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Peebles and Selkirk
General Characteristics


Peebles and Selkirk are entirely inland counties; but they are not so cut off from the sea as not to be affected by the outer world and as not to affect it. No region on the face of the earth, not even Greece excepted, has been more "besung" than the Border Ballad district embraced in Selkirkshire. Burns says "Yarrow and Tweed to monie a tune owre Scotland rings" and the poetry of the district is without doubt its chief claim to distinction. The Tweed or woollen industry has rendered these counties no less famous in the sphere of commerce.

It is not necessary to assume that spiritual and mental characteristics are entirely due to material causes. If the people of the Forest and of the Uplands of Peebles and Selkirk were brave and romantic it does not follow that it was the Forest and the Uplands that made them so. It was probably an initial endowment of the spirit of adventure and love of freedom that drove many of the early inhabitants into these fastnesses where even the king as well as foreign foes hesitated to intrude. But the natural conditions of the Forest had undoubtedly a great influence on the thoughts, emotions and occupations of its inhabitants—the conditions: (1) that the counties belong to the Southern Uplands, a district noted for its suitability as a pastoral region and for its picturesque beauty; (2) that they are included in the district of the middle marches over which the tide of war ebbed and flowed for centuries.

It was natural that a region in which King James IV at one time had as many as 10,000 sheep and from which much wool was exported to Flanders should have woollen factories as at Galashiels, Selkirk and Peebles. But besides the sheep there were cattle in the meadows, and beasts in the Forest, whence oak bark was obtained for tanning. So that there was also leather in abundance and up to the end of the eighteenth century Selkirk was more famous for its shoe-making than Galashiels for its woollen manufacture.

Although the counties took more than their share in the extension and improvement of agriculture in the eighteenth century, yet owing to the hilly nature of the region and the consequent thinness of the soil, the counties, except in the north-west of Peeblesshire, have remained chiefly pastoral. The present outstanding features of the district therefore are sheep-farming and woollen manufactures. But at the time when planting became fashionable in Scotland, in no part of the country did so much planting of timber take place, as in the counties of Selkirk and Peebles. Indeed, previous to the extension of railway lines into the counties it was considered that this planting had been overdone. In the vicinity of the county towns and in such districts as Bowhill, in Selkirkshire, and Cademuir Hill, in Peeblesshire, a great change has been effected in the appearance of the landscape by the planting of woods and forests, mainly pine. At the time referred to numerous estates particularly in Peeblesshire were purchased by wealthy merchants and professional men and vast sums of money expended on laying out policies, on building, draining and planting. One estate in particular, the property of the Earl of Islay, afterwards the third Duke of Argyll, obtained its name, "The Whim," in token of the excessive outlay in converting a wild morass into a pleasure ground. From its romantic associations, picturesque attractions, and its proximity to Glasgow and Edinburgh, wealthy proprietors have helped to make Peeblesshire the county with the highest valuation (12 . 5) per head of the population in Scotland. Selkirkshire, however, has remained chiefly in the hands of one or two of the great nobles—the Buccleuchs and the Napiers; and consequently the ratio of its valuation (6 . 5) to its population has not increased to the same extent.


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