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Peebles and Selkirk
Communications - Past and Present


In early times communications between different localities followed the valleys and rivers. In Peebles and Selkirk, then, we find the main roads lying in the longitudinal valleys and the chief transverse valleys. Starting from Galashiels the longitudinal routes stretch up the valleys of the Tweed, Yarrow, and Ettrick to the sources of these streams, and then cross the watershed into Annandale, Eskdale, or Clydesdale. The main road from Galashiels via Peebles to Broughton, where the road turns to the left up Tweedsmuir and, crossing the watershed into Annandale by the Devil’s Beef Tub, continues through Moffat. Turning east, it follows the Moffat Water to the watershed at Birkhill, descends into Megget, a side valley opening into Yarrow at Cappercleuch, thence to Tibbie Shiel’s inn with Selkirk on the right, and on to Galashiels. Starting once more at Galashiels, the main Carlisle route passes up the valley of Ettrick to Selkirk, and crosses Teviot watershed by Ashkirk to Hawick. A parallel route follows the valley of the Ettrick and, passing up Tinia Water, crosses the boundary into Eskdale down to Langholm. Numerous cross roads join these longitudinal routes, over the various watersheds: (1) Tweed, Yarrow and Ettrick; (2) Tweed arid Forth; (3) Ettrick, Teviot and Soiway; (4) Yarrow and Ettrick.

The obvious route by valley and river was in early days often departed from. The hillsides were chosen, sometimes because drier than the flooded or marshy bottoms, sometimes for scouting or for safety, sometimes for other reasons. Let us trace some of these roads. The road over the bridge connecting Pirn Hill with Caerlee Hill passes through the Glenormiston Estate along the south-west slope of Lee Pen to Nether Horsburgh. The road between Peebles and Edinburgh up the lateral valley of the Eddleston water proceeded up hill to Venlaw House. Thence with occasional descents, it passed along the ridge of heights flanking the valley till it crossed the boundary between Peeblesshire and Midlothian, near Portmore. The steepest ascents were at Venlaw and Windylaws; and four horses were required to draw an ordinary travelling vehicle along this road, the rate of progress being three miles an hour. The present road was made in 1770. The old Neidpath road struck up the slope towards Jedderfield, skirting the heights till nearly opposite to Edderston farm, where it came down to the present level. It was probably on account of this difficult road by Neidpath and the want of bridges on the lower part of the Lyne that the old route between Tweeddale and Clydesdale in the seventeenth century came by way of Broughton and Drummelzier. This road crossed the Tweed above Drummelzier by a ford, and was thereafter continued through Manor parish and over the Sware "or Swire" to Peebles. Minchmoor road cuts directly by Traquair over the watershed between Tweed and Yarrow in a line for Selkirk, whereas the present route follows the valley to Caddonfoot and Yair Bridge round behind Sunderland Hall and thence across the Ettrick. The Minchmoor track, which is now a bridle path, has branches leading towards Yarrowford on the right and Ashiesteel on the left, while the main track descends into the valley behind Philiphaugh Farm. The road intersects "Wallace’s Trench" and enters Selkirkshire 1800 feet above sea-level. Near the summit behind Traquair it passes a spring called the "Cheese Well," haunted by the fairies. Along the Minchmoor road the Peebles millers in the olden days conveyed supplies of meal on pack-horses to Selkirk. In 1769 the Earl of Traquair, on applying to the Peebles Town Council for a subscription to assist in building a bridge over the Quair, astutely reminded the Council of this fact, and was rewarded with the sum of six guineas. "Minchmoor" in Dr John Brown’s Horae Subsecivae forms the subject of one of his most delightful essays.

There are also transverse hill-roads running mainly north and south over the watersheds. The Drove Road enters the county of Peebles in the north-west corner of Linton parish, near the Cauldstane Slap, crosses Hamilton Hill north-west of the town, passes through Peebles by the "Gipsies’ Glen," runs along the ridge between Tweed and Glensax, and descends behind the Glen, continuing thence towards Yarrow and the Borders of England. Such roads in ancient times were exempt from the burdens affecting either parish or turnpike roads, and on passing through Peebles the cattle or sheep with their keepers were permitted for a small fee to rest on what was once known as the Kingsmuir, a spot now occupied by the Caledonian Station. Another well-known road over the backbone of the country, further up the valley, is the Manor Road following the straight valley right up to the steep ridge of Shielhope and Norman Law. Thence up the burn by Bitch Craig (1600 feet), it reaches St Mary’s Loch. Other roads of the sort are numerous. But next to Minchmoor the most famous of all these hill roads is the "Thief’s Road." This is a broad, flattened, well-marked track without dyke or ditch, so called because it was used by the Border thieves who came and went between the upper reaches of Ettrick and Tweeddale. From the Merecleugh Head or Rodono Hill it passes by the Craigierig Burn, Dollar Law and Scrape to Stobo, a branch leading off to Drummelzier. Below Stobo it crosses the Tweed, and it is said that it can be traced through the Pentlands into Midlothian. From Rodono Hill it passes over to Ettrick, where it is known as the "Bridle path," and probably leads into the wilds of Liddesdale. The track is sometimes known as the "King’s Road," because James V went by this route to arrest William Cockburn and Adam Scott.

In early days numerous Acts of Parliament were passed to improve the roads. According to Boston the roads in Ettrick in the middle of the seventeenth century were little better than the channel of a river, being impassable by travellers on horseback, and altogether impracticable to wheeled carriages. In 1719 all the able— bodied men in every district had to give six days’ labour in improving the highways. Roads made or improved by this means were called "Statute Labour Roads." But it was not till the close of the eighteenth century that roads and bridges were put into a proper condition. This was done by the Turnpike Act of 1751.

Bridges more than roads appealed to the liberality of individuals and churches in early times, and their erection was sometimes due to pious founders or to the vows of travellers. The first bridge over Ettrick was built at Ettrick Bridge End as the result of a vow by Wat o’ Harden. A captive child was drowned as he crossed the ford on his return from a raid, and he vowed to build a bridge so that the one lost life might be the means of saving hundreds. On a stone in this bridge was carved the Harden coat-of-arms: a crescent moon with the motto Cornua Reparabit Phoebe. Part of this bridge fell in 1746, and was demolished in 1777 by a flood. A new bridge was built half a mile further up, and the stone with the Harden coat-of-arms transferred to it. Peebles bridge, built of wood, towards the end of the fifteenth century, was a century later rebuilt of stone. In 1834 it was widened, and in 1890 it was re-built a second time. The various stages of its growth can be seen beneath the arches. At one time Peebles bridge and Berwick bridge were the only two over the Tweed from Peebles to Berwick. One of the largest single-span bridges in Scotland is that over the Tweed at Ashiesteel. Manor bridge at Manorfoot was built in 1702 out of the vacant stipend of the parish, "a most necessar pious use." The inscription states that the bridge was erected by Lord William Douglas, but omits to mention that it was done out of church property. Selkirk bridge over the Ettrick was built in 1778 and enlarged 1881.

Selkirkshire has only one short branch railway line (6¼ miles) joining the Midland route at Galashiels. Peeblesshire has three branch lines, one connecting with the N. B. R. up the Eddleston Valley at Millerhill; the other connecting with the C. R. up the Tweed Valley, via Broughton, at Symington; the third connecting Leadburn with Dolphinton on the boundary between Peebles and Lanark. The N. B. branch to Peebles is continued to Galashiels via Innerleithen.


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