Allan Rogers visits
the Borders where
the past lingers
The Border lands are beautiful and tranquil. It is almost hard to believe that once they were ravaged by wars and feud. Until the Union of the English and Scottish Crowns in 1603 life in the Border County could be extremely dangerous.
Raiding for cattle and sheep and whatever else which could be transported was the only way to survive. Life was uncertain and riding with the family or clan, in the grim business of raiding or 'reiving' from equally desperate neighbours across the border became normal.
Law and order were gradually brought to the Border region following the accession of James I to the throne in 1603. From then on the heyday of Border raids slowly came to an end..
Castles and towers that the unrest spawned are so numerous that it is now hard to drive for an hour without finding one or two.
Here are just a few.
Cessford Castle, The Stronghold of the Kerrs.
It was built about 1450 for Andrew Ker, This remotely located castle is now in ruins but in the turbulent times during the 16th century it was involved in the continuing warfare between the Scots and the English.Even in times of cross-border peace, there was feuding between the various families along the border. Kers were Wardens of the Middle March on the Scots side. Ker of Cessford and Ker of Ferniehurst were always to the fore.
Cessford Castle is still in the ownership of the Ker family with the Duke of Roxburghe, who lives at Floors Castle, Kelso the present owner. Originally it had walls which were 14 feet thick and was surrounded by a strong outer wall and a moat. Despite this massive strength, it was over-run by the English in the 1560’s, and abandoned not long after.
Today, echoes of the past are all around. When you step off the main line train at Berwick-upon-Tweed the area you stand in was once the "Great Hall" of Berwick Castle.
There is not much of it left, many of the massive stones use to build it were used to build the town barracks and the adjacent railway bridge that you just passed over. The main surviving remnant is the White Wall that descends from the railway to the banks of the River Tweed.
In 1296 King Edward I of England, the "Hammer of the Scots" invaded Scotland besieging the castle and it's town "walls"
His army entered the town by surprise and killed almost the entire civilian population.
While the castle's garrison led by William "the hardy" Douglas could do nothing in their defence.
Today the ruin of Berwick castle originally a piece of Scotland is a sad shell of it's former strength, besieged and occupied again and again by the English.
It changed hands several times until finally even the border was moved further into Scotland to accommodate Berwick as an "English" castle and burgh denying it's Scottish roots
One of the most "visable" castles in the Borders is Hume Castle. It has commanding views across the Merse and towards the English borderlands. Located on a hill top in quiet farm land between Kelso and Greenlaw, it can be seen for miles
The current building was constructed around the remains of a medieval stronghold.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the English besieged the castle no less than four times. The castle was reportedly destroyed in 1651, after it fell to Cromwell's troops.
Though rebuilt as a folly in the eighteenth century, the castle resumed a military role during the Napoleonic wars, when it became the site of a signalling beacon.
Anyone who saw the first of the Harry Potter films will remember the young wizard whizzing on a broomstick above the soaring towers of Hogwarts. The location was actually Alnwick Castle.
This mightly medieval fortress is one of Europe's finest and is is the second largest inhabited castle in England, the first being Windsor Castle. It has been the home of the Percys, Earls and Dukes of Northumberland since 1309. The magnificent grounds of the castle have been landscaped by Capability Brown and when viewed from a distance there appear to be soldiers guarding the turrets. On closer inspecton you find that they are statues.
The place is well worth a visit, as is the separate attraction of Alnwick Garden with its acres of fascinating plants. There you will find the beautiful and the bizarre. You can be guided through a secure poison garden and have lunch in the world's largest tree house. (Be sure to wash your hands.)
This 12th century stronghold, became “base-camp” for the 1298 conquering attack on William Wallace by “Hammer of the Scots”, King Edward 1st. Wallace had raided the previous year, burning the women and children to death in the local abbey.
The glorious Italian garden was laid out in the 19th century by Sir Jeffrey Wyatville fresh from his royal triumphs at Windsor Castle.
This ancient and remarkable fortress is the home of Sir Humphry Wakefield Bt., his wife The Hon. Lady Wakefield and their family. Since 1246 the Castle has been owned by one continuous blood line with the Earls Grey ruling the Castle for the founding centuries. Those Grey Lords built the Castle’s alarming dungeons and torture chambers, as well as the beautiful parklands and gardens.
Bamburgh Castle (13 miles south of Berwick-upon-Tweed ) is one of the finest castles in England. It is perched the very edge of the North Sea. Sitting above the village and cricket field at Bamburgh. It rises 150 ft above ta beautiful sandy beach, with almost vertical cliffs on three sides and has one of the most impressive silhouettes of all English castles. The kings of Northumbria were crowned on this site and at various times the Vikings sacked it.
There are great views of the Farne Islands, Holy Island and the land towards to the Cheviot hills. Restored many times, the original castle dates from Anglo-Saxon times.
The castle has been extensively restored, first by Lord Crewe in the 1750's and more recently by the first Lord Armstrong at the end of the 19th century. The castle continues to be the home of the Armstrong family. The present castle began as a Saxon stronghold, and was later developed by the Normans to become one of the most powerful castles of the North Country. If you’re looking for somewhere to get married, it willl show up well in the wedding photos, the site is licensed for civil ceremonies.
Robert Manners began the original structure at Etal Castle in the mid 14th Century, as a defence against the regular raids and attacks that the Scots were launching from the north It was in a strategic position by a ford over the River Till. As a border stronghold, Etal was vulnerable to attack from Scottish raiders. In 1513, the castle was was captured by the Scots just before the Battle of Flodden during James IV's attempted invasion of England. The castle was eventually abandoned in the 18th century,
An award-winning exhibition tells the story of the Battle of Flodden and of the border warfare which existed here until the union of the English and Scottish crowns in 1603
Norham Castle was built in 1121 at a strategic crossing point on the River Tweed, it was soon captured by the Scots in 1136. Norham's location on the border with Scotland led several armies to its walls.
The castle successfully withstood sieges of forty days in 1215, almost a year in 1318 and seven months in 1319. Norham was finally captured in 1327, but was restored to the English the following year.
During the 15th century further building work was carried out, including the addition of another two floors to the Great Tower. In 1497 the Scots again besieged the castle unsuccessfully, but they did great damage with the enormous cannon known as Mons Meg, which can now be seen at Edinburgh Castle.
In 1523 the castle finally did fall to Scottish cannon, only to be returned three weeks later when the Scots were defeated at the Battle of Flodden. By the end of the 16th century the castle was in a very poor state of repair, and when, in 1603, James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, Norham's position on the border with Scotland lost its strategic importance and the castle was left to fall into ruin.
Twizel Castle was originally a 15th century stone tower or hall house, founded by Sir John Heron. Destroyed and abandoned in 1496, Sir Francis Blake absorbed the house and barmkin, in the construction of a late 18th century five storey Gothic mansion. 4 miles north-east is Norham Castle and 6 miles south-west is Wark Castle.
The original castle was destroyed in wars during the reign of King James iv of Scotland who was killed at the nearby Battle of Flodden in 1513. The ruins stand on a cliff top above the River Till , where a bridge was used by the English Army on their way to the Battle of Flodden.
Five miles north east of Earlston and just to the west of the village of Gordon, you will find the remains of Greenknowe Tower. It stands on a low knoll and was once surrounded by marshland, an important factor in its defence.
Greenknowe was a fortified residence, well-equipped for defence. Numerous shot-holes for guns arounthe tower gave it a defensive appearance and would have allowed the defenders to bring their guns to bear on attackers from any angle.
Built for comfort as well as defence, Greenknowe Tower is a 16th-century L-plan tower house, with turrets crowning the corners of the building. It was occupied until the middle of the 19th century. It was put into the care of the State in 1937.
Warkworth Castle which sits close to to the River Coquet in Northumberland dominates the top of the town and is one of the most impressive fortresses in northern England. Dating back to the 12th century it appears complete, functional and compact.
It is not until you approach from the otherside and enter by the gatehouse in the south curtain wall, that you realise how big the surviving ruin is.
In 1292, Warkworth was considered grand and safe enough for the English King Edward I to visit and it was garrisoned with troops during the Anglo-Scottish wars.
In 1327, the castle had been besieged twice by the Scots and with its important strategic position, King Edward II in London granted it to the influential Percy family, to provide a full-time defence against the Scots.
The Percys already held the nearby castle of Alnwick and the family, who became effective royalty in Northumberland, lived and built at both properties.
My favourite building is the splendidly preserved "Smailholm Tower" near Kelso. You reach it by small roads and eventually a farm track that runs by a mill pond. The tower, which stands on a rocky outcrop has a charming collection of costume figures and tapestries relating to Sir Walter Scott's "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders". The place fired Walter Scott's imagination when he stayed, as a young boy, at A nearby farm. Much of what has been written to romantasises the turbulent times and clouds the true horror of living in the Borders in the 15th and 16th century..
A medieval hospital at Smailholm was founded before 1429, which as well as caring for the sick, the hospital would have provided for the old and the destitute. It was amongst the places burned by the English in 1542. Like so many religious sites in the Borders, the hospital at Smailholm had to pay a heavy price for the hostile relations between the Scots and the English, which persisted throughout the later medieval period and beyond.
These are just a few of the castles and towers that you can visit. Others include Floors Castle, Thirlestane and Traquair which is said to be the oldest inhabited house in Scotland. It is worth including in your itinerary some of the historic abbey towns. You can chose from Jedburgh, Melrose and Kelso plus many other picturesque towns including Duns, Hawick, Lauder, Selkirk and Peebles.
Add to the list the great country houses there are open to visitors such as Mellerstain, (http://www.mellerstain.com/)
and Paxton house, which is close to Berwick-upon-Tweed on the banks of the river Tweed.
Paxton House is a hidden gem. Built by the Adam brothers in 1758 it is perhaps the finest example of 18th century Palladian Country houses in Britain.
It usually has an interesting programme of events. You could spend an evening helping to net the salmon or watch an open air productiom of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
.Article and Photography by Allan Rogers