tweedy a Veitch. The feud was alive even as late as 1611 ; and for anything that I know to the contrary, it endured as long as the two families were there to neighbour each other on Tweedside.
Of Drummelzier Castle only an angle of the tower and a portion of the main building now stand. It was here that there dwelt that arrogant bully, Sir James Tweedy, who of old was wont to exact homage from every passing traveller; and the traveller who omitted to, so to speak, " lower his tops'ls" as he passed the castle, had cause to rue the day the fates took him that way. It was a pretty enough game from Tweedy's point of view. But, as the saying is, one day he "bit off more than he could chew." A stranger, attended. by a very small retinue, passed up the valley without taking the smallest notice of the castle or its formidable owner. Foaming with rage, spluttering dire threats, Tweedy and his men. went thundering in pursuit ; truly, the back of that stranger should smart to some tune. But, just as you may see the birses and tail of a vicious, snarling cur drop when he finds he has inadvertently rushed out against a bigger dog than himself, so here, Tweedy's mood changed with astonishing celerity when he jumped from his horse beside the man he had been cursing and bawling at to stop, and found that the fugitive he was vowing to flog was his king, James V.
Tinnies Castle was also a holding of the Tweedys, possibly before the building of Drummelzier. This castle is believed to date from the thirteenth century, or perhaps earlier, and it seems to have been a place of considerable size and of great strength. "In no part of Scotland was there any feudal keep so like a robber's castle on the Rhine, as that of Tinnis," says Chambers. The building was destroyed under royal warrant in 1592, at the time when the King issued orders to raze Dryhope and Harden. The position of Tinnies is immensely strong. Perched on a lofty eminence, three of whose sides are almost perpendicular and the fourth a long steep slope, the castle in its day must have been almost unassailable. Any approach to the walls could only be made in force by a narrow winding pathway, within shot of, and fully exposed to, the castle bowmen, and the building itself, as may even yet be noted, was of a solidity truly formidable. Immense portions of the walls and flanking towers, yet bound by the old imperishable cement, still lie where they were bodily hurled by the exploding gunpowder when James VI's orders were carried out.
Of Dawyck and its magnificent woods one must not forget to take note. Here in 1725 were planted the first larches introduced into Scotland, anticipating it is said, by a few years those planted at Dunkeld. And while on the subject of natural history, one may perhaps quote that most notable fact regarding Dawyck which Dr. Pennecuick, writing in the early eighteenth century, vouches for in his " Shire of Tweeddale." " Here," says he, " in an old Orch-yard did the Herons in my time build their Nests upon some old Pear-trees, whereupon in the Harvest time are to he seen much Fruit growing, and Trouts and Iles crauling down the Body of these Trees. These fish the Herons take out of the River of Tweed to their Nests, and as they go in at the Mouth, so they are seen squirt out again at the Draught. And this is the remarkable Riddle they so much talk of, to have Flesh, Fish, and Fruit at the same time upon one tree." There is still a heronry at Dawyck,- but not, I think, in an " Orchyard."
In the neighbourhood of Drummelzier there is a spot that takes us back in thought to those dim, far off days when the world was in its infancy. Near to where Powsayl Burn, the " burn of the willows," joins Tweed, you may see the grave of Merlin the Seer, the Wizard Merlin. Fleeing from the field of Arderydd (Arthuret, near Carlisle), after the terrible defeat of the Pagans by the Christians in 573, Merlin found refuge among the hills of Upper Tweed, and there lived for many years, half-crazed, a homeless wanderer. Finally, the fear raised by his supposed possession of supernatural powers, and the dread of his enchantments, caused a mob of ignorant country-folk to club and stone him to death, and he was buried where he fell, by the Powsayl burn. In a poem still extant, Merlin tells how he wandered long in the wild wood of Caledon.
" Sweet apple tree, growing by the river !
The place of the " apple tree " was Tal And—Talla of to-day ; and somewhere between Drummelzier and Talla, Merlin and St. Kentigern foregathered for a time. High up on the mighty shoulder of Broadlaw, too, there is a spring that gushes out from the hillside clear and cool, that may be the fountain—fins in summo vertice montis—beside which Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1150 tells that Merlin was wont to rest. And the "fair sportive maid "—that is Nimiane, Tennyson's "Vivien." A Romance of the fifteenth century tells how "Thei sojourned together longe time, till it fell on a day that thei went thourgh the foreste hande in hande devysing and disportynge, and this was in the foreste of Brochelonde, and fonde a bussh that was feire and high of white hawthorne, full of floures, and ther thei sat in the shadowe ; and Merlin leide hys heed in the damesels lappe, and she began to taste softly till he fill on slepe ; and when she felt that he was on slepe she aroos softly, and made a cerne (circle) with hys wymple all aboute the bussh and all aboute Merlin, and began hir enchantementes soche as Merlin hadde hir taught, and made the cerne ix tymes, and ix tymes her enchantementes ; and after that she wente and satte down by hym and leide hys heed in hir lappe, and hilde hym ther till he dide awake ; and then he looked aboute hym, and hym semed he was in the feirest tour of the worlde, and the most stronge, and fonde hym leide in the feirest place that ever he lay beforn . . . . Ne never after com Merlin out of that fortresse that she hadde hym in sette; but she wente in and oute whan she wolde." Not far from the churchyard of Drummelzier to this day they point out the grave where Merlin lies beneath a thorn tree. And to everyone is known Thomas the Rhymer's prediction :
"When Tweed and Powsayl meet at Merlin's grave
and how the prophecy was fulfilled that same day on which James of Scotland was crowned King of England. For Tweed then so overflowed its banks that burn and river joined beside the spot where Merlin lies, which, as Dr. Pennecuick says, " was never before observed to fall out, nor since that time."
Over against Drummelzier, Biggar Water falls into Tweed, and a curious circumstance about this stream is this, that " on the occasion of a large flood . . . the Clyde actually pours a portion of its water into one of the tributaries of Tweed." The whole volume of Clyde at Biggar, says Sir Archibald Geikie, could without any difficulty be made to flow into Tweed by way of the Biggar Water. The latter at one point is separated from Clyde by but one and a half miles of almost level ground.
All this region of Biggar Water is rich in remains of old towers and camps ; but of the most important, that of Boghall Castle at Biggar, seat of the great Fleming family, Lords Fleming in 1460, there is now practically nothing left standing; the customary fate, the fate that so long dogged most Scottish historical buildings overtook it about sixty or seventy years ago. It was a place of strength in 1650, when Cromwell's men held it; a sketch done in 1779 by John Clerk of Eldin, shows that it was then entire, or almost entire, and it stood, a fine ruin, as lately as 1831, when Sir Walter and Lockhart were at Biggar.
With what devilish energy since then must the wreckers have laboured to destroy ! Of Biggar Moss, Blind Harry tells the wondrous tale of how Wallace, with a diminutive Scottish force, smote here in 1279 a large English army led by Edward I ; eleven thousand Englishmen were slain, says the veracious poet. And if corroboration of Blind Harry be needed, why is there not standing here, as witness to this very day, the Cadger's Brig, over which, as local tradition vouches, Wallace, disguised as a hawker, crossed on his way to spy out the weak points in Edward's camp ! As with most Border places, there is no lack of interest about Biggar, but considerations of space forbid any attempt to treat of its history. Yet it must not be omitted that here was born a man greatly loved in Scotland, Dr. John Brown, best known to the outside world, perhaps, as the author of " Rab and his Friends."