On my second day in Liddesdale, I went in search of some of the grim history of the region. In the middle ages, the wild moors on either side of the border were caught up in the constant low-level hostilities between England and Scotland. The borders rapidly became a no-man’s land of warring clans, constant raids, and endless destruction. There are few villages here, and the only buildings which still stand from that era are built of solid stone–anything else was swiftly burnt to nothing and it is a rare fortress which hasn’t been razed at least once. Liddesdale was notorious for being the most wild and lawless of these frontier lands. Fortified peel towers along the Liddel Water were once the stronghold of the reiver families of Liddesdale–the Armstrongs and Elliots (whose motto forms the title of this post and tells you all you need to know about their character) and the smaller families that rode with them. At the head of the valley stands Hermitage Castle, one of the oldest surviving castles in Scotland.
The castle. The archway is not an entrance but designed to support an extra buttress which ran around top of the keep in times of siege.
The view from outside the keep.
Inside the keep. By some weird quirk, it felt colder and windier inside than it did once I finally stepped out again.
After many changes of hands, the castle eventually came into the hands of the Bothwells. Mary, Queen of Scots famously risked her health riding here to see her supporter and later husband, the 4th Earl of Boswell, when he lay at death’s door after a run in with one of the local Elliots.
The prison tower, which is only accessible from above. The most famous legend associated with it is that of Sir William Douglas, the so-called ‘Flower of Chivalry’, who imprisoned his old comrade Sir Alexander Ramsey, leaving him down here to starve. Legend has it that he survived for fourteen days on nothing but the grains of bread that fell through the cracks in the floor from the granary above.
Weird stone face in the window.
Looking east along Hermitage Water.
With so much bog surrounding the castle, only one side was vulnerable to the new invention of cannons. The earthwork in the foreground was created to address that weakness.
Just west of the castle lies the remains of an old chapel. The original castle stood here–here too would have been the castle of wicked Lord de Soulis, legendary wizard, summoner of demons, and tyrant. The real de Soulis was not boiled alive in lead by his outraged tenants, as the legend claims, but was executed for treason.
The chapel and the surviving gravestones.
Looking back as I walked to the bus stop a mile away.
Back in Newcastleton, by the war memorial.
All that remains of Mangerton Tower, the Armstrong tower just north of the border, taken from the embankment of the old railway line.
Just a random waterfall.
This green space is right on the border and was once a meeting point on truce days. Here ‘Kinmont Willie’ Armstrong was captured on a truce day, prompting his kinsmen to launch a raid on Carlisle Castle to get him back (there’s a ballad about it–there are ballads about all these stories).
Back over the border.
This path through the woods is the model for a very haunted one my character walks down most days.
On the third day, I rested my blistered feet with a round trip by bus. First I headed north to Hawick (pronounced Hoyk), a sturdy little town on the Teviot that is still known for its woollen mills.
Looking along the high street as I hunt for somewhere that sells blister plasters.
I then caught another bus back south and over the border to Carlisle, where I headed straight for the castle.
This corner was once the tower where Mary, Queen of Scots, was held under arrest for years.
The keep. By the time you get to the top floors the walls are thicker than I am tall.
Back in Newcastleton, walking up towards my guesthouse, it was hard to imagine all the violence and destruction these hills have seen.