Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Gateway of Scotland
Chapter IV. Tweedside

THE "Merse" is something of an archaic term, and the Scottish pronunciation must be remembered together with the fact that it signifies the Marsh or March, the fashion or the loose spelling in times remote having disposed of the final h. The "Merse" may or may not be applied in print to the whole of Berwickshire; but in practice, so far as the term is in Iocal use, it generally stands for the fat, undulating, well-farmed, richly wooded lowland that occupies about half the county, and lies between the Lammermoors and the 'Tweed. A sheep farmer in the Berwickshire Lammermoors, which are the larger part of that long sweeping range, would assuredly speak of the "Merse" as another district, and associated with the arts of husbandry. Lauderdale, again, runs from north to south across the western end of the county, but I do not think that its people ever think of themselves as living in the "Verse." Whether the bare stone wall, poorish country reclaimed from moor and moss, that lies between Lauderdale and the undoubted Mere and to the west of Greenlaw would strictly be included under that informal but ancient and familiar term I do not know, nor probably does anybody in it.

It does not matter in the least. Probably the same uncertainties would confront a native if requested to delimit the Weald of Kent, and such precision would be of little consequence. What is the Merse, however, beyond dispute is that broad, delectable, and diversified stretch of country that spreads westward for twenty odd miles to near Kelso and Greenlaw, lying, as related, between the Lammerrnoors and the Tweed. But no strangers ever go touring in the Merse. At any rate in the course of considerable journeys over its highways and byways, during two or three recent summers, I have never seen any outward or visible sign of such a thing, nor ever encountered a person looking in the least like one impelled there from some far country by mere curiosity. This will perhaps be accounted a merit, and it is chiefly worth noting as the Merse proper runs out into what guide-books call " the Scott country." For Sinailholin Tower, though not of it apparently in the tourist sense, is most assuredly in it, and also in Berwickshire, while Dryburgh, where you are fairly engulfed in the pilgrim vortex, is just within the county; but of this anon.

The Merse is assuredly the most luxuriant spot in Scotland. The Lothians are laid out by man and nature upon rather a different scheme, nor have the far northern counties of England anywhere a region so lavish at once of the soil's abundance and the greenwood shade. The lairds of Berwickshire were second to none in that ardour for tree-planting which so felicitously took hold of Scottish fancy in the early eighteenth century, and by degrees converted a country whose astounding nakedness was the burden of every traveller's tale, into a normal condition wherever trees would grow, and in the deep rich soils of the Merse they grew and waxed mightily. But for the comparative scarcity of the English elm, of which, to be candid, a little goes a long way, you might over miles of many roads be in the most umbrageous of the English Midlands. But there the analogy in almost every respect ceases. There is more tillage and Iess meadow, and the former, as it is the more skilful and productive, so it strikes a more lustrous note in the chequered landscape. The grain fields, whether in the ripening car or in the stook upon the clean stubbles, glow a deeper gold. The healthy, well-fed, flickering turnip breadths are more vivid in their green between the woods. Even that homely article the potato, when clustering over a thirty-acre field with a slanting sun upon it, contributes a characteristic note. But the opulent slopes, the umbrageous ridges, the stately seats and timbered parks, the tree-girt roads of the Merse in all their accessories, and above all in their horizons, and consequently in their atmosphere, differ vastly from the midland county into which a Southron of only moderate observation and no eye for the soils might fancy he had drifted. For above the stately woods or the long folds of the large clean fields, the pale peaks of the Cheviots will as often as not rise upon one side: or upon the other the long sweeps of the Lammermoors will cut the sky, both eloquent of primitive solitudes and of everything, indeed, that the opulent foreground is not.

And then, too, there are the streams of the Merse! every one of them bringing the spirit of the mountain and the wild into the rich low ground, and retaining the buoyancy of their clear amber waters till their complaining voices are ultimately silenced in the wide swish of Tweed. The Whiteadder alone, whose deep valley threads with tortuous course the fattest heart of the Merse, would give that county some distinction. For the Whiteadder is as fair a mountain-bred river, being indeed much more than a stream, from its source on the Lothian edge of the Lammermoors to its confluence with the Tweed near Berwick, that the heart could desire. With fine disregard for the well-ordered landscape, its pride of timber, and its pride of crop, the impetuous river churns in the deep twisting valley that its chafing waters have cut in the course of ages through the sandstone. Narrow breadths of green meadow serve to set off the glitter of its rapid currents and take no great injury from its floods. But the plough, the harrow, and the drill of the practical Merse farmer are thrust back out of sight behind the steep ridges that for the most part hem in either side of its delightful trough. And within these limits, after breaking from its moorland gorges, the Whiteadder urges its clear waters through twenty miles of ever-changing and often exquisite river scenery.

Chafing always upon a rocky bed, the river gathers round it all that fine tangle of foliage which you only see upon impetuous streams. The orderly atmosphere of the Merse might be a hundred miles away. Bosky steeps dip a curtain of wild and natural foliage till their boughs trail in the troubled waters; or again great forest trees of oak and ash, with roots exposed by the fretting of flood waters, rise on some level margin of turf that has been abandoned to gorse and broom and briar. Here and there, too, bare red sandstone cliffs or softer screes wage continual war at some sharp turn with the rushing amber streams. Stone bridges carry the highway across the river here and there, giving the passing traveller with his eyes open a brief glance both up and down stream into another sort of world, while byways dip into broad glistening fords with one of those narrow foot-bridges characteristic of the country swung high on wires above the stream. Many seats of ancient fame, too, are fringed and beautified by the Whitcadder. Modernised often or rebuilt, but still quite frequently in possession of families as old as the stones of the earliest house, while here and there a ruined pele tower above the bank bears witness, if such were needed, that it ran of old through bloody ground. Its younger sister, the Blackadder, which joins forces with it in the heart of the Merse, though not half the size, has already run a long course through Berwickshire. Entering the lower country near Greenlaw, the smaller river purls eastward with much of the impetuosity, though only here and there with as full a measure of beauty, as its more distinguished fellow.

All roads in the Merse tend to Berwick except the still more numerous ones that lead with singular precision from one main artery to the other and give the county some appearance on the map of a chessboard crossed obliquely by two or three `raving lines heading for the lower right-hand corner. The Merse, using the term as I am for the low country of Berwickshire, is in truth extraordinarily well served by roads, and practically all alike are admirable. Frankly, it is a region to be explored by its roads, just as its adjoining hills, the Cheviots or the Lammermoors, are for the walker alone. There is no point in long-distance walking in the Merse, just as there is nothing to be urged against it for the few who carry the cult of walking to the daily compassing of long sections of road, when on their holidays. But as the difficulty nowadays is to find any one in an ordinary company of young and old willing to face even a twenty-mile walk in the hills, we need not be concerned for quite unlikely trampers along the roads of the Merse. For these last, as for the region itself, there is nothing like the cycle for the individual of reasonably active habit. What else, indeed, is there? Automobiles of all kinds are invaluable for getting rapidly to points far or near, but perfectly useless for a rational appreciation of a countryside, even if they were not ridiculous for such purpose in the case of the young and strong, and irksome to such as may be no longer young, but are of active predilections.

Trains are scarce. Excluding the great main line along the coast, there are not fifty miles of railroad in the whole county, though a portion of the North-Eastern running south of the Tweed to Kelso is of some service for the Merse. But the cyclist, with the occasional help, if required, of both railroads, the one skirting the foot of the Lammermoors to Lauderdale, the other following Tweed, and so leaving the whole Merse between them, can see much that is famous and much that is beautiful and a great deal that is interesting with ease and contentment. I am assuming that Berwick is a temporary headquarters. For whether the pilgrim comes from the south of England or the west of Scotland to spend his nights and other spare hours within the breath of the North Sea at this point, it will assuredly prove a stimulant to health and vigour that will surprise him if he has never before sniffed it. Moreover, as has been, I trust, sufficiently manifested in a former chapter, Berwick is a noble place in its way, and always good to linger in.

But let us away on the more southerly road from Berwick, that one which eventually skirts the Coldstream and Birgham reaches of the Tweed. Lifted high up over the bleak prolific fields of the "Liberties of Berwick," with HaIidon Hill to the north and beyond the noble river shining in the vale below, the Iine of distant Cheviots, we descend the long slope, to the last of the Whiteadder's many bridges. Here around its piles this lusty child of Lammermoor is playing its final gambols and with plaintive voice singing its swan-song between meadowy banks. For the meadows open here to the adjacent Tweed, and through them Tweed's lowest tributary winds to a tide-invaded confluence. A living Scottish writer of repute has described the significance of these "Berwick Bounds," these few thousand acres of corn land windswept from the North Sea, in an

epigrammatic sentence or two that from this point of view at any rate catches the fancy. "Surely," writes Sir Herbert Maxwell, "they were but scant counterpoise for sunny Aquitaine and Guienne, opulent Bordeaux, and the Pas de Calais, all lost to the Crown of England in the hundred years' war. Such was part of the price paid for the lesson that Scotsmen may never be coerced." This might serve to chasten the pride of the Berwick burgess, unless, peradventure, it further exalted it in the high valuation thus set upon his little kingdom. But we are not yet out of it, only lingering for a moment in this one leafy and sheltered corner of the Palatinate. For the boundary is a little beyond the Whiteadder, and that lively stream undergoes a change of nationality for the last three miles of her course. Like Tweed, only much more so, a Scottish river, she expires in English arms. There is an inn beside Canty Bridge, much patronised, no doubt, by Berwick anglers, who are a numerous company ; and it may be said at once that there is not a more naturally prolific trout stream in Great Britain than the Whiteadder.

The old road into Scotland crossed the Bounds a mile or so higher up, and in a picturesque bend of the river, where it chafes the feet of woody cliffs, are the traces of Edrington Castle, where many a bloody fight was fought, but now the haunt of trout-fishers and sylvan peace. Here were quartered repeatedly companies of Scots with unfriendly designs on Berwick, and here in times of danger the English Wardens posted troops to stop the Scottish advance and guard the Liberties.

Close by, too, the Whiteadder runs through "Tibby Fowler's" Glen, that lady being a heroine of sorts in Border poetry, and celebrated by Allan Ramsay in a familiar ballad; Tibby was only interesting for a remarkable combination of material wealth with a poverty of physical attraction so deplorable as to make the inevitable wooing of the heiress by the local swains meet subject for the satirist. 

"Tibby Fowler of the Glen,
There's ower mony \vooin' at her;
Tibby Fowler o' the Glen
There's ower mony wooin' at her,
Wooin' at her, pu'in' at her,
Courtin' her and canna get her.
Filthy elf, it's for her pelf
That a' the lads are wooin' at her.

Ten came east and ten came west,
Ten cane rowin' o'er the water,
Twa came down the lane dykeside
There's twa-and-thirty wooin' at her."

But the stronghold was apparently as impregnable as the stone one on the hill above had been in former days. And close beside these scenes of strife in love and war stands Hutton Hall, the ancient keep of the Homes, now enlarged and modernised, though retaining as a country seat much of its ancient character. It was here that Edward I. encamped when in 1296 he captured the defiant town of Berwick and converted it into a shambles. This, however, is drifting a bit up the valley of the Whiteadder. But Paxton, another former seat of the Homes, and now a large nineteenth-century house, stands beside our route, and its profusely timbered park, sloping to the last shallows of the Tweed, lends great beauty to this final reach of the river before it touches the tidal mudbanks. Indeed it is worth while turning down the road just beyond Paxton, that bound for Northumberland brings you in a few hundred yards to the great Chain or Union Bridge over Tweed. Not because it is, I believe, the first suspension bridge built in the island, and that, too, by a naval officer nearly a century ago, but for the fine prospect both up and down the river with which it will reward your slight effort. Upstream the woods of Horneliff display a rich curtain of drapery above the English bank, while a wood-fringed belt of meadow Iand with grazing cattle makes a harmonious complement upon the opposite shore. Looking downwards, the woods shift to the Scottish side and become the park lands of Paxton House. But the luxuriance of the timber is such that only a patch of sward here and there catches the eye and gives a finishing touch to a quite charming scene, all sparkling as it is below with the last rapids of the Tweed.
Some angler will probably be casting his flies upon ripple and eddies he doubtless knows by heart, and is sometimes just where he ought to be, in the picture. In not many great rivers in this country could you stand but knee-deep in gravelly shallows among summer woods and catch trout or grayling within three miles of its conflict with the surf of the open sea. The influence of the tide, as a matter of fact, is felt far above the Union Bridge, even to Norham, and the little cobble of the net fisherman, whose rights follow the tide, may be seen moored to the shore at any point.

But to pursue our road up the river, though nowhere yet, unfortunately, in actual touch with it, the traveller must find his interest in the rural economies of the Merse. He must forego for a space even historical associations—unless he has sat closely at the feet of the local antiquary, which he is not in the Ieast Iikely to have done—or those glimpses of an inspiring distance common to most of this Borderland. He must resign himself, in short, to his foregrounds, and one must admit there is little in all this country of those ancient habitations for the housing of men or animals that help to redeem the dullest landscape in the southern half of the island. The wayfarer who comes north must put any expectations of such things entirely from his mind, and find his compensation in the grim relics of an even older day, the castle or the pele tower. There are no Tudor farms or manor houses, whether of timber, brick, or stone, here, no mellow homesteads or manors, hardly less engaging, of the days of Anne or the early Georges; no thatched villages half buried in flowers or orchards; no public-houses of such alluring sort as to tempt even a temperance orator with an eye for the picturesque, if the combination is admissible. There are no crazy barns with moss-covered roofs, and, unfortunately, even but few churches or portions of them that survived the ravages of the English raider and the anti-aesthetic vigilance of the reformed Scottish Church. There is nobody alive, I suppose, who is more severe upon his ancestors than the modern Scotsman with an artistic soul, while, so far as my own acquaintance goes, the clergy of the Establishment seem to have scant sympathy with the architectural predilections of their more immediate predecessors. Yet, once upon a time Berwickshire was quite rich in Norman and Early English churches. But much of this will be superfluous to the intelligent reader who has anything more than a mere nodding acquaintance with his own country. It is enough to say that a few old country houses on a large scale, the shattered remnants of castles and pele towers, and here and there the portion of a church that has miraculously escaped the ravage of the Southron and the fanatical zeal of the old Calvinist, represent almost all of those features which in the south so greatly enhance the charm of landscape. But you must come to the Border in altogether another frame of mind, and if you are reasonably qualified, great compensation will be found for the decorative accessories of the southern landscape. As a pele tower would look absurd at the foot of the South Downs, so would a half-timbered thatched cottage on the slopes of the Lammermoors seem quite painfully incongruous. There are ruined castles in the south in abundance, beautiful to look at and interesting structurally, as well as for the men and women they have harboured, and occasionally for strenuous doings. But compared with the Border castle their story is thin and tame. With fierce mien they scowled over a peaceful, unwarlike peasantry that had no power to resist them, and had probably lost the wish. The only part of South Britain where you get all these

things in a measure combined with a past in full harmony with them is the Welsh Border. That the Border strife of Wales, as that of two divergent races or their respective allies of the moment, differed widely in essentials from that of the north, which was the conflict of politically divided brethren of more equal strength, matters nothing here. Nor does it that the Welsh Border, qua Border, was at peace and civilised while the Northerners on both sides were still astir erecting castles, peles, and bastle houses ; lifting one another's cattle and cutting one another's throats. Indeed, speaking on broad lines, the same hand that brought peace with a sword to the one actually stirred up the other to a bitterer strife. For no apology is needed for again reminding the reader, either English or Scotch, that till the first Edward appeared upon the scene there was very little of that ferocious antipathy between the nations which became henceforward a fierce and fixed tradition. The occasional wars of the kings and their following, the mere exuberance of a semi-barbarous period, meant nothing. Even Edward, a great statesman, whatever else he may have been, at first, no doubt, meant well, when he travelled, on this very road perhaps, between Berwick and Norham or Birgham, as the invited arbiter between the chiefs of a distracted country that had not yet become a nation as we hold the word. His views towards a union were peaceful and surely statesman-like ones. However, things went agog, as we know. He was a soldier and a man of wrath, and in the end died at the wrong moment from one point of view, creating thereby a nation, and provoking three centuries of almost ceaseless strife.

And in the meantime we have turned off the main road to Kelso, which runs with precision from one end of the county to the other, while the line of Tweed forges away to the southward, and after passing the little village of Horndean and crossing its burn, which in the shallow vale beneath it hurries to the Tweed, the shattered towers of Norham, high perched up on the English bank, can be seen in fitful glimpses through the trees. But Norham belongs to Northumberland—very much so—though, to be precise, the feudal appanage of the Prince Bishops of Durham, and in its fighting days and indeed till quite recent ones, an isolated fragment of that county. On this side, however, and right on the road we have a building of another sort worth coming a long way to see, and of a quite exceptionally interesting origin. On the battle-field of Shrewsbury we have a memorial church erected at the time by a subject as a thanksgiving for victory and for the saying of perpetual masses for the souls of the. slain. Here at Ladykirk we have a thank-offering of the same kind erected by a monarch, not for victory, but for preservation from a watery grave in the Tweed below. This deliverance was in the year 1500, and how Ladykirk, standing right in the gateway of southern Scotland, escaped those frightful and successive ravages of Dacre, Surrey, Evers, or Hertford in the sixteenth century, which left the Abbeys of Kelso, Dryburgh, and Melrose the pathetic wrecks we see them now, is a marvel.

Not that Ladykirk aspires to such comparison. It is merely a curious old parish church some hundred feet long and fashioned of red sandstone, and that, too, in a style calculated to give pause to the passing stranger with any sort of eye for such matters. Its date may account for some measure of eccentricity in detail, or ,Tames IV. himself may have had a hand in the design! But the real interest which attaches to it over and above that which prompted its erection lies in the mere fact of there being a pre-Reformation Scottish church actually looking across the Tweed and still intact, save for some recent pewing, put in, however, for comfort, not of necessity. There may be a reason for all this, since tradition runs that the King vowed that this votive offering of his to Our Lady should be a building that neither fire nor water could destroy. Certain it is that no particle of wood was used in its erection, for it has a barrel vaulted stone roof, on which are laid stone flags, and the very Beatings were of stone till within living memory. The shape is cruciform, the ends of the short transepts and the chancel being five-sided apsidal. The building is lavish in strange massive crocketted pinnacles, and in view, I presume, of the weight of the roof, is heavily buttressed. Around it spreads a green and shady kirkyard crowded with the tombstones of departed Borderers, many of which bear ancient dates. It is altogether a peaceful and alluring spot, and the adjacent hamlet, with its one-storied red-roofed cottages, makes for harmony; for I must say something of an extenuating nature before I have done concerning Berwickshire cottages. The noble timber all about it, the cawing of rooks, the faintly heard complainings of the historic river, the near neighbourhood of a great castle renowned above all other Border castles in history and romance; all these combine to make Ladykirk a winsome spot for a half-hour's dalliance on a summer afternoon.

On my first visit, the church, as is usual in Scotland, being locked, I was on the point of departing without a sight of the interior, taking for granted its adaptation to the rather arid exigencies of Presbyterian worship. But two village matrons of ripe years and comfortable proportions were opportunely discussing the affairs of the parish at the gate, and proved to be of the eloquent and accessible sample of Border peasant as opposed to the other and perhaps more prevalent uncommunicative type. What was still nicer, they were proud of their church, and made me feel quite ashamed of being caught, as it were, in the very act of leaving it but half explored, though, as a matter of fact, it was only a brief postponement in this case. "It wad be an awfu' pity for ye to gang awa', sir, wi'out seem' the inside of the kirk—sae mony hundred years old as it is, tae."

Whether she suspected me of a lingering irresolution, which would have been most unjust, I know not, but the speaker, or rather one of them, for both were eloquent, stout as she was, hurried off herself to a neighbouring cottage and returned with the sexton's, or rather beadle's, blooming daughter, who held the keys of office, and we all went in together. I have inspected hundreds of churches under many auspices, and not seldom that of unofficial villagers of the other sex with the prospect of a glass of beer and notions that are worth many pints of it, but this was refreshingly novel. I let my cicerones tell the oft-told tale of the King's escape from the rage of Tweed and his subsequent act of pious devotion, with some accessories I had never heard before, in their own way and in their own unalloyed vernacular. The interior is absolutely plain, but of interest, with its stone roof vaulting, its bare walls, and lancet windows, as the original building in every essential as completed by the King's architect.

The thought struck me that the amount of gunpowder required for the destruction of so massive a building was possibly a consideration in view of its material emptiness and ecclesiastical unimportance in the eyes of King Henry's devastators, for which we may be thankful. For it is a most unique personal memorial of the man who of all the Stuart line one feels perhaps is the most worthy of remembrance—not, perhaps, for any perfections of character, but as a king. He had a long reign, during which Scotland was unprecedentedly progressive. He was very much of a man, if not distinguished for special wisdom or for restraint He seems certainly to have possessed no little magnetism, and is generally held to be the first Scottish King who could lead something like a united nation, Gaelic and Teutonic, to battle. It is unfortunate that he used this influence in ill-judged fashion, though in full accord with that evil star which accentuated the impracticable side of his royal race. But at any rate he had the saving fortune to die in what at the last was a chivalrous blunder, and at the head of his troops in the fiercest battle of the long list fought between England and Scotland. Other Stuarts were brave enough in action, but they had neither the good fortune to get killed nor assuredly the exuberant virility, the Homeric dash, that made James's conduct and death at Flodden go far to extenuate his responsibility for the humiliation and ruin he brought on a country he certainly loved and had ruled well after a fashion for thirty years. When at a critical moment in a great battle a king gets off his horse, pulls off his boots, seizes a spear, and rushes down on foot upon the foe at the head of, and indeed too much ahead of his division, and falls fighting amid his nobles, it is at least a magnificent atonement for one great error of judgment. But a glamour attaches to James IV. above all other Scottish kings since Bruce. And here, in sight of Norham, which he besieged and captured at the opening of that brief and fatal campaign, and in sight of Flodden Hill, when he and it ended, it is singularly appropriate that his handiwork should survive as his memorial; still more that it should survive in so acceptable and rare a monument in these parts as a perfect pre-Reformation church. The first freshness will hardly have worn off its red stones when James passed down this way with most of that enormous army of a hundred thousand men that had rallied to his standard at Edinburgh, and, no doubt, mass was frequently celebrated here for the Scottish troops during the Flodden campaign. I did not discuss the complexities of King James's character with the two old ladies, but was quite content to listen to their rendering of the chief tale, as it had the flavour at least of oral tradition. One of them, moreover, remembered sitting as a child upon the stone seats. "Aye, and I mind weel how cauld they were."

A little beyond this a road runs down to the stone bridge which crosses Tweed just above Norham. Of this famous place, so big with memories, I shall say nothing here, as it is on English soil, and for the further reason that in my recent volume on Northumberland I gave some pages to it. That famous meeting of 1291. however, when King Edward decided between the claims of the eight competitors to the throne of Scotland, was actually held this side the river, in this same parish of Ladykirk, formerly Upsettlington, and on the meadow lying opposite Norham. But no one, of; course, visiting these parts fails to visit Norham, and from Berwick it is but two stations distant on the North-Eastern, with a short mile walk across the fields to the castle. This with its spacious, picturesque old village and noble Norman church makes matter for the spending of a leisurely and delightful day which the enterprising may extend to Ladykirk. For the Iatter is but a fitting complement to the Norham group of associations. It belongs essentially to the same atmosphere, and should share in the day-dreams to which no doubt the properly constituted pilgrim will he inspired. But whether equipped or not for all that Norham means, there will surely be some that will remember how a new heaven and a new earth opened to their youthful fancy upon its sunset-gilded towers, as its trumpets sounded the approach of Marmion and his first introduction to the reader.

After Ieaving the church, the road skirts for some distance the broad, well-timbered policies of Ladykirk House, where nearly a century ago dwelt William Robertson, one of the fathers of that advanced agriculture, the lessons of which lie all over the face of the Merse to-day. If the old farming families of the seventies are not often in situ, to borrow an antiquarian phrase, and have been wiped out by misfortune, actual or prospective, in the parlous times of the eighties and after and by the permanent slump in grain, their successors under altered circumstances maintain their traditions. In the days of my youth wheat held a great place in the Merse. To-day barley has almost ousted it, and one might, I think, fairly say that it fills nearly twice the amount of the space more generally allotted to it in a tillage country with an equal capacity for growing the three standard grain crops. I have never in my life seen so much barley, and so much of it on such a high level anywhere in Great Britain as in Berwickshire. How it may now fare with brewers and distillers struggling against heavy odds remains to be seen. An encouraging note for the brewer, however, comes from the local publican, who reports an increasing taste for what was once as much the national beverage of Scotland as of England. Not many readers will probably remember that it was England forced Scotland to drink whisky by ruining the Scottish breweries, not intentionally, but automatically, when the northern country at the Union fell under the excise laws of the predominant partner, which destroyed their native brewing industry and promoted a taste for ardent spirits. No one can possibly desire that working men should drink whisky, above all the vile stuff that Scotland, once conspicuous for a good article even in its humbler hostelries, now vies with England in retailing. But good ale is a fine and wholesome beverage for men employed in manual labour. No temperance zealots will persuade a man of sense that lashings of stewed tea of an inferior quality is a better prescription for breeding sound men and Christians than sound ale. Nor, again, is the public-house anything like the frequent object of the wayside here that it is in rural England. You may travel for miles without encountering one. The wayfarer who perchance, like the present writer, prefers the homely fare and shelter of an inn and a crack with mine host, to a packet of sandwiches under a fence, will find many a blank before him. Nor has opportunity created the habit of frequenting the public-house in the evening and discussing the affairs of the nation, of the squire, and of their employers to anything like the extent prevailing iri the south. Furthermore, there are not nearly so many villages in a rural district of the same population: most of the labourers' cottages being attached to the homestead, a condition which applies also to Northumberland.

In no long time our road, which is now only a superior byway, emerges from the beautifully wooded policies of Milne Graden on to the banks of Tweed. It is a delectable and even sequestered point in the river's course; yet one of some consequence too, for just here the "sullen Till," after its long, tortuous windings through broad haughs from Wooler to the foot of Flodden edge, comes breaking with unwonted activity through Twizel woods into the Tweed. It is a scene worthy of the confluence of all the waters of the English Cheviots with those of the greater river still at this point the boundary of the nations. The familiar apostrophe of Tweed to Till, which banters the Northumbrian stream on its comparative sloth, and the grim rejoinder one might expect of a river steeped in Border conflict speaking to another of like memories, that it has "drowned twa men to Tweed's ane," needs no repeating. But the jest must be taken as retrospective, for here the Till, bearing with it the peaty waters of the Colledge, the Langdon, the Wooler, and half-a-dozen other lusty burns from the deep heart of Cheviot, comes pouring in with laudable impetuosity. Tweed herself, too, is here in one of her lively moods, rioting merrily round grassy islets to the junction whence the mingled waters go racing down against the red sandstone cliffs of Milne Graden, to vanish in the bosky woods beyond. The single stone arch over the Till, which the right wing of Surrey's army crossed to Flodden, is here hidden from view, though but a short mile up the woody gorge. So following up the course of Tweed along a little-travelled road, the ruinous church and large graveyard of Lennel, perched high between the road and river, mark the near approach of the town of Coldstream.

Lennel is the old kirk town of Coldstream, which last, leaving the other derelict, sprang into life some two centuries ago, half a mile away. There is nothing now at Lennel but the forsaken church and its rambling, picturesque graveyard packed with the headstones and monuments of Logans, Thomsons, Lumsdens, Halls, Robertsons, Scotts, and all the generic names of the Eastern March. The small villages, which in former days must have been thick in this country, have largely disappeared. The minister of Coldstream, writing in

1832, makes note that four had been completely wiped out in this very parish. According to that invaluable work, The Statistical Account of Scotland, published some eighty years ago, and replete with much better reading than its name suggests, agricultural holdings had doubled in size, and though the labouring classes had decreased in number, they had enormously improved in circumstances and education within the previous forty years. Emigration to Canada is mentioned from many sources in these south-eastern counties as a strong contributing cause to this decline in population, which was further assisted by the merging of small holdings in big ones and the growth of scientific farming.

But let there be no misdirected, ill-instructed lamentations over this steady stream from southern Scotland, which so materially helped to build up the great province of Ontario as we see it to-day. These were no Highland "clearances," nor anything at all resembling the mad expulsion of Scotch-Ulster yeomen by idiotic landlords and fatuous Anglican bishops to America in the eighteenth century. On the contrary, it was the golden age of the hard-fisted, industrious emigrant to Canada. This period extended roughly from 1820 to 1850, and no class in Britain profited more by it than the labourer from the Scottish Low- lands. The splendid wheat lands of Ontario were then being cleared, and still to be had on conditions which a thrifty Scotsman, even when virtually penniless on landing, sooner or later found means, for labour was highly paid, to take advantage of. I may claim to speak with some knowledge from the Canadian point of view of this movement. Thousands of Canadians, not merely yeomen farmers, but as many who have risen to the more lucrative and conspicuous spheres of life, are the sons and grandsons and great-grandsons of Scottish hinds. This is, of course, a matter of ordinary common knowledge to any one in touch with such things. Nor were the fortunate Scotsmen who profited by the opening of Canada as a field for the British immigrant, after the Napoleonic and Anglo-American wars, by any means all hinds and the like.

But these were the people who by comparison rose most in the world and so profited most. Their friends who remained behind were then and have always been, within the limitations of farm service, as well-to-do probably as any in the country. The reports from almost every parish in south-eastern Scotland in the thirties describe the social, religious, and industrial condition of its people as excellent. But even thus, if there is any of that mawkish compassion which the sentimentalist of the Little-England type likes to lavish indiscriminately on the humbler exile, to be expended here, it would be on account of those who remained, not because they were miserable, but that they missed their chance of rising in the world. It may be said that they have had another since the north-west of Canada was opened, and with no forests to clear as a preliminary. That is true, though there are other things in favour of the early movement—which the reader may be surprised to hear landed forty or fifty thousand people annually in sailing-ships at Quebec—of no interest here. Moreover, the rural population, from its greater numbers and other causes, was more ripe for emigration in those days. Incidentally, the British emigrants that took so large a share in the making of Canada after the Napoleonic wars were a more capable and more successful lot than those who have played proportionately a much smaller part in the recent making of the North-West ; partly for the sufficient reason that the old-timers came mainly from the land, while among the moderns the townsmen naturally enough, in a country rapidly degenerating into an industrial hive, predominate. It is pleasant to remember that on an early and protracted visit to Canada I came across several of the original emigrants from this part of the world, by that time old men with grown-up families around or near them, all living comfortably on well-ordered, productive farms of their own, amid a practically completed civilisation.

The forest of suggestive tombstones in Lennel churchyard must be my apology for this digression, which probably would not have occurred but for an exhaustive survey of them in the performance of a friendly office—to wit, the reporting on the condition of certain tombs of which I had forgotten the situation. Here indeed is an instance of another kind of change, the wiping out in a local sense of a typical Border family of small lairds, large tenant farmers, soldiers, ministers, and such like, gradually loosening from the soil with each generation, till now, though represented in most other countries, there is actually, I believe, not one on the Border; two fresh graves in a kirkyard not far away representing the last survivors here. Coldstream, a long mile beyond, is what old Leland would have called "a pratey toune." We are too far north for the architecturally picturesque, and its buildings have no claim to antiquity, but it wears a cheerful mien, which cannot, in truth, be said of all Scottish towns. And it standswell up on a ridge, beneath which Tweed comes curving round from Wark in a fine sweep, and racing briskly under the five arches of the stone bridge now well advanced in its second century, which unites the kingdoms. Coldstream Bridge, though less known to later fame, seems to have played much the same matrimonial role in the past as Lamberton Toll Bar and Gretna Green. One can fancy how desirable a second string to the enamoured fugitives' bow it must have been in the event of a close pursuit. A turn off the road, for instance, between Alnwick and Berwick, with a cut across to Coldstream, might effectually baffle the parental greyhounds, and cause them to overrun the scent for some distance if no informing wayfarers were handy. At any rate, that communicative minister at Coldstream to whom I am already indebted declares that these runaway English marriages performed by any chance scoundrel were becoming a cause of stumbling among7)his own and other flocks. For many of his people now discarded the Church's assistance at their unions, and under the literal construction of the then Scottish law resorted to Coldstream Bridge and the services of the loafer for the price of a gill of whisky. Another blemish on the otherwise Arcadian content and simplicity of the Lowland folk in those days was caused by the difference between the Scottish and English spirit duties and the irresistible temptation to smuggling such an anomaly held out upon the Border. Perhaps the conscience of England was still pricking with the memory of the ruined Scotch breweries and its lamentable consequence. But, on the other hand, would Burns have sparkled on small ale? And how would the Ettrick Shepherd, who, by his own account, took his whisky in a jug, have liked it?

The house upon the street or its successor is proudly pointed out by the native of Coldstream where General Monk's recruiting sergeants raised the Border regiment which, after a few years' service in Scotland, went south at the Restoration and became the Coldstream Guards. Beyond the town at the foot of the slope the little river Leet crosses the road and runs down into the Tweed, which by a sudden loop encloses the woods and park-lands of Lees House, the seat of the Marjoribanks, to one of whom a lofty memorial statue rises above the town. The Leet is a notable exception among the Merse tributaries of the Tweed, being of sluggish habit and undistinguished low-country birth, and would be spoken of in even more slighting terms than it is by local chroniclers if it were not that larger trout haunt its narrow waters than those of any other feeder of the Tweed.

From the road a mile or so beyond Coldstream the long, flat reach of the Tweed, carrying a swift but even current between the meadows, breaks into view. So on the southern shore does the knoll which carries the trifling remains of the once mighty castle of Wark, equal, indeed, to Norham in importance, with the rather forlorn-looking village scattered around its flanks. Wark, like Norham, would fill a chapter with stormy deeds that have been done there and the men of might that have held or attacked it. As at Norham, there were fords about `dark and Coldstream which have felt the tramp of many an English and Scottish army and have swallowed up many a bloodstained and failing fugitive from the surrounding battlefields. Here we look across a bare broken foreground of moorish hill and dale rising gradually to the great mass of the Cheviots, eight or ten miles away, where at their highest point, some 2700 feet, the international border line cleaves the waste. For about this point the Tweed makes her bow to the Cheviots, and at the same time, taking a more westerly turn, soon after ceases to be the Border line, and becomes henceforth a purely Scottish stream. Indeed I have failed to emphasise how greatly the Cheviots at points innumerable contribute to this road journey up Tweed along the southern fringe of Berwickshire. But everywhere in this country, whether in the Lammermoors, in the Merse, or in the wide sweeps of north Northumberland, they are always with us, a noble and majestic background shedding lustre, even when far away, on many a homely foreground scene. And when pressing to closer quarters, as at this bend of Tweed, where they become more dominant in the atmosphere and display the colouring and the contour of their shapely slopes, the grey screes and fern-clad folds of their bold rampart of cone-shaped foot-hills, the wayfaring stranger will assuredly feel their call to greater intimacy. This, happily, is no difficult matter, whether from Berwick, Coldstream, or Kelso, for a morning train to Wooler will deposit him within a seven-mile walk of the summit of the big Cheviot, the monarch of the range, a walk as easy of performance as it is beautiful for its scenery and its solitude. But in the Coldstream neighbourhood the eye turns instinctively and repeatedly to the fir-crowned ridge of Flodden, but four miles away, and its adjoining shoulder of Branxton, on whose long slope the battle was actually fought. What a sight the fords of Wark and Coldstream must have witnessed upon the night and following morn of that fatal day! But happily there were no cutting and slashing horsemen at their heels, as there seem to have been in the great stampede from Iiomildon Hill, whose clear-cut, bare steep rises beyond Flodden, for after the greater battle there was no pursuit. Night fell upon victors as exhausted as the vanquished

"The skilful Surrey's sage commands
Led back from strife his shattered bands,
And from the charge they drew
As mountain waves from wasted lands
Sweep back to ocean blue."

And even more to the point is Sir Walter's brief but striking picture of the action of the Scots

"They melted from the field as snow,
When streams are swollen and south winds blow,
Dissolves in silent dew.
Tweed's echoes heard the ceaseless splash,
While many a broken band,
Disordered, through her currents dash,
To gain the Scottish land.
To town and tower, to down and dale,
To tell red Flodden's fatal tale.

Still from the sire the son shall hear
Of the stern strife and carnage drear
Of Flodden's fatal field,
Where shivered was fair Scotland's spear
And broken was her shield."

There was a nunnery in those days at Coldstream, now disappeared to the last stone, but tradition has it that the Abbess exerted herself to gather for burial there such few bodies of the Scottish nobility as could be rescued from the thousands of naked corpses that whitened the slopes of Branxton Ridge when the despoilers had done their nightly work. As that of the King himself could not be identified, since there were no Scottish prisoners, till Dacre, who had known him, came on the scene, the beneficent efforts of the Abbess must have encountered no little difficulty. The men of the Merse, under their feudal chieftain, the Earl of Home, with the other Borderers from Selkirk and Ettrick Forest in that division, played at once the greatest and the least part in all that Scottish host. For it will be remembered how upon that left wing they overthrew at first the English right and gained the only success of the day, and, though checked by Dacre and his English Borderers, were never beaten. After this, though the fight was still young, the less said about them the better, and indeed there is nothing to say. Specialists, of which there are naturally many on such an epoch-making and dramatic campaign, still vainly speculate on the motives which kept 10,000 hardy Borderers idle at so tremendous a moment. General opinion, however, seems inclined to the only apparent explanation, which may be expressed in the single word "booty." The Borderer, like the Highlander, was more of a particularist even thus late than a Nationalist, and like the other, "portable property" was with him the natural sequence of success. When the main battle in the centre was probably assuming its most critical and tempestuous aspect, when the English left had driven the raw Highland right off the field and joined in the great central struggle, the then of the Merse and the Border were undoubtedly leaving things undone they ought to have done, which was to assist their King. Whether they were actively engaged in doing what they ought not to have done, and rifling the undefended baggage and the dead bodies of friend and foe, nobody will ever know. A fit of the spleen on the Earl of Home's part, the only alternative solution to the problem, was bruited about at the time, but seems to find little favour now. But what is most disconcerting under the searchlight of the ruthless inquirer, the "Flowers of the Forest," the Borderers of Jedburgh and Selkirk, who were under Home, could assuredly not have been "wede away," being in fact the only division of the Scottish army who left the field tolerably intact.

For four hundred years the field of Flodden, or, to be precise, the broad breast of Branxton Hill, which rises gently from the little church and village of that name, has borne no trace nor memorial of the immortal fight; nor even in this later century of travel and aroused interest in such things has it achieved the faintest self-consciousness of being anything more than a secluded north-easterly slope of arable land given over to the four-course system. A few stray people now and again, or an occasional local historical society, have doubtless kept the memory of this field green among half-wondering villagers who ploughed and reaped it. Yet there is not a battlefield in Great Britain more compact, more suggestive, and more illuminating, and there has never been a more dramatic fight. From the belt of timber that now crosses the ridge and marks the centre of the Scottish array and the King's position, you can follow down the line of Surrey's advanced division, which, carrying out his daring tactics, marched down the Till valley to Twizell Bridge, and, doubling back on the nearer bank, joined the main body in locked array at the foot of Branxton slope. From this same ridge the Tweed shimmers in the middle distance, and the Merse beyond spreads to the Lammermoors, and the Lammermoors fade away to the horizon, behind which lies Edinburgh. The slope on the right is close at hand up which Stanley and his Lancashire and Cheshire archers drove the unaccustomed highlanders of Lennox and Huntly out of the fight. The half-seen, steeper declivity on the left, down which and over the flat below the mysterious Horne and his Borderers drove their victorious charge, is within a few hundred yards. Lastly, and in mid-view, trends gently downwards that fatal slope where by far the greatest shock of battle, with its long, desperate finish, churned to mud the rain-soaked, sticky soil. A small enough arena the whole of it for a melee of seventy or eighty thousand men! But the mute, unconscious look of the field has at last been justifiably broken. Though Flodden, unlike Hastings or Bannockburn or Naseby, or even Tewkesbury or Bosworth, was fought for no object worth mentioning, and was in truth little more than a gigantic Border raid of a whole nation met and defeated, it has run down the ages with a grim fascination entirely its own, and the men on both sides of the Border have felt that it was full time some token should be set up on a spot of such world-renown and imperishable fame. So an obelisk now rises upon the knoll where King James is thought to have fallen in the very thick of the hurly-burly. It was unveiled in the September of 1910, before a large company of Englishmen and Scotchmen; and since it commemorates an event obviously too famous, and even too pathetic, for conventional inscriptive lettering, it bears on its face the simple words:


Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus