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Edinburgh and The Lothians
Chapter XXVI - BY Hailes and Traprain


THERE are many pleasant walks about, the old town of Haddington, but the favourite one for me is down by Tyne to the Abbey hamlet and so on to Traprain Law, the solitary hill that holds the eye from every little ridge to the very edge, and over, of East Lothian. It was an autumn day, grey and quiet in the morning hours, as I trudged over the uneven stones of Hardgate. I passed the shapeless mass that was once the Master of Hailes’s place, commonly and fantastically known as Bothwell Castle. I recall it a fair dwelling, though now a hopeless ruin. Here Mary Stuart was on the very eve of Carberry Hill—a disturbing and unquiet memory. However, a Latin tag on a near house, with the date 1642, admonished, "To think always better things." What a delightful custom that was to mark the date and the motto on your house! It made every street a chapter of history and letters. I now turned at the Spout Well, and so along the bank of Tyne by a narrow and little-trodden path that hugged the water edge. The river was covered with sea-gulls screaming and feeding with equal zest. Trap-rain was already right in view, but the Lammermuir hills on the south had shrouded themselves for the time in a soft mantle of mist. Across the water were the great trees and green swellings of Amisfield Park, and a little further down was the house itself. Old red sandstone, square, adorned with pillars and statues, like a villa on the hills round Florence, it accorded little with its fields. In front the water was diverted into a cascade of a certain feeble prettiness, but a wood of sombre Scots firs gave mystery and dignity to the place, and at the end there was the beautiful old mediaeval Abbey bridge.

Amisfield, over two hundred years ago, was the scene of a great criminal tragedy—the murder of Sir James Stanfield by his son Philip. It was then called Newmills, and in name and aspect was far other than it is to-day. Perhaps that is why the legend is not a story of the countryside, yet this affair of 1687 had enough renown in its own time. You may still read it, writ large in the great State Trials collection. It is crammed full of incident and horror, culminating in a post-mortem examination in old Morham Kirk on a drear November night. When Philip helped to put back the body in the coffin the wounds bled afresh on his hands. Had the dead father spoke audible words the guilty one had seemed less clearly declared accused. So, at least, the men of that day believed. "Bluidy Mackenzie" was chief prosecuting counsel. He dwelt on the gruesome incident in Morham Kirk with that solemn and impressive eloquence of which he was such a master. "God Almighty Himself was pleased to bear a share in the testimony which we produce." Philip went to the scaffold, though Lord Fountainhall and Sir Walter Scott have doubted his guilt. World’s End Close in the High Street of Edinburgh was once the town dwelling of Sir James, and so called Stanfield’s Close, as I have mentioned.

I passed under one of the arches of the bridge and thus got on to the high road, and there, a few steps back from it, were the three or four houses that form the hamlet of the Abbey. The most were good solid Scots houses, clearly some centuries old. They were, no doubt, put together out of the ruin of the nunnery that once stood there. Four hundred years it flourished, and for near the same time it more or less quickly vanished. It only has one point of interest, and that was in 1548, just a little before the beginning of its end. The Scots Parliament met there and agreed to the marriage of Mary Stuart with the Dauphin. "Thus," says Knox, "was she sold to go to France, to the end that she should drink of that liquor that should remain with her all her lifetime for a plague to the realm and for her final destruction." Powerful, bitter words, but written after the event, and not very just or exact! There is no record of what this nunnery was like. At one of the house doors a woman was standing. When asked if there were any vestiges she pointed to a shapeless heap of earth or rubble, one scarce knew what, and said that was supposed the sole remnant of this one-time rich and prosperous religious house. Her own abode was probably a more authentic monument. However, she went on to tell me legend of the Abbey, a squalid murder-story about a hundred years old, not here to be repeated. Of the Stanfield affair across the river she had never heard. A direct question brought her back to the Abbey, and she pointed out a few trees in a field as the remains of its graveyard. I walked over. It was enclosed by a barbed-wire fence, but I squeezed over it or under it, and there, among the trees and under a thick undergrowth of nettles, lay some very old tombstones. "Nothing is sacred to a sapper," says a French proverb. What is sacred to the Lothian plough? The little space was cut sharp at its edges; the field of the dead must have been diminished year by year till stones and trees and fence had altogether stopped the remorseless iron. I was glad to be out again on the open road, with the cheerful clatter of the Abbey Mill in my ears. I now went by the river, past Stevenson and so on down stream. All too-obtrusive notices threatened the trespasser with legal terrors, but having neither gun nor rod I assumed they could not concern me. This theory did excellent well. I met no one, and it was not put to the test.

After Stevenson House, a pleasant old Scots mansion on a low knoll above the stream, the path failed, or at any rate became intermittent. Possibly it is continuous on the other or northern side; if so, I noted no one on it. There was an occasional crazy boat, which no doubt served as ferry. Once or twice sets of stepping-stones supplied a more primitive crossing. The river and its banks were full of their own life; fishes leapt in the stream, water-rats darted from the edge, at every step a crow rose from the fields, or a partridge started with indignant whirr, the protest of an aristocratic and law-protected creature against vulgar intrusion. The trees were full of birds, the air of insects, and every few steps a great heron rose up and sailed majestically away. The cattle in the fields gazed with mild bovine wonder at the passerby. It was not a long walk, in miles some five or six perhaps, and only that because the river coiled in and out in gentle windings, always with a constant plaintive murmur. Now it swept round a succession of green haughs, and then between banks steep and narrow and dense with tree and bush. But the channel did not narrow or its waters quicken. I went slow and with little ease. The keen, eager plough disputed its narrowest banks with the river, if so be it might tame another yard of earth. It had hugged the steep so close that the line ran straight along the top. Another inch, and sure plough and man and cattle had toppled right over and crashed into mid Tyne. Sometimes I crawled along the bank, or I drove my way through a potato field, or I hung on to the fences. I had some trouble with the burns that fell into the Tyne; they were innocent of so much as a plank, but most had a couple of stones to aid the workers from the farms I saw here and there on the near sky-line. The crossing involved a scramble up and down steep banks by the aid of trees, and the top was invariably fenced. The day was grey no longer; it was bright sun and warm, and the bits of level haugh, after the scramble, were very Edens. Finally, from the edge of a cornfield I caught sight of Hailes rising sheer from the water and seen above and through the trees. One final climb and I was inside the enclosure.

It is very hard to describe Hailes. It is but a mass of masonry; one or two rooms, hall or dungeon or cellar, have their roofs, most have not, and the wind stirs the grass and nettles that grow long and rank in hall and courtyard. The river front still looks strong; from the other bank it must seem complete. Hidden away, broken and bowed, yet stout even in ruin, the castle will hang together in some sort for untold years if left alone. It will still touch with a vague interest the wayfarer on the slope of Pencraik, and save for one memory that were all to be said. Once again it is Mary Stuart that passes by, and the grey walls are touched with keen tragic interest, Hailes was Bothwell’s castle in the midst of his own fields, and here he took his Queen in April 1567, after he had carried her off, no unwilling captive. And she was there again in May, the month of her fatal marriage. She knew her danger, for her wit was keen; she dared all, for her spirit was high. It was quieter here than at Dunbar or Edinburgh; save for her own folk not less quiet than to-day. The castle grounds by the Tyne are of rare beauty. There is a miniature glen through which a tiny burn trickles to the river. Once it makes a little pool and you may choose a seat on one or other of some immense rocks. Maybe it served once as well. Trees, grass, burn are left untouched, and so they fit well the ruined castle..

An easy road led to the foot of Traprain. Surely not a hard hill to climb, though there is no regular path. I remembered the legend of Thenew, Princess, Saint and Mother of Saint Kentigern, who was hurled, by the order of her heathen old father, Ludonius, King of Lothian, from the summit, on account of her piety, or the lack of it, for the story may be read various ways. It required a miracle to save her. True, this was a good deal more than a thousand years ago, when Traprain was known as Dunpender (a name still much in favour with the poets). But the age of miracles is past, and yet hills alter little in a thousand years. "So the Law ought to be dangerous at some parts?" I asked the "guidwife" at a roadside cottage. She pointed out the sheep that were moving at their ease up the hill and told me to follow them! Also she assured me that the girls of the countryside often raced down it on summer evenings! Perhaps the "gilpeys" (as she called them) invoked the help of St Thenew. I was about to ask her when she began on the "craps"—that eternal East Lothian subject. I have no skill in such talk, and I "took the hill" forthwith. It was easy enough. Most was springy turf mined with rabbit-holes. Here the stone of the hill showed like the bare ribs of Mother Earth. Again I passed through nettles, for I found no beaten track. On the top the wind blew fresh and strong, and the sky was clear and blue. All was happy and useful labour in the fields that stretched round. The ships on the Firth, the smoke of a distant train, the "reek" of Linton and Haddington, set off and edged the great picture of the harvest-field. By the sea the fields stood bare; on the hills crops were falling under the gatherer’s knife. Just below men and women were piling the "stooks" in carts, or leading them away. There was complete method and order. The stooks stretched along the fields at regular intervals in unbroken lines; the uncut corn was clean, and filled the field from end to end, and on the bared land there was no wrack left behind. This is the ideal of an earlier day, the newer world asks something more startling, but "Speed the Plough!" The hours by the waterside had been full of tragic memories and ruined splendours. The unhappy dead had risen from their graves to chill, with their old-world sorrows, but in this cheerful scene the shadows vanished. You praise the strong arms and brave hearts that win so happy a victory. This is the real work of the world. These men live at the heart and core of things; they give us our daily bread, they do that which makes everything else possible. And so did their fathers before them in long years of steady and incessant toil that changed the waste to this garden. They talked little but they ploughed much. Content that they had made their field more fertile they went to their rest in those little yards you see by the country kirks; their dust is one with the dust of the field they ploughed, and si quaris monumentum circumspice! I passed on my way to the town in the pure pale light of a northern evening. The road was dotted with farm places, and with woods and streams among the fields. The heavy-laden carts went by without end, for the workers toiled to the last minute of daylight. A laugh, a snatch of song floated now and again over the hedge. As I passed round the dykes by the south of Amisfield I turned and saw how Traprain seemed to have moved with me and stood blocking the end of the road. It had been the companion of my day, but now it vanished as I passed over the old bridge across the Tyne into the lamp-lit streets of Haddington.


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