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A History of the Border Counties
Chapter II


From the fragmentary reports which have reached us of the events of the succeeding years, three things are plainly apparent : the demoralisation of the central power, the enervation of the Romanised Briton, and the increasing uncontrollableness of the unsubdued natives to the north of Antonine’s Wall. As the Empire hastened faster and faster towards disintegration, so these natives grew more and more audacious, until we even hear of a predatory inroad made by them upon London itself, already at that time a flourishing city. The repressive measures of Theodosius the Elder, father of the emperor of that name, restored for a time the province of Valentia. But it was not for long. The world was now in a turmoil, the end of the old order was already in sight, and in the first ten or twelve years of the fifth century the very connection of Rome with what are now the Border counties may be said to have been formally and finally terminated by the Emperor Honorius’s withdrawal of his troops from Britain, and his recommendation to the colonists to seek the protection of the more settled country lying to the south of the southern wall. Thus Valentia by that name disappears from history.

It has already been said that this period of our local history is swallowed up in night. True it is that certain monuments, or memorials, frequently assigned to it, remain, and that in the Border counties these are numerous. But they remain for the most part only to confront us with insoluble enigmas, and to provoke unavailing conjecture. For whether they do indeed belong to the period which we have now reached, and not to some more remote, pre-Roman period; whether they present the native handiwork of those Caledonians who faced the Roman arms, or of some earlier pre-Celtic people of whom no record is preserved,—it is alike impossible to say. In these circumstances, all that can be done is to supply the reader with a brief descriptive catalogue of such local remains—the briefer in that a separate volume of the present series has been set apart to deal generally and exclusively with the like.

Possibly the most ancient among such puzzling works of antiquity are the artificial caves which may be seen cut in the old red sandstone of the banks of Teviot and of four of her tributaries—namely, the Ale, the Jed, the Kale, and the Oxnam. That they are indeed artificial is established beyond a doubt, whilst the ruinous condition of by far the greater number of them, caused by the natural processes of weathering and denudation, seems to speak to an origin exceedingly remote. Upon careful examination1 they have been found to conform to a general type. Thus most of them are approximately at right angles to the present face of the cliff; whilst their floor-levels invariably follow the surface of the rock-beds, which here are very nearly horizontal. With a single exception, the longer axis of all the caves is a straight line; their height — of an average of 7 feet — varies only to a trifling extent, and the angles formed by the junction of floor and sides are slightly rounded. The length of the most perfect floor is 27 feet. The roofs incline to the barrel-shape, and there is reason to believe that in the original plan the entrance was by a low and narrow passage, from which the caves afterwards bulged out, each having thus somewhat the shape of a bottle with a short neck. At Grahamslaw, on the Kale, the caves are placed in two tiers, the one above the other, and it is thought that the upper tier was entered from above. Besides that no known geological cause would account for the existence of these caves, their human origin is proved by the fact that their walls and roofs show marks of an excavating tool, though one unknown to modern use.

The caves at Crailing were discovered only some thirty years ago, their mouths being up to that period concealed by the brushwood by which the cliff is overgrown, and on this ground it has been suggested that other caves of the same type may exist unknown in the neighbourhood. In Crailing House are preserved various bones of animals, and fragments of charcoal and glass, besides portions of a spur, a comb, and a tobacco-pipe, found in the caves at the time of their discovery. Some of these articles of course prove a comparatively recent occupation, and it is therefore thought that the ancient caves may have been brought into use again as refuges and hiding-places by persecuted Covenanters and smugglers.

The prehistoric forts, or “British camps,” of the Border country, as they are less peculiar to the district, although very numerous there, need not be considered in detail. They are found distributed over the three counties under consideration, though a large area of Selkirkshire, comprising the upper and middle valleys of Ettrick and Yarrow, is without them. Dr Christison supplies a list of seventy-six of such camps in Peeblesshire alone, and has also made a careful study of many others in the counties of Selkirk and Roxburgh. Of the former we learn that the great majority are found in elevated situations, not, indeed, upon the higher ridges or table-lands, but on the “terminal spurs of the above, or on isolated hills. A few are also found situated on gentle slopes, or at the bottom of valleys. Their situations are generally chosen so as to command an extensive view; and as each fort is, generally speaking, within sight of others, it is thought that intelligence may have been signalled between them. As regards form, the circumvallations are almost invariably curvilinear, tending, when uncontrolled by the nature of the ground, to the circle or ellipse—one of the few exceptions to this rule being noticeable in a single side of the fort at Mill Rings. Our authority inclines to believe that at least two-thirds of the forts were originally constructed mainly, if not wholly, of stone, and he cites examples of stone chevaux-de-frise which may be seen at West Cademuir and at Dreva. The earthen construction, on the other hand, is met with at Harehope Rings and Harehope Fort, and a mixed architecture at Milkiston. In very few instances is the inner enclosure less than 150 yards in circumference, whilst in several cases it exceeds 400 yards. The arrangement and details of the defence-works are different in almost every case—comprising concentric circumvallations placed close together, as at Harehope Rings and Northshield; the same with wide intervening spaces, as at Blythbank Hill and Milkiston; ramparts intended to serve merely as a parapet, as at Harehope Fort; ramparts widened and levelled at the top, so as to afford standing room for the defenders, as at Northshield and Blyth Hill and many other varieties. Chambers inclined to divide the forts of his county into two classes, assigning to the period of the Roman invasion the smaller and more simply constructed class, and the larger and more complex varieties to the period when the natives might be supposed to have profited by observing the methods of the conquering race. He further notes that the situations of forts of the latter type —such as Northshield Rings and Milkiston on Eddleston, and Whiteside and Henderland on Lyne—are chosen as if with a view to defending the passes into the interior of the mountain district from enemies on the west and east, perhaps Scoto-Irish in the first instance and Angle or Frisian in the second. On the other hand, a secondary’ system, consisting of forts of the smaller type, among which may be specified Cademuir and Janet’s Brae, follow the line of Tweed, and seem to have been destined for defence against enemies from another quarter. Plausible, however, as this theory may be, it can scarcely be accepted as established.

Of the remaining forts, it may suffice to say that they are most frequently found near the smaller streams, being particularly numerous on those which run from the Cheviots to the Teviot, and on the head-waters of that river. But though near the streams, the forts are generally placed at a considerable height above them. Including those on Teviot itself, they number fully a hundred, whilst on the northern slopes of the Cheviots, at the head of Bowmont, are thirteen more. On Ettrick and Yarrow, on the other hand, there are but nine, all, as has been said, upon the lower waters of these rivers. Out of so large a total of camps it is only possible to particularise a few which present special features. Thus the small one at Muirhouselaw, of which three sides remain, is rectilinear, and exhibits a scarp sloping at various inclinations.1 At Oakwood Mill there is another rectangular work. The fort at Kirkton was probably of stone, whilst in the large and elaborate works at Rink Hill the use of stone is also very apparent. Here the fortifications consist of a main defence, which was probably formed by a mound of earth and stones, with a stone wall on the top, protected by a trench and an outer rampart. The single entrance was skilfully defended, and there are also traces of external works. 1'he fort at Ringley Hal! on the Tweed, a little below Rutherford, is of the type which rests on the unfortified edge of a steep descent to a river as a base, and has a triple, semi-oval, terraced fortification on the landward side. This terrace-work serves to ally it to the “ motes,” or fortresses defended by palisades, of which the best-known local example is the flat-topped mound which forms, so to speak, the citadel of the town of Hawick. It has been erroneously described as a sepulchral tumulus,3 but I believe that there is no known instance in Scotland of a similar heap of earth having been thrown up, in prehistoric times, for burial purposes.

But the most important of all these fortresses, and indeed the largest known example of its kind in Scotland, is that which, from the crown of the easternmost Eildon, dominates the pass, by the river Tweed, from the open country of the Borders to the hill district of central Scotland. And that the importance of the position was recognised by the natives is proved by the existence of this fortress, or fortified town, no less than the existence of the Roman remains at Newstead shows it to have been recognised by the Romans, with whose great north road noticed above the pass communicates. The system of defence adopted in the stronghold is thought to have been by palisades, crowning the three terraces which form a circle round the summit of the hill, and whose circumference extends to nearly a mile. Within the enclosure thus formed rises a high plateau of ground, on which are noticeable a large number of horseshoe - shaped marks or hollows, held by antiquarians to indicate the site of huts constructed of perishable material. And in confirmation of this theory it may be stated that digging within the circles has brought to light charcoal, clay, and a fragment of coarse pottery’ of the kind known as early British. It is also noticeable that the old town was self-contained to the extent of possessing its own water-springs.

The single example of a “broch” known to exist in our three counties must not be passed over in silence. At Torwoodlee, on the north-eastern confines of Selkirkshire, on a commanding situation about 300 feet above the river Gala, were recently discovered the remains of a circular building of this class,2 of which the total diameter measured some 75 feet, and that of the enclosed court 40. The enclosing wall will thus be seen to have been of an average thickness of 17 feet 6 inches. The entrance passage, placed on the east side, bears traces of arrangements for a door, whilst at right angles to it is a second small passage, communicating with a guard room, contrived within the thickness of the wall. A second chamber, on the south-west side, similarly contrived, but following the curve of the wall, contains remains of a staircase for communication with the upper galleries of the tower. The wall appears to have been faced with large boulders and lined with smaller stones, the interval being filled with loose rubble; and it is remarked that the entrance is placed at the lowest point of the slope on which the building rests, so that it may serve to draw off moisture from within. The broch itself stands in a large enclosure formed by mounds and a ditch, and the whole is further strengthened by a secondary in-trenchment at some distance, of which, however, but a portion remains. The articles found in the interior differ in a striking manner from those found in similar buildings in the north—the fragments of pottery belonging to an advanced stage of civilisation, and being undoubtedjy of Roman make, whence it is suggested that they may have been introduced from the Roman station at Newstead, some six miles off. Articles of native manufacture found beside them belong to the late Celtic period. It thus appears that the broch, a building of Celtic origin, was in use at a time when Roman civilisation still existed in the country. To the inhabitants of the locality the works are now known as Torwoodlee Rings, or Eye Castle.

Connected with the fortifications at Torwoodlee, which are held to form its starting-point or extremity, is the mysterious earthwork called the Catrail, or Picts’ Work Dyke, than which perhaps few monuments of antiquity have more exercised or perplexed the antiquarian. The work consists of a double mound with intervening trench; and though often broken or effaced—for the forces of order and disorder, the strife of the natural elements, and the labour of the hand of man, have conspired against it—it continually reappears, so that its course has been traced for a distance of no less than forty-eight miles, when, by a winding and circuitous route through the counties of Selkirk and Roxburgh, it reaches Peel Fell in the Cheviots, on the borders of Northumberland. According to the late Professor Veitch, who made a careful examination of the ground, the breadth of the work in its broader parts, taking from the centre of one rampart to the centre of the other, measures from 23 feet 6 inches to 18 feet 6 inches, whilst the breadth of the ditch is 6 feet, and the slope from the centre of the rampart to the centre of the ditch-bottom 10 feet. Professor Veitch, collated with Mr Craig - Brown and Mr Smail,2 gives the following as the line of its course. Passing north-westward from the slope of Peel Fell, where intrenchments may be seen resembling in character those at its northern extremity, it intersects the Wheel Causey, and crossing the Caddron and Dawston burns, proceeds up the left bank of Cliffhope burn, where, after being very plainly marked at “ The Abbey,” it disappears for a long way. During part of this distance it is thought that it may have been transformed into the Galloway Road, an old road by which coal used to be transported on galloways from the English pits to Hawick. Reappearing near the head waters of Slitrig, it crosses Leap, Harwood, and Langside burns, passing the foot of Maiden’s Paps, and climbs Pike Fell, a hill 1500 feet high, being at this, its most plainly marked point, so distinct as to be visible six or eight miles off. Where it has been levelled, it is said to be generally traceable by a difference in the shade of its vegetation, bents being lighter in colour on its track and grass greener, whilst snow is also found to lie there longer unmelted. Descending Pike Fell, it runs on with occasional breaks, crossing Allan Water and Teviot, winding up Com-monside Hill, and passing to the east of Broadlee Loch by Hoscote burn into the valley of the Rankle burn! Hence it takes an almost due northerly direction as far as Nether Deloraine, and again as far as Yarrow Church, whence, curving to the eastward, it touches and is intersected by an intrenchment occupied by Wallace in 1296, and called by his name. Thence, inclining southward, it passes to the south of the Three Brethren and of Linglee Hill, where it turns again and runs north by east to the fortifications on Ri ik Hill. From this point it has been much defaced, yet it is on record that within living memory a blind man with the aid of his staff might have followed it from here to Mossilee, from which point it winds home to Torwoodlee.

A work so remarkable for its extent, and still more for the obscurity of its purpose, has naturally not escaped the attention of antiquarians. It has, in fact, given rise to a world of speculation, and to theories of which the number is apparently not yet exhausted, and of which the most plausible are those which have in turn pronounced it a road, a boundary, and a work of defence. Of these the first may probably be rejected without hesitation. For not only must the Catrail have been at all times ill adapted fur traffic, but it is evident also to such as have followed its course that it makes no attempt to avail itself of fords or to steer clear of precipices, being continued to the verge of these, as to that of impracticable places on rivers, and resumed with apparent indifference upon the other side—objections to the road conjecture which appear unanswerable. Again, against the theory of its use as a boundary pure and simple there is urged the arbitrary character of its course, which runs across country in apparent defiance of all such natural aids to a line of demarcation as the course of rivers and the ridges of hills. If a boundary at all, thinks Professor Veitch, it was a military one. He thence assumes it to have been strengthened by palisades, after the manner in use at the time; and despite the obvious difficulty of defending a line of such extent, this theory certainly seems to derive great support from the fact that the Catrail is found to rest against a succession of fortified works, of which those at Rink Hill, Raelees, Swinebraehill, and Teindside burn are quoted as examples. These forts are placed, as a rule, near the summits of hills, whilst the line of the defensive work runs along “mid - brae,” and on the eastern face of the hills. And this last fact has led Professor Veitch to assign its authorship to the period following the evacuation of the country by the Roman legions, when the Cymri, or Britons, pressed upon by the inroads of the Angles on the east, had withdrawn into their western fastnesses, and there, as we must suppose, intrenched themselves. In confirmation of which theory the same authority also fancies that he sees in the Catrail an imperfect copy, by a feebler hand, of the earthworks attached to the great southern wall of Hadrian. This attempt to solve a mystery, which time may almost be said to have consecrated as a mystery, has at least the merits of clearness and plausibility to recommend it. At the same time, it must not be held to have finally disposed of the difficulties of the subject, which as a field for investigation and speculation continues up to the present still unclosed. It only remains to add that the name Catrail does not help us much towards the elucidation of the thing to which it is applied ; for though the search for its meaning has evoked much erudition, in the very wealth of various conjecture there lurk the seeds of mistrust. Suffice it, then, to say that Professor Veitch finds the nearest approach to the word in the Cornish cad, signifying “battle,” and treyk, “to turn”; whence Catrail, “a battle-turning,” “a defence.” Another investigator has observed that by those who have lived in the vicinity of the work, and who may therefore be supposed to follow the ancient custom in the matter of pronunciation, the word is invariably spoken with the accent on the second syllable.

Among other prehistoric remains, or remains reputed as such, in the Border counties, besides the eirde-house at Newstead already noticed, it is sufficient merely to enumerate, for example, Standing-Stones—such as the small circle on Hownam Steeple known as the Shearers and the Bandster, to which, by the way, popular imagination has attached a legend of judgment against Sabbath-breakers; or the single upright stone at Midsbiels on the Teviot; or those on Sheriff Muir in Peeblesshire, which Chambers thinks may have been placed as monuments over the graves of native heroes; or those, again, on a moor near Yarrow Kirk, where in the end of the eighteenth century some twenty cairns were supposed to mark the resting-places of those who had fallen in a battle, the graves of the leaders on either side being marked by standing-stones. In Peeblesshire, again, on a flat stone lying on the slope of the fort at Lour, are two “cups,” measuring 2 inches in diameter and an inch in depth, and exhibiting perfect symmetry in their form and position on the stone: they have been thought to be genuine examples of “rock-markings.” As for cists, as lately as the spring of 1885 one which contained human bones was turned up in ploughing at Mosstower, near Eckford; whilst later in the same year a field called the Manse-hill in the same neighbourhood yielded two more.

This brings us to the department of “finds,” and here also — as is evidenced by the finding of two cinerary urns at Chesters on the Teviot no longer ago than in 1897, and of another on the northern slope of the Dunian Hill in 1885— the antiquarian may be encouraged to hope for many further discoveries. These urns, which contain the remains of charred bones, are ornamented with no little art, and are of a height of 12 or 13 inches, with wide mouths upon which they stand, supported by a slab or saucer. Besides other specimens of the above, the local museums show the usual collections of implements, weapons, and ornaments of the Stone and Bronze Ages, in addition to which there may be specified, as of particular interest, two bronze shields dug up at Yetholm, and some gold ornaments from Peebles or its neighbourhood, which are preserved in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

It is to the period to which we have assigned the Catrail that the first among the legendary, or semi-legendary, heroes of the Border country belongs; whilst it is primarily to the labours of a recent investigator, Mr Stuart Glennie, that that country owes it that she may now formally put forth the claim, heretofore advanced only in a tentative manner, to be the scene of some of King Arthur’s exploits. At the same time it must not be forgotten that, large as is the place filled by that hero in romance, his mere existence as a historical character may be said to rest upon the exiguous evidence of a passage in the history of Nennius, in which that author, writing probably in the eighth century, deals with events supposed to have happened early in the sixth. The reader may recall the story which tells how, in the period of terror succeeding the withdrawal of the Roman legions, the British king, desiring aid against the Piets and Scots of the north and west, had given the Jute, Hengist, a footing in his kingdom (449). Yortigern, who in the pages of Nennius figures as a type of British demoralisation, had soon cause to repent of his bargain. The followers of Hengist, barbarians wholly untouched either by Roman civilisation or the softening influence of Christianity, quickly multiplied in the land, and it was in the long wars arising out of their immigration, and that of other Teutonic tribes which followed them, that first Ambrosius Aurelianus and then Arthur came to the front. Ambrosius claimed descent from the last Roman Emperor of Britain. The birth of Arthur, which must be dated somewhere in the latter part of the fifth century, was less distinguished; for we are informed that it was to merit, not to blood, that he owed his advancement. Of course it would be easy to invest with interest a hero in whose honour the treasures of romantic imagination have been so lavishly expended, but we must Arthurian place-names, and upon the results of Mr Skene’s critical studies of the ancient Welsh writings. But the validity of these conclusions remains for the present an open question.

Fordun’s account is somewhat different. He makes out Arthur to be, so to speak, of the blond royal, though not direct heir to the crown (Chronicle of the Scottish Nation, book iii. chap, 25), take leave to remind the reader that it is solely with Arthur's local connection and historical character that we are here concerned. Twelve times, then, as we read, was he chosen commander, and in as many battles was he victorious. Of these battles, though they are most of them supposed by our authority to have been fought in the south of Scotland, it happens that the scenes of at most two are identified as within what we here call the Border counties. The first is the battle of Coit Celidon, or the Wood of Celidon, identified by Mr Glennie with the district of which Ettrick Forest formed a part. It is in the next battle after this—namely, that of Castle Guinnion in Wedale (or the Vale of Gala) — that Arthur appears in the character of the champion of the Christian faith, bearing the image of the Holy Virgin on his shoulders, putting the heathen to flight, and pursuing them with great slaughter all day long.1 After four more battles, peace with the enemy was established, and Gildas, the supposed contemporary historian — whose ignoring of Arthur in his history of these times is one of the greatest difficulties in the way of our accepting that hero as other than a mythical character—at least bears out Nennius in so far as to state that, after the last of these battles, which he mentions by name, a long peace between Britons and Angles supervened. Nevertheless, war broke out again in another direction. How Modred, Arthur’s nephew, whom, according to Fordun, he had blamelessly supplanted on the throne, now avenged himself by perverting the queen and raising a rebellion—this is familiar to all lovers of romance. In a battle fought against the rebels, Arthur fell, but not as meaner warriors fall; for legend tells that, in a vault beneath the Eildon Hills, he still awaits in an enchanted sleep, surrounded by his knighthood, the bugle-blast which some day shall arouse him to live and act once more.

Indissolubly associated with Arthur in the popular imagination, though in reality belonging to a somewhat later period (he flourished about 570), is Merlin, the poet and prophet of the old British kingdom. The tradition which connects his name with the Borders may be stated in few words. At this time there still lingered, side by side with Christianity, in the northern parts of the kingdom, the old religion of the country, and hence, the representatives of two royal houses having come forward as respective champions of the rival faiths, a civil war arose. In this contest Merlin, who espoused the cause of paganism, found himself confronted with St Kentigern. A battle was fought, which has been localised at Arthuret, near Carlisle, where Merlin’s leader was routed and slain. Grief deprived the poet of his reason, and he fled across the wilds of Liddesdale to Ettrick Forest, and there wandered distraught. There his few remaining companions perished, and finally he himself was attacked by the shepherds of Meldred, a neighbouring chieftain, and stoned to death, his body, impaled upon a stake, being cast into the Tweed. It was afterwards buried at Drummelzier, in Tweeddale, where his traditional grave, a large green mound over which grows an aged thorn, is still pointed out. His character has been thought to represent the old British type of the poetical or intellectual temperament in conflict with a rude age. After his death, the Britons, gradually ousted from their northern possessions, sought a last refuge in Wales, where the traditions which they carried with them are supposed to have adapted themselves to their new local surroundings.

We now turn to the eastern division of the Border-land, and it is important that the line of cleavage which at this time divided that country be clearly borne in mind. As a part of the country lying between the two Roman Walls, what we now call the Border counties had already figured in a kind of No-Man’s-Land—now formally included within the pale of the Roman influence, and again abandoned to its fate; and they were destined still to split into various fragments, and to form part of various dominions, before becoming, so to speak, finally crystallised in their present shape as southern counties of Scotland. While the events just described may be supposed to have been happening, a line which we have ventured to identify with the Catrail, running in a north-westerly direction, seems to have marked off portions of the present shires of Roxburgh, Selkirk, and Peebles as belonging to the kingdom of Strathclyde—the name given by the ancient inhabitants of the country to the remnant of their former possessions which they still held. To the east of that line the progress of the invasion from the country which we would now call North-West Germany had been rapid. The invasion, so far as it is known to history, had begun with the landing of Hengist, though there is some ground for suspecting that, even before his time, a settlement of Frisians in the valley of the Tweed had been effected. This, however, is little more than surmise, and the details even of what we know to have happened are meagre enough. It is certain, however, that the great bulk of the invaders of the northern part of the country were Angles—natives, that is, of the land lying between the Elbe and the Eider—and that by the year 547, Ida, their chief, had succeeded in establishing himself as King of Bernicia, a district so called from its old British name of Bryneich, which comprised the entire eastern half of the country between the Firth of Forth and the Tees.

Ida vaunted his descent from Woden, God of War. From his base of operations on the proud rock of Bebbanburh, or Bamborough, which he had fortified, we can picture him passing by the low ground which lies between the Cheviots and the German Ocean to push his conquests up the .rich valley of the Tweed. Nennius enumerates his many sons; but these belong to the history of the country at large, and have no special place in Border story. Among them reigned Theodoric, whose title of the Flame-bearer suffices to indicate the ruthlessness of his devastation. Ethelfrith, Ida’s grandson, added the adjoining kingdom of Deifyr, or Deira, extending southward to the estuary of the Humber, to his own possessions, which were thenceforth known as Northumberland. vEthelfrith had inherited the warlike traditions of his race; for it is to him that Bede applies the terrible words of Scripture, “Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.’’ Against him came forth to battle Aidan, the British king of Strathclyde. He had called to his assistance the Scots, who had now established themselves to the north of his kingdom, and the united force, advancing up the valley of the Liddel, met that of Ethelfrith at Degsastane, or Dawstane, in the hill district of southern Roxburghshire. Hitherto the fortune of the war had fluctuated, but Degsastane annihilated what hopes remained to the North Britons of regaining their lost dominions. The rout was complete, Aidan’s army being cut to pieces. In the opposing rank fell Theobald,

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