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Robert Naylor.

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and they seemed quite a respectable class of people. Here we called at
the principal inn for our own breakfast, for which we were quite ready,
but we did not know then that Rabbie Burns had been to Innerleithen,
where, as he wrote, he had from a jug "a dribble o' drink," or we should
have done ourselves the honour of calling at the same place. At
Innerleithen we came to another "Bell-tree Field," where the bell hung
on the branch of a tree to summon worshippers to church, and there were
also some mineral springs which became famous after the publication of
Sir Walter Scott's novel, _St. Ronan's Well_.

[Illustration: TRAQUAIR HOUSE.]

Soon after leaving Innerleithen we could see Traquair House towering
above the trees by which it was surrounded. Traquair was said to be the
oldest inhabited house in Scotland. Sir Walter Scott knew it well, it
being quite near to Ashiestiel, where he wrote "The Lay of the Last
Minstrel," "Marmion," and "The Lady of the Lake." It was one of the
prototypes of "Tully Veolan" in his _Waverley_. There was no abode in
Scotland more quaint and curious than Traquair House, for it was
turreted, walled, buttressed, windowed, and loopholed, all as in the
days of old. Within were preserved many relics of the storied past and
also of royalty. Here was the bed on which Queen Mary slept in 1566;
here also the oaken cradle of the infant King James VI. The library was
rich in valuable and rare books and MSS. and service books of the
twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries in beautiful penmanship
upon fine vellum. The magnificent avenue was grass-grown, the gates had
not been opened for many years, while the pillars of the gateway were
adorned with two huge bears standing erect and bearing the motto: "Judge
Nocht." Magnificent woods adorned the grounds, remains of the
once-famous forest of Ettrick, said to be the old classical forest of
Caledon of the days of King Arthur.

Here was also Flora Hill, with its beautiful woods, where Hogg, the
Ettrick Shepherd, lays the scene of his exquisite poem "Kilmeny" in the
_Queen's Wake_, where -

Bonnie Kilmeny gae'd up the Glen,
But it wisna to meet Duneira's men, etc.

Through beautiful scenery we continued alongside the Tweed, and noticed
that even the rooks could not do without breakfast, for they were busy
in a potato field. We were amused to see them fly away on our approach,
some of them with potatoes in their mouths, and, like other thieves,
looking quite guilty.

Presently we came to a solitary fisherman standing knee-deep in the
river, with whom we had a short conversation. He said he was fishing for
salmon, which ascended the river from Berwick about that time of the
year and returned in May. We were rather amused at his mentioning the
return journey, as from the frantic efforts he was making to catch the
fish he was doing his best to prevent them from coming back again. He
told us he had been fishing there since daylight that morning, and had
caught nothing. By way of sympathy my brother told him a story of two
young men who walked sixteen miles over the hills to fish in a stream.
They stayed that night at the nearest inn, and started out very early
the next morning. When they got back to the hotel at night they wrote
the following verse in the visitors' book:

Hickory dickory dock!
We began at six o'clock,
We fished till night without a bite.
Hickory dickory dock!

This was a description, he said, of real fishermen's luck, but whether
the absence of the "bite" referred to the fishermen or to the fish was
not quite clear. It had been known to apply to both.

Proceeding further we met a gentleman walking along the road, of whom we
made inquiries about the country we were passing through. He told us
that the castle we could see across the river was named "Muckle Mouthed
Meg." A certain man in ancient times, having offended against the laws,
was given a choice for a sentence by the King of Scotland - -either he
must marry Muckle Mouthed Meg, a woman with a very large mouth, or
suffer death. He chose the first, and the pair lived together in the old
castle for some years. We told him we were walking from John o' Groat's
to Land's End, but when he said he had passed John o' Groat's in the
train, we had considerable doubts as to the accuracy of his statements,
for there was no railway at all in the County of Caithness in which John
o' Groat's was situated. We therefore made further inquiries about the
old castle, and were informed that the proper name of it was Elibank
Castle, and that it once belonged to Sir Gideon Murray, who one night
caught young Willie Scott of Oakwood Tower trying to "lift the kye." The
lowing of the cattle roused him up, and with his retainers he drove off
the marauders, while his lady watched the fight from the battlement of
the Tower. Willie, or, to be more correct, Sir William Scott, Junr., was
caught and put in the dungeon. Sir Gideon Murray decided to hang him,
but his lady interposed: "Would ye hang the winsome Laird o' Harden,"
she said, "when ye hae three ill-favoured daughters to marry?" Sir
Willie was one of the handsomest men of his time, and when the men
brought the rope to hang him he was given the option of marrying Muckle
Mou'd Meg or of being hanged with a "hempen halter." It was said that
when he first saw Meg he said he preferred to be hanged, but he found
she improved on closer acquaintance, and so in three days' time a
clergyman said, "Wilt thou take this woman here present to be thy lawful
wife?" knowing full well what the answer must be. Short of other
materials, the marriage contract was written with a goose quill on the
parchment head of a drum. Sir William found that Meg made him a very
good wife in spite of her wide mouth, and they lived happily together,
the moral being, we supposed, that it is not always the prettiest girl
that makes the best wife.

Shortly afterwards we left the River Tweed for a time while we walked
across the hills to Galashiels, and on our way to that town we came to a
railway station near which were some large vineries. A carriage was
standing at the entrance to the gardens, where two gentlemen were buying
some fine bunches of grapes which we could easily have disposed of, for
we were getting rather hungry, but as they did not give us the chance,
we walked on. Galashiels was formerly only a village, the "shiels"
meaning shelters for sheep, but it had risen to importance owing to its
woollen factories. It was now a burgh, boasting a coat-of-arms on which
was represented a plum-tree with a fox on either side, and the motto,
"Sour plums of Galashiels." The origin of this was an incident that
occurred in 1337, in the time of Edward III, when some Englishmen who
were retreating stopped here to eat some wild plums. While they were so
engaged they were attacked by a party of Scots with swords, who killed
every one of them, throwing their bodies into a trench afterwards known
as the "Englishman's Syke." We passed a road leading off to the left to
Stow, where King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were said to
have defeated the Heathens. We left Galashiels by the Melrose Road, and,
after walking about a mile and a half, we turned aside to cross the
River Tweed, not by a ferry, as that was against our rule, but by a
railway bridge. No doubt this was against the railway company's by-laws
and regulations, but it served our purpose, and we soon reached
Abbotsford, that fine mansion, once the residence of the great Sir
Walter Scott, the king of novelists, on the building of which he had
spent a great amount of money, and the place of his death September
21st, 1832.

[Illustration: ABBOTSFORD FROM THE RIVER.]

Abbotsford, including the gardens, park, walks and woods, was all his
own creation, and was so named by him because the River Tweed was
crossed at that point by the monks on their way to and from Melrose
Abbey in the olden times.

[Illustration: SIR WALTER SCOTT.]

We found the house in splendid condition and the garden just as Sir
Walter had left it. We were shown through the hall, study, library, and
drawing-room, and even his last suit of clothes, with his white beaver
hat, was carefully preserved under a glass case. We saw much armour, the
largest suit belonging formerly to Sir John Cheney, the biggest man who
fought at the battle of Bosworth Field. The collection of arms gathered
out of all ages and countries was said to be the finest in the world,
including Rob Roy Macgregor's gun, sword, and dirk, the Marquis of
Montrose's sword, and the rifle of Andreas Hofer the Tyrolese patriot.

Amongst these great curios was the small pocket-knife used by Sir
Walter when he was a boy. We were shown the presents given to him from
all parts of the kingdom, and from abroad, including an ebony suite of
furniture presented to him by King George IV. There were many portraits
and busts of himself, and his wife and children, including a marble bust
of himself by Chantrey, the great sculptor, carved in the year 1820. The
other portraits included one of Queen Elizabeth, another of Rob Roy; a
painting of Queen Mary's head, after it had been cut off at Fotheringay,
and a print of Stothard's _Canterbury Pilgrims_. We also saw an iron box
in which Queen Mary kept her money for the poor, and near this was her
crucifix. In fact, the place reminded us of some great museum, for there
were numberless relics of antiquity stored in every nook and corner, and
in the most unlikely places. We were sorry we had not time to stay and
take a longer survey, for the mansion and its surroundings form one of
the great sights of Scotland, whose people revere the memory of the
great man who lived there.

[Illustration: SIR WALTER SCOTT'S STUDY.]

The declining days of Sir Walter were not without sickness and sorrow,
for he had spent all the money obtained by the sale of his books on this
palatial mansion. After a long illness, and as a last resource, he was
taken to Italy; but while there he had another apoplectic attack, and
was brought home again, only just in time to die. He expressed a wish
that Lockhart, his son-in-law, should read to him, and when asked from
what book, he answered, "Need you ask? There is but one." He chose the
fourteenth chapter of St. John's Gospel, and when it was ended, he said,
"Well, this is a great comfort: I have followed you distinctly, and I
feel as if I were yet to be myself again." In an interval of
consciousness he said, "Lockhart! I may have but a minute to speak to
you, my dear; be a good man, be virtuous, be religious, be a good man.
Nothing else will give you any comfort when you come to lie here."

A friend who was present at the death of Sir Walter wrote: "It was a
beautiful day - so warm that every window was wide open, and so perfectly
still that the sound of all others most delicious to his ear, the gentle
ripple of the Tweed over its pebbles, was distinctly audible - as we
kneeled around his bed, and his eldest son kissed and closed his eyes."
We could imagine the wish that would echo in more than one mind as Sir
Walter's soul departed, perhaps through one of the open windows, "Let me
die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his."

So coldly sweet, so deadly fair,
We start, for soul is wanting there;
It is the loneliness in death
That parts not quite with parting breath,
But beauty with that fearful bloom,
The hue which haunts it to the tomb,
Expression's last receding ray;
A gilded halo hov'ring round decay.

[Illustration: ABBOTSFORD.]

We passed slowly through the garden and grounds, and when we reached the
road along which Sir Walter Scott had so often walked, we hurried on to
see the old abbey of Melrose, which was founded by King David I. On our
way we passed a large hydropathic establishment and an asylum not quite
completed, and on reaching Melrose we called at one of the inns for tea,
where we read a description by Sir Walter of his "flitting" from
Ashiestiel, his former residence, to his grand house at Abbotsford. The
flitting took place at Whitsuntide in 1812, so, as he died in 1832, he
must have lived at Abbotsford about twenty years. He was a great
collector of curios, and wrote a letter describing the comical scene
which took place on that occasion. "The neighbours," he wrote, "have
been very much delighted with the procession of furniture, in which old
swords, bows, targets, and lances made a very conspicuous show. A family
of turkeys was accommodated within the helmet of some _preux chevalier_
of ancient Border fame, and the very cows, for aught I know, were
bearing banners and muskets. I assure you that this caravan, attended by
a dozen ragged, rosy, peasant children carrying fishing-rods and spears,
and leading ponies, greyhounds, and spaniels, would, as it crossed the
Tweed, have furnished no bad subject for the pencil."

[Illustration: THE CHANCEL, MELROSE ABBEY.]

Melrose Abbey was said to afford the finest specimen of Gothic
architecture and Gothic sculpture of which Scotland could boast, and the
stone of which it had been built, though it had resisted the weather for
many ages, retained perfect sharpness, so that even the most minute
ornaments seemed as entire as when they had been newly wrought. In some
of the cloisters there were representations of flowers, leaves, and
vegetables carved in stone with "accuracy and precision so delicate that
it almost made visitors distrust their senses when they considered the
difficulty of subjecting so hard a substance to such intricate and
exquisite modulation." This superb convent was dedicated to St. Mary,
and the monks were of the Cistercian Order, of whom the poet wrote:

Oh, the monks of Melrose made gude kail (broth)
On Fridays when they fasted;
Nor wanted they gude beef and ale,
So lang's their neighbours' lasted.

There were one hundred monks at Melrose in the year 1542, and it was
supposed that in earlier times much of the carving had been done by
monks under strong religious influences. The rose predominated amongst
the carved flowers, as it was the abbot's favourite flower, emblematic
of the locality from which the abbey took its name. The curly green, or
kale, which grew in nearly every garden in Scotland, was a very
difficult plant to sculpture, but was so delicately executed here as to
resemble exactly the natural leaf; and there was a curious gargoyle
representing a pig playing on the bagpipes, so this instrument must have
been of far more ancient origin than we had supposed when we noticed its
absence from the instruments recorded as having been played when Mary
Queen of Scots was serenaded in Edinburgh on her arrival in Scotland.

[Illustration: ENTRANCE TO MELROSE ABBEY.]

Under the high altar were buried the remains of Alexander II, the dust
of Douglas the hero of Otterburn, and others of his illustrious and
heroic race, as well as the remains of Sir Michael Scott. Here too was
buried the heart of King Robert the Bruce. It appeared that Bruce told
his son that he wished to have his heart buried at Melrose; but when he
was ready to die and his friends were assembled round his bedside, he
confessed to them that in his passion he had killed Comyn with his own
hand, before the altar, and had intended, had he lived, to make war on
the Saracens, who held the Holy Land, for the evil deeds he had done. He
requested his dearest friend, Lord James Douglas, to carry his heart to
Jerusalem and bury it there. Douglas wept bitterly, but as soon as the
king was dead he had his heart taken from his body, embalmed, and
enclosed in a silver case which he had made for it, and wore it
suspended from his neck by a string of silk and gold. With some of the
bravest men in Scotland he set out for Jerusalem, but, landing in Spain,
they were persuaded to take part in a battle there against the Saracens.
Douglas, seeing one of his friends being hard pressed by the enemy, went
to his assistance and became surrounded by the Moors himself. Seeing no
chance of escape, he took from his neck the heart of Bruce, and speaking
to it as he would have done to Bruce if alive, said, "Pass first in the
fight as thou wert wont to do, and Douglas will follow thee or die."
With these words he threw the king's heart among the enemy, and rushing
forward to the place where it fell, was there slain, and his body was
found lying on the silver case. Most of the Scots were slain in this
battle with the Moors, and they that remained alive returned to
Scotland, the charge of Bruce's heart being entrusted to Sir Simon
Lockhard of Lee, who afterwards for his device bore on his shield a
man's heart with a padlock upon it, in memory of Bruce's heart which was
padlocked in the silver case. For this reason, also, Sir Simon's name
was changed from Lockhard to Lockheart, and Bruce's heart was buried in
accordance with his original desire at Melrose.

Sir Michael Scott of Balwearie, who also lies buried in the abbey,
flourished in the thirteenth century. His great learning, chiefly
acquired in foreign countries, together with an identity in name, had
given rise to a certain confusion, among the earlier historians, between
him and Michael Scott the "wondrous wizard and magician" referred to by
Dante in Canto xxmo of the "Inferno." Michael Scott studied such
abstruse subjects as judicial astrology, alchemy, physiognomy, and
chiromancy, and his commentary on Aristotle was considered to be of such
a high order that it was printed in Venice in 1496. Sir Walter Scott
referred to Michael Scott:

The wondrous Michael Scott
A wizard, of such dreaded fame,
That when in Salamanca's Cave
Him listed his magic wand to wave
The bells would ring in Notre Dame,

and he explained the origin of this by relating the story that Michael
on one occasion when in Spain was sent as an Ambassador to the King of
France to obtain some concessions, but instead of going in great state,
as usual on those occasions, he evoked the services of a demon in the
shape of a huge black horse, forcing it to fly through the air to Paris.
The king was rather offended at his coming in such an unceremonious
manner, and was about to give him a contemptuous refusal when Scott
asked him to defer his decision until his horse had stamped its foot
three times. The first stamp shook every church in Paris, causing all
the bells to ring; the second threw down three of the towers of the
palace; and when the infernal steed had lifted up his hoof for the third
time, the king stopped him by promising Michael the most ample
concessions.

A modern writer, commenting upon this story, says, "There is something
uncanny about the Celts which makes them love a Trinity of ideas, and
the old stories of the Welsh collected in the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries include a story very similar about Kilhwch, cousin to Arthur,
who threatens if he cannot have what he wants that he will set up three
shouts than which none were ever heard more deadly and which will be
heard from Pengwaed in Cornwall to Dinsol in the North and Ergair Oerful
in Ireland. The Triads show the method best and furnish many examples,
quoting the following:

Three things are best when hung - salt fish, a wet hat, and an
Englishman.

Three things are difficult to get - gold from the miser, love from the
devil, and courtesy from the Englishman.

The three hardest things - a granite block, a miser's barley loaf, and an
Englishman's heart. But perhaps the best known is one translated long
ago from the Welsh:

A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree,
The more they are beaten, the better they be.

But to return to Michael Scott. Another strange story about Michael was
his adventure with the witch of Falschope. To avenge himself upon her
for striking him suddenly with his own wand whereby he was transformed
for a time and assumed the appearance of a hare, Michael sent his man
with two greyhounds to the house where the witch lived, to ask the old
lady to give him a bit of bread for the greyhounds; if she refused he
was to place a piece of paper, which he handed to him, over the top of
the house door. The witch gave the man a curt refusal, and so he
fastened the paper, on which were some words, including, "Michael
Scott's man sought meat and gat nane," as directed. This acted as a
spell, and the old witch, who was making cakes for the reapers then at
work in the corn, now began to dance round the fire (which, as usual in
those days, was burning in the middle of the room) and to sing the
words:

"Maister Michael Scott's man
Sought meat and gat nane."

and she had to continue thus until the spell was broken. Meantime, her
husband and the reapers who were with him were wondering why the cakes
had not reached them, so the old man sent one of the reapers to inquire
the reason. As soon as he went through the door he was caught by the
spell and so had to perform the same antics as his mistress. As he did
not return, the husband sent man after man until he was alone, and then
went himself. But, knowing all about the quarrel between Michael and his
wife, and having seen the wizard on the hill, he was rather more
cautious than his men, so, instead of going through the door, he looked
through the window. There he saw the reapers dragging his wife, who had
become quite exhausted, sometimes round, and sometimes through the fire,
singing the chorus as they did so. He at once saddled his horse and rode
as fast as he could to find Michael, who good-naturedly granted his
request, and directed him to enter his house backwards, removing the
paper from above the door with his left hand as he went in. The old man
lost no time in returning home, where he found them all still dancing
furiously and singing the same rhyme; but immediately he entered, the
supernatural performance ended, very much, we imagine, to the relief of
all concerned.

Michael Scott was at one time, it was said, much embarrassed by a spirit
for whom he had to find constant employment, and amongst other work he
commanded him to build a dam or other weir across the River Tweed at
Kelso. He completed that in a single night. Michael next ordered him to
divide the summit of the Eildon Hill in three parts; but as this
stupendous work was also completed in one night, he was at his wits'
end what work to find him to do next. At last he bethought himself of a
job that would find him constant employment. He sent him to the seashore
and employed him at the hopeless and endless task of making ropes of
sand there, which as fast as he made them were washed away by the tides.
The three peaks of Eildon Hill, of nearly equal height, are still to be
seen. Magnificent views are to be obtained from their tops, which Sir
Walter Scott often frequented and of which he wrote, "I can stand on the
Eildon and point out forty-three places famous in war and in verse."

Another legend connected with these hills was that in the "Eildon
caverns vast" a cave existed where the British King Arthur and his
famous Knights of the Round Table lie asleep waiting the blast of the
bugle which will recall them from Fairyland to lead the British on to a
victory that will ensure a united and glorious Empire. King Arthur has a
number of burial-places of the same character, according to local
stories both in England and Wales, and even one in Cheshire at Alderley
Edge, close By the "Wizard Inn," which title refers to the story.

[Illustration: MELROSE ABBEY.]

Melrose and district has been hallowed by the influence and memory of
Sir Walter Scott, who was to Melrose what Shakespeare was to
Stratford-on-Avon, and he has invested the old abbey with an additional
halo of interest by his "Lay of the Last Minstrel," a copy of which we
saw for the first time at the inn where we called for tea. We were
greatly interested, as it related to the neighbourhood we were about to
pass through in particular, and we were quite captivated with its
opening lines, which appealed so strongly to wayfarers like ourselves:

The way was long, the wind was cold.
The Minstrel was infirm and old;
His wither'd cheek, and tresses gray,
Seem'd to have known a better day;

The harp, his sole remaining joy,
Was carried by an orphan boy.
The last of all the Bards was he,
Who sung of Border chivalry.

We were now nearing the Borders of Scotland and England, where this
Border warfare formerly raged for centuries. The desperadoes engaged in
it on the Scottish side were known as Moss-troopers, any of whom when
caught by the English were taken to Carlisle and hanged near there at a
place called Hairibee. Those who claimed the "benefit of clergy" were



Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 19 of 66)