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Traditions and Stories of Scottish Castles
Neidpath Castle

THE watershed of the southern part of Scotland presents some curious phenomena to the observer of Nature. The country south of the Forth, though elevated somewhat above the sea-level, is so uniform in its altitude that no towering peaks or colossal mountain ranges may be found sufficiently pronounced to account for the courses which the mightier rivers of the locality take. It is easy for the geographer to explain why the Amazon river flows right across the continent of South America, for the flat pampas to the east of the great western range could offer no impediment to the foaming torrent which owed its birth to the cloud-daring Andes. Nor is there much difficulty in framing theories as to the more notable rivers of Europe in this way, which have at least probability to recommend them. But the Border Country is a greater enigma to the physical-geographer than its inhabitants will readily believe; and the discovery of the minute causes at work to determine the direction of some of the greater streams demands the labours of the geologist as well as the topographer. Examine on the map the wayward careers of the three great southern rivers—Clyde, Tweed and Annan - and the difficulty will be at once apparent. The Lowther Hills, situated about midway between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and forming almost a central point between the Firths of the Forth and the Solway, contain the springs from which these rivers originate, although the one takes its course due south, whilst the other two debouch upon the east and west coasts respectively. And the traditional rhyme is not without foundation when it declares that

"Annan, Tweed and Clyde
A’ rise
oot o’ ae hillside."

An impeding rock, a protuberance in the mountain, a gentle slope in the valley, has determined the final destination of each of these majestic rivers; and the impetuous waters, dashing with resistless force through the fertile plains which they have encountered, have now, by their own augmented energy, scooped out the three great districts of Tweeddale, Clydesdale and Annandale, each presenting characteristics of scenery diverse from the others. The Annan, flowing rapidly

"Without stop or stay down the rocky way"

which leads to the Solway, has a briefer career than either of the other streams, whilst the Clyde wanders undecidedly first northward, then westerly, and finally due south, to lose itself in the raging Atlantic Ocean. But the Tweed enjoys a more equable existence than its compeers, and, gathering to itself the waters of many tributary streams, it meanders placidly, with many a winding link and crook, through the rich pastoral country which intervenes betwixt its well-spring and the sea.

"Bosom’d in woods where mighty rivers run,
Kelso’s fair vale expands before the sun;
Its rising downs in vernal beauty swell,
And, fringed with hazel, winds its flowery dell;
Green spangled plains to dimpled lawns succeed,
And Tempé rises on the banks of Tweed.
Blue o’er the river Kelso’s shadow lies,
And copse-clad isles amid the waters rise."

Nor is the country upon the banks of Tweed memorable only for its picturesque scenery. The whole of the valley through which it flows is haunted by literary memories, and the Yarrow, the Ettrick, and the Tweed recall irresistibly the hallowed names of Leyden, of Hogg, and of Scott, whose powers of description in prose and poetry have alike been expended upon this locality. As the chosen home of Border minstrelsy, and the abode of the heroes who figure in these ballads, Tweedside occupies a prominent position in this department of literature; for the many towers and keeps which overlook its waters, and are reflected in its crystal stream, have each their tale of other days to him who cares to listen.

The human heart, like the Ǽolian lyre, may be roused to martial ardour by the fierce blast of the stormy nor’-east wind, and resound in boldest tones the triumph of war; but it can also be thrilled responsively by the magic touch of the zephyr, which gently plays upon its sensitive strings some Lydian measure, until they murmur forth the praise of love. The noise of the fatal fray may be hushed for a time to allow of a tale of love, of faith, and of sorrow—the story of the hapless "Maid of Neidpath."

Neidpath Castle

The Tweed for a large part of its course is studded with Castle-Towers or Peels, which were used in former times as beacon-lights to warn the Border clans of invasion, or to call them to rendezvous for a raid or foray. Every here and there in the line of the Peels might be found a commodious Castle, the property of the feudal superior and the rallying point for his vassals, to which they would repair, clad in their huge jack-boots, buff jerkins, and morions, ready to die at their lord’s bidding.

There are several noticeable Castles of this description on Tweedside, and Neidpath was one of these. A few miles west of the town of Peebles the Tweed takes a south-eastward bend, and here, upon a gentle eminence whose grassy slope runs down to the river’s brink, stands Neidpath Castle. Its massive walls and turrets, some of which are over ten feet in thickness, show that it has been a keep of great strength, the oldest part apparently dating from the 14th century, and probably erected by Edmund de Mortimer, who was third Earl of March, and died in 1381, as this would be the western boundary of the March country over which he ruled. After the death, in 1425, of the fifth Mortimer, Earl of March, Neidpath came into the possession of the Hays of Yester, and remained with that family for centuries.

The Hays of Yester were originally Norman Barons, who came to England in 1066 with William the Conqueror. Some of them seem to have been intimate with David I. of Scotland when he was at the English Court, and returned with him when he came back to his own kingdom, and received many grants of land. The Hay family is now represented by the present eleventh Marquess of Tweeddale, descended from the Hays of Yester and the first Marquess of Tweeddale. the Hays, while Earls of March, had their principal seat at Dunbar Castle, and sometimes retired to the seclusion of Neidpath.

The most sequestered spot on earth is not secure from the insidious advances of sorrow and suffering, and the Castle of Neidpath, however powerful to resist an armed foe, could not withstand the silent canker of despair, as the story which is linked inseparably with these ruined walls sufficiently testifies. The Earl of March, who was once Lord of the Castle, was, like "Jephthab, Judge of Israel," in this at least, that

"He had one only daughter, and no mo,
The whitch he loved passing well."

Born amid wealth and reared in luxury as that time afforded, the lovely heiress of Dunbar and Neidpath attained to budding womanhood without having experienced one cloud upon her fortunes, or cherished a desire that was not speedily gratified. As the only successor of an ancient lineage, it may be supposed that the Earl looked to her to uphold the dignity which her birthright thrust upon her, and hoped that his honoured name would still descend through her offspring to distant time. Doubtless many ambitious schemes of matrimonial alliance passed through his mind in her early days.

The scheming father who dotes upon his child, and conjures up airy castles to delight his imagination, is ever the chosen sport of Cupid.

"O love will venture in
Whaur it daurna weel be seen;
O love will venture in
Whaur wisdom aince had been;"

and the fair Maid of Neidpath fell a victim to his wiles. The young Laird of Tushielaw, in Ettrick Forest, had met her when upon one of her visits to her Tweedside retreat, and ere long they had confessed to each other their mutual flame.

Though the Scotts of Tushielaw were of an ancient and honourable strain, and had made their name known in Border warfare, the youthful lover was no match, so far as rank was concerned, for the heiress of Dunbar and Neidpath. And perhaps the knowledge of this fact made them endeavour to conceal their passion from the parent whose cooler judgment was likely to dispel their day-dream of happiness. Their clandestine meetings, their whispered farewells by the banks of Tweed, or in the shade of Ettrick Forest, served to knit their hearts closer together in the bonds of true affection. Heedless of the danger they dared, and under the glamour of resistless love, they suffered themselves to drift ecstatically with the stream until the current carried them far beyond the hope of rescue, and they found themselves ensnared votaries of Cupid.

The great gift of true and lasting affection was theirs, since they had discovered of what it consists, so admirably described by the poet in these lines:-

"It is not Phantasy’s hot fire,
Whose wishes, soon as granted, fly;
It liveth not with fierce Desire,
With dead Desire it doth not die.

It is the secret sympathy,
The silver link, the silken tie,
Which heart to heart and mind to mind
In body and in soul can bind."

But their dreams, however rapturous, could not last, and they were destined to endure a rude awakening. Their secret vows and stolen interviews, though long hidden from profane eyes, at length were revealed, and the Earl learned with rage and indignation that the son of a Border Chief had won the heart of his daughter, from whom he had anticipated accumulated honours for his house. To forbid their meeting was his first step, and to enforce their separation by threats of dire and summary vengeance was the method he adopted. The timid and retiring maiden, unused to violence directed against herself, shrank in terror from her infuriated parent, and at once informed her lover, not without tears, that their time of love was over. The fear for his personal danger prompted her to counsel his withdrawal from his native country for a time, till changing scenes or altered circumstances should obliterate her from his memory, or prepare the way for a glad reunion. And the young Borderer, powerless against fate, bade farewell to the scenes of his infancy which love had hallowed, and took his mournful departure, like the hero of the old ballad :—

"For I will into some far countrye,
Where noe man shall
me knowe."

Perhaps the hardest lot is hers who must bide at home, with every well-known spot before her to recall forgotten pleasures, and unable to escape by the most frantic effort from inevitable despair. Yet, unwilling to show the depth of her misery, she assumed a placid demeanour which belied the tumult within:-

"I’ll bid my heart be still,
And check each rising sigh;
And none e’er shall know
My heart’s long-cherished woe
When the first tears of sorrow are dry."

The inward grief which finds no outlet is the most wearing and dangerous of all, and so it proved with the daughter of the Earl of March. "The course of true love" thus rudely interrupted had wrought a change in her which could not long be concealed. The pale, ivory-like brow, the hectic cheek, the attenuated frame all told that the reversal of the current of her being was wearing out the frail body which her lofty spirit had once animated. At last her father, no longer blind to the change which had taken place in her, and terrified lest his precipitancy might have destroyed his hopes of her, consented that the exiled lover should be recalled and accepted as her affianced husband. What was the pride of birth compared with the life of his daughter? The heiress of so ancient a name as hers might ennoble the man of her choice by marriage.

The message was soon conveyed to young Scott, and he returned on the speedy wings of love to his native land and his loving bride. Hastening from the east coast, on which he had landed, he rode "with loose rein and bloody spur" on the way to Neidpath Castle. Meanwhile the maid had thought to plan a glad surprise for him, and removed to the Earl’s house in Peebles, which lay upon the road which he must take. Worn and emaciated as she had been, the vigour seemed to have returned to her frame and the fire to her eyes once more as she sat by the balcony waiting, waiting to hear the beat of the horse’s hoofs which should prelude their meeting, with a thousand conflicting emotions surging through her bosom.

"And hopes, and fears that kindle hope,
An undistinguishable throng.
And cherished wishes, long subdued,
Subdued and cherished long."

With feelings strung to a pitch of intense excitement, she sat listening eagerly for every sound which might tell of his proximity. At length she heard the hasty hoof of a horse impelled by some urgent rider, which drew nearer and nearer to the spot where she waited. Straining her eyes to catch the first glance of her lover, she recognised him a long way off, and felt her heart’s blood pulse more quickly through her veins. Now had come the long-expected period of his return, and love and joy should thenceforth be their portion. But the sound of that rapid hoof ceased not even at her threshold, and the eyes of the rider, intent upon the way to Neidpath, never once glanced upon her. Could it be that the dream of her life had been visionary indeed? Was there no faith in mankind? Were the vows, plighted in Ettrick and sworn by Tweed, after all but a hollow mockery? The revulsion of her feelings was too much for her overstrung system, reduced by disease as it had been, and ere the hollow beat of the foaming steed’s frantic gallop had been wholly lost upon the air, while bearing her love onward, as he thought, to meet her, the desire of his heart, the hope of his life, was no more!

"Oh, lover’s eyes are sharp to see,
And lover’s ears in hearing;
And love in life’s extremity
Can lend an hour in cheering.
Disease had been in Mary’s bower,
And slow decay from mourning,
Though now she sits on Neidpath’s tower
To watch her love’s returning.

He came—he passed—a heedless gaze,
As o’er some stranger glancing;
Her welcome, spoke in faltering phrase,
Lost in his courser’s prancing—
The Castle arch, whose hollow tone
Returns each whisper spoken,
Could scarcely catch the feeble moan
Which told her heart
was broken."

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