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From Fox's Earth to Mountain Tarn
Down the Tweed


ONE has pictured a border scene as a hill, a road, and a water. This is not more graphic than true. So much was laid bare on the thinning out of the olden forest. It scarce matters which way one turns, which glen one enters, the road is along the lower slope or the level bank. The hill is above and the stream below.

So it is in Peeblesshire. The whole county is made up of the stream, with its attendant roads and environing hills. Elsewhere an accident, skirting the border or crossing a corner, here it is the vital current. Feeders enter from the side glens. Some of these glens are ruder than the rest, but all may be simplified into hill, road, and water. The stream is the Tweed.

From Peebles to Ashestiel is a characteristic stretch. The scene gathers more closely in.. The banks may broaden into the green haugh; the hills may eddy round a meadowland where graze a few sheep. Only to narrow back till the road finds but scant room over a spur, worn sheer by the chafing water.

Albeit classic, it is still a byway. It is not overrun. It is scarce a tourist’s land. The visitors are American rather than Scots; perhaps German rather than American. Humiliating enough, but so it is. Even our kinsmen across the water do not much affect this stretch, but hurry it over to get to Abbotsford, Melrose, and Dryburgh. Down there are the "lions."

It is not objective enough. It selects its visitors just as good literature selects its readers, and good drama its audience. It is not like the Tay—the other notable Scots river. It is not so majestic, so robust. It has not its roll, its sweep. It is not so impressive, perhaps not so picturesque. It does not lend itself to effects. It is subjective and feminine, more refined and intellectual. Its appeals are spiritual. Its spell must be felt. And holiday makers have no time for that: they come to see. No hotels dot its banks as along the course of the Tay. The tourist blight does not rest on the scene.

Nor on the people. They are singularly themselves. Therein lies the difference between highland and upland, between gael and borderer. The strong character acquired through a rude past resists change. As current into pool, so the free wild flow of history has stilled into independence, not loud but deep. Conditions have changed, not men; at least not much. The same spirit finds a more restricted play in gentler times, and seeks expression in other ways.

The borderer is grim of humour and reserved even to stand-offishness. He were the last to grovel who - by the ordinary standards - is sometimes not quite civil. Temptations, which have beset others and taught them meannesses, are absent. Had they been present, it would have made little difference. The disposition is not there. A rude husk hides the kernel. It does not readily drop off. So hardly does it split that some have thought all was husk. That is a mistake. Exceptions there may be. I speak of men as I have found them; not once, but through many seasons, and under divers conditions. I have known the husk and also the kernel.

In soft murmurs the stream goes by, kissing the green haughs and swishing the long watergrasses. In faultless curves it journeys on before. Mood passes into mood in a cycle of changes, without abruptness; the old mood still returning to pass again. I say mood because, amid so much that is subjective, one finds it hard to draw a line between self and scene. Grave or gay, neath sun or cloud. Never boisterous, only breaking into soft low laughter. Nor yet very sad, at most pensive.

Current comes into being in shallow ripples, quickens into a lively flow, tempered by the shadows in the hollows. Slowly, very slowly, it softens into pools, and the last low murmurs pass out of hearing. At the line of seeming stillness which yet is not still, the pool breaks into ghostly ripples, deepening to the line of motion across the height of the current.

Some unerring hand might have moulded all this, so faultless in its balance. Some exquisite soul might have set the flow to such rhythm. Among Scots streams it stands first. After the Tweed all seem unbalanced and out of tune. A bar here and there, a perfect note breaking forth, current gathering into pool, or, it may be, a stretch where pool and current alternate. Some graceful sweep which charms the eye and leads it onward. And then a break, a jar, a rude rush, or long pause. Ripple without music, and stillness without poetry.

Rings chase the pool into the last touch of charm. So trout may be regarded less as something to fish for than as artists of the stream. From the centre of the widening circles they sink back into the restfulness of the pool. I have lain on the green haughs and watched them at their purposeful play, while the moments flew by unheeded. So long as the aesthetic sense kept awake was no thought of blood; the savage was asleep. That, too, is a mood sacred to the Tweed.

There are rifts in the lute, jars in the melody; but only few, and not characteristic. The stream strikes against some jutting spur and swirls round in a false curve, or at some too sudden bend cuts into the bank, forming a false eddy. Beyond, the stream is itself again, to pass on in a long succession of pool and current.

The pools have names. Names do not grow in a day. The oldest inhabitant was not at the christening, nor in the oldest tradition, as far as I know, is any account of the origin. These names are used by Tweedside men when they meet on the far side of the globe and exchange fishing experiences, not necessarily apocryphal. They do not lie, at least to one another; they are too seasoned for that. And leave boasting to beardless boys, who soon acquire the reserve of their elders. As a St. Andrews man with a cleek, so each is born with a rod in his hand. Their stories they tell with a certain grim humour to strangers. The exact moral complexion is best shown by an example, which will find its way in by and by.

Of one pool I have delightful memories. Through many a border twilight, and far into the mystic border night have I lingered there, The hills come very close, to lend a deeper shadow to the summer dark. Along the face of the protruding spur the stream flows straight and still. The road overhangs. Where the spur curves back and the bank bends away is a strip of trees. The wood may be the remnant of far-spreading hazels of long ago. Very like. It gives the name to the passing water.

Less than half a mile down is "the boat-pool." No boat is there now, nor is any tale of a boat. The name alone lingers to tell of what was, and will remain as long as the stream flows. As they have received it, so will anglers and children hand it down. The dwellers in the little hamlet on the broad haugh must have crossed, generation after generation, time out of mind. Then the bridge was built a little further down. Bridge and pool tell the story.

Among the trees on the far side is Traquair. When the Scottish sovereigns lived mainly on the border, this was their chief residence; part of the still older castle is said to be built in with the old house. They hunted here. It was a rich, full, cheery place. Game abounded, of which the scene knows nothing now. Six hundred head were killed on one day.

Tweed boasted three mighty tenants in the persons of a fish, a rodent, and a carnivore. It must have been a drama of no common interest when the autumn-ascending fish of the virgin stream splashed over the beaver embankment, while the otter swam, back and fore, along the upper side in wait. Or when the carnivore, on his way up from the fishing-ground in the early morning, had to dodge the falling tree, whose bole the chisel rodent teeth had cut through in the night. Not for four hundred years has the Tweed witnessed anything of the kind.

Unchecked by the beaver dam, current and pool were left between the salmon and the otter. Happy days of untrammelled play, out of which so much that is interesting is evolved. What rushes of gallant fish breasted the current or lit the pool with their silver sheen, the otter notwithstanding.

There would be a boat to cross the pool, to where game was, or retainers dwelt. The name may date back thus far. The boat would remain as the village grew and the castle crumbled. The patch of wood by the higher pool may be a remnant of the forest, under whose noontide shadow the deer sheltered, and whose boles the beaver chiselled that the trees might fall across the stream.

Below Traquair, the Tweed has its sharpest bend. It runs straight into the hillside. The road is perched a hundred feet above the stream. I have seen big fish taken under Plora Hill - old fish too, as though the patriarchs of the stream in their weariness sought refuge from the current.

Into the pool a tributary trickles in summer and rushes in winter. It issues from a bare, wild glen; but bare as it is and wild, I have pleasant visions of it. The "baa" of a sheep brings the heart to the mouth, so lone is it. A small, wiry, tanned man had possession. Most summer days he was there, with no companion save his rod. A borderer wants no other, and rather resents the intrusion of a third. In glaring July sunshine, when the water scarce covered the stones, he fished the stream.

In all my visions of the place he is there, wading in mid-current ; nor is it likely that I shall ever get -him out of the picture. He had the defects as well as the qualities of the district. One day, early in our acquaintance, I overtook him, casting in a not-to-be-denied way; he always fished with bait. "Had he taken anything?" "Ay, a basketful!" The basket in question sat lightly on his shoulders. In league with its master it looked grave, as though it were stuffed. Like the blotches on the moon, the signs of wear gave it an almost human expression. I half suspected it of relaxing into a wink when my back was turned. A strange trio, whom long fellowship had brought to a perfect understanding, were the basket, the rod, and the man. The angler went on casting, hooked a trout, and waded to the side to land it. I heard it fall through space and strike against the straw bottom. It was the first.

"I sent them home by a boy." This he said with the look of irony the borderer keeps for a stranger. So his forbears might have said to one who asked if he had lifted cattle. It might be so. He was equal to filling a basket out of any water, only the glen is narrow at the mouth, and I had seen no boy. There was no boastfulness, no special desire that I should think that he was telling the truth; rather, perhaps, to the contrary. Therein is the peculiar moral complexion. We got to know each other better ; and he would have gone many miles to show me good water.

The names of the tributaries have a meaning. Like that of the main stream, these were given by an imaginative folk. They are a picture, a tale in miniature. "Quair" means green. "Lyne," the stream of linns or pools. "Manor," the stream of the pebbly channel. This was the Leithen, which tells something of the rudeness.

The stream dominates as in the Tweed. It is not so in the north. One talks of going up the Leithen. The character gives its name to the glen. It is the stream that has linns, or is stony. In the remoter feeders the order is reversed. The stream is lost, or is only part. The ways that wander among the hills are known as "hopes"; it is a border name, or mainly so. Many of these hopes are nameless. I tried to name some of them according to what I found there, but modern imagination is of little use. Often nothing grew higher than the ferns. Here and there a patch of wood darkened the slope. In the solitude, as of a treeless forest, were no red deer. The bark of the roebuck came from the far distance.

Still closer the hills gather in on the main valley. The scene is increasingly wild. There comes a stretch, solitary as the most contemplative could wish, with no rival in sight to put a ripple on the angler's spirit. The road is on the far side, for the simple reason that there is no room for it on this.

By a dark wood is a still pool. So dense, so almost pitchy dark the wood, that it is not sought even as shelter from the midday heat. The shadow oppresses, as does the atmosphere of heavy deeds. It is Elibank, in the centre of raidland, with many a rude tale to tell.

On the bare slope beyond, is a border keep. It is in ruin; a scene of jagged walls. An arch is over the lower story, whither the cattle were driven for safety when the beacon fires were lit. Now it is lifeless-save when the stoat brings a rabbit, surprised on the edge of the wood; or the fox hides, to watch the covey of grouse out on the heather.

The Tweed surges round a grassy islet. It stills into another pool, where it is good to fish, or simply to loiter. Many an hour, through many an autumn, have I cast, and looked, and dreamed. There is so much beside fishing : the dark wood of Elibank; the ruined keep with its vaulted lower story for the cattle, sometimes stolen; the rude traditions; the hill, the road, and the stream. Ay, and something more.

One may not get further that way. The bank is rough, with the clinging trees, down to where the branches dip into the Tweed. On the steep, and among the trees, is Scott's early border home, where oft he sat

Gazing down the steepy linn,
That hems our little garden in.

Here he spent the poetic years in which he made Scotland the joy of nations. Strangely enough, not the Scotland he loved; and of which he strove to have a little to call his own. His objective genius found ruder effects elsewhere, which took hold of the popular imagination. Bright colours and strong contrasts were better than subtle blending and wizard work, and of these he was master. So it came about that, all unwitting perhaps, he did more for the Teith than for the blended floods of Yarrow and Ettrick, which flowed into the Tweed, just beyond his house.

Men talk of Loch Katrine, not of St. Mary's. For one who follows the ride of William of Deloraine, a thousand follow that of Fitz-James. Topheavy coach loads swing out from Callander; and one passenger, with stronger memory than the rest, rolls forth the epic to eager ears as they go along. While only the solitary pedestrian is on the border road. Glen Artney to the Trossachs is classic ground for the multitude.

The uplands and vale of the Tweed are mystic only to the few. Remove Ashestiel and the more famed house lower down, and few would go for what he wrote-say for "The Lay of the Last Minstrel." Few Scotsmen; all rush north. The quiet strikes one sadly, but not altogether unpleasantly. It is better so: all is more as Scott left, and loved it. It might have been better for the Teith also. Less popular, the Trossachs would have been wilder, Loch Katrine more charming; it might not even have attracted the attention of Glasgow. Men look on what they have defaced.

Among the uplands I have wandered for days in high summer, when all were abroad, and found no one. Save for a few Germans, with whom I hobnobbed, as those do who are of a like mind and on the same quest. And so we came to Abbotsford and fell among the ordinary cranks, who like to see where everybody who is talked about lived-what kind of furniture he had, and whether there was a chance of taking anything away.

From Peebles to Abbotsford measures, perhaps, the range of border literature, leaving some ballads outside. Within the same limits are included the changes in border wild life. Fence in the hillsides from grazing sheep, and the scene will tell its own story. No need to plant; trees will spring up of themselves. It is not so with wild creatures, which, once banished, do not appear so readily.

When Peebles was young, the ablest and most interesting of the Stewarts - whose attachment to Jane Beaufort, formed during his long captivity in England, is one of the romances of history -wrote of a medieval fair day when from enclosed wood and forest the country folk issued to "Peebles to the Play." What wild creatures were startled from the way, or drawn to the edge of the trees by their rude laughter, they were too much taken up with themselves to see. This was from 1423 to 1436. From Ashestiel in 1807 Scott wrote :

The scenes are desert now and bare,
Where flourished once a forest fair.
Yon lonely thorn, would he could tell
The changes of his parent dell,
What pines on every mountain sprung,
O'er every dale what birches hung.
Here in my shade, methinks he'd say,
The mighty stag at noontide lay,
The wolf I've seen, a fiercer game,
(The neighbouring dingle bears his name,)
With lurching step around me prowl,
And stop against the moon to howl.
The mountain boar on battle set,
His tusks upon my stem would whet;
What doe, and roe, and red deer good,
Have bounded by from gay green wood.


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