Redesdale And Its Ballads
( Originally Published 1920 )
The Middle Marches - " The deadly feud " - The life of a mosstrooper - A famous Reed and how he died - Border manners reflected in the ballad - The raid of the Reidswire - Wardens of the Marches in the sixteenth century - A dispute and how it ended - Jedburgh to the Reidswire.
To follow the North Tyne towards its source is to enter the region which composed the Middle Marches. It includes North Tynedale and Redesdale and differs materially in character from the Eastern and Western Marches. The Eastern Marches embraced that level Gate to and from Scotland which extended from the Cheviots to the sea and also the Forest of Cheviot. It provided the stage whereon were fought the great battles that date from Malcolm Canmore to the Union, and is studded with great Castles or their ruins. The Western Marches per-formed the same function for the entrance by Carlisle. " Warkworth and Naworth and merry Carlisle " existed to withstand invasion, but in " the land Debateable " each was for himself, and thieves of Redesdale and Tynedale foraged or fought among themselves or with thieves of Liddesdale. In it the king's writ did not run, and the typical inhabitant was that Robson who was described as a good and honest man " saving a little shyfting for his living." Instead of justice they had " the deadly feud." They were bound together in clans and families and woe to him who brought one of them under the punishment of the law. He was a marked man henceforth and the odds were strongly against his escaping the vengeance of the dead man's kindred. Surprise has been expressed that some of their deeds have been commemorated in ballad poetry which is unequalled the world over, but their adventurous lives could not fail to produce that emotion of which the best poetry is compact. Work they reduced to a minimum, but they were adepts at traversing their wild country at all times and seasons secretly and swiftly. Lesly, Bishop of Ross, has described them in words that enable one to picture the whole raid. The raider lay close all day and sallied out at night, making for his quarry by unfrequented byways and many intricate windings to the place he meant to raid. Having secured his booty, he started for home " through blind ways and fetching many a compass," in order to baffle pursuit. He still was not free from apprehension, which became agony when a distant baying announced that bloodhounds were on his track. Not always could he enjoy the good fortune of Deloraine, who
By sudden leaps and desperate bounds
If taken red-handed, then short was his shrift and unavailing his persuasiveness and plausibility or the appeal to mercy. Risking death and often inflicting it, running into great perils and under constant pressure alike of bodily pain and anxiety, his primitive fears and passions were expressed in keen, hard words that had a force beyond attainment in the study.
The best example that has come down to us to illustrate the ancient manners of Redesdale is that called "The Death of Parcy Reed." He belonged to the family of Troughend, a strong tower of which the massive foundations can yet be traced at a short distance from Troughend Hall. In Redesdale the Reeds ranked with the Hedleys, Fletchers and Spoors as next to the Halls, the most powerful family corresponding to the Robsons and Milbournes of North Tynedale. He appears to have been a typical Borderer of his day, a great hunter and fighter, rude of speech and contemptuous of religion and restraint. He was appointed Keeper of Redesdale and discharged the duties of that office with a fearless vigour that brought him into collision with some of his powerful neighbours. He dared even to administer justice to one of a band of moss-troopers named Crosier, and the ballad is the story of their revenge with the Halls as accomplices.
Now Parcy Reed has Crosier ta'en,
Parcy, unwitting that he has made them enemies, goes hunting with the " three fause Ha's o' Girsonfield " :
They hunted high, they hunted low,
At Batinghope, a high and lonely glen under the shadow of Carter, when the sun was sinking low
Says Parcy then, " Ca' off the dogs,
They alighted " atween the brown and benty ground " to do so, and the mighty hunter no sooner was stretched on the sward than Parcy Reed was sleeping sound." Now the traitors had their chance :
They've stown the bridle off his steed,
This being accomplished they give the alarm and awaken him by the cry that " the five Crosiers are coming owre the Hinginstane." The stout Parcy laughs at the odds ; if they will engage three he will deal with two and make them either fight or flee. But they refuse :
" We mayna stand, we canna stand,
In vain he beseeches them individually, and he had scarcely time to cross himself " a prayer he hadna time to say," till the Crosiers keen were upon him
All riding graithed and in array,
He felled the foremost to the ground with " his fankit sword," but the others swarmed in and overcame him. After many wounds
They hacked off his hands and feet
Then after a few words of savage exultation they rode off in the direction of Liddesdale and
It was the hour o' gloaming grey,
The ballad-maker had no thought of happy endings, and the ballad ends with the last words of the dying man.
It is a horrible story only redeemed by the restrained strength and beauty of the ballad. The incident narrated does not stand out as exceptional. It could be paralleled by similar occurrences in various countries at an early stage of their civilisation. Compare it, for instance, with the terrible scene in " The Horse Thieves," by the Russian novelist, Kuprin, where Buzega, the German, chops off the fingers of Kozel with a hatchet. Here is nothing but unrelieved horror, a sensational crime as compared with a tragedy of life and death.
The " Raid of the Reidswire " is another ballad which gives a striking account of the customs of Tynedale and Redesdale. It is notable, too, as commemorating the last Border dispute previous to the Union. The Reidswire is so close to the boundary that the water falls on one side into England, that is the valley of the Reed, and the other into Scotland. Sir Walter Scott's ac-count of the fray may be found in "The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border" and is substantially correct. The dispute arose at a meeting held by the Wardens of the Marches upon the 7th of June, 1575. The object of such meetings was to clear up grievances on either side and for the settlement of disputes. Sir John Carmichael was the Scottish Warden and Sir John Forster the Warden of the English Middle March. In the course of proceedings a true bill was found against a notorious English Freebooter named Farnstein. Forster claimed that he was a fugitive from justice, whereupon Carmichael, taking this as a pretext to avoid payment, shouted out, " Play Fair." Forster retorted with some insulting expressions regarding Carmichael's Family. His retinue, chiefly men of Redesdale and Tynedale, discharged a flight of arrows among the Scots, and the battle was begun. The ballad begins by describing the tryst and its object and gives a list of those who were pre-sent, men of Liddesdale led by Elliots, others from Teviot, Rule Water and Hawick Town. Turnbulls and Rutherfords were present from Jedburgh. On the English side were Sir John Forster, George Heron of Chipchase, and the various Northumbrian dales were represented. The meeting began with merriment, and all went well till the Clerk sat down to call the rules. Dandue Hob and Jock were called to settle for the kine and ewes they had stolen. Then the Scots saw " five hundred Fennicks in a flock " come marching over the hills. But the Scottish ballad-maker says they feared no ill :
Some gaed to drink and some stude still
Then began the dispute between Carmichael and Forster which caused the Tynedale men to let off a flight of arrows.
Then was there nought but bow and speir
Slogans were shouted, "Fy, Tindaill to it," " Jedburghshire." The Englishmen, as was still their custom, used the long bow, but the Scotsmen firearms, and they got the better of the conflict. Among those who distinguished themselves most were, George Douglas of Bean Jeddart, Rutherford of Hundlie, Sir Andrew Turnbull of Bedrule upon Rule Water and others whose names were celebrated in the ballad. Sir George Heron, the Keeper of Tynedale and Redesdale, with five other gentlemen of rank, were slain and Fenwick of Wallington severely wounded. The prisoners were taken to Dalkeith, but the Regent Morton, who was looking forward to what might happen after the death of Elizabeth, treated them well and eventually sent them home.
There are many ways of crossing the Border into Northumberland. Over the Tweed at Berwick is perhaps the most historic, and many a tumbling burn and lonely moor on the west side unite the mountains of Cumberland to the softer hill country between our eastern and our western seas. But to know the harsh entrance to Northumberland, familiar yet dreaded, that the Lowland moss-troopers out of Roxburgh rode, there is no way equal to the rough road over the hills by Jedburgh and Carter Fell. Over these high moors the track runs many a brown mile in unsurpassable solitude, where only the flash of the peewit's wing and his startled cry break the loneliness.
Untravelled as it is to-day, except by those who love walking far from the dust of the highway, yet it is near the Debateable, Land and we do not walk unaccompanied, for fierce altercation and Border cries come down with the wind from Peel Fell and Carter Fell. Along the bridle-path men from Liddesdale galloped hot to the tryst at Reidswire which ended so fatally after beginning " meek eneugh."
Last night a wind from Lammermoor came roaring up the glen
I said, " Oh ! Wind of Lammermoor, the night's too dark to ride
Out spoke the Wind of Lammermoor, " We know the road right well, The road that runs by Kale and Jed across the Carter Fell. There is no man of all the men in this grey troop of mine But blind might ride the Borderside from Teviothead to Tyne ! "
The horses fretted on their bits and pawed the flints to fire,
A roan horse to the gate they led, foam-flecked and travelled far ;
. . . And two by two we cantered through, a troop of ghostly men !
I know not if the farms we fired are burned to ashes yet !
The road falls abruptly from the moor to the edge of the high bank above the dashing Kielder, into which the unwary cyclist, should one essay the rugged road, might easily fall. But almost as unexpected as that is the termination of solitude in the little railway station with a single cottage adjoining, where a scared child sees the coming of a stranger and fades away beyond recall. Three trains a day and very few passengers make the human face strange and possibly unpleasant.