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Sports and Pastimes of Scotland
Chapter IX. The Rustic Sports of Lammas


---In many a Lowland vale,
These annual revels fill, with simple glee,
The husbandman, and cottar, man and child.
Grahame's " British Georgies."

FROM F'astren's E'en we pass on through the blythe Spring days, through the "merry month Iof May," and the "leafy month of June," and July, fervid with its own Dog-star and now, on the sunny stage of the "varied year" appears gracious Autumn,

______ Rich arrayed
In garment all of gold, down to the ground,

as seen by the rapt eye of the poet of Faerie, and leading

_______a lovely maid
Forth by the lily hand, the which is crown'd
With ears of corn, and full her hand is found.

How changed is the face of Nature since those bracing Spring clays when, under grey, windy skies, the seed was sown in the brown tilth, scarcely freed from Winter's icy fetters The cultured fields, lately so green, have put on a mellowness betokening the maturity of the year. The spikey grain rustles, and shakes heavily, and rolls ill billows, at the west wind's will. The woods display dense masses of foliage, darker in hue than when the May breezes fanned the fresh leaves. Many of the summer flowers still linger in the parterre but the fairest of the wild-flowers have vanished from their accustomed haunts: the scythe has been busy among the garish grasses : the down of the thistle floats on the sultry air : the young haws supplant the fragrant blossoms of the thorn : the orchards are burdened with the ripening fruit, instead of the snowy flush of May : and the music of the groves has lost its sweetest voices. Soon will the shortening (lay bring the yellow harvest moon : and soon shall we sec the sickle glittering on the bonny corn rigs," and the rigs of barley, and hear the mirth of the harvest-home. Yet amid the pervading happiness inspired by peace and plenty, Autumn teaches its solemn lessons. Now it is that the heart of man is specially called to pour forth thanksgivings to the beneficent Creator Who crowns the year with His goodness, and whose paths drop fatness. Moreover, harvest scenes have a peculiar association with incidents and images frequent in Sacred Writ. We are reminded of Joseph's dream that he and his jealous brethren were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo! his sheaf arose, and also stood upright, and, behold, their sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to his sheaf. We see the fair, devoted Moabitess gleaning in the fields of Naomi's kinsman, and the young men letting fail some of the handfuls of purpose for her. We feel, as it were, the rapture of that good day when the Ark of God was sent back by the Philistines: "and they of Bethshemesh were reaping their wheat-harvest in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it." We think of the disciples plucking the cars of corn by the wayside, and rubbing them in their hands: of the vision in Patinas, when the banished saint heard an angel crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud—' Thrust in thy sickle, and reap for the time is come for thee to reap for the harvest of the earth is ripe": and of the fine figure of the death of the righteous man, who goeth to his grave, like a shock of corn in due season. But there is an unceasing harvest reaped by Death, whose sickle is ever busy, cutting down ripe and unripe alike to await in the (lust that final day,

When the Archangel's blast
Shall winnow, like a fan, the chaff and grain.

For our life is a progression, and upon all Creation's charms the immutable truth is impressed that beyond the bloom of Spring, the glories of Summer, and the fulness of Autumn, hoary Winter stands at the open portal that leads to Eternity. " All things have their seasons," says Seneca ; they begin, they increase, and they die. The heavens and the earth grow old, and are appointed their periods. That which we call death, is but a pause, or suspension ; and in truth a progress to life ; only our thoughts look downward upon the body, and not forward upon things to come."

The first day of August, it is believed, was held as one of the great annual festivals of heathen times in Britain, being the feast of thanksgiving for the ingathering of the grain harvest. hence the term Gule of August—the British or Celtic word, Gwyl, signifying a festival or holiday. The same (lay is set apart in the Romish calendar as Festum Soocti Petri ad Vincula—the Feast of St. Peter's Chains : and it was also the day when, during the Papal ascendancy, the English people paid their "Peter's pence" to Rome. But no connection can be fairly assumed between the words Vincula and Guy!, although it is very probable that in early days the Pagan festiva' received a Christian name and meaning, because the attachment of the people prevented its abolition. It is evident, however, that the name Lammas, as applied to the first of August, could only have originated after the introduction of the Christian religion in our island, when the day continuing to be observed as a harvest-thanksgiving, a loaf of new wheat was the appointed offering at church. The service was thus called Hlaf_mass—Loafmass or Bread-mass, gradually changing into Lammas. Another derivation has been given, namely, from Lamb- mass, because," says Brand, in his Popular Antiquities, on day the tenants who held lands of the Catholic Church in York, which is dedicated to St. Peter ad Vincula, were bound by their tenure to bring a live lamb into the church at high mass ;" and again, it has been suggested that the name arose from a mass to St. Peter for bespeaking his protection to lambs during the shearing to keep them from catching cold. But both conjectures appear to be exceedingly far-fetched. The JI/af-mass, Nve submit, affords the most feasible explanation.

In common with the other ancient festivals of the country, Lammas was long commemorated with sports and pastimes among the peasantry. Those divertisrmrnts, however, have now fallen into utter desuetude, and, indeed, it is more than a century since they were practised in any part of Scotland, although, doubtless, at one time they were general throughout the kingdom. They seem to have survived in the Lothians until about the middle of last century. In 1792 Dr. James Anderson, a popular writer, and editor of the Bee, drew up an account of the Lothian Lainmnas, which he contributed to the first volume of the Transactions of the Antiquarian Society of Scotland, and we shall avail ourselves of this graphic memento of forms and fashions with which the memory of Paganism was kept up for ages after its faith was dead and forgotten.

In an unenclosed corn country, unless the soil is remarkably fertile, a part of the fields must be left in grass for the pasturage of horses, cattle, or sheep; and as all these must be guarded by herds while grazing, it will necessarily happen that in these circumstances a great number of boys and young lads will be employed during the summer months in tending the beasts. About half-a-century ago this was generally the ease with the greatest part of the county of Edinburgh. These herds, as is natural for young persons who have much idle time on their hands, devised many kinds of pastime, with which they occasionally diverted themselves, but none was more remarkable than the celebration of the Lammas festival.

All the herds within a certain district, towards the beginning of summer, associated themselves into bands, sometimes to the number of a hundred or more. Each of the communities agreed to build a tower in some conspicuous place, near the centre of their district, which was to serve as the place of their rendezvous on Lammas-clay. This tower was usually built of sods, for the most part square, about four feel in diameter at the bottom, and tapering to a point at the top, which was seldom alcove seven or eight feet franc the ground. In building it a hole was left in the centre for admitting a flagstaff, on which they displayed their colours on the great clay of the festival. This tower was usually begun to be built about a mouth before Lammas, and was carried up slowly by successive additions from time to time, being seldom entirely completed till a few days before Lammas, though it was always thought that those who completed their's soonest, and kept it standing the longest time before Lammas, behaved in the most gallant manner, and acquired the highest honour by their conduct.

From the moment the foundation of the tower was laid it became an object of care and attention to the whole community, for it was reckoned a disgrace to suffer it to be defaced, so that they resisted with all their power any attempts that should be made to demolish it, either by force or fraud and as the honour that was acquired by the demolition of a tower, if effected by those belonging to another, was in proportion to the disgrace of suffering it to be demolished, each party endeavoured to circumvent the other as much as possible, and laid plans to steal upon the other tower unperceived, in the night-time, and level it with the grossed. Great was the honour that such a successful exploit conveyed to the undertakers; and though the tower was easily rebuilt, and soon put in its former state, yet the news was quickly spread by the successful adventurers through the whole district, which filled it with shouts of joy and exultation, while their unfortunate neighbours were covered with shame. To ward off this disgrace, a Constant nightly guard was kept at ends tower, which was made stronger and stronger as the tower advanced, so that frequent nightly skirmishes ensued at these attacks, but were seldom of much consequence, as the assailants seldom came in force to make an attack in this way, but merely to succeed by surprise; so soon, therefore, as they saw they were discovered, they made off in the best manner they could.

To give the alarm on these and on other occasions, every person was armed with a "tooting horn," that is, a horn perforated in the small end, through which wind can be forcibly blown frons the mouth, so as to occasion a loud sound and as every one wished to acquire as great dexterity as possible in the use of this instrument, they practised upon it during the summer while keeping their beasts, and towards Lammas they were so incessantly employed at this business, answering to, and vying with, each other, that the whole country rang continually with the sounds, and it must no doubt have appeared to he a very harsh and unaccountable noise to strangers passing by.

As the great day of Lammas approached, each community chose one from among themselves for their captain and they prepared a stand of colours to he ready to be then displayed. For this purpose they usually borrowed a fine table napkin of the largest size, from some of the farmer's wives svithin the district; and, to ornament it, the), also borrowed ribbons front those who would lend them, which the), tacked upon the napkin in such fashion as best suited their fancy. Everything being thus prepared, they marched forth earl)' is she morning on Lammas-day, stressed in their best apparel, each armed with a stout cudgel, and repairing to their tower, they displayed their colours in triumph, blowing horns, and making merry in the best manner they could. About nine o'clock they sat down upon the green, and each taking from his pocket bread and cheese, or other provisions, they made a hearty breakfast, drinking pure water from a well, which they always took care should be near the scene of their banquet.
In the meantime, scouts were sent out from every quarter, to bring them notice if any hostile party approached; for it frequently happened on that day that the herds of one district went to attack those of another district, and to bring (lien) under subjection to them by main force. If news was brought that a hostile party approached, the horns sounded to arms. They were immediately put into the best order they could devise, the stoutest and boldest in front ; and those of inferior prowess behind. Seldom did they await the approach of the enemy, but usually went forth to meet them with a bold countenance, the captain of each party carrying the colours, and leading time van. When they met, they mutually desired each other to lower their colours in sign of subjection; and if there appeared to be a great disproportion in the strength of the parties, the weakest usually submitted to this ceremony without much difficulty, thinking their honour was saved by the evident disproportion of the match. But if they were nearly equal in strength, none of them would yield, and the rivalry ended in blows, sometimes in blood. shed. A battle of this kind once occurred, in which four were actually killed, and many wounded. I was once witncss to a meeting of this sort, where I suppose there were more than a hundred on each side, who were so nearly equal that neither of them would yield. When upon the point of engaging, a farmer,—a stout, active young man, —who dreaded the consequences, came galloping up to them, and going between the two parties, with great difficulty, by threats and entreaties, got them to desist till lie should speak coolly to them. He at last got the matter compromised one way or other, so as to end the strife without blows.

When they had remained at this lower till about midnight, if no op. poncnt appeared, or if they themselves had no intention of making an attack, they then took clown their colours, and marched, with horns sounding, to. wards the most considerable village in their district, where the lasses, and all the people, came out to meet them, and partake of their diversions. Boundaries were immediately appointed, and a proclamation made that all who intended to compete in the race should appear. A bonnet ornamented with ribbons was displayed upon a pole, as the prize of the victor; and sometimes five or six started for it, and ran with an great eagerness as if they had been to gain a kingdom. The prize of the second race was a pair of garters; and the third, a knife they then amused themselves for some time with such rural sports as suited their tastes, and dispersed quietly to their respective homes before sunset.

When two parties smut, and one of theist yielded to the other, they marched together some time in two separate bodies, the subjected body behind the other, and then they parted good friends, each performing their races at their own appointed place. Next day, after the ceremony was over, the ribbons and napkins that formed the colours were carefully returned to their respective owners. The tower was no longer a matter of consequence, and she country returned to its usual state of tranquility.

The above is a faithful account of this singular ceremony, which was an- neatly repeated in all the country within the distance of six miles west from Edinburgh, about thirty years ago. how long the custom prevailed, or what had given rise to it, I am uninformed. The name of Lammas-towers will remain (some of them having been built of stone) after the celebration of the festival has ceased. This paper stilt at least preserve the memory of what was meant by them. I never could discover use smallest traces of this custom in Aberdeenshire, though I have there found several towers of stone, very like the Lammas-towers of this country; but these seem to have been erected without any appropriated use, but merely to look at. I have known some of those erected in my time, where I know for certain that no other object was intended than merely to amuse the persons who erected them.

Thankful arc we to Dr. Anderson for thus perpetuating the memory of the Rustic Sports of Lammas, which, so far as the races were concerned, might be revived without any reproach to the "enlightenment of the age."

It would appear that in Ayrshire the end, and not the beginning, of the harvest season is celebrated by the youngsters, who kindle fires at the waysides. This custom is called the Taunel—a word which Dr. Stratton, of Devonport, explains to mean the "fire of Baal" or Bel. "It is strange," he says, "that there is a survival of Pagan worship among the seven-year-old members of the Ayrshire community."


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