Just Over The Border – Scotland

” I’M a Ferguson, once from Perthshire but keened here for five hundred years.”

Such was the quaint answer given by the old guide when Mrs. Pitt asked if he were a Maxwell, of the family to which the castle has always belonged. They had sought him out at his cottage, which stood close by the great building with its double moat.

Built on level ground, near the sea, Caer laverock Castle could have had no means of protection other than its own thick walls, its two moats, and three portcullises. Its odd shape is that of a triangle, each side being one hundred and twenty-three feet long, so the guide told them; and he added, ” This castle’s built on a rock, so it still stands, but it was all over when Cromwell came in 1640 with his guns ”

There are broken pieces of carving near the entrance and on one is the motto of the powerful Maxwell family, to which the present Duchess of Norfolk belongs : ” I bid you fair;

I give you welcome.” The castle was built in 1093, but was changed much, additions being made in 1638 when the wall of one side of the three-cornered courtyard was refaced. Above the entrance to this last addition is the Maxwell coat of arms, while over its windows are carved the arms of various families with which the Maxwells were allied; there is the double eagle of the Herries, and the fleur-delis of the Guise. Across the back side of the triangle ran a banquet-hall one hundred feet long; over this was the chapel, and at one end was the Royal Tower in which the Duke of Albany, who attempted to poison his brother, King James, was imprisoned for seven years before being finally beheaded at Stirling.

” See all the flowers growing against the old banquet-hall walls ! ” cried Barbara ; ” I see St. John’s-wort, many kinds of roses, and lots of others.”

` There’s some fine—what do you call it? Teazel ” inquired John.

” Ay, but there’s something finer, Scotty! ” replied the old attendant, touching an enormous Scotch thistle with his stick.

They then saw, in the third side of the triangle, what are known as the ” gentlemen’s reading-room ” and the ” ladies’ reading-room,” surely unheard-of luxuries in most old castles of the period. As they stepped into their carriage, the guide pointed out the ancient ” Hill of Judgment ” where the Maxwells used to try their prisoners.

” Seems as if that castle’s familiar, some-how,” declared Betty, glancing back at it as they drove away. ” Has anybody written about it, Mrs. Pitt?

” Yes, dear, Scott wrote about it, calling it ‘ Ellengowan ‘ in his Guy Mannering.’ You must be thinking of that.”

On their way back to Dumfries, they passed through the little village of Bankend, where are many quaint thatched roofs. All the neat, one-story houses have miniature gardens; roses were everywhere ! They noticed one big pile of peat, of which there is a little in this southwestern section. Particularly noticeable are the great fields of potatoes with their pretty lavender and white blossoms. The fields were full of women on their knees. Women do much of the hard work in Scotland. On the road they passed one with her skirts tucked up high above her dingy petticoat, a bag slung across her shoulders, and a huge sunbonnet which flopped in the breeze. They wondered if she could be the ” post girl.”

The next morning their train was stopping at a little junction when Betty looked out and exclaimed, I think these station platform gar-dens are perfectly lovely, don’t you? Who takes care of them, Mrs. Pitts They’re just as neat and nice, as any private garden, even if they are right along by the railroad. I see Canterbury bells, larkspurs, sweet williams, foxgloves, snapdragons, and iris ! ”

And the pansies ! ” put in John quickly. ” Never saw such dandies ! ”

The party was actually en route for Gretna Green, which is just over the border ; that very night they would be in England again, at ” merry Carlisle.” They hardly knew whether to be glad or sorry.

As the train sped on they talked of the old feuds and border wars, which resulted in fierce encounters between men of the south side and those of the north.

` Between the recognized Scotch and English border lay a strip of land belonging to neither country,” said Mrs. Pitt. ” The settlers of this Debatable Land were called Batables, and, naturally enough, they were refugees, men who had been outlawed by one or both countries. These are the men whom Scott describes in ‘ The Lay of the Last Minstrel,’ who “‘Bought the beeves, that made their broth, In Scotland and in England both.’

They, and also many men, both Scotch and English, who did not live on this particular strip of land, spent their time in making raids into the enemies’ country and carrying off cattle upon which they lived.”

” Jolly enough ! ” interrupted John. ” Did they do that all the time? ”

” Oh, there were days, of course, when the ` Lord Wardens of England and Scotland, and Scotland and England ‘ met midway, on this no man’s land, to hear complaints from both sides and to deal out a certain kind of justice. It was understood that no one could be arrested on these occasions, but two hundred Englishmen pursued a man named Willie Armstrong (or Kinmont Willie) and brought him to Carlisle. He had been harrying the countryside for so long that they could not resist the temptation of capturing him when they had the opportunity.

” ‘O have ye no heard o’ the fause Sakelde? O have ye no heard o’ the keen Lord Scroope? Now they hae ta’en bould Kinmont Willie, On Haribee to hang him up ?’ ”

And did they hang him up? ” burst out John.

” No, the Scottish warden, Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, could not bear this; he made his way, with his men, into Carlisle and rescued Kinmont Willie from his cell on the very night before the expected hanging.

” Have any of you read the old ballad called ` The Hunting of the Cheviot ‘ ” added Mrs. Pitt, and hearing no response, she went on, ” It deals with Henry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland, whom the Scots called ` Hotspur ‘ because of his liking hot and sudden raids across the border. Failing of a bloody encounter, he would simply carry off some of the enemies’ cattle or burn a village or two. There was very great rivalry (though that’s a mild word to apply to it), between these English Percys and the Scotch Douglas’s. This ballad tells in its quaint old English of a famous raid made by Percy of Bamborough Castle, into the lands of the Black Douglas.”

” Why was he black? ” asked John, when there came a pause.

” Scott, in his ` Tales of a Grandfather,’ tells us that it was because he was ` tall, strong, and well-made, of a swarthy complexion, with dark hair.’ His name was William Douglas, lord of Nithsdale, and he died in 1390, so you now have an idea of the period described in this famous ballad.”

” How long did the border wars last, please, Mrs. Pitt? ”

” For many centuries, Betty, until the two great kingdoms became one, at least in name. The wars were very cruel and the attacks might come at any time; the poor people had to resort to many strange means of protection. At the signal of the approach of English foes from across the border, the Scotch would leave their huts and take to the morasses or, sometimes, VI caves hewn in the rock in sheltered or inaccessible places. There are still a few such caves in existence ; I believe those at Hawthornden are thought by some to have served this very purpose. Then, you remember the many border peels that were built for the people’s safety ; they are scattered all over the southern part of the country. That old tower at Smailholm is an excellent example.”

Their train, one which stopped at the smallest stations, was even slower than usual on this day. It stopped often, stood long at junctions, and it was not until they noticed many heavy trains going northwards, that they realized the reason for their delay.

” Why, it’s the twelfth of August, Mother ! We might have known ! ”

” My word ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Pitt ; ” the twelfth of August ! That does explain it, surely ! It’s the day that the shooting in Scotland begins, John. If we were at Euston or King’s Cross or St. Pancras Stations in London, we should see many long trains packed with sportsmen. Coaches go straight through to Perth or Aberdeen or Inverness, and seats are booked far in advance. Yes, we are leaving Scotland just as the English are flocking to it, just as the busy season is beginning. Here we are at Gretna Green, at last ! Let down that window by you, John; Philip, don’t forget your umbrella in the rack ! ”

Gretna Green is an attractive little village with a real green and beyond, Gretna Hall, said to have been the scene of the first hasty marriages. The blacksmith’s shop, so far-famed, is a low whitewashed building. Outside stood a queer cart, flat across the top, with a square opening into which the driver puts his feet. Looking in the low doorway, they saw the smith at work over the farmer’s horse.

But what has a blacksmith’s shop got to do with people who ran away to be married? ”

Everything, John. I’ll tell you how the shop and its smith happened to play such a big part. At a time when a strict law was passed in England forbidding ‘ fleet,’ or run away marriages, some one discovered that more lax rules prevailed in Scotland. After this many made hurried trips across the border.

In the eighteenth century the only way of traveling about the country was by means of coaches, and many of the old coach routes ended at Carlisle, only nine miles away. It was very easy to hire a pair of swift horses and be whisked over the sands to Gretna Green. So many impatient couples did this that there were not ministers enough to attend to them all. Other men, therefore, called themselves ministers and were always in readiness to perform any number of hasty ceremonies in a day. Among these, the blacksmith became a very popular man; when a chaise drove up to his door here, he would leave his work, marry the pair speedily, and doubtless receive a large tip if he finished before the stern parents were able to overtake the young people. Thus it was that this town and its blacksmith’s shop became so famous. Scott, Thackeray, and many other writers have given us pictures of runaway marriages at Gretna Green.”

The shop isn’t a bit pretty, though,” Betty reflected, ” and truly, I shouldn’t like to be married there. Perhaps it had vines growing over it when it was so famous, though; then it wouldn’t have been so bad. Just think; if it was only like that dear blacksmith shop at Cockington, near Torquay ! How adorable to be married under a thatched roof !

Silly ! ” exclaimed John. ” Do you suppose they cared what the place looked like as long as they had no bothering father, mother, or uncles and things to interfere? ”

And so they walked back to the tiny station, and sat down to wait for the Carlisle train.

” After all, there’s nothing like our own England ! ” said Barbara, smiling.

” Scotland’s much jollier ! ” said John enthusiastically.

Oh, I just love them both ! ” cried Betty, hugging Mrs. Pitt’s arm. ” But I don’t want our lovely trip to be all over ! Will you take us over to Ireland sometime, Mrs. Pitt? “