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BORDER HISTORY AND POETRY.

CHAPTER I.

THE BORDER COUNTRY

-GENERAL ASPECT

-GEOLOGY AND SCENERY.

The district which stretches from the Firth of Forth, and from the line of the wall of Antonine southwards to the Cheviots, the shore of the Solway and the Irish Sea, has long borne the name of The Lowlands of Scotland. Occasionally, and more definitely, it has been called The Southern Lowlands. Lowland, as thus applied, is an epithet used broadly to distinguish this part of the country from the greater heights of the northern Highlands, and the term is not particularly appropriate. There is no doubt a large plain on the northern boundary extending along the Firths of Forth and Clyde to the Western Sea; and here and there within the district itself are long stretches of haugh or flat land. But any one who views the region from one of its higher hills will be struck with the

VOL. I.

A

predominating mountainous appearance of the country, and will almost wonder how it can support the population it does. There are aspects of it thus seen which may even tempt one to put the question as to how man has come to secure a footing amid its wilds at all. Its most prominent feature is the great backbone of hills, which stretches from Loch Ryan on the south-west to St Abb's Head on the north-east, cut across now and again by a water-course, but still fairly continuous from sea to sea. These occupy by themselves and their offshoots the greater part of the area of the region. In Tweeddale and in Galloway they rise to a height of upwards of 2700 feet, and for long miles of country they are more than 2000 feet above sea-level. The district has thus appropriately been called The Southern Uplands. By peculiarities of physical feature, by a very ancient history, by fusion of races, by language and social manners, by the written and unwritten poetry of its people, these southern uplands have so influenced the whole history of Scotland, that without considering them we cannot understand our present nationality; and apart from them that nationality would not have been as it is.

It is with a part of this district that I propose at present mainly to deal. This is the valley of the Tweed and its tributaries. The Tweed is, for a considerable part of its course, the dividing line between the northern and southern parts of Britain, between Scotland and England. The valley through which it flows, and the glens watered by its tributary streams, form the main area of the Border District. If to these we add the valleys of the Liddel and the Esk, we have what was

characteristically the Border Land of Scotland, the land of foray and feud, the land of hostile inroad from England, of hostile aggression in return, all through the middle ages down to the Union of the Crowns. For wherever the final battle-field was pitched in Scotland, the Southerner, unless he had come by sea, which was rare, had already left mark of brand and sword on his way through the pastoral haughs and green glens made beautiful by the Tweed, the Teviot, and the Liddel. The Tweed, besides being, for a considerable way, the boundary-line between the two kingdoms, at least since the middle ages, is, looking to its course from the wilds of Tweedsmuir, the bright centre of the Lowland country. Historically the river has been even its heart, so far at least as strong bold action, the gradual growth of history, tradition, legend, the continuous flow of song, ballad, and music, wholly native, have moved the feelings and moulded the imagination, not only of the people of the district, but of the whole land of Scotland.

The Border country of old was, strictly speaking, divided into three districts, known as the East, Middle, and West Marches, each having its warden or wardens. The East March was co-extensive with the sheriffdom of Berwick ; the Middle embraced the sheriffdoms of Selkirk, Peebles, and Roxburgh, including the lordship of Liddesdale; the West comprehended, as a rule, the dales of Esk, Ewes, Wauchope, Annan, and Nith, and Galloway beneath and above Cree.? Though the power of the respective wardens and the sphere of the Border laws extended so far westward, the Nith was practically

1 Cf. R. B. Armstrong's Liddesdale, 1.

the boundary to the west of the perturbed Border land. The district of the East and Middle Marches, from its proximity to the Border line, and the West March as far as Nithsdale, in which lay the notorious Debateable Land, were the most common scenes of hostile encounter, raids, and reprisals. The East and Middle Marches are those specially mentioned in the legislation of 1553.1 The land from Tweeddale on the north and east, bounded by the Lammermuirs, to Nithsdale on the west and south, was the land of Border story, ballad, and song. The district to the east of Nithsdale, stretching to the Cheviots and the German Sea, was the land of the Border Minstrelsy and of its outcome, its finest bloom,-in Walter Scott. The country from Nithsdale to the Western Sea is the land of Robert Burns. Burns and Scott join hands at the Nith.

But we must first of all try to get a view of the natural features of this district of the Tweed and its tributaries; for natural features help to make and mould the character of the people, and, directly or indirectly, give a cast and colouring to those feelings, fancies, and imaginings that find outlet in song and ballad.

A very ordinary acquaintance with geology enables one to see that the district through which flow the Tweed, the Yarrow, and the Teviot is a part, in fact the central part, of that Silurian or greywacke system of rock that stretches from Loch Ryan on the south-west to St Abb's Head on the north-east, from the Western Sea to the German Ocean. The Silurian rocks of which these hills are composed consist of hard and much

1 Nicolson's Leges Marchiarum, or Border Laws, 99 (ed. 1705).

crumpled strata, and form the basis of the whole district. Any subsequent deposit, such as the sandstones of the Coal period and the breccias of Permian time, has been laid in the hollows scooped out of these primitive rocks. But indeed there is very little of any such later deposits. The land, since the Silurian sediments were consolidated and upheaved above the sea, has been shaped by ice, water, and sub-atmospheric influences, until it has at last been carved into its present form. The oldest of the streams are perhaps those, such as the Biggar, the Lyne, and the Eddleston, which flow from the north-west to the south-east before joining the Tweed. These run through the transverse valleys of the district, and are, as a rule, the most featureless and the least interesting in scenery. The Tweed, from its source in Tweed's Well, about a hundred miles from the sea, flows from southwest to north-east, and cuts its channel through the bare Silurian rocks, passing clearly in stream and pool over its bed of water-worn stones.

Its course is peculiar. Rising in the south-west it tends to the north-east. But it has to contend with the influence of the transverse streams of the district. When it reaches the Lyne Water, twenty-one miles from its source, it is bent towards the south-east; and this direction is increased at the Eddleston Water, which joins it three miles below the Lyne at Peebles. Where the Gala and the Leader join the main stream, this southeasterly deflection is increased. On the other hand, at its junction with the Manor, the Quair, the Ettrick including the Yarrow, and the Teviot, it tends to take a north-easterly direction, until finally this tendency pre

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