English Border Towns - Kershopefoot, Carlisle Castle, Solway Moss
( Originally Published 1914 )
A LITTLE further down the river we come to the Kershope Burn, here the boundary between Scotland and England. It was here, at " the Dayholme of Kershoup "—which I take to be the flat land on the Scottish side of Liddel, opposite to the mouth of the burn--that the Wardens' Meeting was held in 1596, which became afterwards so famous owing to the illegal capture by the English of Kinmont Willie. All the world knows the tale, and all the world knows how gallantly Buccleuch rescued the prisoner from Carlisle Castle. But until one goes to Carlisle, and takes note for oneself of the difficulties with which Buccleuch had to contend, and the apparently hopeless nature of his undertaking, it is not possible to appreciate the full measure of the rescuer's gallantry. Kinmont, I suppose, on the day of his capture was riding quietly homeward down the Scottish side of the river, suspecting no evil, for the day was a day of truce. " Upon paine of death, presentlie to be executed, all persones whatsoever that come to these meitings sould be saife fra any proceiding or present occasioun, from the tyme of Meiting of the Wardens, or their Deputies, till the next Day at the sun rysing." The English did not play the game ; from their own side of Liddel they had probably kept Kinmont in sight, meaning to seize him if opportunity offered. And they made the opportunity. For the most part, the banks of Liddel here are steep and broken, and the river is devoid of any ford ; but a mile or two down from Kershopefoot the land on the Scottish side slopes gently from the water, and it is easily fordable. Here probably began the chase which ended in Willie's capture. A very fine sword was found near this ford a great many years ago, possibly a weapon lost by one of the pursuers, hurrying to get across.
The night of Kinmont's release, the 13th of April, 1596, was very dark, with rain falling, and a slight mist rising over the river flats at Carlisle. And the Eden was swollen. It is not possible to form any very definite idea of the initial difficulty Buccleuch must have met with at this point, because the bed of the river is now entirely different from what it was then. In former days, I believe, a long, low island lay in mid-stream, the water flowing swiftly through two channels. Even now there is shallow water part way across, but the stream runs strong and it would be ill to ford, especially on a dark night. Buccieuch, I take it, must have swum his horses across the Eden nearly opposite, but a trifle above, the mouth of the little river Caldew, "the water being at the tyme, through raines that had fallen, weill thick ; he comes to the Sacray, a plaine place under the toune and castell, and halts upon the syde of a little water or burne that they call Caday." The " Sacray" is of course what now goes by the name of the Sauceries.
Buccleuch's scaling ladders proved too short to enable him to get within the castle walls by their means ; but there is a small postern gate in the wall (nearly abreast of the present public Abattoirs), and this was forced, or at least one or two men squeezed in here, possibly by removing a stone below the gate, and opened the postern to their comrades. This postern has recently been reopened. After Buccleuch's exploit it had been securely built up on both sides, outside and in ; and later, a Cook's galley and other domestic offices were erected on the inner side, against the wall, effectually hiding the old gate. These buildings and the stonework blocking the postern have now been pulled down, and the identical little oaken gate through which Buccleuch and his men entered, once more has seen the light of day, and, I understand, is now being put in a state of thorough repair.
Having made his entry, Buccleuch placed one part of his force between the castle and the town, so that he might not he assailed in rear, and, leaving a few men to guard the postern and secure their retreat, the rest pushed towards Kinmont Willie's place of confinement in the Keep, all making as great a noise as possible, " to terrifie both castell and toune by ane imaginatioun of a greater force." Hitherto they had encountered only the castle sentinels, who were easily scattered and brushed aside ; "the rest that was within doors heiring the noyse of the trumpet within, and that the castell was entered, and the noyse of others without, both the Lord Scroope himself and his deputy Salkeld being thair with the garrisone and hys awin retinew, did keep thamselffis close."
It was one thing, however, for the rescuers to have forced their way inside the castle walls, but it should have been quite another, to accomplish the feat of getting the prisoner out of the dungeon. Through a female spy they knew in what part of the castle he lay ; but his place of confinement,—inside the Keep,—was quite a hundred yards from the postern gate, and surely a few resolute men might have held so strong a post for a time without much difficulty. Lord Scrope, however, did not emerge from his retreat ; and to the others as well, discretion seemed the better part of valour. Meantime, Buccleuch's trumpets were blaring out the arrogant old Elliot slogan ; " O wha daur meddle wi' me ? " ; and his men,, falling to with energy, forced the gate of the Keep, burst in the massive door of the outer dungeon, tore away that of the dark and noisome inner prison, a rough, vaulted stone chamber to which no ray of light ever penetrated even on the brightest day, and there they found Kinmont, chained to the wall. No time now to strike off his fetters ; they could but free him from the long iron bar that ran along one side of the wall, and
" Then Red Rowan has hente him up,
" `Farewell, farewell, my gude Lord Scroope !
"Then shoulder high, with shout and cry,
We scarce had won the Staneshaw-bank,
But still they held aloof, hesitating to attack the retreating little Scottish band, and Buccleuch and his men, with Willie in their midst, plunged in and safely recrossed the swollen river.
" He turned him on the other side,
But Lord Scrope on this night scarcely merited the term, " keen" ; he went no farther towards Scotland than the water's edge.
` He is either himself a devil frae hell,
cried he, according to the ballad. Was he, one cannot help wondering, ashamed of the English breach of Border law entailed in the matter of Kinmont's capture, and was he in a measure wilfully playing into Buccleuch's hands ? If that were the case, he took on himself a heavy risk. Elizabeth was not exactly the kind of Sovereign who would be likely to be tender hearted and to make allowances for slackness in such an affair, nor one with whom her servants might safely take liberties.
As safely might the gambolling lamb play pranks with the drowsing wolf.
Not far from Longtown, at a place called Dick's Tree, on the farther side of Esk, there still stands the " smiddy " (or smith's shop) where Kinmont's irons were struck off. In one of Sir Walter Scott's M.S. letters of 1826 it is told that: "Tradition preserves the account of the smith's daughter, then a child, how there was a sair clatter at the door about daybreak, and loud crying for the smith ; but her father not being on the alert, Buccleuch himself thrust his lance thro' the window, which effectually bestirred him. On looking out, the woman continued, she saw, in the grey of the morning, more gentlemen than she had ever before seen in one place, all on horseback, in armour, and dripping wet—and that Kinmont Willie, who sat woman-fashion behind one of them, was the biggest carle she ever saw-and there was much merriment in the company." Except for this event, Dick's Tree is quite uninteresting, and quite unpicturesque ; it is merely a cottage like a thousand others to be seen in the Border, possessing no special feature, or even any indication of antiquity. And no one works the "smiddy" now, except at odd times; modern requirements have, I understand, taken the business away to Longtown.
What was the end of Kinmont Willie no one knows, but he certainly lived to pay, to some small extent, for his "lodging maill ;" he was engaged in a raid on Lord Scrope's tenants in the year i600, and doubtless he did not forget the debt incurred at Carlisle. Later than this I think there is no record of him, but it would not be surprising to learn that at the last Lord Scrope was able to give a receipt in full. Many an Armstrong in old days danced at the end of a rope at " Hairribie." Not improbably, Kinmont was one of them. There is a grave in an old churchyard not far from the Tower of Sark, which is pointed out as his. But the date on the tombstone makes it impossible that the veritable Willie of Kinmont lies underneath. The name of " William Armstrong called Kynmount" is in Lord Maxwell's Muster Roll of 1585, together with those of his seven sons. Willie, therefore—if at that date he had seven sons fit to fight—could have been no youth. Now the William Armstrong to whose memory the Sark tombstone is erected died in 1658, which, if he had been the famous Kinmont, would give him an age of considerably over a hundred years. But in any case, it is an interesting old stone. Many years ago steps were taken to preserve it from further decay, and the lettering and other points were retouched. Round the edges of the stone is cut.
Below are the Armstrong bent arm holding a sword, a skull and crossed bones, an hour glass and other emblems, and below all, " MEMENTO . MORA." This William Armstrong, there-fore, who died in 1658, aged 56, was not born when Kinmont Willie was rescued by Buccleuch from Carlisle Castle.
Here, on the lower part of Sark, we are in a country world-famed for its old fashioned run-away marriages, more famed even than was Coldstream. Down the river is Sark Bridge, with its toll-bar, and adjacent to it, Gretna Green. At the toll-house alone in the early part of last century, within six years thirteen hundred couples were married—a profitable business for the " priest," (usually the village blacksmith,) for his fee ranged from half a guinea to a hundred pounds, according to the circumstances of each fond couple. But what was charged in a case such as that of Lord Erskine, Lord High Chancellor of England, who, when he was nearly seventy years of age, eloped with a blushing spinster and was married at Gretna—in the Inn, I think--history does not tell. There is a something, part comic, part pathetic, in the thought of the tired old gentleman gallantly propping himself in a corner of his post chaise, flying through the darkness of night on Love's wings, a fond bride by his side. And when grey dawn at length stole through the breath-dimmed glass of the closed windows, revealing the "elderly morning dew" on his withered cheeks and stubbly chin, with callous disregard emphasizing the wrinkles, the bags below the puffy eyes—bloodshot from want of sleep--and the wig awry, did the young lady begin to repent her bargain, one may wonder.
Stretched between Sark and Longtown is the Debateable Land and Solway Moss ; the latter " just a muckle black moss," they will tell you here, yet surely not without its own beauty under certain combinations of sun and cloud. " Solway Moss " is a name of evil repute to us of Scotland, for here on 24th November 1542 took place the most miserable of all Border battles—if indeed "battle" is a term in any degree applicable to the affair. The encounter, such as it was, took place not so much in Solway Moss, however, as over towards Arthuret. The Scots--a strong raiding army, but disorganised, and in a state of incipient mutiny against their newly-appointed leader, Oliver Sinclair, (Ridpath says : " a general murmur and breach of all order immediately ensued" when his appointment was made known,)—at dawn of the 24th were already burning northward through the Debateable Land. Wharton with his compact little English force watched them from Arthuret Howes and skilfully drew them into a hopeless trap between the Esk and an impassable swamp, where there was no room to deploy. Here the English—at most not a sixth part so numerous as the Scots—charging down on the Scottish right flank threw them into hopeless confusion, and from that minute all was over.
Panic seized the Scots : men cast aside whatever might hamper their flight, and, plunging into the water, scrambled for what safety they might find among the Grahams and the English borderers of Liddesdale—which, as it turned out, meant little better than scrambling from the frying pan into the fire. Many were driven into the swamp and perished there miserably, many were drowned in the river, and twelve hundred men—including a large percentage of nobles—were captured. Out of a force variously estimated at from two to. three thousand strong—Sir William Musgrave, who was with the cavalry, puts it at the higher figure—the English lost but seven men killed. It was a sorry business, a dreadful day for Scotland ; and it ended the life of James V as effectually as if he had been slain on the field of battle. I do not know if Arthuret church was injured on this occasion ; it is recorded in 1597 that it had then been ruinous for about sixty years. Perhaps the Armstrongs may have been responsible ; they made a big raid hereaway in 1528. The present building dates, I believe, from 1609.
There was another calamity connected with Solway Moss, later than the battle and local in effect, yet sufficiently terrible to cast over the district a black shadow of tragedy, the memory of which time has lightened but even yet has not entirely wiped out. November 1771 was a month of evil note for its storms and ceaseless wet. Day followed day sodden with driving rain, and the country lay, smothered under a ragged grey blanket of mist. Firm ground became a quagmire that quaked under foot, pools widened into lakes, and the rivers and wandered at will. Many people living in the low-lying flats surrounding the Moss, alarmed for the safety of their cattle, were abroad in the dark of the morning of 16th November, intent on getting the beasts to higher ground, rose in dreadful spate that yet failed to carry off the superfluous water. Liddel roared through the rocky gorge of Penton Linn with a fury such as had never been known ; Esk left her bed when a long-drawn muffled rumble, as of distant thunder, startled them. The Moss had burst, spewing out from its maw a putrid mass that spread relentlessly, engulfing house after house, in many cases catching the inhabitants in their beds. For weeks the horrible eruption spread, and ere its advance was stayed thirty families were homeless, their houses, furniture, and live-stock buried twenty feet deep under a black slime that stank like the pit of Tophet.
Harking back to Carlisle, (which we left in company of Kinmont Willie,) one would fain linger in that pleasant town, to dream awhile over its alluring past. But Carlisle is a subject too big to introduce at the close of a volume ; there is a more than sufficient material in the story of the castle (with its wealth of warlike and. other memories), and of the Cathedral, alone to make a fair-sized book. There is too much to tell; for, besides the story of the captivity here of Queen Mary of Scotland, and that of the capture of Carlisle by Prince Charlie, there are a hundred and one other things, if once a beginning were made and space to tell them were available. (What used to be called Queen Mary's Tower, to save cost of repairs was pulled down by Government between 1824 and 1835, together with the Hall in which Edward I held Parliaments, and much else of surpassing interest. Vandalism in those days was a vice which affected not alone the private individual.) Moreover, there would be the question of where to stop, for if the history of Carlisle be touched upon, at once we are mixed up with that of half a score of places in the immediate neighbour-hood, all of which are full of profoundest interest. There would be, for example, Naworth, not far from the quaint little town of Brampton, Naworth with its massive walls, and memories of the Dacres, and of Belted Will Howard—a name better known to Border fame, at least to the Borderer of today, than even that of his predecessors. Then there would necessarily be the fascinating subject of the Roman wall, of Bird-Oswald camp, of Lanercost, and of Gilsland, with its memories of Sir Walter. One must needs make an end somewhere, and it is hopeless to treat of such subjects in small space. But Bewcastle, perhaps, because of its connection with a subject mentioned earlier in this volume, must not be omitted.