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Peebles and Selkirk

In the latter part of the eighteenth century a period of agricultural improvement began throughout Scotland. In our two counties improved methods of arable farming rapidly developed in the West Linton district; and further down the Tweed enterprising farmers ploughed land on hillsides which it would have been better to keep in pasture. Sheep farming also felt the impetus; and about 1785 the Cheviot sheep introduced on the hills of Peebles and Selkirk began to oust the Black-faced breed, while about 1845 a tremendous impulse was given to sheep farming in the district by the great development of the Tweed trade at Galashiels, Selkirk and Hawick. Since that time the tendency on the whole has been to withdraw land from arable farming and turn it into pasture, and for small holdings to disappear.

Arable land has been ploughed as far up as 900 to 1000 feet and wheat has been grown in Selkirkshire at a height of 700 feet. Since 1834 the area under the plough in Peebleshire has decreased, that in Selkirkshire increased, while in both the area under wood has been practically doubled.

The common rotation for crops in the counties is (1) corn (oats), (2) turnips or potatoes, (3) oats (or barley) sown with grass, (4) (5) (6) grass.

Owing, however, to its high elevation and moist climate the area is unsuited generally for the growth of cereals. But oats, turnips, grass and hay are readily grown. Wheat is practically unknown, while barley and potatoes are grown only to a trifling extent. Clover, sainfoin and rotation grasses are the largest crop in both counties: in Peebles 15,812 acres, in Selkirk, 8335. The total product of hay of all kinds for 1911 was in Peebles 6457 tons, the acreage being 5017, in Selkirk 3211 tons, the acreage being 3013 ; in each case the proportion of natural to artificial hay was about one half. The connexion between these cultivations and sheep farming is apparent; they can all be utilized for feeding purposes. Mixed farming, however, is supposed to be more economical for the simple reason that what is lost in the one department may be made good in the other. But the principal farming industry is sheep-rearing. Hill farmers breed to sell lambs; farmers lower down, while doing the same, also buy lambs for feeding purposes to sell in winter or spring.

In the time of James IV the total number of sheep in Ettrick Forest was 10,000—an extraordinary number it was then considered to be. But the Forest now bears eighteen times as many.

About eighty years ago (1832) a fair estimate for Peebles would be 102,000, for Selkirk seventy to eighty thousand, or less than half of the present number.

Female sheep, from six to eighteen months old, kept for breeding, are called hogs; the next year gimmers; the fourth season young ewes; the fifth, and thereafter, old ewes; the males for fattening are called wedders; the others trips or rams.

The "Black-faced," "Tweed-dale," or "Forest" breed are horned, with black faces, black legs and coarse wool; compact, short legged, round bodied with rising forehead, and "kindly" feeders, that is, taking kindly to their pasture. The Cheviot breed was introduced in 1785 as the best adapted of the fine-woolled sheep for high, bleak situations. Hogg, "the Ettrick shepherd," fiercely opposed their introduction, lamenting that the black-faced "ewie wi’ the crookit horn" should be banished from its native hills for those "white-faced gentry." Its introduction led to the planting of firwoods and the building of "stells" for shelter: noticeable features in the pastoral farms of the district. But in Peeblesshire, since 1864, owing to the losses of 1859—60, the Black-faced variety has been reverted to, the proportion in Peeblesshire now being three to two. In Selkirkshire, however, the sheep above one year are in the proportion of two-thirds Cheviots, one-quarter Black-faced, and the remainder HaIf-breds.

Before the days of sheep dip the wool had to be "smeared" or "salved" with tar and butter. Farmers who advocated other methods were characterized as "ignorant, inexperienced and revolutionary reforming farmers." Sheep farmers are now bound by the Regulations of the Board of Agriculture to have all their sheep dipped twice a year within certain specified dates.

Sheep are not shorn of their fleece till they are sixteen months old, and thereafter they are shorn every year, generally in July. The washing generally takes place from five to six days before the shearing, but as a rule the black faces are not washed. Their wool is sold "in the grease," in which condition it is said to keep better in transit, and the grease in the wool is manufactured into the by-product called "lanoline." The fleeces must be carefully tied up and all refuse kept out of the wool.

Cheviot wool is rolled up with the inside of the fleece outwards, and black-faced wool with the outside out. Hog wool is more valued than wedder wool.

The "clip," of course, varies. But in 1905 the average weight for Peeblesshire was 4½ lbs. for ewes, and for other sheep 5¼ lbs.; for Selkirk 4 lbs. for ewes, and 4¾ lbs. for other sheep. The difference in weight between a washed and an unwashed fleece varies from 1lb. to 1½ lb., while the washed black-faced fleece is lighter than that of the Cheviot.

Sheep are subject to certain diseases, the most prevalent being "Braxy" and the "Louping Ill" ; the former a species of inflammation, the latter of paralysis. The season for braxy is November to February, and in Peebles, Selkirk and Roxburgh the mortality from this disease sometimes reaches 25 per cent. The districts most affected are the hilly regions in the heart and in the south-west of Peeblesshire, a stretch of hilly country on the boundary line between Peebles and Selkirk and also stretching south-eastwards along the boundary line between Selkirk and Roxburgh.

The heather on sheep farms is burned once in nine years and new heather is ready to eat in three or four years; if the ground is mossy it may be in two years. Young heather is best both for farmer and sportsman. For long heather is of no use for cover unless the birds have also young heather to feed on. Hence some farmers contend that the proportion of young to long heather should be greater than it is. The dates for burning the heather are 10th December to 10th April, failing which application must be made to the landlord for special permission by the sheriff to have the time extended to the 25th April.

By 1714 Ettrick forest was completely denuded of its oaks. Then began an era of planting, which almost became a mania. Towards the close of the century, when Wordsworth with his sister Dorothy visited the district and found the

"Noble brotherhood of trees"

at Neidpath Castle cut down by the "Degenerate Douglas," they also found that a noticeable feature in the landscape was the raw new plantations surrounding a number of newly built mansion houses. The northern portion of Peeblesshire—containing the parishes of West Linton, Newlands, Eddleston, Lyne, Peebles and Traquair, with an area of 116,175 acres—has 6955¼ acres, or 6.0 per cent. under wood, while the parishes of Tweedsmuir, Broughton, Skirling, Kirkurd, Drummelzier, and Manor with an area of 106,424 acres have only 4370¾ acres or 4.1 per cent. under wood.

In Selkirkshire the parishes of Caddonfoot, Galashiels, Yarrow and Selkirk, amounting to 92,412 acres, have 3989¾ acres or 4.3 per cent. under wood, while the parishes of Ashkirk, Ettrick, and Kirkhope, containing 78,349 acres, have only 1303¾ acres or 1.6 per cent. under wood. Peebles is therefore nearly twice as well wooded as Selkirk, but is itself about three times less well wooded than the best-wooded districts of Scotland. Dawyck woods planted by Sir James Naesmyth, assisted it is said by Linnaeus, whose pupil he was, cover some 2800 acres and are amongst the most famous woods in the south of Scotland. Other well-known woods are to be found at Stobo, Haystoun, Bowhill, the Haining and Hangingshaw. The trees planted for economic purposes are mainly the Douglas pine (which is extensively planted), the Scots fir, the clear pine, the larch, and the sycamore (Scots plane tree).

A special cultivation of interest is found in the vineries of Clovenfords. Established in 1868, the vineries and plant-houses cover nearly six acres and are heated by some six miles of pipes. They produce annually about 15,000 pounds of grapes, the best-flavoured being the Duke of Buccleuch, raised by the founder, who was the Duke’s gardener. Tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, palms, araucarias, dracaenas and aspidistras are grown as well as grapes.

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