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Peebles and Selkirk
Watershed, Rivers and Lochs


The Southern Uplands is a land of waters and watersheds. "A hill, a road, a river" was an English traveller’s terse description in the eighteenth century. Although now in many parts woods and forests cover the slopes of the hills and fringe its roads and rivers, hills and rivers still remain its prominent features.

The region was at one time an undulating plateau from whose higher parts streams flowed in all directions. The Tweed, therefore, in a real physical sense has made these hills; and not only made them, but also established them; for, by the Tweed along with other sub-aerial influences they have been made into hills of "stable equilibrium." Without the river, then, the region would be meaningless not only to those who take delight in its beauty and in its historical associations, but also to those who study its physical configuration.

The general slope of the plateau is towards the southeast. Hence the Tweed in its course from Peebles to Berwick, with its tributaries the Lyne, the Eddleston, the Leithen and the Gala, flows to the south-east. As the course of these rivers was originally determined by the slope of the ground they are called consequent, from which we infer that they are the oldest rivers of the country. This agrees with the fact that in former geological days, a great river crossed the country from the region of Loch Fyne to the North Sea, by the present Clyde Valley, and by the present Tweed Valley, which it entered near Biggar. Various changes occurred, which ultimately resulted in the Clyde and the Tweed as we know them. On the other hand, the Tweed from Tweedsmuir to Drummelzier, and the tributaries, the Holms Water, the Yarrow, the Ettrick, all flowing north-east, must have been formed subsequently to the time when the course of the main rivers was settled—probably after the great ice age. Hence such rivers are called subsequent.

The Tweed (103 m.) rises at Tweedswell, 1250 feet above sea-level. After a north-easterly direction as far as Peebles it turns east-by-south through Peebles and Selkirk till it meets the Ettrick; then turning north, it receives the Gala and a little below Galafoot enters the county of Roxburgh. Its total course through Peeblesshire, from Tweedswell to Scrogbank, is 40 miles, and through Selkirkshire from Scrogbank to the railway bridge, between Galashiels and Melrose, 10 miles. In Tweedsmuir the only tributary of any size is the Holms Water, which unites with the Biggar Water and the Broughton Burn. The hills in the south-west of Peeblesshire have their highest summits lying to the east and north of Tweedswell, on the boundary line between Peebles, Dumfries and Selkirk. These are Hart Fell (2651), Loch Craighead (2625), Broad Law (2723), and Dunlaw (2584). It is in these hills that the Tweed receives such streams as the Fruid, the Talla (the catchment area of Talla Reservoir) and the Stanhope. After a course of 15 miles it enters, below Rachan, the haughlands of Drummelzier, the widest part of the Tweed valley above Melrose. Into this plain the valleys of Biggar and Broughton converge from the west. Near Drummelzier church the Tweed is joined by the Powsail Burn from Merlindale. The rhyme, attributed to Thomas of Ercildoune,

"When Tweed and Powsail meet at Merlin’s grave,
England and Scotland shall one monarch have,"

is said to have been fulfilled on the day that James VI became James I of England.

Eastwards, beyond Dawyck and Stobo with their beautiful woods, the Tweed receives the Lyne from the north-west of the county. More than a mile further on it meets the Manor Water, with a course almost parallel to that of the Tweed, the heights between the two streams comprising Dollar Law, Pykestone, and the Scrape. The river has now arrived at the picturesque pass of Neidpath, through which it joyously forces its way above the town of Peebles (see page 2). Here it is joined on the north bank by the Eddleston Water, which flows almost due south from Leadburn heights through a beautiful upland valley. Haystoun valley to the east and south of Peebles, through which flows Haystoun Burn, shows evidence of having once formed the old bed of the river, which flowed from a large lake stretching beyond Neidpath and Cademuir, well up towards Drummelzier. Once the water at Neidpath had worn down the shaly rock sufficiently to drain the lake, the course in the Haystoun valley gradually shrank from one lake with a river current through it to a series of small lakes joined by a narrow stream. These lakes existed up to 1823, when they were drained and the cutting exposed the bottom of the old lake.

At Peebles the river has fallen 800 feet. Between Peebles and Innerleithen on the north and Traquair on the south bank, the river winds through a beautiful valley diversified with gently sloping and interfolding hills, natural forest, wooded parks, green haughs with glimpses of cattle cooling their limbs at summer noon in shaded pools, of ancient peel towers perched on rocky slopes, or of modern mansions gleaming through the trees. Near Traquair House the Tweed was diverted northwards for a distance of two miles from its old course. This part of the river used to be known as the "New Water." The Quair, which here joins the Tweed on the south bank, small as it is, is one of the historic streams of Scotland. It runs parallel to Manor and in its romantic valley stand the church of Traquair, and the mansion house of the Glen. Half a mile further on, the Tweed is joined by the Leithen Water flowing down a steep pastoral valley from the Moorfoot Hills.

About one mile west of Elibank Castle the Tweed becomes the boundary between the counties, and half a mile below Thornilee station it enters the parish of Caddonfoot in Selkirkshire. Nearly three miles to the south-east it passes Ashestiel, opposite which the highroad strikes over the hill to Clovenfords. South of Clovenfords the Caddon Water enters the Tweed at Caddonfoot. Neidpath hill on the opposite bank turns the current to the south towards Yair House, where the river rushes over a series of rocky boulders called "Yair Trows." Here Sir Walter Scott used to "leister" salmon. The Tweed is now joined by the Yair Burn. On the left bank a little further on stands Fairnilee, and below Sunderland Hall the Ettrick from Selkirk, the largest tributary, enters on the south bank. Then passing Abbotsford and receiving the Gala from the Moorfoots, half a mile beyond Galafoot, the Tweed enters Roxburgh, where it finally leaves the Southern Uplands for the wide plain between the Cheviots and the Lammermuirs.

The Ettrick (30 miles) rises in Ettrick Pen. Its valley is larger and wider than Yarrow’s, and, in its upper reaches, wilder and more picturesque. Only a few of its numerous tributaries can be noted. On the right is the Tima, from Eskdalemuir; on the left the Kirkburn and the Scabscleuch, with a road over to Yarrow. Further down is the Rankleburn with the Buccleuchs, Easter and Wester, whence the family took their title. On the north is Tushielaw Tower, home of Adam the Reiver. Three miles on Ettrick receives Gilmanscleuch Burn on the left, and then the Dodhead Burn, scene of Jamie Telfer’s "Fair Dodhead," on the right. Northwards through Ettrick Shaws the scenery is picturesque, Ettrick rushing through thick plantations over its rocky bed till Ettrick Bridge End is reached and the old bridge of Wat o’ Harden. On the right is Oakwood Tower, on the left Bowhill, where now Ettrick sweeps with opposing curve to meet Yarrow round the Carterhaugh, scene of "Young Tamlane." Thence northwards Ettrick passes Lindean and enters Tweed.

The Yarrow, rising near Birkhill, flows through the Loch o’ the Lowes and St Mary’s Loch, into which also flows the Megget. On the shores of the loch are Tibbie Shiel’s Inn, the Rodono Hotel and, near the high road, Perys Cockburn’s Grave. Further down the valley are St Mary’s Chapel, Dryhope Tower, Blackhouse Tower— all three famous in tragic ballad. Still further on, the Gordon Arms, Mount Benger, Yarrow Manse, "the Dowie Dens," are passed, till Hangingshaw with its noble trees, Broadmeadows, once the desire of Walter Scott’s heart, Bowhill and Philiphaugh, all beautifully wooded, proudly welcome Yarrow home as it ends its course in Ettrick, east of Carterhaugh.

St Mary’s Loch and the Loch o’ the Lowes, originally one, stretch along the valley of the Yarrow for about two-thirds of their length. The Oxcleugh Burn and the Whitehope Burn have pushed their deltas out from the shore until they have eventually cut the loch into two parts, and raised the water level of the upper part (the Loch o’ the Lowes) so that it drains across the lowest part of the encroaching delta to the lower sheet of water (St Mary’s). The Megget is also extending its delta towards the shore below Bowerhope hill, the distance between the two shores being now only a quarter of a mile. In time, therefore, there will be three lochs instead of two. The lochs are remarkably free from vegetation

"nor fen nor sedge
Pollute the pure lake’s crystal edge,
Abrupt and sheer the mountains sink
At once upon the level brink."

The tableland between Ettrick and Teviot has a chain of small lakes representing evidently an ancient river bed. Some of them contain deposits of shellmarl. These are Kingside Loch, between Selkirk and Roxburgh; Crooked Loch, a mile further east; Clearburn Loch; Hellmuir Loch; Shaws Lochs (Upper and Under); Alemuir Loch. Another row of lochs parallel with these extends for a distance of six or seven miles through Ashkirk, northwards to Selkirk—Shielswood Loch, Essenside Loch, Headshaw Loch, and the Haining Loch. The Haining Loch is an example of a loch tending to disappear through the growth of vegetation. A fresh-water weed, not met with in any other British lake, was discolouring the loch and threatening to fill it up. In 1911 an attempt was made to kill the weed by a solution of sulphate of copper, and so far the experiment has been successful. Cauldshiels Loch, three-eighths of a mile long, one-eighth of a mile wide, 80 feet deep and 780 feet above sea-level, is situated near the boundary line between Selkirk and Roxburgh, with Abbotsford Estate on one of its sides.

The lochs in Peeblesshire are neither so numerous nor so large as those in Selkirkshire. Gameshope Loch, in the very heart of the Peeblesshire wilds, is the highest sheet of water in the south of Scotland, being between 1750 and 2000 feet above sea-level. Talla Reservoir is an artificial barrier loch, forming one of the Edinburgh and District supplies. The surface area of the Reservoir when full is 300 acres; the daily quantity of water available is ten million gallons. Slipperfield Loch, near Broomlee station, 1½ miles in circumference and 845 feet above sea-level, is an example of a lake formed in the upper or stratified drift common in the hills between Linton and Dolphinton, where sand and gravel undulate into hummocky and conical forms and sometimes, as here, enclose pools of water. Portmore Loch, 1000 feet above sea-level, is surrounded by the beautiful woods of Portmore. The North Esk Reservoir, on the boundary between Midlothian and Peebles, and about one mile north of Carlops, supplies Edinburgh and District with water.


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