Monday, 29 November 2010

Snow Problem? - 'S No Problem.............

Between snow-showers today

Hullo ma wee blog,

Well, the snow is continuing to fall, our friend's flights to The Canary Islands have been cancelled and it may be several days before they can get an alternative, all schools are closed, there are no trains running on the East Coast line today and the main A1 from here to Edinburgh is blocked. So our friends are therefore trapped in Edinburgh for who knows how long.

 All across Scotland it seems that chaos is King.

The impeccable 'Calvin and Hobbes'

 The Lovely G and I have an extra day together and the house is warm. We renewed our supplies of wild bird food yesterday so the local bird population that has come to rely on us is being well catered for and have been entertaining us with their antics this morning. Nothing else for it but to make the most of the day. A spot of peaceful and perhaps reflective soup making is on the agenda for this afternoon.

I found this on You Tube this morning. It's appropriate for the weather.

Stay warm.....

See you later.

Listening to this:

Sunday, 28 November 2010

A Snowy Saturday........

Outside the front door this morning.

Hullo ma wee blog,

I'm sitting at the kitchen table as usual and it's late on Saturday night. My Lovely G left me hours ago and is now fast asleep and snug in bed while I am slowly getting to the stage of cold between the shoulder blades that means that I am far too cold for comfort and also means that when I do eventually go to bed, that I'd better stay away from that aforementioned warm and snug flesh that will be lying temptingly beside me otherwise instant and severe retribution will descend upon my person.

Strange how several things go wrong at the same time. Although this week I, at last, got my car back from the repairers with a shiny new front bumper and skirt { they valeted the whole car so it looks a lot better than when it went in.} back home at the house though it seems like if anything could go wrong, it would this week. Firstly our built in microwave oven packed in, then the proper oven underneath and the next day our dishwasher - my 'beloved' dishwasher - died a lingering death. You can still hear it wheezing and trying to turn over but you know it's a hopeless case, it just doesn't know it's gleamed it's last load. Thankfully all are covered by insurance protection for repair so we had an engineer turn  up to pronounce on our misbehaving 'white goods' {which is an odd thing to call them as most of them are silver}. A talented man, he resurrected the dishwasher, at least long enough to do one final load and for him to make a dignified exit, identified the malaise affecting the fan oven and ordered a replacement element and gave the microwave its last rites. Then our little phone system packed in so that only one of the three phones was working. Of course the one that was left working was the one that was furthest away from you any time it rang.

From upstairs.

Last night snow arrived. Although the East coast has been hit by widespread snow over the last few days, our wee corner avoided it and although there had been the odd flurry, it came to nothing. I knew as I watched the news reports of cars skittering and slewing down wintry roads that I shouldn't be smug, just grateful, but it's been hard - with a newly repaired front end - not to have been over pleased that others were suffering and not me. But last  night the snow that had been promised all week finally came and the roads, untouched by any snow ploughs or gritters, have quickly become challenging. I took the lovely G to Dunbar station this morning for her train and hoped beyond hope for a thaw as we were planning to go through to Glasgow later in the afternoon for a concert, but several snowy hours later I decided that it was a daft notion to think of going so far in weather like this. I did however go to pick up the Lovely G from her Edinburgh office so we could instead go looking for a new microwave.

It was a complete white out as I left to pick her up, snow whipping horizontally across the windscreen or doing that maddening, demented straight on frontal attack on your vision that can make you feel disorientated. Within half a mile I was seriously thinking of calling ahead to advise that maybe she should just get on the first train to meet me in Dunbar and we go home and have the rest of the day in front of a roaring fire. The phone rang - my Lovely G does like to check I'm on schedule - and she listened without much sympathy as I explained in worried tones about how bad the road was, how little could be seen outside the window in front of my face. "Well it's perfectly OK here. The sky's blue and there's no snow anywhere!" came back at me with mildly disbelieving tones. Heartened by such encouragement I drove on for ten minutes in the same all consuming blizzard until suddenly and quite without warning, I emerged into a blinding white landscape under a beautiful sky, pale blue and lilac in the bright sun. East Lothian has a beautiful and dramatic landscape under ordinary circumstances,  with its real contrasts of rolling farmland studded with the rocky outcrops of the volcanic plugs of Traprain and North Berwick Law's and just offshore, The Bass Rock, but coming from a literal snowstorm into a Winter wonderland, it was doubly so.

Absolutely breathtaking.

By the time I had passed Haddington the weather was all behind me and the road, although still only one lane of dual carriageway was relatively clear, I had a clear run into Edinburgh ahead. Despite all the amazing scenery around I was still anxious about the return journey, even more so as I looked at the huge black cloud behind me in my rear view mirror that showed what I had just come from. I knew I wasn't going to be in the frame of mind to concentrate on doing any shopping.

And I was right. But, that's a tale for another post, one of my ranty, grumping and curmudgeonly howls at the moon.

Looking back to the house.

Today although the snow is about five inches deep in the drive and drifts up to about a foot or so here and there, I'm quite mellow. That won't last though as I have a long standing arrangement today to take friends to the airport for a Winter holiday flight to sunnier climes. I can feel the apprehension rise even as I write this as the forecast is for more heavy snow today and having driven yesterday I know that despite claims of plenty of road salt in depots, the financial crises means that a minimum of work has been done on gritting the roads and the drive will be on a potential skating rink, so I'm bracing myself for a bum clenching couple of hours driving there and back.

With friends like these - who needs enemas!

Looking up to the farm on the hill

See you later {hopefully}

Listening to Yes 'Wondrous Stories'

Monday, 22 November 2010

Is the Devil in The Detail?.........

Hullo ma wee blog,

Did you ever think that by helping someone not commit a crime you could be convicted of a crime yourself?

Probably not. It does sound daft, doesn't it?

But in Scotland you could be.

Last week the Holyrood committee scrutinising Margo MacDonald MSP's 'End of Life Assistance Bill' concluded that it, "does not recommend the general principles of the Bill to the Parliament.", on the voice of the majority of its members. Currently under Scots law - which is separate and completely independent of the rest of the UK  - the situation is;

"... if a first person assisted a second person – thereby acting in concert – to take that second person’s own life, or attempted to do so, the first person would be dealt with under the law of homicide".

Now, the conundrum for me here is this. If, as above, helping someone to commit suicide - and lets leave all the arguments around this to one side for a second - as suicide is not an illegal act in the UK, you could be charged under the law of homicide. In other words  - you would be committing a crime by helping someone not commit a crime.

Margo MacDonald is a Member of Scottish Parliament. She is also terminally ill with Parkinson's disease and brought a private members bill on the subject of "assisted suicide" for consideration. To allow this to be considered it first has to go through a filter process of committee like all the other odds and sods private matters before they are approved to be heard in Holyrood itself. The bill's aims were;

“That persons who wish to decide when to end their lives should be able to do so, legally, with the assistance of a registered physician. This has come about because of the experiences of people with degenerative conditions, terminal illnesses and those who become entirely dependent on others following a trauma.” (Margo MacDonald 2008.)

It's a very specific area of the whole suicide issue, that terminally ill or debilitated patients should have the right to choose the timing and method of their death and should have legal access to assistance to do this without unnecessary pain or suffering for themselves or those around them. Currently people in the UK who feel they have to do this travel to places such as Switzerland where the practice is legal. Some are 'assisted' by family or friends to do so which places those assisting in a precarious legal position. I don't propose to get into all the deeply complicated issues and morality around 'right to choose' here. I'm more interested in this post to raise the issue of how can it be against the law to help someone who is themselves breaking no law. Don't mistake me - there are real and thorny issues around just this wee nugget that should be considered, difficult choices to be made and many opinions and agendas to be addressed .   Perhaps this is why our elected representatives have chosen to dodge the proverbial hot potato despite, it would appear from newspaper and TV articles,  public perception being sympathetic and feeling this is an area of legislation that needs to be addressed.

The six person committee stated:

"There is no ambiguity in current Scots law in this area – if some people choose to travel to other jurisdictions to commit an assisted suicide or to access voluntary euthanasia, they do so because certain, inherent aspects of those actions are unlawful in Scotland. That the decision of whether to prosecute is separate and subject to the Prosecution Code is part of due process. Any call for clarity is, therefore, spurious."

Consider - what is "assistance" legally at present?  Is it simply agreeing the wish, or maybe it's failing to try and dissuade; or is it taking the person somewhere suitable; is it providing the drugs or is it being present at the death and taking no action to prevent? There is no legal definition in Scotland just as there is no clear definition in law as to what is 'terminal' - as it depends on a notion of timescale that would have to ascertained. There have to be laws in place surely, checks and balances to protect each individual, to ensure that the afflicted person is not being duped or unnecessarily 'helped' to a hasty decision or if  'assistance' veers off into a form of homicide, you might say, if the accused person's actions move from bystanding to participation, if it becomes direct life-ending action? These are questions. Real and substantial questions. There may be answers to them, but the Committee offers none and recommends Parliament need not discuss it further. The questions of what is assistance, what is the definitive legal interpretation, because the bill will potentially not proceed to a full hearing before Parliament, will all lie unanswered, mostly perhaps because they are questions difficult for politicians with canny eyes to re-election or moral or religious concerns to tear open for frank examination. Are these honestly too difficult or too sensitive to be heard, considered and too painful to make decision over?

To call these issues "spurious" and unworthy of debate as it has "no ambiguity" is a huge failing of the committe, especially when the bulk of public opinion is in favour of allowing these poor souls such an avenue. It isn't illegal to commit suicide, is it? No? Then how can assisting someone to commit something which isn't an offence be offensive?   What exactly is assistance? How should 'terminal' be defined?

What a waste of time and money if you can't see there are things here that have to be clarified.

The bill's onward progress will be voted for on 25th November when the house will decide to accept it for discussion or to accept the committees evaluation.

Forgive me the pun but I hope they can get their Act together on this one

{They didn't and the bill was declined for progress on to be discussed in parliament.}

See you later.

Listening to this

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Forever Autumn........

Hullo ma wee blog,

Sitting at the computer sorting out some photo's and listening to some music - which I thought I'd share. It's a grand track but the accompanying video is a bit twee.

Worth a listen tho' and I do love this time of year. Sometimes I wish it could be 'forever Autumn'.

see you later.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Visitors and Virtual Friends

Hullo ma wee blog,

I've been off-line most of this week while my laptop has been away getting repaired and so, now that it's back, this is the first post for a while that takes place at my normal typing speed and not in a stuttering, cursing under my breath thump, thump, thump on the keyboard trying to get sticking keys to work kind of way. It feels like a new me to be honest......

The lovely G did offer me the use of her laptop while mine was away at the repair geek shop but although I did try, and used it to post any comments I've made to blogs this week, somehow it just didn't feel right and perhaps as a result I have been lacking any kind of inspiration for a post. That sad state of affairs - and missing my own laptop - actually made me feel quite down, which is disturbing in its own way, and I was glad that my week had been busy with Children's Hearings and the like. {the 'like'  included crashing the garage courtesy car that I have while my own car is also in for repairs! Twenty years driving with no accidents then two in a fortnight!!!}

My week perked up considerably though when I was contacted by Scottish Nature Boy a fellow blogger who's output on Scottish natural history I'm an avid reader of.   SNB was on a few days holiday and in the area visiting his parents and his brother CoastKid, who's fabby blog on cycling hereabouts I also follow , and asked if he could drop in and meet me as he would be out with a pal cycling nearby. It sounded too good a chance to let go so of course I agreed and on Friday morning found myself sitting here at my kitchen table sharing tea and biccies with SNB and his cycling pal.

Any similarity to SNB purely accidental!

This is the first time I've physically met anyone through the blog although I've been promising Scudder to meet for a pint for far too long and have also promised to meet up with Coastkid to talk about his blog and his blog films which are beginning to get noticed and win awards from those who know about these things. The anticipation in the lead up to the visit was actually quite an exciting time. I mean it's all very well to post a few comments about stuff you've liked on a blog and all that and to have that reciprocated, but it's truly another dimension to actually meet someone who's previously only been a virtual acquaintance. What if you just don't hit it off for some reason? What if he's a nut job or clearly thinks your not the sharpest tool in the box? And of course he was coming with back up and I would be all on my own.........

Of course none of those things applied in reality and I was pleasantly struck by the ease of conversation around the table as we explored our shared experience of blogging and the multitude of topics that end up being part of the experience of our own and other blogs. We share several similarities in attitude which were very obvious from the start and I'd like to think we were both comfortable in each others company from the off.

His cycling buddy hopefully was reassured that I didn't turn out to be the mad axe murderer he was forecasting either........... Friday's my day off on that pastime luckily for him.

Although I'd seen his picture on his blog profile, he'd never set eyes on me until I opened the door as of course I have a strict no personal photo's rule on the blog and use a cartoon { Dad and Mom from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterson - or Oor Wullie } as an avatar. It was amusing that he had clearly an image in his mind and I was quite different to what he expected. I certainly look nothing like Oor Wullie or Calvin's Dad. Maybe that's a bit unfair of me but they represent part of my personality.

As you would expect we were soon deep in conversation about how we blog, what about and blogs we follow and that led us to talk about the kind of boundaries we set for our blogs and how we protect the integrity of what we are putting out there. It's something I think about a lot as my blog is a very personal one, reflecting me and my values and although I don't censor myself consciously, I'm very protective of what I am writing. We both agree that as our blogs are basically open to the world it's great that we have never had any disrespectful or inappropriate comments. { I have only once refused to post a comment - it was a spam commercial advert}

It was a nice affirmation of the blogosphere to meet such an unassuming and enthusiastic guy, obviously intelligent and thoughtful, as shows in his blog, and with a good sense of fun and it was all too soon before the lads had to saddle up and head off on the journey back west and home. Before he went SNB invited me to visit him in Stirling and go to the castle when the restoration to the banqueting hall ceiling is unveiled.

You can count me in on that one.

Now where's his brothers phone number????

See you later.

Listening to Madonna 'Frozen'

Sunday, 14 November 2010


Keith Douglas was a war poet, killed in WWII serving in a tank regiment aged just 24. He's much less well known than Wilfred Owen or Seigfried Sassoon, those greats of WWI war poetry, but deserves to be much better known.

This excerpt fits well with remembrance Sunday.

From his poem 'How To Kill'

Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
Now. Death, like a familiar, hears
and look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh.

The Fox And The Car In The Night..........

Hullo ma wee blog,

I never saw the fox until it was too late. I barely just had time to register its shadowy profile and the bushy tail flowing straight out behind in the headlights before impact. Although I hit the brakes hard I knew as I saw it that there was no way I could avoid hitting it. I hit it full on and, being on motorway at the time, was doing about 75 miles an hour. It never stood a chance and probably died instantly. If by some chance it survived it was finished off by the car following close behind on that busy Saturday night, but I'm pretty sure I killed it outright.

I've never hit an animal like that before. In thirty odd years of driving I could count how many small things I have hit on the fingers of one hand. It's always been a phobia of animal loving me, perhaps from childhood memories of a rare pheasant or even once a hare that dad killed while driving. Dad would always stop and check if the animal was injured and I remember once seeing him dispatch an injured something in the red glow of the rear lights. He always used the lead loaded cosh, prophetically called a 'priest' which he used when fishing, to kill any injured animal. I can remember his sigh, the clunk of the car boot being opened, a quick fumble for 'the priest' in his fishing bag and the sound of  him walking away to return a few moment later and put  it away again. He would close the car boot with a slow but gentle pressure that would press down the whole of the back of the car. {I remember being inordinately impressed with the strength of that gesture and tried to recreate it unsuccessfully many times until I was much older.}

 Whenever he hit a game animal it would always be put into the boot and taken home, not to a squeamish Mum, but to Gran Robertson, where it would go into the pot. It was this trait of his own childhood country upbringing that first showed me a newly dead animal in close up, laid out on the jade-green topped table of Grannies kitchen. I remember that first time, seeing in the bright kitchen light, being tearfully sad yet curious about the beautiful pheasant with its shining eyes, incredibly coloured feathers and blood-dripped yellow beak. Its black eyes seemed calm and yet sad at the same time, like it had been somehow cheated out of its life I suppose. I remember too being confused about how matter of fact, pleased even, Dad and Gran were about the destruction of this amazing creature and on asking being told that they were going to eat it. Although I don't remember my reaction, I imagine it would have been one of horror and I probably cried a lot more. I know Mum always found incidents like that disturbing and couldn't bring herself to look at the creature and would never take part in any meal that resulted. I was firmly on her side on that score although I would be equally curious about anything brought home in the future - and a good deal less tearful.

As I hit the poor fox that wet Saturday night a week ago, muddy water splashed up onto the windscreen and I realised that this must have come from its coat. Dad always told me not to brake if I was going to hit an animal. "Better to make sure if you can.", but I was never able to do that and anyway due to quick reactions and decent brakes I've missed a good few birds and rabbits over the years.  Even though I had started braking that night the impact was startling, something I'd never considered before, and I instinctively looked in the rear view mirror to see the body of the poor creature hit again by the car behind and thrown towards the roads central reservation. As the road was very busy I didn't stop but continued on, a pang of guilt deep in the pit of my stomach, guilt for the death of a beautiful animal and guilt for breaking Dads unshakable rule; if you hit something, make sure it's dead. Don't leave an animal that might be suffering. I told myself and my shocked lovely G that I had killed it instantly, it was too dangerous to stop and finally that if I hadn't killed it outright then the car behind certainly had, but part of me didn't want to be confronted by the result of my actions or the dead eye of that beautiful fox.

The car seemed to be handling properly although I watched it carefully the rest of that silent accusatory journey home and it wasn't until we got to the roundabout at the edge of the village that I heard a small scraping noise which told me that part of the plastic of the front bumper was hanging low. As it was late I parked up at the entrance of the drive and we walked up to the house and bed. The next morning I went to check on the car and found that the accident had caused quite a bit of damage to the front bumper, springing it out of its fixings and bursting it in two places, one of which was hanging low and caused the noise of the previous evening. So the car is off the road while I wait on my insurance company coming to fix it.

I've thought a lot about that fox in the last week. I have given myself a long silent version of the talking to my Dad would have given me for not stopping regardless of how bad the weather or busy the road, at least to try and confirm that the animal was dead. I've also given myself the talk where he would be much more supportive and conciliatory, where he said that the deed is done and that it was time to move on.  I've thought too about that pheasant on Grannies green table-top and the image of lingering regret the memory brings to me all these years later.

Guess I've not changed much.

see you later.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


In memory of the fallen, the departed and any who continue to suffer the effect of war.

Sam Robertson Royal Scots Fusiliers 1915- 1918 Gallipoli and France.
Thomas Hughes Royal Flying Corps 1914 - 1918 France
Sam Robertson 153 Sqdn RAF Bomber Command  1944-1945.
Bill Robertson Fleet Air Arm 1944-1945.

Never Forgotten.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Hermitage Castle

The valleys of the border hills here have names which trip softly from the tongue and somehow manage to evoke a more idyllic and benign picture than they should of places so remote; Eskdale and Annandale, Liddesdale and Teviotdale, Lauderdale and Tweeddale. These places sound lovely but if they could talk they would tell tales of daring, heartbreak and hopelessness and you can sometimes feel it still as you drive through a border valley shadowed with hills dotted thickly with sheep, or down the side of a rushing river under a scabbard-grey sky. It can be beautiful and at the same time oppressing in its very beauty. It's a strange, fascinating and wonderful place.

These border lands of Scotland are thick with castles. Some have grown from humble beginnings into huge and ornate stately homes for the aristocracy while others have withered and died to become roofless ruins open to the skies, choked with ivy and left mouldering in forgotten corners; a fragment or a wall standing proud on a hillside or glimpsed through the trees across a river as you explore any one of the border valleys. But they first serve as a reminder that there are so many for a reason: these lands were a first line of defence for almost a thousand wild years of our wildest history.

The border between Scotland and England long ago was a moving feast dependant on treaty or whoever had the upper hand of power at the time. The people within came therefore to implicitly understand the need for protection regardless of which side of the border they were on. Borders in any case were often incidental to the families who lived here, linked as they were through affiliation, kinship or enmity. Any undefended site could be attacked by a fellow countryman on the make or a foreign invader, and locals would seek protection from those families able to build defensible positions. From the simple palisaded farmstead, to small thick walled and protective bastle houses to stark tall peel towers or the formidable castle of the wealthy landowner, all were built to protect themselves, their families or followers and above all, their interests. It gave too, to the inhabitants, a particular view of the world. It was a world where the self-seeking, double-dealing and oft underhand behaviours considered normal of the high Lords of the land were played out equally here by those of lower rank and on a more intimate scale. It was, more than any other, a place of bastions and belligerents. It's people were the most headstrong, self willed and defiant of any part of the kingdom and were almost constantly embroiled in conflict together whether through blood feud or blatant opportunism.
Gilnockie - A Border Tower House 
Home of an Armstrong Riever

The land hereabouts is often green and fertile, even in the depths of the hills. It's not the landscape of the highlands, yet it can be just as isolated and just as hostile. These bands of hills which separate Scotland from our southerly neighbours:- The Pentlands, The Cheviots, - famous for the sheep of the same name that would eventually help empty highland glens - the Lammermuirs, the Moorfoots, the Lowther Hills and the lonely Rhinns of Kells far off to the west, can be lonely places even today, but they're no longer the obstacles of ages past which funnelled armies to invade via the flat  'Merse-lands' of the coast to the east or, more occasionally, the west. These river valleys, which fall through hillsides streamed as if with silvery tears, were early routes of trade and commerce, attractive to the prestige of  religious houses with their abbeys and monasteries and their wool-based economies. These were rich pickings for the adventurous and the greedy and so were regularly targeted for looting and plundering by passing armies of both sides desperate to fill royal coffers or replenish war chests. It seems wars fought with God's apparent approval have always been overly rough on His Houses.

Sketch of Hermitage from MacGibbon and Ross'
 'Castellated and Domestic Architecture Of Scotland'

From this lawless medieval wilderness grew 'The Border Reivers', light cavalry skilled in stealth and attack by surprise, masters of the lightning raid and sudden disappearance back into the night. Reiver is an old English word for a raider or looter. It was said of the Reivers that they were Dalesmen by summer and Highlanders by winter, preferring the cold winter nights for their illegal activities, grateful for long hours of darkness and because cattle are better for moving in the winter. Reiver crimes included cattle rustling, theft, looting, arson, blackmail, murder and prison breaking. Reiving was unique in that it was not restricted to a minority group, they came from all classes and lived by the same 'code'. Even Wardens responsible for law and order were at times implicated in personal feuds or raids. Generations of men learnt skills which made them feared by all. Ruthless, implacable and with no allegiance to any other than themselves, they created mayhem and were a sair thorn in the side of Scots and English kings for hundreds of years. Monarchs from both sides of the border would try to use, manipulate or buy them off until eventually they would be destroyed or the best of them incorporated into the establishment as aristocracy. Riever families would become influential in maintaining kings on the throne or in opposing them if the situation was right.

 A Border Reiver

There would be many attempts to limit, to control and to dominate them and this was the purpose of Hermitage Castle.

I first came to Hermitage Castle many years ago on an Autumn day full of heavy showers from a sky pressing down on the land yet seemingly determined to hurry past. The castle itself sits cold and dour in the isolated heart of Liddesdale which is the most bleak, hard and unwelcoming part of the borders. Possibly no valley or glen in Scotland has a more brutal past than Liddesdale even though many might put up strong competition. It's seen armies pass by and stop to brutalise the local inhabitants, seen too those same inhabitants dish out brutalities of their own to the unwary or unfortunate.  It's fitting that local history would indicate such brutality as I find Hermitage to be the most moodily oppressive castle in Scotland. Its very position in the middle of the valley floor of the Liddel Water is aimed not to inspire notions of safety by a lofty position, not to show impressive power or welcome to a weary traveller but to dominate and intimidate, to ensure that all who come near understand that its presence is a stark statement of overwhelming and uncompromising power in the midst - maybe even in spite - of its isolation. I remember its walls, dark with rain and the huge arch gaping like a maw of glistening stone ready to spew forth forces hell-bent on destruction or to close behind souls destined to be lost forever. Several words come to mind as I try to describe it; sinister, malevolent, grotesque, implacable, hostile. Its massively thick walls and high window slits, its crow step gables and its square, squat bulk all remind me of a huge immovable beast sitting there ravenous, sullen and obstinate.

Originally the site was one of a wooden Norman motte and baile castle of the De Soulis family, one of those Normans invited North by a Scots king, who brought with them the feudal system of land ownership and allegiance paid in military service. Given its origins it could have been named after the French 'l'Armitage' for 'guardhouse' though it may also be named for the cell of an Achorite hermit who lived nearby. Later it was changed to a stone castle, prompting the English to protest and raise an army, so dangerous was it thought to have such a stronghold so close to the border of the day, Later still it was transformed into a Kings statement of power and intent with a thousand men quartered in and around its walls. Over the years it has been controlled by De Neville's Maxwell's, Douglas', Dacres', Hepburns' and Scott clans. The Armstrongs too, that most celebrated of reiver families perhaps, also occupied it from time to time when it was not in use by the others, and although the king may have quartered a thousand men here it was noted that the Armstrongs could field three times as many horsemen from the local area, dressed in quilted jacks and bonnets of steel.

It was here while James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell held the castle that Mary, Queen of Scots, made a famous marathon journey on horseback to visit the wounded Bothwell, only a few weeks after the birth of her son, after he had foolishly attempted to take on an Elliott riever on his own. They were to marry shortly after the murder of her 2nd husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, despite Bothwell being implicated amongst the conspirators. Later, after Mary's forced abdication, Bothwell fled to Norway and his titles and estates were forfeited by Act of Parliament. Whilst attempting to raise an army to restore Mary to the throne, he was captured by King Frederik, and imprisoned at Dragsholm Castle in Denmark, where he died years later in appalling degradation and lonely insanity.

Floor Plan from
MacGibbon and Ross'
'Castellated and Domestic Architecture Of Scotland'

It was also from here that Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, Warden of the western marches, Keeper of Liddesdale, lead the daring and infamous attack on Carlisle Castle to rescue Willie Armstrong of Kinmont.  Armstrong, a notorious reiver, was captured by the forces of the English Warden of the West March in violation of a truce day in 1596, and imprisoned in Carlisle Castle. Walter Scott of Buccleuch, on whose land the arrest had been made, protested to the English Warden, Sir Thomas Scrope, 10th Baron Scrope of Bolton. When Scrope refused to release Armstrong, Buccleuch led a party of eighty men on a daring raid into England and stealthily broke Armstrong out of the castle in the night. The raid on Carlisle created such a diplomatic incident between England and Scotland that war between the two nations appeared imminent until Buccleuch surrendered himself to the English authorities. Tried and found guilty, he was placed in the custody of the English Master of the Ordnance at Berwick, Sir William Selby, and afterwards sent to London. When Buccleuch reached London he was taken before Elizabeth I of England and was asked by the maiden Queen how he dared to undertake an enterprise so desperate and presumptuous.

 Buccleuch is reported to have replied, "What is it that a man dare not do?"

 Unaccustomed though she must have been to such rejoinders from her own courtly nobles, Elizabeth not only did not resent the answer, but turning to a lord-in-waiting, reputedly said,

"With ten thousand such men, our brother in Scotland might shake the firmest thrones of Europe."

Despite the valley of Liddesdale being a bleak and desolate place it's easy to sit by Hermitage Castle and hear in your mind the soft sound of horses breathing, their feet behind you on wet grass as they come ever closer until you almost feel the heat of them as they pass, hear the creak of leather and the gentle rattle of a sword or scabbard as weary men dismount. Easy too to see a frosted Cheviot hill grieve against a bleak November sky and imagine God obsessed voices of Covenanters calling on the wind, or see a stand of leafless border birches slanted against the prevailing wind become the spears of border reivers coming home from a raid. As I left that first time I was caught in another reiving squall. The sky turned instantly dark and sheltering by some trees I listened to the rumble of hard rain on the ground around me and imagined it hammering down on a leather jack or steel bonnet for a few short moments before it disappeared back up Liddesdale as quickly as it had come and I could once think of heading home.

The tracks and paths of the Rievers are grass covered now, gently softened over ages back into the hillsides. Stolen cattle and roving bands of horsemen no longer keep them clear and modern roads take us in comfort and speed where we want to go. Despite this, in my imagination the valleys still echo to the memory of horses hooves and the wary challenge of a watchman from the tower. It's a simple step to understand how isolation gave the Reivers such an independent spirit and how the bleakness of their existence sowed seeds of determination. Their story lives on in the rich folk lore of the region and in the ballads collected by Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg and in the heritage of ballad songs transported across the sea to America. It's easy to hear the same songs sung of old wild west outlaws, living nobly by their own creed until treacherously slain, and transplant the names of one culture for another. The area provided many great men in the generations after the border rievers, men who perhaps had some of the same spirit. Allan Ramsay, Thomas Telford, Alexander Murray, Mungo Park and David Hume all came from the Borders as did a man called Cook, who crossed the border in search of work and who's son became England's greatest navigator. And of course there was that man named Walter Scott. He became a bit of a story teller I think.

Something about The Borders makes me think about these things. It might be the power of landscape or weather on my imagination or the pull of history on the emotions, or any combination of the three, but whatever it is I'm glad that it evokes a reaction like that. I'm glad I live in an area so rich in inspiration and history.

And I'm glad I don't have to live in Hermitage Castle.

See you later.

Listening to

The Sunday Posts 2017/Mince and Tatties.

Mince and Tatties I dinna like hail tatties Pit on my plate o mince For when I tak my denner I eat them baith at yince. Sae mash ...