Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Gateway of Scotland
Chapter II. Coldinghamshire


THE coast of Berwickshire forms a striking and aspiring interlude between the low shores of Northumberland and East Lothian. Of those qualities appealing both to the eye and the heart that lift these rugged Northumbrian shores far above the level of the typical low-lying crumbly frontage that most of East Britain presents to the North Sea, I have written a good deal elsewhere. Of how East Lothian redeems its comparative lack of stature in this respect, I shall hope to say something later in this book. No Southron, to be sure, nor indeed very many Scotsmen outside the neighbouring districts, know anything of the coast of Berwickshire. But that means nothing, save that it gathers from such indifference the further distinction of aloofness from a restive world, which so well becomes a coast-line that for many miles is awesome enough in summer calms and positively terrific of aspect when waging its solitary conflicts with the storm. Yet the world, and that, too, in its thousands, roars past a section of it, along the very cliff edge, on leaving Berwick. Such passing glimpses as are caught here, however, are but a faint indication of what lies northward, when the train has swerved inland to wake the echoes of the bosky Lammermoor glens and, after twenty breathless miles, to leap out into the rich red sea-coast plains of Lothian. I doubt if the passenger takes much note of all this. For my part, I have never lit upon a friend or acquaintance who has gathered any conception of the sixty miles between Berwick and Edinburgh from his Northern railway journeys. One might fancy that the passing glimpse of the fishing hamlet of Burn-mouth, lying several hundred feet in a cleft of the red cliffs below the train windows, would catch even a vacant eye, or, again, that the winding wooded valley of the Eye, with the wayward humours of that delightful stream playing hide-and-seek for miles along the railway track, would in the course of years acquire some kind of recognition. It seems strange, too, that the beautiful tangle of the Pease Pass, which gave Cromwell so much trouble, with its flowery glades and leaping torrents and overtopping bulwark of purple moorland, followed by the sudden burst into the plains of Lothian, radiant in its matchless fertility between the Lammermoors and the sea, should leave no memory, whether at the end or beginning of so notable a highway so often travelled. Probably all this is not generally regarded as being in Scotland. At any rate, it is merely the Lowlands—infelicitous term of vague, misleading import to the average south countryman, and not supposed t.o be worthy of notice. Our friend is on his way to Edinburgh and to the Highlands, which are all mountains and, in fact, alone signify Scotland, so far as he is concerned. The Lowlands are all flat, and do not count except vaguely for those who still read Scott and "take in" Abbotsford on their way to the north. They contain counties the names and situations of which are the despair of the Southron, who may know Inverness-shire as well as Switzerland ; names that will always prove a tower of strength in those geographical encounters which sometimes overtake the unwary wight in the disguise of a parlour game.

I forget what famous debater it was who used to drive the last home-thrust into the vitals of a Parliamentary opponent by addressing him after his second title of Baron Clackmannan, an unfair ruse which always, it was said, brought down the House and left the luckless Baron smitten for the night beyond repair. Perhaps the motorist who riots abundantly at certain seasons on the North Road, which road keeps intimate company with the railway along these windy cliff edges and through the Arcadian glens that Iead to Lothian, gathers something more of the quality of the way. But, after all, neither type of passer-by concerns us, who have not got to lunch at Edinburgh, nor yet sleep at Perth.

The Great North Road, which leads straight out through the bounds of Berwick, those half-dozen square miles of farming land filched from Scotland and assiduously "ridden" every year by the Berwick burghers as if to flaunt their ancient triumph, should of a surety provide the most callous wayfarer with something to think about. It is a bleak stretch, to be candid, this half-mile span of terrace that for some miles spreads from the cliff edge to the long slope of Halidon Hill and Lamberton Moor and bears both road and railway northward. Nor is this amiss. For it is a region of stern as well as of splendid memories, of slaughter as well as pageant, and it is infinitely to our advantage that we can look all over it unobstructed by woods and country houses, howsoever gracious in their place. The long narrow strips of tillage, of grain, or hay or roots that follow one another from the road to the cliff edge far upon our way would not claim elsewhere any more notice than as a bright foreground to a boundless blue sea, flecked with the sails of craft from a half-score of fishing villages But the commonplace acres gain really some dignity of association when you remember that they are the individual holdings of the four hundred and odd hereditary freemen of Berwick. Even the huge sweeping fields of grass or barley that climb in their rather sad, unadorned economic fashion the fateful Hill of Halidon, though in truth they need no further story, gain a little added interest from the fact that they belong to the historic corporation of that town. It is good, too, to be able to look far ahead along the wide open road to the famous Lamberton Toll Bar, the Gretna Green of the Eastern Marches, where another blacksmith or the like tied up as many runaway couples as crossed the Solway; which, by the way, if for a quite different reason, is no more the international boundary, though nearer to it, than is the Tweed here. But these are mere trifles of yesterday, and Lamberton is incomparably greater as an ancient trystina-place than Gretna, though the schoolboy in the Antipodes is familiar with the one and probably no one in Hampshire ever heard of the other. For Lamberton saw many an Anglo-Scottish pageant. Margaret of England, daughter of Henry VII., was met here when, as a girl of thirteen, she proceeded northward with unprecedented pomp to marry the gallant Scottish King, who a dozen years later widowed her at Flodden Field. Two thousand nobles and gentlemen, riding three abreast, escorted her to the Old Kirk which once stood at Lamberton, and there handed her over to an equally gay company from Scotland, who carried her northward to Edinburgh. 'There were ladies as well as cavaliers on horseback in this fair company, which is minutely described by John Young, Somerset Herald, with their jangling bells and persons arrayed in cloth of gold, and horses frisking in trappings of the same. The Princess herself, in attire laced with gold and precious stones, was carried in a litter surrounded by attendants mounted on palfreys. Pavilions were pitched at Lamberton for each degree, where with more wassail, such as Lord Dacre, Governor and Warden of the Eastern March, had already indulged them with at Berwick, the merry travellers made "great chere"; no less than six hundred of them going on with their Scottish friends to make another night of it at Coldingham. And how about Coldingham and its worthy monks and villagers, one might well ask, when this swarm of gilded locusts settled on it; or did they, as was probable, levy handsome tribute on their wealthy visitors?

Those were surely great times for country folk ! In the intervals of killing or being killed they had no end of spectacular compensations. Fancy the Royal Family, half the House of Lords, all the chief Cabinet ministers, bishops, generals, and admirals, blazing in jewels and radiant apparel, camping out on your village cricket ground! James I., too, here first entered upon his kingdom, being met with ceremonies worthy the occasion by the great ones of the English Border. Mary Stuart, in the thick of her troubles with the truculent, self-seeking nobles that buffeted her in such pitiless fashion about southern Scotland, rode on one occasion to the hill above on her way to Coldingham. She was apparently impelled by mere curiosity for a distant view of the famous town. But the news had reached Berwick that she was hovering near, and the gallant Sir James Foster, then Governor, gave orders for all the great guns to lift up their voices on the new ramparts, and himself repaired with forty horsemen to the Bounds. Here he met the Queen with Huntly, Murray, Lethington, and Bothwell, and five hundred horse, when they all rode up to the top of Halidon Hill, and the great guns of Berwick, two miles away, roared all that afternoon and all that night in honour of the hapless and immortal charmer.

Charles I., on his progress to Edinburgh in 1633, after ten days at Berwick, was met at the Bounds by an amazingly numerous and brilliant company of Scotsmen. Six hundred mounted gentlemen from the Merse alone, were here, relations or dependents of the Earl of Home, in green silk doublets with white scarves, and formed but a small portion of the loyal array, which included most of the nobility and gentry of Teviotdale and the three Lothians.

But this will never do! We might stand at Berwick bounds and call up whole centuries of royal and famous pageants, from William the Lion onward. Lamberton Toll is now represented by a couple of humble dwellings, apparently quite unconscious of the significance of their site, facing each other over a lonely bit of highway ; though one of them, I believe, was once the actual blacksmith's shop which did such a roaring matrimonial trade in comparatively recent days. There is an air of melancholy and inconsequence about the once famous spot that to the dreamer of dreams is not unwelcome. Little is to be seen from it but the hill of slaughter, rising abruptly inland, where breadths of seeds or barley wave and turnips flicker in the summer breeze, while the white curving road trails away to north or south. Gulls from the neighbouring cliffs, but a couple of fields distant, scream and wheel from England into Scotland, and from Scotland into England, back and forth, or follow in long restless files the track of a hind's plough as he turns the red soil of the Corporation acres. A group of women workers, picturesque in their regulation garb of blue blouse, pink neck-cloth, and short linsey skirts, come cackling betimes along the road, or a mournful pair of professional roadsters shamble southward, shaking the dust of Scotland and its sterner poor-law methods from off their feet no doubt with joy and renewed designs upon the more long-suffering ratepayer beyond the Tweed. Motors, branded with the brand of remote counties, throb past at intervals and fly the Bounds with joyous unconcern, and little heed or notion that they are raising classic dust.

It was hereabouts that the old road to Edinburgh left the line of the present one, and climbed up past Lamberton Manse and the now vanished kirk to the long lofty plateau of Lamberton Hill. Upon this far-spreading common, renowned in Georgian times for one of the chief Border race-meetings, lay the Scottish army, while on Halidon, a lower continuation of the same ridge, towards Berwick, Edward III. drew up that army which was to avenge his father's unforgettable defeat at Bannockburn. Lamberton Common is now a delightful mile or so of gorse, bracken, and sward, lifted some 700 feet above the sea, whence you may look out over half southern Scotland, and more than half Northumberland, while Halidon has been long enclosed and tamed to the plough. But there is a dip between the two hills, and the Regent, Archibald Douglas, who commanded the Scots, forgot the precepts of the dead Bruce never to attack the English in a pitched battle, and forgot it at a moment when his enemy was in great fighting trim, and furthermore occupied a strong position.

Edward was investing Berwick, then in Scottish hands, and articles of surrender had already been signed for an early day, provided that the city was not in the meantime relieved. This, however, was just what Douglas and the Scottish army now essayed to do. There was not much strategy about the battle, and none of the old writers have found very much to say about it except in regard to the slaughter which ensued. I am afraid many readers will be surprised to hear that Sir Walter has celebrated it in a metrical drama, and no doubt for its very paucity of outstanding detail, borrowed the well-known Gordon-Swinton scene from the later affair at Homildon. One famous incident, however, preceded the battle and augured badly for the Scots. For one of the Turnbulls, a gigantic Scotsman, accompanied by a furious mastiff, strode forth from the ranks and challenged any warrior in the English army to single combat. Whereupon stepped forth one Sir Robert Benhale of Norfolk, a man of prowess and great skill in arms, though of only moderate stature. He disposed of the mastiff's attack by a single blow, and, after a brief encounter, sliced off Turnbull's right arm, and then, according to the current etiquette of such proceedings, removed his head.

The Scottish infantry attacked uphill and were repulsed. The cavalry got mired in a swamp, and their curiously fashioned horseshoes are frequently to this day ploughed up, one being in my own possession. It was the old story of the English archer, now just arrived at the zenith of his fame and skill, whose terrible volleys were again and again too much for even the valiant North Briton. It was here as at Homildon Hill, within easy sight of the crest of Iialidon, forty years later. Whether these archers, like the others, came from the Welsh Marches, the nursery of the English bowman, I know not, but it matters nothing, the result was equally fatal. The arrows flew, says an old chronicler, "like motes in a sunbeam, and no coat of mail could withstand them." And so also King Edward, in Sir Walter's drama:-

"See Chandos, Percy. Ha' St. George! St. Edward
See it descending; now, the fatal hail shower,
The storm of England's wrath, sure, swift, resistless,
Which no mail coat can brook."

And to Percy, who exclaims that it darkens the sky and hides the sun:-

"It falls on those shall see the sun no more.
The winged, the resistless plague is with them.
They do not see and cannot shun the wound.
The storm is viewless as Death's sable wing,
Unerring as his scythe."

It was soon a rout. Only seven Englishmen fell, says one account, while the Scottish loss is quoted by various writers, after their hyperbolic fashion, at from 14,000 to 56,000. The stricken host was pursued all the way to Ayton, four miles distant, and were cut down apparently like sheep, for the entire route, we are told, was strewn with corpses.

"These men might well see
Many a Scot lightly flee,
And the English after priking,
With sharp swerdes them stryking."

The slaughter was so great among the Scotch nobility that the English vainly flattered themselves with the prospect of no more Scottish wars, since no man capable of leading an army appeared to be Ieft alive.

Bannockburn seemed indeed to be avenged, and the triumphant Edward left a sum of money to the nuns of a Cistercian house then standing at the foot of Halidon Hill, for a perpetual celebration of his famous victory. The convent, the nuns; the vows of eternal pćans in Edward's glory, and masses for the innumerable dead, have long vanished in dust and fantasy, and the bloody, corpse-strewn track of the hapless Scots to Ayton, which we may now follow, has been washed by ten thousand storms, and turned over and over by a thousand ploughs.

But Burnmouth, the first gash in the red cliffs north of Berwick, and that in truth a mighty deep and narrow one, is well worth the trifling detour from the highway, if only for a glimpse of the hamlet clinging to the base of the cliff, where from the heights above there appears no space for what is in fact a whole community of fisherfolk. It is well worth the steep descent of three or four hundred feet, by the rough road that gives these hardy sons and daughters of the sea access to the upper world. Or failing that, there is a grassy platform more than half-way down which exposes in a way that an artist would surely seize upon, this really uncommon and quite exquisite picture of a Scottish fishing village. At any rate this vantage-point comes back to me from a summer evening not long ago, when the sea was at its bluest, the overhanging cliffs at their ruddiest, the greenery which hung over their summits and even crept down their steep sides at its greenest. The red-roofed cottages, thrust into the cliff-foot or perched about on rocky knolls covered with drying nets, sent their wreaths of smoke straight upwards in the moveless air, for the boats had just come in and suppers were no doubt impending. Short-skirted women were carrying baskets of fish ashore upon their bent backs, for the males of their kind, when they have beached the boats, hold that their part in the domestic economy is ended. The gulls swung screaming from side to side of the great cleft, or floated far below upon the glassy tide that exposed every rib of the submerged reefs which pave the whole of this inhospitable shore. For even here, a fishing station, the only refuge for craft too large to beach is a small artificial harbour, where three or four herring smacks were on this occasion idly lying.

Nobody would ever dream of suggesting that North Britain, on either side of Tweed, can pride itself on the osthetie quality of its inland villages. So it is perhaps just as well that in the agricultural districts villages are comparatively scarce, the hind and his family being generally quartered in those rows of low, red-roofed cottages that cluster round the great farm steadings, and redeem them in some measure from their rather uncompromising utilitarianism. There are exceptions, however, and Ayton is one of them, as if conscious that first impressions count for much, and that some effort is demanded of the first village upon Scottish soil encountered by the northward-bound stranger. It is but fair to admit, however, that there is no sign of self-consciousness about Ayton, unless a large handsome modern kirk at its outskirts, set amid all the mellow surroundings of grove, stream, and well-tended graveyard that graced an ancient predecessor, count for such; while within this same predecessor, it is interesting to remember, was held at least one Anglo-Scottish conference of import to both kingdoms.

Nature has done a good deal for Ayton, and the castle perched amid its nobly timbered parklands above, that has been for all time associated with it, has done perhaps more. The approach to the foot of the wide ascending village street touches the romantic, for it is made over a bridge of a single arch thrown across a deep rocky chasm, where, smothered in foliage, the pellucid waters of the Eye make gentle music. Below this again they continue to burrow with complaining voice through three more miles of woodland to the sea at Eyemouth, a little fishing town of picturesque environment and of much note in that portion of the outer world concerned with herrings, mackerel, or cod. The castle entrance, too, stands near the bridge in all that pomp of massive Gothic red sandstone architecture with which the great Scottish Border mansion is apt to emphasise its dignity, and when, as in this case, such lordly portals are overshadowed by stately timber, the effect is admirable.

Nothing of particular note or antiquity stands out in Ayton village. Helped, however, by its pleasant site, its wide sloping street, and its quite tolerable dimensions, it has an air of old-fashioned dignity and consequence that is assuredly lacking in most of its neighbours. Like every other place with a church and a castle on this great highway, Ayton has a lengthy chronology and is steeped in historical incident, which it would profit us nothing merely to tabulate. The present castle is modern, but no less baronial in aspect for all that—a red sandstone pile of the typical Scottish type with the characteristic French affinities. It is beautifully placed high up amid a wealth of verdure, and altogether so conspicuous from the railway that even our much apostrophised friend on the Edinburgh mail must acquire in time some acquaintance with it. It has broken its family as well as its structural links with the past, which is as chequered a one as you would expect from a Border castle. Surrey destroyed an early edition of it in the reign of James IV., when he "continually bet it from two of the clock in the morning till five at night," and after sparing the garrison, "razed it to the playne ground." This was in pursuit of the Scottish King, who had espoused the cause of Perkin Warbeck and raided Northumberland and Durham till, if I remember rightly, the more tender hearted Pretender, unused to Border amenities, protested against such wanton ravage. James, says the chronicler Grafton, lay supinely within a mile of Surrey at Ayton and saw the smoke of the bombardment. He sent heralds to the Earl offering him single combat with the town and policies of Berwick as the stake. Surrey replied that Berwick was the property of the King his master, and not his own to wager away, but declared himself to be highly honoured that so great a monarch should make such flattering proposals to a "poor Earl." He awaited, however, the attack of the Scottish army, till both sides, having exhausted the resources of that "tempestuous, unfertyle, and barrein region," went their homeward ways. Surrey would be surprised if he could see the present-day agriculture of the " barrein region " whose many towers he " razed " on that particular expedition. So, I might add, however, would a modern south country farmer.

Avton may in a manner be said to form the entry into that projecting block of Berwickshire which is cut off from the rest of the county by both main road and railway, that together leave the coast at Burnmouth and together meet the sea again at Cockburnspath. The old name of "Coldinghamshire" which roughly covered it might be conveniently revived for our brief purpose here. Indeed the county, besides its two natural divisions of the Lammermoors and the Merse, might for purposes of lucidity be accredited with this as a third one. For it is made up of a fragment of both the others, and, with the modern road and railroad for a base, forms a triangle, the point of which is St. Abb's Head, while either side is washed by the North Sea. The coast sides are each some dozen miles in length as the crow flies, the base nearly twenty. Eyemouth lies just within it, beneath the southern horn of Coldingham Bay, which forms indeed the eastern side of the triangle, and, though fearfully rugged and broken, is comparatively low-lying. The northern side of the triangle from St. Abb's Head to Cockburnspath is an unbroken barrier of savage, inaccessible cliffs with practically no human life in their neighbourhood.

The considerable village of Coldingham, with its famous abbey, is virtually in the heart of what I shall make free, in the phrase of the ancients, to call Coldinghamshire, as Hexharn, Norham, and Bamburgh, with less geographical cause, at any rate, carried the like honour. The whole triangle, and more besides, like the clearly defined "shire" of Hexham, was no doubt held in one way or another of the abbey. Indeed the term Coldinghamshire is as old as the Saxon period, and its limits were clearly defined Iater on by William the Lion. But as antiquaries admit themselves baffled by the enigmatic surveys of that energetic monarch, his primitive landmarks having no doubt disappeared, we need not worry about such things here, but confine the ancient and convenient term to the limits described. Coldinghamshire displays a variety of character and scenery that many a region of its size, trumpeted by railroads, exploited by newspaper essayists, and laboured at great length by guide-hooks, might envy. Its eastern half is largely filled by grouse moors and wholly flanked by the weirdest and most imposing sea-coast that Britain presents to the North Sea. Upon Coldingham itself lies the atmosphere of a great lire-Reformation church centre. In Eyemouth and St. Abb's village are most felicitous examples of the important and the primitive Lowland fishing villages respectively. Around Ayton and in the western part of the " shire " is the opulent landscape already alluded to, while the deep woody valleys and ravines of the Eye and Pease, with their glittering streams, strike yet another note.

Coldinghamshire owes its qualities to the fact that it is in great part formed by the seaward extremities of the wild and lofty range of the Lammermoors. Starting, in name at least, from the deep channelled country south of Edinburgh, through which the Gala and Leader run to Tweed, and thence forging eastward to the coast, this great heath-clad barrier completely severs Lothian from the Merse and Tweeddale, and is in short the outstanding physical feature of the Eastern March of Scotland.

The road from Ayton to Eyemouth which skirts the castle is a. short hour's walk, , and well worth doing, if only for the intimate terms upon which it so frequently places you with the last and perhaps the most beautiful three miles of the Eye's course. The little river terminates its career in a remarkably abrupt transformation, within a few hundred yards, from limpid cascades tumbling over mossy rocks in the seclusion of inviolate woodlands to a deep channel where fifty or sixty large fishing smacks may often be seen densely wedged between stone wharves. The architecture of Eyemouth is undeniably depressing, though quite a number of summer visitors put up with its sombre aspect for the charm of the rocks and the sea, the cliffs and the coves which lie around it. For the town has long outgrown the promiscuously picturesque collection of red-tiled, white-walled cottages that makes the more primitive fishing village of this ancient kingdom of Northumbria from the Forth to the Tyne pleasant to behold. Immense stacks of herring barrels were piled up on the wharves when I was last there, and a communicative aboriginal, with his hands suspiciously deep in his pockets, who may, for aught I know, have been the self-appointed orator of a taciturn breed, and not much more, gave me the figures of a contract (for Russia, I think), which were of an imposing kind. Fish-curing employs the lasses of Eyemouth, and their haddocks are quite celebrated.

A century and a half ago, when the first pier was built at Eyemouth, Berwick received a disagreeable jar. It seems that the monopoly so long enjoyed by that port had emboldened its traders to treat the neighbourhood in rather high-handed fashion. So the lairds and farmers concerned with sea-borne freight, legal or illegal, turned with alacrity to this new outlet. Thirty years ago Eyemouth was overwhelmed with a disaster such as has never probably in modern times smitten a little fishing port, no fewer than 129 of its hardy sons being drowned in a single storm, and most of its fishing fleet destroyed. It has enjoyed, too, among some readers of Scott an adventitious reputation as the scene of the immortal and resourceful Caleb Balder-stone's raids for the replenishment of his master's empty larder and the saving of his master's honour at the grim fortress of Wolf's Crag. As some eight miles, much of which is rugged cliff edge, divide Eyemouth from Fast Castle, undoubtedly the inspiring original of Ravens-wood's storm-beaten tower, one must reluctantly forego all temptation to include any of the characters in that great tragedy among the local genii. St. Abb's indeed would have a prior claim if precise topography was applicable to the famous drama. But I think that any one who had tramped afoot between that village and Fast Castle in broad daylight would abandon all attempt to connect its fortunes with those of this gruesome stronghold, or to imagine Caleb toddling down there at night and returning betimes with a lean hen for his master's supper.

Coldingham, some four miles away, lies, as already noted, where the lower and the higher regions of its shire meet. It is a place of no infrequent pilgrimage for the people of Edinburgh and the Eastern 'larch generally, and of resolute antiquarians, of course, from much farther afield. Traps of assorted kinds meet those slow train: on the main line which stop at Reston Junction and bear away on most fine summer days a moderate company of tourists over the three miles of fine undulating highway that bisects the shire and leads to Coldingham. Adjoining the village, which, by the way, is another welcome exception to the prevailing North British type, are the remains of the abbey. The only important and conspicuous portion extant is the original choir, for the excellent reason that it has been repaired and preserved for the purposes of a parish kirk, while the other more or less fragmentary relics of the once great monastery occupy the well-filled and well-kept graveyard.

The monastery was founded in 1098 about two miles from the site of the primitive establishment of St. Abb's. This last is attributed to Ebba, daughter of Ethelbert, King of Northumbria, and sister to the pious Oswald, who under marvellous circumstances, as some will remember, won the victory over the heathen hosts at Heavenfield, near Hexham. At all events, Ebba retired here, before the appointment of St. Cuthbert to the bishopric of Lindisfarne. Legend tells of this saintly lady escaping from enemies who had made her captive near the Humber, in a boat, and being safely and providentially deposited beneath St. Abb's Head, which from this incident derived its present name. Here Ebba remained in the convent she founded in thankfulness for her escape, and together with her novitiates, being no doubt unversed in the ritual and discipline of conventual life, she sent for Cuthbert, *ho, lately risen from an obscure shepherd boy in the Lammermoors, was now Abbot of Melrose. The opportunity of being by the seaside for the first time was seized upon by the holy man, according to Bede, for inventing a new kind of penance. For when Ebba's flock were all wrapped in slumber he would steal down to the lonely shore and stand for the whole night up to his neck in the water engaged in prayer and praise till the time approached for the regular morning devotions. An innate of the establishment, stirred by curiosity at these midnight excursions of the pious abbot to follow him and to become a secret witness of his proceedings, himself reported this to the historian. He also affirmed that when the saint came out of the water after his long immersion, two sea-lions (seals) followed him, warmed his feet with their breath, and dried them with their skins, after which they received Cuthbert's benediction, and retired again into the deep. Ebba's foundation continued to be the scene not merely of supernatural marvels, but of sensational human performances. Once when a Danish raiding party were on the shore, and the nuns feared for their chastity, they sliced off their noses and upper lips, which so disgusted and enraged the intending ravagers that they burnt the building and the nuns within it. This appears to have happened about the year 870, and was the second and apparently final destruction of the monastery. The first, according to Bede, was soon after the death of Ebba, and was a visitation of God, long before seen in a dream, upon the loose living of the inmates. For this, like most of such Saxon houses, was in two sections, for men and women respectively, an abbess presiding over both.

But the priory of Coldingham has only an uncertain connection with the ancient foundation on the headland, and its chequered tale is modern history compared to the weird chronicle of the other. It was founded in 1098 by Edgar, King of the Scots, or of some of the Scots, after his victory over the usurper Donald, and dedicated to St. Cuthbert for full value received, if the visions of a Scottish King after dining with the monks of Durham can be attributed to saintly inspiration. St. Cuthbert himself on this occasion was the nocturnal visitor to the King, then on his way to recover his kingdom, and guaranteed that if he carried the Durham banner before him, the victory was as good as won. So Edgar borrowed the cathedral banner of St. Cuthbert from the monks and caused it to be borne before his army, a proceeding which fully justified the promise of the saint, and so intimidated the enemy that numbers of them changed sides on the spot and thereby assured the victory to Edgar. In the joyful and grateful mood natural to his triumph, the King founded the Priory of Coldingham, introducing thereto Benedictine monks from Durham, as was only right, and endowing it handsomely with manors. He furthermore laid a yearly tribute to his new priory on all the inhabitants of Coldinghamshire for the greater advantage of his own soul and that of his father and mother, brothers and sisters, a means of salvation that must strike our modern notions as singularly mean, and as attributing to the Deity a remarkable absence of the judicial instinct.

So Coldingharn flourished and became the most powerful monastery between Berwick and Edinburgh. Among its earliest possessions were many well-known places in the Merse, like Swinton, Lennel, Earlston, Edrom, and Stitchell, where in due course it erected churches and established parish boundaries much as they stand to-day. To follow the story of Coldingham would be to labour the whole stormy sea of Scottish history. Its position may be referred to, however, as singular—that, namely, of a Scottish monastery ecclesiastically associated with Durham. More than one King of Scotland endeavoured to alienate it, James Ill, more particularly, who lost his life in the attempt. For the Homes, ubiquitous and powerful in Berwickshire for centuries, and indeed all-powerful in the fifteenth century, regarded it as their particular care, with the ultimate result that the King fell in battle at Sauchieburn. His son, however, annexed Coldingham to the Scottish Crown and placed it under the Abbey of Dunfermline. Several of the priors in its later days, being members of the great, ever-factious Scottish families, came, as was inevitable, to violent ends. Hertford in his devastating march of 1545 set fire to the buildings. Then came the Reformation, and in 1560 the monastery was dissolved. It had entertained in its day almost every one who was anybody in Scotland, and in 1648 Cromwell completed its long list of distinguished visitors, and at the same time, upon the capitulation of the Royalist garrison, who had fortified it against him, terminated its physical existence by blowing up all but the two sides of the church, and undermining a tower which fell later. The memory of Queen Mary's stay here, like the memory of everything else associated with that hapless lady, who has so captivated the imagination of posterity, is perhaps the most familiar in its story to casual acquaintances, and we have already described how she came here from Lamberton with a great company. Whether the Queen herself slept at the priory or at Houndswood, four miles away, still vexes the soul of the antiquary, while a farmhouse near the latter place called Mount Albion is supposed to commemorate the spot where she mounted her white palfrey for the homeward journey.

The original church, as the visible remains of walls and the foundations of others discovered during the restoration testify, was a large one, consisting of a central tower, a nave ninety feet long, with aisles and transepts, the latter having eastern aisles or chapels. The choir, of equal length with the nave, was aisleless, and was, in fact, the church we see before us to-day. The whole building was used freely as a stone quarry by the natives of Coldingham in old days. It is fortunate that the heritors of the parish had both the sense and the taste to make some reparation half a century ago for the ravages of their fathers and grandfathers and restore the choir as the parish church—that is, to build a west and a south wall upon the old foundations on to the north and east sides, which were still perfect, and to roof them in. They were assisted by the Crown, which perhaps ensured a structural harmony that neither the period nor the locality might have been wholly trusted to bear in mind. A curious English reader may possibly say to himself, "And what is a heritor?" for the Scottish Church is a subject upon which the average Southron of intelligence is complacently in the dark. Nor, probably, does occasional attendance at a Highland Free Kirk in August shed much light upon the darkness. The heritors, then, to waive technicalities, are, speaking generally, the substantial men of the parish, whether owners or occupiers. They are responsible for everything practical connected with the Established Church of Scotland. Their body, unless voting is required, [Occasionally, but less often I believe than formerly, two or more selected ministers officiate in turn, and the choice between them then falls upon the congregation.] elect the minister, and they are responsible for his salary. The Scottish tithe is not fixed on a term of years' sliding scale of the price of grain, as in the English Church, but each year the market price is settled by a jury, presided over by the Sheriff, who meet and discuss the matter from the standpoint of their own experience. Mr. Henderson and Mr. Thomson (without the "p," if you please) quote the prices obtained at Berwick for their barley, or Messrs. Deans and Logan assess the average value realised for wheat at Dunbar or Haddington by some such personal and doubtless sufficiently equitable method. The tithes are collected and paid to the minister on the responsibility of the heritors. He does not have to collect his dues like a landlord after the fashion of his English brethren, though they come, of course, from the same sources, alike inherited from the ancient pre-Reformation Church. Stay-at-home Scotsmen may marvel that this last crumb of information should be accounted worth while imparting. If they knew us in our home they would understand it to be quite urgently so—that is, if English folk generally were very much interested in things outside their immediate orbit, which is not, of course, the case. Those who are will not need telling such elementary facts about the Church of Scotland. Those who are not—nine out of ten, that is to say—will not in the least care to be told, but continue to cherish a vague conception of a nation of dissenters dominated in religious matters by ministers and elders whose ferocious sabbatarianism is partially redeemed by the wealth of good stories of which they are the genial heroes.

The style of the work in Coldingham Church is very beautiful, being elaborate transition Norman. The exterior of the north side shows an upper storey of eight single-light lancet windows, divided from one another by broad shallow buttresses. Each window has deep head-mouldings, springing from banded circular shafts with floreated capitals. The lower storey, to use an expressive but unprofessional term, consists of an arcading merely, of Norman arches arranged in couplets. The same arrangement is practically continuous round the east end, the other original portion of the church, while the two restored sides of course correspond externally. At each corner is a slender square tower, barely higher than the walls, with a low pointed cap. The roof is a low flattish gable, and the building at first sight, even to an eye familiar with remnants of mediaeval churches, is undeniably perplexing.

Within the building there has been no attempt, in the restoration of the two vanished walls, to reproduce the elaborate beauty of their ancient predecessors, nor indeed could the worthy heritors of the parish have been expected to put their hands so deep into their pockets as this effort would have entailed. Nor does it really much matter ; the beauty lies in the work, its singularity and antiquity, not in the building as such, since it is a mere fragment of the original, shorn of its accessories, and without its proper complements. An open arcade, in the thickness of the wall, is carried round on a level with the windows, making a kind of triforium, sufficient for perambulation. The faces of the arches, which are in couplets between the windows, are deeply moulded, while the arcading of the lower compartment is extremely rich and ornate. That the pewing and modern fittings are those of an unadorned Scottish village kirk may have passing interest in the contrast between the unreformed Presbyterian attitude towards beauty in Divine worship and that of their ancestors. Two or three mortuary stones of early monks survive. Outside, a solitary Norman arch, a relic of the south transept, is all that is conspicuous, though the remains of the walls and foundations of the monastery buildings are in part plain enough. About a century ago the supposed skeleton of an immured nun was found in a niche in a part of the walls that was being removed.

Now you may find a Scotsman in any part of England, but a southern Englishman other than a domestic in a lowland country village is an amazing curiosity. I have only encountered such a spectacle once in my life, and that, too, in the surprising situation of beadle to a Scottish kirk. For on repairing to the cottage where I was informed that functionary at Coldingham had his abode, I was confronted by a young middle-aged south countryman, and upon my astonished ears, attuned for many weeks to the Doric accents of the Lowlander, there fell the unmistakable and more dulcet notes of a west-country Englishman. Our friend, it transpired, was a native of Gloucestershire, and, to his lasting honour, had volunteered for the South African war, when, drifting into a Scottish corps, he had returned home with his companions-in-arms to share in their well-merited honours as a Scottish hero. A likely situation offering itself on the disbanding of the corps, he had proceeded from that to the beadleship of this Scottish kirk, and in addition to the acquirements demanded by that semi-sacred office, had gathered those elements of medieaval ecclesiology that in this particular one were in frequent demand. The transition from a west-country trooper to a Scottish Presbyterian official struck me as altogether delightful, but I did not, of course, betray my appreciation from this point of view, particularly as I seemed to detect a becoming sense of gravity in my versatile cicerone. I merely asked him how he got along, to which he replied, "First rate." I touched gently on the difference in ritual. "It ain't very different from our own, sir." After all, no more it is nowadays, assuredly not for an honest, simple soul unvexed by traditional accessories. Indeed the porch of a Scotch parish church would go far to reconcile any sound Anglican to trifling discrepancies within doors. For here are all the familiar notices fluttering on the walls that speak so comfortingly and eloquently of Church and State, of one venerable rallying-place of social and religious order, one link with the past still intact from the raging of schismatics, the onslaught of socialistic dreamers and schemers. Here are the familiar lists of game-licence holders and ratepayers, the latest royal proclamation, the notices of parish minister or Territorial colonel, which, whether in Scotland or in England, always seem to me so pleasantly if delusively suggestive that all is yet well.

A mile of lane leads you from Coldingham to the rocky cove where the quaint and characteristic fishing hamlet of St. Abb's lies tucked beneath the first uplifting of that tremendous headland. Here, as everywhere else on this inhospitable shore, the rage of the sea is held back at one point by a massive breakwater, behind which a sheltered harbour gives refuge to the red-sailed smacks and open cobbles that the village contributes to the great fishing fleet of the North Sea. Away to the south-east spreads Coldingham Bay, rocky and reef-ribbed, but the one low-lying interlude of the Berwickshire coast, with Eyemouth in the neck of its further horn. Farms and habitations lie thinly scattered behind it, and here and there a smart summer residence, whose owner is almost certain to hail from Edinburgh. To the north-westward, on the left hand is a mighty wall of old Silurian rock falling sheer into the sea and thrusting out huge fragments to meet the waves. Beyond is chaos and a long succession of horrors from the sea-going point of view. It would be a calm sea indeed that would tempt any roving craft landward till it reached the Lothian coast.

Two or three terraces upon the high ground, with offshoots straggling over the broken declivities seawards, comprise the village of St. Abb's. If its architecture is not idyllic, the whole air of the place, fortuitously cast by nature in so rugged a setting, makes this of less consequence. Coldingham is the annual resort of a few quiet summer visitors from Edinburgh, who, with the exception of the owners of some private villas, must be possessed of the happy uncritical temperament that I am quite sure pertains to the middle-class Scotsman (or perhaps I should say Scotswoman) in this particular. Another handful of still more adventurous people of the same type perch themselves at St. Abb's, where the accommodation is of a far more al fresco description. But if rocks and sky and sea can anywhere make up for narrow quarters and ingenuous cookery, they have here their reward. The fishermen in such sequestered havens, with the freshness of their absorbing and daring life still untouched by contact with a vulgarising world, are themselves worth cultivating, and far better company for a sane being than negro minstrels or brass bands. The Scot of the sea, like his fellow of the Northumbrian coast, has no touch with the Scot of the land. For generations they have lived apart, though the barrier of late years has weakened, and local ethnologists, as in Northumberland, will trace them to different stocks. The Gaelic Scot of the western coast, such as the Englishman generally sees, and that we all hear a great deal more than enough about, is both a fisherman and a farmer, and conspicuously inefficient at both. The Teutonic Scot of the east is either a first-class fisherman or a first-class farmer (or rather farm labourer, a profession in these parts far above in standing and in comfort the level of the western crofter). But he is rarely both, and his respective ancestors have nearly always been in the same trade. The last occasion on which I spent a few hours at St. Abb's, striking evidence was exhibited of the peacefulness of its inhabitants—proved, so to speak, by negation. I was standing on the high terraced road looking down upon the harbour, where a smack or two were landing their freight and crew, when of a sudden I became aware that the village was in a state of electricity. Fisher wives and fisher girls, abandoning their brooms and ovens, burst from a score of doorways and gathered on the many points of vantage commanding the little harbour, cackling loudly with that peculiar note of satisfaction which with the poor suggests that something exhilaratingly unpleasant for somebody else is going forward. Other natives of both sexes, and also visitors with winged feet at the bare thought of something happening at St. Abb's, scurried at best pace down the rocky ways towards the sea. I thought perhaps a boat had upset, and vainly scanned the then placid waters of the little rockbound bay for some sign of misadventure. A heated matron, however, came panting by at this moment, and in response to my inquiry pointed to the quay below, and with such breath as she could spare explained in three fateful words the cause of all this upsetting. "Yon's a fecht!" And taking note of the direction indicated, I espied a turmoil of the nature of a Rugby football scrimmage on the pier, which through my glasses revealed the fact that most of the purging group were not themselves combatants, but wrestling to keep the peace between the actual gladiators. Anon the word "police" was tossed up the village from lip to lip, and in due course the Coldingham policeman, summoned by telephone, dashed into the town on the top gear of his bicycle, and descended to the scene of the now apparently terminated encounter. When he breasted the hill again in company with a dishevelled, shame-faced being the town learned, probably with much more disappointment than relief, that peace was once again restored. Its disturber, I gathered, was a fisherman from Eyemouth of militant temperament, who, having landed with a drappie in his e'e, determined to clean out the town, and, beginning with the first man he saw on the quay, at once met his match. Hence the prolonged encounter and this stirring ten minutes for St. Abb's.


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

Quantcast