YETHOLM is in Roxburghshire, but on the edge of it. Andrew Lang, in the ” Highways and Byways in the Border,” confined himself to discussing whether it or Southdean should be identified with the Zedon mentioned by Froissart in connection with Otterburn. But whatever be the truth about that, Yetholm has very great natural attractions. It consists of two parts separated by the Bowmont – Town Yetholm, new, clean, uninteresting, and Kirk Yetholm, old, dirty and fascinating. They are both cradled in the Cheviots, and the old town well answers the description ” a churche in a fayre laund.” Spring brings foliage and flowers to Yetholm long before they are to be seen on the surrounding farmlands.
The place used to have an evil reputation in Glendale as the centre of Gipsydom. A terrace of extremely bad cottages is still called ” Gipsy Row.” The inhabitants are tame compared with what they used to be. I knew a patriarch there who claimed to be more than a centenarian, and his memory of the manners of the people in old time was summed up in the phrase ” If a stranger showed in Yetholm it was oot aik sticks and bull pups I can tell ye.” Every spring, at the time when our fore-fathers used to go on pilgrimage, an irregular procession passed out of Yetholm and swarmed over the lanes and farmlands. They were not called gipsies, but muggers, because they sold from their carts or baskets mugs, plates, cups and saucers, all those articles in fact which the hind’s wife called her ” play-gins.” Some tried to sell baskets and some were horsecopers, and all were thieves, rascals, poachers, and dangerous on the road. I remember how the late Mr. George Grey of Milfield used to laugh as he told the story of his grandfather who came in late for dinner one night from a ride on the road from Milfield to Scotland. He apologised and explained that he had been set upon by a Yetholm mugger. Then he went on with his soup. Some member of the family asked if he did nothing to his assailant. ” Oh yes, I cut off his thoomb. Here it is,” was the unexpected reply, as he extracted the thumb from his waistcoat pocket.
But the road is peaceable now. Practically speaking, the gipsies have melted into the rural population. Commercial travellers have ousted the packman and the pedlar. Fairs have given place to markets and auctions, and the horsecoper who battened on them finds his occupation gone. On a summer day you may walk or drive from Yetholm to Wooler without seeing a human being, unless it be the farm workers in the fields or the zealous fisherman plying his rod on the Bowmont. The charm of the road comes from the bracken-covered hills above it and the glancing river below.
You are in England when you leave the farm called Yetholm Mains and ascend the rise to Pawston. The house encloses an old pele-tower built by Gerard Selby in 1542. Selby is the name of an ancient Northumberland family, and though the branch to which the present owner belongs only goes back to 1512, the lands were held by the same house at a far earlier date. A lake has been formed by damming a little stream. It is well stocked with perch, and at times the blackheaded gull comes here to breed.
A little further on is Mindrum, the nearest station to Yetholm, on the Alnwick to Kelso line. Mindrum, under the name of Minethrum, is mentioned among the stedes or hamlets included with the land on the banks of the Bowmont, or Bolbenda, which King Uswy bestowed on Lindisfarne. In the time of Edward I and Edward II Bolton hospital for lepers had two carucates of land and the mill at Mindrum. Scraps of history these, but they appeal to the imagination. The written chronicle tells of kings and armies, the great men of the Church as well as those of the State, but it affords only an occasional glimpse of those who sowed and ploughed and ground corn under the shelter of these hills in remote time.
A little mention of the place in Raine brings up another picture. Sir John Carey, on June 13th, 1595, wrote to Lord Burghley that Carr of Cessford had twice entered England to murder certain of the Stories, but after lying in wait for them in vain about Akeld and Humbledon, thinking they would take that way to Weetwood Fair, he went to ” a town called Newton where he did drinck and to Pawston where he did also drinck and talked with the leird ; and no man asked him why he did so.” Carr of Cessford probably knew every foot of this country. Cessford Castle, now in ruins, is just across the Border, almost within walking distance.
An oft recurring scene at these places so close to the Border can easily be realised from official documents of the sixteenth century. They were almost defenceless, for at different times the Scots had ” rased and casten downe ” the most part of the fortresses, towers and peles, and they had not been repaired, ” which is much pittye to se,” reported Sir Robert Bowes. He instances the castle of Heton belonging to Mr. Grey, the towne of Twisell belonging to the heirs of Heron of Foorde, the tower of Houtel belonging to one Burrett, the tower of Shoreswood belonging to the colledge of Durham, the tower of Barmor belonging to Edwarde Muschaunce, the tower of Duddo belonging to Robert Clavering.
All the more important was it that watch and ward should be kept. The order of the watch for the neighbourhood of Mindrum is set forth in 6 Edward VI (1551-2). The places are easily recognised, Pawston, Pytmyers, Rye-hare Ford, Shotton-burn-mouth, Turnchester-bogg, Northside of Myndrum-bogg, Tenersheughe. These were to be watched ” with fourteen men nightly of the inhabitors of Langton, Mylnfield, Edderslaw, Brangestone, Heton, Howtill, Pawston and Myndrum. Setters and searchers were Oliver Selbie, baylif of Myndrum, and William Selbie the Elder.” Lanton, Milfield, Heatherslaw, Branxton, Heaton, Howtel, Pawston and Mindrum are not far apart for men who travelled on horseback, and between them cover the Glen and Bowmont and the Till. Day watchers were set to watch the passes through which the Scots were likely to advance. Hethpool watched Hetheugh, Howtel watched Blacklaw, Pawston watched Pawston Hill, and so on.
In ” The Ford,” a poem by Marna Pease (Mrs. Howard Pease of Otterburn) printed in the Flodden chapter, the watchers heard only the water rushing in the weeds, a hunting otter, a trapped fox, but what happened when an alarm was signalled can be guessed from the brief notes of Sir Robert Bowes in the Survey.
” Presson-Grey of Chillingham’s inheritance. No fortress the toun left desolate. Myndrome-Grey of Chillingham’s inheritance. In war left to the enemy.”
” Continued waste for thirty years ” is the report on Shottonthe Earl of Rutland’s inheritance.
It is all a matter of past history and leads only to pleasant rumination as we wander down by the silvery Bowmont. Nearly all the places mentioned are cosy homesteads now and carry nothing to suggest their ancient troubles.
Kirknewton, a small village, lies at the base of the hills near the junction of the College and Glen. In this quiet spot Edwin of Northumbria married, in 625, Ethelburga of Kent, who brought in her train Paulinus, whose preaching had a great though ephemeral effect. In the river Glen he baptised his earliest converts. The church has claims to be of Saxon origin. The exceeding lowness of the chancel arch gives a primitive and unusual character to the building. A very curious sculpture discovered in alterations is built into the wall and may be Saxon. It represents the Virgin and Child seated on a rude trough, with the figures of the approaching magi rudely but vigorously drawn, holding up gifts of considerable weight as each supports the left elbow in the palm of his right hand. The artist knew little of the East, as the magi each wear a shortened frill garment like a kilt, with uncovered feet and legs. In the outer face of the church tower are interesting carved stones.
At old Yeavering is a building described as the palace of Edwin, now a shepherd’s house. It has walls of great thickness and may possibly have been a rude pele. At the north of the Glein, or Glen, the legendary Arthur is said to have achieved a great victory over the Saxons. Yeavering is first mentioned by Bede, as Adgehrin, the royal country seat of Edwin. The town was abandoned by later kings for a place called Melmin, supposed to be Milfield, and at Ewart a Saxon fibula was found; but there are no other remains, as, having been in constant occupation, the past has been obliterated. Yeavering Bell and the surrounding hills formed the principal, and possibly the last, stronghold of the Cymric Kingdom where the advance of the Saxon strangers from the eastern seaboard was opposed. The Bell commands a wonderful range of country, even north past the Eildons.
Arthur and his knights clung tenaciously to this vantage ground from whence alarms and signalling could issue to all the surrounding tribes. Wonderful forts, pastoral enclosures, hut circles, with lines of roadway and the evidences of a very large population, are to be seen on Yeavering Bell and the adjacent hills. Especially interesting are the forts on Harehope Hill and Homildon Hill. An enclosure on the Bell, which has had a wall measuring 440 yards by 200 yards, was possibly a camp of refuge for women and children from the low-lying districts during invasion. On the east summit the hut circles are less frequent, as it had evidently been kept clear for the beacon fire, the presence of which excavations have proved. Every shelf or platform on the Bell and the surrounding hills shows remains of dwellings. On the lower slopes the cultivation of centuries has removed them. Traces of- road tracks still exist to show that a pastoral race wandered over these valleys and plains, and in time of danger drove their flocks and herds to the hill forts. They seem to have been able to command the support of a considerable army. Yeavering Bell is conical in shape and separated from the other hills by deep ravines. Its steep ascent from the low flat Milfield plain gives it a solitary grandeur. Below, the Glen winds its way past the base to the Till, which it enters at Ewart. The Doddington hills rise near at hand, and in the distance are the Eildons, Duns Law, and the Lammermuirs, with towns, towers and churches scattered on the intervening landscape. In the field north of the Bell lies a huge monolith blown down in 189o. It is over nine feet long and five feet broad.
About a mile south of Yeavering Bell is Tom Tallon’s Crag, which is an outcrop of porphyry on the crest of a ridge. Near to it on a hill looking to the Newton Tors stood a large cairn called Tom Tallon’s grave. It is the largest cairn in the district, and on the stones being removed to build a wall, a cist was discovered with bones. The name is supposed to be derived from the Celtic Tomen, a tumulus, Tai, a forehead or promontory, and Llan, an enclosure.
Nearly three miles from Wooler is the village of Doddington, at the foot of Dod Law. It is now only a few cottages, but was once large enough to hold a weekly cattle market and able, according to tradition, to supply forty local lairds to attend the funeral of a neighbour at Belford. It has a wonderful ancient spring, called the Dod Well, which yields seventy gallons a minute. It is now enclosed and surmounted by a cross. The old song of ” the bonny Dod Well and the yea-pointed fern ” has not been preserved. The chief object of interest is the castle built in 1584 by Sir Thomas Grey of Chillingham, in whose family it still remains. These fortified dwellings were more comfortable than the ancient Border peles, and this one was among the last erected as the Union made them unnecessary. It is about thirty-six feet high, battlemented on the north and south walls, and had three storeys with a spiral stone staircase. Before it was surrounded with agricultural buildings it must have been a prominent landmark, and even now commands the district. The Church belongs to the thirteenth century and has been several times restored. The west end is the mortuary chapel of the descendants of Sir Horace St. Paul, who had an adventurous career in Austria during the Seven Years’ War and became a Count of the Holy Roman Empire.
On the hillside below Dod Law, in a prominent mass of red sandstone, is Cuddy’s Cove, to which St. Cuthbert used to retire, according to popular belief, when absent from Holy Island. On Dod Law are two large British camps defended by a deep ditch and with many hut circles, and remarkable rock sculptures are scattered about. Half a mile to the north are two figures on the sandstone. There are three other camps within a short distance. Near one are three standing stones supposed to be remains of a circle. A third one called the Ringses is defended by three ramparts of earth and stone, and in the interior are several hut circles.
On Gled Scaur, a platform of rock on the south west of Dod Law, there are more of these cryptic symbols drawn on the rocks by the unknown race who so thickly populated the district. On the banks of the Glen, a mile from Ewart, is Coupland Castle, a place of remarkable strength to be built in the Border in 1619, which is the date carved above a fireplace. The walls are five or six feet thick. At the corners of the castle are pepper-pot turrets and there is the original corkscrew stone staircase.
Lanton Hill, with an obelisk on it, is a conspicuous landmark to the west.
Three miles from Doddington is Routin Linn, a picturesque glade on the borders of Ford Moss, through which runs the Broomridge Burn and falls thirty feet over a precipice into the linn, with sandstone cliffs and lovely woodland making a picture of idyllic beauty. There is another prehistoric camp over the road crossing the glen. On the huge sandstone boulder at the camp is the largest number and greatest variety of sculptured emblems in the neighbourhood. Sixty figures have been traced on it, and very curious it would be to have them explained by an ancient Briton, as it is quite impossible for anyone else to do so, A mile north-west on Hunter’s Moor are other incised rocks near which are several barrows.
A thousand years or twenty thousand pass here, and leave as little trace as the shadows of the cloud that rest a moment on the shining slopes and are gone. Unchanging they remain ….the hills of sheep And the homes of the silent vanished races.