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The Gateway of Scotland
Chapter III. The Sea Front of the Lammermoors


THE dark volcanic mass which springs suddenly from the jagged red sandstone ledges that glow along the fringe of Coldingham Bay and thrusts out a high precipitous front into the waves, is the beginning of that grim and inhospitable barrier which for mile after mile the eastern flank of the Lammermoors presents to the North Sea. This high, broken-featured parallelogram, which actually forms the promontory of St. Abb's, its first instalment, is as strangely fashioned within as it is without. In other words, a deep valley divides it from the mainland, wherein lie sheltered from the storms of ocean the fresh waters of Coldingham Loch, whence fantastic turf-clad, cone-shaped hills forge seaward, to fall as if a knife had sheared them off abruptly, to the surf below.

Near the brink, till within the last century, there survived the remains of an ancient cell, probably of either the present or the original Priory of Coldingham. A gleam of white where the green down and the dark precipice meet at their highest point marks the lighthouse station, while on a giddy pinnacle projecting from it, approached by a narrow footway that without its protecting rails would be unnegotiable in wind or darkness, is the powerful light itself that flares over the outer approaches to the Firth of Forth. Far below the sea rumbles in eerie coves and eaves, or surges round gigantic stacks of rock, white with the sea-fowl, for which these inaccessible crags have been always noted. For the light-headed wight afflicted with giddiness, or with the much more unaccountable impulse to leap into space, this whole outstanding bit of coast has obvious disadvantages, and would be singularly intimidating. For to grasp the full significance of its rock scenery it is almost necessary to crane a trifle over the brink; so, however steady your head, it is equally advisable that your feet should be well nailed.

The colouring of the rocks, though giving a general impression of sombre brown, is in detail singularly rich in blended hues of brown and orange and red with splashes of green where the moist lichens cling, while the black mouths of sunless caves about their base open and shut with the surging of the tide. About on the high ridges and deep dells of turf into which the St. Abb's promontory has been so strangely fashioned you may see on most August days a few odd visitors from the adjoining hamlet taking their ease upon the grass or peering fearfully over the cliff edges. But along the high uplifted coast-line that opens to view on topping the lighthouse ridge, buttress behind buttress, precipice behind precipice, with the range of hills above hanging in places like a green curtain to the brink of the cliffs, you may at any season beat your laborious way in solitude for many a mile. Halfway to the distant dip of this high and sombre sea front to the low red sandstone cliffs of East Lothian the fang-like ruins of Fast Castle, clinging to their narrow ledge of rock, stand finely thrust out above the waves. All the way there from St. Abb's, and indeed far beyond, the full tides lash the base of the cliffs, and in a gale make fearsome play among the jagged spurs and titanic stacks of rock that push out to meet the breakers and goad them to greater fury. As the tide ebbs one looks down from the cliff's dizzy brink on the chaos of submerged rock and reef and the hard gridironed floor of ocean, showing its teeth, as it were, through the translucent water; while on the comb of the dry jagged ridges, thrust far out above the waves, marking their indentations like an undulating string of pearls, sit countless sea-fowl, far enough here from all world's alarms, but a solitary shepherd on the overhanging cliff or a fishing cobble from St. Abb's drifting by when the tide is high and the waves at rest. Below Outlaw Hill there is a short rift in the cliffs and a clearly marked zigzag track known to the farm people above as the Smuggler's Path. It leads down to a patch of firm sand to which a boat can be brought in and beached, and a more sequestered haven no heart of smuggler could have desired. Two miles beyond, and at the most remote and solitary point of all these Lammermoor cliffs, stands the supposititious refuge of the last Ravenswood, as grim a perch in wild weather as it is within the power of language to describe. Forty years ago I saw it in the month of April in a north-easter, and under lowering skies; this time an August sun was shining radiantly down on an almost motionless sea.

But to explore this long stretch of cliffs from St. Abb's or Coldingham and enjoy the full measure of their grandeur, whether in storm or sunshine, and to compass Fast Castle with the wild coast beyond it, would be more than a comfortable day's undertaking. For myself, I made the world-famous eyrie of the Master of Ravenswood the object of a special pilgrimage, and took a back road from Coldingham which, after a preliminary progress through normal scenes, began to assume that suspicious air of having completed its period of public service, and, in short, to relapse into the irresponsible character of a farm lane. I make note of this here, lest some pilgrim, encouraged by a yellow trail on the map, might rashly assume that a cycle would lighten his labours for much of the way or at any rate, provide him with an alternative homeward route. To be candid, I had the latter object in view myself, and, acting upon it, was confronted by a hiatus of some three miles; for the passable byway of the map resolved itself into a deep-rutted cart track wending its fenceless way through rolling solitudes of ripening barley and sheep pastures. Though of no great consequence on a long August day, the fact may be set down for the benefit of any it might concern who take these things hardly. I was strengthened, moreover, in my quite reasonable faith in the map by the eloquent encouragement of a venerable native of Coldingham, whose unsupported evidence I should never have accepted. For the views of a man whose normal method of travel is on foot or in a farm cart I know by experience to be unreliable.

This sea fringe of the Coldingham country would have interest enough for any lover of the past for its association with the great Border monastery, its commerce, its misadventures in the ceaseless warfare, its splendid hospitalities, and its agricultural records. And all these things are accessible to the curious reader. Indifferent and impassable as is now the way, it was constantly travelled in the days of old by men and women who have made history. Kings, queens, ambassadors, great nobles, all have been brought over it at one time or another to dine and sleep, in modern phraseology, at Fast Castle on their way to Edinburgh, and duly astonished they must each and all have been when they got there. Roads meant nothing to them on their ambling nags so long as mud and mire didn't hold them fast. They didn't jog or pound after the fashion of a modern saddle-horse, who this long time only used for fast work and artificial purposes, has lost such gaits as were looked for in the old roadsters and that alone made all-day travelling easy and tolerable for men and women. Nay, in good company and reasonable weather, we may be quite sure it was more actually enjoyable and exhilarating than any of those more expeditious methods of transport on which we plume ourselves because they save labour and time. The well-trained utility saddle-horse of other days, whether those of Elizabeth or George II., tittupped along at an amble or a running walk of five miles an hour in good weather, picking out the best beaten tracks in the rough dirt highway, and with gliding motion and a sense of comfort to his rider that I think would surprise a man familiar only with the modern English horse, unequalled on the race-course or the hunting-field, but generally barbarous in his slow paces.

I venture to speak sympathetically from the ancient's point of view on the strength of a protracted experience in a well-known old Anglo-Saxon colony that, save for some generally unavailable railroads, was in matter of roads and methods of locomotion precisely that of early Georgian or Tudor England, and, what is more, perfectly content to be. And having travelled in all many thousand miles in this old-time fashion—not as a fancy, but because it was the usual and speediest method, I like to recall it as far and away the most delightful, healthful, and sociable method of travelling. When the modern writer on old manners and customs talks of the hardships of road travel, as regards my lord's coach-and-six or the humble chaise, he is hardly emphatic enough. For he has almost certainly never seen unmetalled roads abandoned to regular wheel traffic in all weathers in his life, and would find a great difficulty in actually picturing to himself what even the Great North Road from York to Berwick or from Berwick to Edinburgh was like. With a due regard to his historical fact, he gives the average rate of a coach or chariot as three miles an hour in winter if not mired altogether, and four and a half in summer, but he cannot hold the reins in fancy as the present writer can do. When it comes to sympathy with the horseback people, who were practically all the well-to-do, when they could possibly avoid wheels, he is a good deal at fault, and again in expressing surprise at the long stages the women used to accomplish. I will undertake to say Queen Mary would have ridden from Coldingham to Edinburgh and have felt less fatigue, and that, too, of a more wholesome kind, after her nine hours in the saddle than a lady of to-day would experience after as many hours in a train. I would not cite Queen Mary as an example, though any other would do as well, since that ill-used lady was notoriously fond of riding, and, when in health, as hard as nails. I am quite sure these horseback travellers enjoyed themselves much, in reasonably fine weather, as do their almost precise equivalents of today, moving easily and with the gentle but brisk action of the rapid walking or smoothly running roadster of a pattern long extinct in this country. It would be delightful to follow it in Britain to-day if there were no railways nor macadamised roads nor lightning wheel traffic of every kind. But as things are, it would be flat and unprofitable, while off the roads our island is the finest all-round walking country in the world. I began myself to wish that I had trusted to my legs alone on this August day when I reached the rather solitary homestead of Lumsdaine, where my lane pethered out and gave up all pretension of further service.

But Lumsdaine, though to the passing eye but an upland Berwickshire homestead of the more modest type, suggested both in name and situation something more than that. So the next time I was at Berwick—which, though an English town, as the reader will by this time have heard often enough, is in one way and another the repository of most of the hidden things of the Eastern March—I sought for light, when Lumsdaine revealed itself as a place of very ancient fame indeed, the cradle, in short, of a family whose descendants, or presumably such, one encounters all over the English-speaking world. The old Lumsdaines seem to have gripped a wide slice of this bare windy country before the Coldingham Benedictines had squatted near them and got most of what was left, and to have resisted those insidious encroachments which by spiritual intimidation and unflinching persistency a powerful monastery could usually achieve on the lands of their lay neighbours. There were many warrior Lumsdaines, one of whom seems to have been constantly making his peace with Edward I. There were also archdeacons, which seems natural enough in such an ecclesiastical atmosphere. Once, however, there is a note of concession to the neighbouring monks. A Lumsdaine of Lumsdaine is revealed as making a meritorious attempt to save through the friendly offices the head of his grandfather, who had got into trouble. But the Lumsdaines were a tenacious and acquisitive race. In the latter character they got quite early a grant of the richer and broader acres of Buncle, and naturally shifted their residence from this wind-swept plateau to the more engaging banks of the Whiteadder, where the shell of their pele tower nay be seen to-day in the garden of Blanerne House. Of their tenacity, it is sufficient to say that their descendants are still in possession. The pele tower and village of Lumsdaine itself, however, have Iona vanished, burned by Sir George Douglas nearly three hundred years ago. To-day there is nothing to give a passing wayfarer any hint of its past. A whistling hind was bestriding one of a pair of Clydesdales on his way to the plough; a couple of misdoubting collies with their bristles erect, and a buxom, broad-beamed hind's wife working at a pump-handle, who informed me it was " nae road for a bykc to DowIaw."

Dowlaw, I found later, was also an ancient Lumsdaine possession. At the moment it was represented by a lonely homestead on the far horizon, to which the trace of a track, cloven, as it afterwards proved, by deep cart ruts, could be descried mounting the hills—the only touch of humanity on a strange, tumbling waste of waving barley climbing landwards to the heathy ramparts of Coldingham Moor and seawards slipping away over great pastures to the brink of the cliffs. When the Scotsman of the eastern lowlands makes up his mind to plough the waste, he is no man of half measures. There are no outposts of cottar farmers scratching away tentatively and picturesquely at the edge of the moor- lands, as is usual in the western and wilder parts of England. The farmer of these Border counties is a capitalist dealing in large figures, large flocks, or broad acres. When you do find a high-lying tract, not long since a waste of heather, bracken, or moss, laid under cultivation, the oats or barley are no patchwork of such varied efforts as an unassisted and begrudging soil may present when harvest approaches. Whether to loss or gain, whatever the crop, means are taken to secure at least a respectable, healthy, and even plant.

The generous and courageous treatment of the land that answered so well in the last, which even now, let us hope, is not unprofitable, and made Eastern Scotland what it is, is applied to the upland wastes when they seem worthy to be touched at all. If the crop is relatively light, it is at least level and healthy and the powder beneath is evident. The result may conceivably represent a loss of a hundred or two pounds—defeat in such case, but not disgrace. Nor would such a. rebuff, I am quite sure, shake the Merse or Lothian farmer in the faith of his immediate forbears that land is not worth treating at all unless it is well done. Our little friend who is scratching away at the edge of the moors in many delightful Arcadies we wot of and making a living, may on the other hand lose nothing at all in hard cash by his unassisted attenuated crop. But such a display would not do here. It would be a worse thing to the self-respect of the Scot of this type than the loss of his money, and this, I think, fairly represents the spirit of Lothian Scotland, though I dare say few readers in a country like ours, so disproportionately given over to bricks and mortar in all the serious concerns of life, will really care a button whether it does or not. But this frequent contact of the wide-sweeping, well-nurtured crop with the heathery brae or the rocky glen is characteristic of Southern Scotland, and might even be accounted- against it from an aesthetic standpoint. That lush and tangled and many-coloured border line between the wild and the neat we love so well in many of our English Highlands is not often tolerated under a system which might be roughly summed up in the word thorough.

Here, between Lumsdaine and Dowlaw, great sweeping breadths of barley that in a week would be alive with harvesters, spread to the shaggy ramparts of Coldingham Moor. From a rocky gorge in its low ridge comes spouting a moorland burn, which in the course of ages has cut the remarkable chasm known as Dowlaw Dene, and for near a mile tumbles through the cropped fields to the sea between crags and walls of rock; its waters lost to sight, deep buried amid a bristling frieze of tangled foliage, a very paradise for birds in a rather naked region. And it is interesting to hear that the ring-ousel so reluctant to herd, so unsociable as it is when settled on our own hilltops, rests here in great flocks after its long sea voyage in the spring. As the track crossed the rude bridge near the head of the dene, a kingfisher scudded down into the tangled maze, while incidentally a glimpse of blue water showed between the gash in the cliff through which this rollicking little burn, that in its short career had cut so amazingly deep into the sandstone, broke out upon the shore.

As it happened, this was the 12th of August, and the local sportsmen had obviously lost no time, for in the moveless air the rip-rapping of guns had been sounding faintly all morning from behind the ridges which concealed the long heathery sweeps of Coldingham Moor. Lumsdaine is tolerably secluded, but Dowlaw stands in really fine uplifted solitude. Naked and unadorned it perches upon a windy plateau girt about by a wide tracery of stone dykes straggling landward to the ramparts of the moor and seawards, enclosing lonely pastures that dip to the lonelier cliffs a short mile distant.

Heartily sick of my bicycle, having pushed it for an hour along the rough crown of the farm road, churned by the iron toes of Clydesdales dragging their heavy-laden wheels through the deep ruts, I now shoved it with relief into a cart shed, a proceeding viewed with menacing suspicion by a pack of collies, who appeared to be in possession of the premises. But, if the personal note will be forgiven, I really felt some heart-stirring as I knocked at the door of this lonesome abode. Forty years agone, in round figures, I had applied my knuckles to this identical portal with the same intent. The thought occurred too, whether by some strange combination of tenacity in both life and tenure, the same individual would respond to the summons, and perform the same small act of civility. Obviously not, for the young woman who indicated the way to the castle was unquestionably neither born nor thought of at that remote epoch. That had been a great day for me. A/i ! quart dulce est meminesse! I had come up with a friend from East Lothian for a few days' fishing in that idyllic and then prolific little trouting stream, the Eye, which any traveller to Edinburgh by the Northern hail, who may chance to be awake at the moment, must surely have noticed twisting for miles in and out of the line where it drives through the wooded passes of the Lammermoor spurs. We were stopping at the little inn kept then, and indeed until his quite recent demise, by that same Grant whom the North British railroad has fortuitously immortalised in the station and village of Grant's House. From a tender age I had been, if a lowly, an ardent devourer of Scott's novels. As of southern rearing, I came in ripe years to congratulate myself no little on sonic inscrutable instinct that had drawn inc most to the volumes which dealt with the author's native atmosphere, and that to one reading of those usually commended to youth, Ivanhoe, The Talisman, and the like, I gave two to Vie Antiquary, Guy Mannering, Red, Gauntlet, and above all, rather oddly, to The Bride of Lammermoor, which most enthralled nie. But it is enough for the moment that I had secretly determined, whatever the mood of the fish, to desert my companion at Grant's House for one of our precious days, and make my way to that mysterious wave-beaten stronghold which of all Scott's scenes had held a foremost place in my dreams. A raging northeaster made the sacrifice to the demands of sport almost a nominal one, while as to those of companionship, my friend resolutely rejected the trifle of a dozen miles on such a hare-brained quest as a ruined castle, a not unreasonable attitude at one-and-twenty. So I left him to his unprofitable task of flogging the steely grey waters in a harsh whistling wind, and set off in its teeth over the enclosed upland and out on to the barren sweeps of Coldingham Moor. And I well remember how greatly it surprised me then, as it would surprise any stranger to-day of reasonable observation, to find the Lammermoors, held as they are in the toils of pastoral agriculture for so broad a belt, breaking out again at a height of only seven or eight hundred feet into their primitive condition as they approach the sea. At any rate, I pressed my way across the windy moor amid the cries of the then nesting grouse, and without any noteworthy adventure hit off the homestead at whose threshold I am knocking again in these pages. The other was in truth a better (lay for Fast Castle than this present one. A place of savage aspect, and, yet more, one that is eloquent of a great and mournful tragedy, is seen to better purpose in savage weather than under summer skies and a tranquil sea. It was an opportunity, too, this present one, not often vouchsafed, to make an effort at recalling the fresh, unfaded fancies of youth, when a yet small world held mysteries that have terribly faded. "Wolf's Crag" seemed a prodigiously realistic spot at that time of life, and the influence and sentiment of the physical side or, in the favourite modern phrase, of "environment," as a background to the printed page was, I think, abnormally strong within me, and still, I am happy to say, if impaired by the years, still defies them. But if memory on this present occasion failed in little else, it failed, as was inevitable, to catch anything but faint echoes of that spring-time of the fancy.

Moreover, it failed in keeping me on the correct line through the enclosed pasture fields, for there is no path down to the castle. Perhaps my attention under the circumstances was not sufficiently fixed on the various gates and dyke-sides indicated by my informant. The contrast between the then and the now, memory at any rate bore home to me. On the first occasion I was obviously regarded as a feckless loon wandering across the moors to such an outpost of civilisation on a wild day to see a few fragments of crumbling wall—for Fast Castle was not in those days, I think, an object of pilgrimage, nor indeed is it greatly so now. But this time at least the lassie didn't eye me with suspicion as a lunatic or my quest as unaccountable, and, indeed, I felt quite grateful in the end for the inattention which had compelled me to scale the steep sides of many high stone dykes and eventually to hit off the brink of these precipitous cliffs a mile or two to the westward of the castle crag. For where the Dowlaw husbandman ceases to vex with plough and harrow the cold upland in the due order of his four-course shift, if such lie follows, lest plough and team and all should slither down into the sea 500 feet below, I found a curtain of crisp heather in the full radiant glory of its bloom sweeping sharply down for perhaps half the descent and spreading far to the right and left along the brink of the cliffs. It lay, indeed, at so sharp an angle that the seeming fringe of this purple mantle, almost dazzling in colour beneath the glory of a noonday sun, was always within a dozen paces during the descent, and lay in striking contrast against the shimmer of the motionless sea far below. Bare turf would have been altogether too precarious a foothold on such a declivity, which threatened every moment to terminate with significant abruptness.

So bearing away at an angle for some distance, the fall of the steeps proved less intimidating, and eventually I found myself far to the westward of my quest, wading laboriously in heather no longer little more than ankle deep, but waist high and covering a long rolling shelf between the steep of the hill and the brink of the cliffs, now obvious enough below with their knotty brows. If it was not a day for Fast Castle in its dramatic and pathetic character of " Wolf's Crag," it was the day of the summer. Over this heavy tangled mantle of a dazzling radiancy, such as for a few days under favourable lights heather can achieve, and strewn in this case with outcrops of grey rock, the whole breadth of the Firth of Forth with all its historic landmarks lay clear and distinct in the calm of a windless day. And that is a combination which you may sometimes wait a month for on the east coast of Scotland. Not for clear skies, which in truth are frequent enough, but no lips in these parts would ever crack through whistling for a wind!

Beyond the purple foreground to the westward, the last, four miles of the high Coldinghamshire coast dipped gradually to the bend, where, leaving the wooded glories of the Pease Burn, the coast of Lothian could be seen laving its curving low red ramparts for miles against the blue sea. Dunbar, its site at least, was visible, and the Bass Rock, grim and massive, like some uncanny monster squatting on the quiet deep, while its vis--z,is, the sharp sugar-loaf cone of North Berwick Law, marked far away the lost line of the shore. All along the horizon rolled high in air the billowy coast of Fife, while in mid-sea the desolate Isle of May spread her long low form. All this was in truth familiar enough. But when, in search of my immediate object, I had scrambled down to the edge of the cliff and out on to a pulpit rock that might almost have carried another Wolf's Crag, there sprung out, sure enough, to the eastward the unforgettable spur of cliff crowned with the fang-like remnants of Fast Castle a full mile-away. It was a Ionely enough scene even now, howsoever bright the sunshine or blue the sea or purple the heather, and no trace of humanity discernible, though perhaps the day and week of all the year in which some stray adventurer might have broken away from one or other holiday haunt. The sea-gulls swooped and screamed, the peewits cried and circled round on drubbing wings, a sheep bleated among the heather or from the rocky knowes above, while conies innumerable scuttled along the broken cliff edges, along which I lost no time in following an at times precarious track.

There at last it lay below me, a green hollow parting the cliffs down to the level of the castle rock, the obvious approach which alone had made it possible as a human abode. To-day these cruel cliffs, springing abruptly from still more cruel reefs, were looking as genial as could be expected of any north-fronting precipice which glowers in shadow nearly all day long. And the sea was uttering but a gentle growl with only such accompaniments as were inevitable to the mere swing of an unruffled tide over so broken and jagged a floor. On that other occasion a half gale had been blowing beneath a brooding sky, and the North Sea raging fearsomely upon its channelled bed, and hurling its waves with angry roar in spouting columns of foam high up the grizzly cliffs. All about this weird retreat of the Master of Ravenswood was then wind and tumult, gloom and uproar. It was in truth an eerie scene, and remains with inc to this day. So also does a sensation of not wholly unwelcome "creepiness" remain in memory. For the wind was then so high that even careless youth descended to hands and knees in negotiating the narrow ridge three or four feet wide which connects the castle rock with the mainland, short as is the transit. To-day one stepped across it without any such tremors, though I think I would readily have experienced them to see that sight again.

Soon afterwards in that same year the ruin was struck by Iightning and some thirty feet of wall shattered and overturned. It bears no resemblance to any old sea-coast fortress in Britain known to me, assuredly not to any of those other splendid relics of feudal power that still defy the ages on this same old fighting shore. Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh, TantalIon rise in still noble piles or noble fragments of what once were such on conspicuous perches above the waves. But neither they nor yet Holy Island nor Dunbar have the glamour of forlorn and gloomy isolation that gives this one such unique fascination. On the . contrary, they are proud and conspicuous landmarks over wide breadths of land and sea. Fast Castle, again, was a comparatively small fortress, though of curious importance, and its remnants are insignificant. On its pulpit perch, some eighty feet above the waves, it is overshadowed by beetling cliffs and in situation far removed from any sign or track of man. Supplies must at all times have come on horseback, while stables, on which Scott, it will be remembered, made considerable demands on one or two occasions, must assuredly have been on the mainland. The narrow platform, about forty feet wide and perhaps thrice as long, still bears some of the outer walls, with the remains of a square tower, all cleverly wrought into the face of the cliff and showing no further sign of decay. It is, in truth, an almost incredible place of abode, though for long periods of time it unquestionably was so. Its limitations detract nothing whatever from the real awesomeness of the situation. But what kind of nights—aye, and days too—in the winter storms must its often distinguished inmates have led !—for after all they were not coastguards, but essentially landsmen.

Sir Archibald Geikie, the famous geologist, has paid fine tribute to these " highest sea-cliffs on the eastern seaboard of Britain." He describes how St. Abb's Head, being a mass of porphyry, shows by its outstanding situation its greater resistance to the rage of the sea than the equally hard-looking but more yielding cliffs of the silurian greywacke that continue the high Berwickshire sea front. "We see from the wasted and worn look of these cliffs what a sore battle they have had to fight with the ocean. Craggy rocks, isolated stacks, and sunken skerries, that once formed part of the line of cliff, are now enveloped by the restless waves. Long twilight caves, haunted by otters and seamews and flocks of rock pigeons, have been hollowed out of the fiat carboniferous sandstone and the contorted Silurian greywacke, and are daily filled by the tides. In storms these vast precipices from base to summit are buried in foam. The pebbles and boulders, even in the sheltered beaches, are rolled back by the recoil of the breakers and hurled forward again, with almost the force and noise of heavy cannon." When I stood here in youth amid the whistling of the wind and the raging of the surf, Edgar Ravenswood naturally held the foremost place, to the partial subordination of the humours of the immortal Caleb. The scene of the storm which drove Lord Ashton and his daughter down from their hunting on Coldingham Moor to this temporary harbourage with the lover and the hereditary foe was, of course, absorbingly realistic amid the tumult which raged so opportunely beneath the roofless walls. But Ravenswood, it is ill denying, was a precociously morbid and pessimistic young man for his very tender years, though the political and religious rancours which distracted Scotland in the seventeenth century might perhaps account for any measure of vindictive hatred, And if he comes to us now as a rather bloodless tragedy hero, yet as the central one of a great drama one admits he sufficiently fills the part, and loyally brushes aside his perhaps slightly colourless personality, amid the more flesh-and-blood actors that fill some of the other parts. At any rate, the figure of Ravenswood is one that has trodden the boards of Europe for half a century, which fact alone must give some peculiar interest to this lonely storm-beaten little ruin-crowned crag., Caleb's inimitable resourcefulness gets something of a jar here if you are unwise enough to attempt to reconcile topography with his humorous raids on behalf of the empty larder at Wolf's Crag. No settlement of fishermen deep set in coves, as many of these fishing hamlets are, have ever found foothold between St. Abb's headland and Cockburnspath. But when we have paid our tribute to the Wolf's Crag appeal of Fast Castle, which few people, I fancy, even in Scotland, see otherwise than in dreams, the actual and historical side of the fortress holds the visitor on terms with such things a good deal longer.

"A veil of dark mystery," wrote the historian of Coldingham nearly a century ago, "hangs over its early story, corresponding well with the gloomy solitude of its situation." We need not follow him in his endeavours to grasp its faint threads. It is enough for us that it was equipped and garrisoned as a national fortress in the fourteenth century and captured by that brave knight of Norfolk, Sir Robert Benhale, a few days after Halidon Hill, where his conspicuous valour will be recalled. It is curious that the battle of Halidon Hill should have occasioned the first temporary occupation of Fast Castle by the English, and that of Homildon Hill the second. For it was during these campaigns of Hot-spur's on behalf of Henry IV., not yet his foe, in which his Border Welsh archers, the best then in Britain, won the last-mentioned battle, that the cliff fortress once more succumbed to fear of starvation, as from its position we may safely assume. No regular assault was possible, for what is now a causeway four or five feet wide, built up from a lower level with rocks, was then a gap over which a drawbridge swung. It seems to have been held for some years by the English, and for part of the time by one Holden, who varied the monotony of life by far-reaching raids in the neighbourhood, to which those of old Caleb were mild indeed. These were no doubt directed at the fat plain of East Lothian, and so exasperated Patrick Dunbar of Beil, still a notable seat in that county, that with "a hundred hardie followers" he caught Holden napping and by some means seized the castle in the night. The English had apparently had enough of the place by this time, and it was never again out of Scottish hands.

It was now for a long time the property of the Homes, the great family, with its many ramifications, of the Eastern March, in those days, as one might almost say it is in these. That people who held high office under Scottish Kings and had castles in the fair Merse could have spent much time in this eagle's eyrie is incredible, though Sir Patrick Home is described in documents as "of Fast Castle," and he certainly entertained King Henry's daughter Margaret on her celebrated journey to share the Scottish throne. She was well entertained there too, we know, and it may be assumed with certainty that the young lady was properly astonished at the nature of her quarters. The castle was by this time furnished with artillery, and on the young Queen's departure she was saluted with a volley, and I should like to have heard the crash it must have made against the cliffs! The next home of Fast Castle, Hollingshead tells us, was engaged after many foreign adventures in the service of the Grand Turk at Cairo, when he heard that the seven intervening heirs had all deceased, and that he, the adventurer in lands remote, was heir. The transition from Cairo to Fast Castle was speedily made, and must have been a sharp one. Probably the rates of insurance would have been higher in that day on the Scottish Border than in Turkey. But Cuthbert Home did not long enjoy his storm-beaten stronghold, for, following his chief and the rest of his name to Flodden, he fought with them and fell on that right wing of the Scottish army whose behaviour after a victorious opening has been a matter of mystery and controversy ever since. There was a dungeon then on the rock, for we hear of the Northumbrian, Lilburn, who helped to murder Kerr of Cessford, the Scottish Warden of the )fiddle March, dying in it. In the quarrels after Flodden between the Moines, with the .Verse behind them against the Regent Albany, the latter captured Fast Castle. There was an old saw that ten men could hold it against all Scotland and England, but sixteen put in there by Albany disproved the saying, and the Homes got possession again—this time however, demolishing as much as they could of it. They seem to have thought better of the matter, however, shortly afterwards, and repaired the damage. In Hertford's memorable invasion of Scotland in 1648 the English captured the castle, and the way it was recovered by the Scots, as told by Hollingshead, agrees with a familiar local tradition. For the English captain having commandeered some stores in the neighbourhood, the place of the workmen who were to convey them to the castle was taken by a band of hardy youths, who, when they had crossed the drawbridge with their loads, set upon the garrison and held the bridge and the open door while a fresh party in hiding rushed in and completed the capture.

Queen Elizabeth's ambassador to Scotland, Sir Nicholas Throgmorton, was lodged for a night at Fast Castle in 1567, and in a letter to Cecil written from there he speaks of being treated very well " according to the nature of the place, which is fitter to lodge prisoners in than folks at liberty, for as it is very little so it is very strong." With him here was Lord Home himself, and also the most able and attractive Scotsman of his day, so admired by Elizabeth, Maitland of Lethington. The next year Patrick Home, who owned the castle, fell at Langside, fighting with all the rest of the Homes against Queen Mary, leaving but two daughters, one of whom carried the property away to Logan, the Laird of Restalrig, whose sinister character and dark doings are not ill-attuned to the spirit of the place. At any rate, he found it, by his own admission, an uncommonly convenient retreat. Logan seems generally to have been at odds with his neighbours and the word at large, including King James VI., the plot against whose life known to history as the Gowrie Conspiracy counting this evil genius of Fast Castle among its leading spirits. The castle was to have played a useful part in the proceedings, for his Majesty, after being kidnapped, was to have been brought here in a boat. Before this the laird was wanted for highway robbery, but seems to have lain snugly in his hole till the affair had blown over, which such a trifle, with so many more on a larger scale going forward on the Scottish Border, no doubt it soon did. He was also bitten with the "buried treasure" mania so common of old, or pretended to be, professing that he himself at Fast Castle was sitting on a hidden store of it. With this infatuation he seems to have inoculated Napier of Merchiston, a great, scientific philosophic gentleman of that day, to such an extent that a contract was drawn up between them binding the philosopher to use all "craft and ingyne" for extracting the said treasure, and the said contract, besides other productions of the wicked laird's,

is curious reading. Napier probably misdoubted the prudence of being swung up between sea and sky in partnership with such a tricky rogue, and backed out of the business. It seems, too, that Logan, who perhaps had soft metal to deal with, hit the philosopher very hard somewhere before he had done with him—no doubt in his pocket. For surely nothing but a money transaction would leave such a sting behind it as to make the victim bar his tenants in their Ieases from ever subletting to any one bearing the very common Border name of Logan. This evil genius escaped punishment in life for his share in the plot against King James. But three years after his death his shade, or rather his actual corpse, which was exhumed for the purpose, according to Scottish law, and deposited before the judge, received the sentence of a traitor—innocuous enough to the loathsome effigy, but ruination to the innocent family, who were stripped of their three estates of Fast Castle, Restalrig, and Gunsgreen, and condemned to penury. henceforward the story of Fast Castle, of which the reader may possibly have already had his fill, descends to the commonplace of exchange and barter among various local magnates, none of whom after the Union of the Crowns and the settlement of the Border, of the Eastern March, at any rate, would feel any attraction towards such an uncanny and inconvenient abode. It is quite in order that its eventful chronicle should flicker out with such a gruesome ceremony and such a Machiavellian owner to make way in due course for Edgar Ravenswood and Caleb Balder-stone. For it will, I trust, be remembered that the wit of even Caleb in disguising the nakedness of the castle from the few who were thrown upon its hospitalities at last broke down ; how in despair at the approach of his master with the great Marquis of A , he set it on fire, meeting the sympathetic and illustrious guest with agonised mien and a sort of running inventory of the supposed valuables that were burning before their eyes, and incidentally, to keep them at a distance, of mysterious barrels of powder in the cellar.

Less than a century ago, I learn from the best living; Berwickshire ornithologist, ravens made a common nesting-ground of these terrific cliffs, and in places so inaccessible that they wrought havoc on the young lambs or sickly ewes with impunity. Ingenuous but crude methods were resorted to by the enraged flock-masters in their efforts to destroy the nests, lighted faggots attached to ropes being the most popular. The only individual, a thirsty wastrel for the price of a few gills of whisky, who ever consented to be lowered in person, stimulating thereby, the day being Sunday, the tongues of the superstitious, broke the rope, and, of course, his neck. This apparently discouraged further attempts at the only effective method till the presence of the modern gamekeeper proved more effective still. There are now no ravens left on the Lammermoors, whether in their inland fastnesses or on their grim sea front.

The grassy carpet of the castle crag, the shadow of a splintered wall, the balmy sunshine and the soft music of the sea, the wild scream of swooping sea-birds, and the weird fascination of the spot conduced to dalliance. On breasting the mile of slope, this time upon the more direct line, so fortunately, as it now seemed, overlooked in the morning, the shadows of the tall and trine stone dykes—for there was nothing else within miles to cast one—were lengthening out. The high home pastures around Dowlaw and its solitary breadth of turnip field glowed their greenest in the slant of the sun. Save for a couple of sunburnt children weaving flowers at the edge of the rough moor, the farm seemed like a place entranced by the unwonted truce with elemental strife and enjoying at the same time, one might fancy, the calm before a more welcome outburst—in other words, the lull before harvest and the impending struggle with the great sweeps of yellow barley in the vale below. Even the collies were not on guard, so turning my face towards the drooping sun, I pursued to the bitter end the still relentless farm track of the morning along the eastern edge of Coldingham Moor.

When the end did come, however, in less than two miles, I had my reward, for we ran into the old Edinburgh coach road, which crosses the centre of the Moor, and was displaced, I fancy, about the close of the coaching period, when road travel was diverted to the line of the railroad. We struck it near the brink of the long descent to Cockburnspath and East Lothian, and before turning my back on the west it was impossible not to linger for a moment before a prospect that looked into the heart of Scotland, and across the Firth; two Lothian counties fairly gleaming in the foreground with their matchless load of ripening grain, forty miles of waving Lamrnermoors behind, and in the far distance, the faint outlines of Arthur's Seat and the Pentlands marking the site of Scotland's capital. More than once I had heard discerning friends descant on this fine stretch of little-travelled but still well-maintained road, that like a waving ribbon bisects the heart of Coldingham Moor. So I set my face towards the Border with a gentle breeze and the drooping sun behind me, and miles of purple heather spreading in low undulations to the right and left and ahead of me. I was in more than humour again with my bicycle, thankful for the foresight that had prompted me to risk the inconveniences of its company. On foot I should have been benighted, but now we sailed away through the purple wild with easy motion, and scarcely a pressure of the pedal over a smooth surface, which dipped and rose for miles in long successive and scarcely perceptible undulations. The day's campaign upon the Moor was over, and the uneasy grouse, after their first taste of the enemy, were still astir, calling to lost companions, mates, or offspring, and wondering, no doubt, what evil thing had burst upon their peaceful world. The distant rumble of a train speeding through the Pass of Pease floated up in the evening air, loaded, doubtless, on this day with Southrons hasting to the Celtic regions of the north and west that mainly stand for Scotland in the south. No one should omit, if opportunity offers, a run over Coldingham Moor. One hesitates to suggest that the northern-bound motorist should swerve round this forsaken loop of the old north road, since its present course threads the delightful valleys of the Eye and the Pease Burn. But to the more habitual traveller this slight swerve may be commended. Twilight had fallen as I topped the eastern edge of the waste and dropped down through the haunts of men concerned with crops and stock to a handy station on the main line with an hour to spare. For the North British Company, it may be remarked, are not over-mindful of the local traveller, and his opportunities between the fast expresses are none too frequent. however, this mattered less than nothing to-day, as there was a small hostelry replete with all the essentials not far away, a none too common object of the Scottish wayside, and breakfast had become by this time rather ancient history. Aline host, too, was a man after my own heart, a veteran of character and long memory, a sportsman, a farmer, and, among other things, a master-hand at a "crack," and when a Scotsman shines in this, and he very often does, he is hard to beat. So far as I have known both upon their native heath along the Border, he is more efficient in this particular than his ancient enemy, the Northumbrian. His Doric is richer and even racier ; he has also the undoubted advantage of his is in emphasis, when, that is to say, there is life and character behind them. And men with a twinkling eye have always seemed to me a trifle more abundant upon the left than upon the right bank of Tweed—around the Lammermoors than along the Cheviots—dour as is the average hind in the low country of either. Mine host was suffering a little from the depression natural to an old sportsman on a festal day of the sporting calendar when some form of anno domini or other mischance has but recently put him on the retired list. He was anxious as to the day's doings on Coldingham Moor, and the mere fact that I had been fortuitously on the edge of the scene of action and heard the firing seemed to put him in heart. As I did justice to his fare in the back parlour we talked, or rather he did mainly, of many things ; of the change of the times and of customs, of crops and rents, of the glorious 'seventies, of the recent history of this farm or of that, of this man or the other, whom I could recall sufficiently to keep his racy tongue wagging in entertaining and informing fashion. We discussed the past, and present too, of the little river which played the same old music through his paddocks before the house, and held memories for me, not of trout only, but sadder ones, of friends of youth and middle age who had passed over to the majority in scenes far remote from this.


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