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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
Travelling in Scotland

by Judith Lloyd

The following is an exerpt from a journal that I kept on my visit to Scotland two years ago in August.

The land in the lowlands of southeastern Scotland called the southern uplands is a light emerald green with gently rolling hills.  Hence the words "the rolling hills of the border"?  There are many sheep and cattle here, probably many of them originally English (see below regarding the border reivers).  The wool of the sheep is much better quality than that in the north of Scotland.  This area also used to be a popular area for raising and training race horses.  Castles dot the landscape.  One of them is in Peebles, Scotland which is almost due south of Edinburgh  on the River Tweed - Neidpath (pronounced Needpath) Castle.  The castle is made of limestone which was probably from right there in Peebleshire since it was once quarried there.  Sandstone, also found in that area,  was used around the doors and windows.   Wood was used for some of the apertures and, of course, for inside floors, etc.  Neidpath Castle sits  on a small hill with the land behind it dropping steeply off to the shallow waters of the Tweed.  It has a clear view all around it and of a hill several miles away where a beacon could be seen quite easily.  It was through the use of beacons that the Scots communicated across the miles.  One of these beacons can be seen at the castle.  The land that it sits on originally belonged to the Frasers, before they moved into the highlands, from the late 1100's to the early 1300's.   They were of Norman origin and had come into the lowlands from France.  Their coat of arms still has the strawberry flower in it.  In French strawberry is fraise.  This is very likely where the name Fraser originated from.   The last lowland Fraser heir was Mary who married into Clan Hay.  It was this clan who built Niedpath Castle in the late 1300's. It was built in a tower formation (which was easier to defend) and is in the shape of an "L" . Its lords ruled approximately ten to twenty miles around it.  The English attacked and were defeated nearby by Symon Fraser.  This castle held out against Cromwell longer than any other castle south of the Firth of Forth which cuts into the eastern coast of Scotland.  These Hays became the Lords of Yester and then the Earls of Tweedale.  Can you see now why it is so difficult to keep Clan heritage straight?  And it gets even more tangled.  The castle eventually was sold to a Douglas in the late 1600's and the younger son, the Earl of March who later became the Duke of Queensberry lived there.  (And I've not named all of the heritage line). It then passed on in the early 1800's to the Wemyss family.  Mary, Queen of Scots, stayed at this castle on one of her visits to administer justice to her unruly border families. Episodes of her life are depicted in Batik wall hangings.  Batiks are a combination of wax and colors used to create pictures. 

And speaking of border families.  Border reivers (thieves) were much like a private army.  They dressed much like soldiers in helmets and carrying pike-like wapons.  They made others pay a "toll" to move their black cattle through certain areas of the lowlands, especially through or across water,.  This is where the term blackmail originated.   The castle is quite intact except for one corner.  There are privies which are nothing more than angular holes set in a small alcove.  The hole opens out into the wide open spaces along the castle wall, giving new meaning to 'look out below'.  There is a 21 foot deep well on the lowest level.  All along the tight circling stairway to the top of the castle  are tiny alcove-type rooms.  I did not get an explanation of them so explain it to myself as either a place for someone to allow another to pass on the stairway or perhaps even to fight with one's back against the wall.  When you walk through the castle there are 2 vaults.   There used to be 3.  The upper vault has been removed and replaced with a regular roof.   The other vaults have been split into separate floors.  There  is a prison in the bottom of the castle with a 21 foot well.  One of the walls has a space that you can walk through into the prison, but originally the space was not there and this area without windows would have been pitch black.  The Hays were the last to keep prisoners there.  It was also at one time used as a wine cellar.  There are mason's marks throughout the castle.  A modern day mason would still recognize these symbols.

Neidpath is just one of many castles in the lowlands.  As I mentioned in a previous column the lowlands and the borders were Scotlands first line of defense for attacks from England.  It is one of the more preserved castles and for a small fee you can roam about the inside and the grounds where Mary, Queen of Scots walked and lived for a period and where Wordsworth visited and wrote a sonnet about it.


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