Copyright
Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

. (page 22 of 66)
Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 22 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


evening, nearly an hour after the authorised closing time of the inns.
We found we could not stay very long in the distillery without a fire,
for a sharp frost had now developed, and we began to feel the effect of
the lower temperature; we therefore decided, after a short rest, to
continue our walk on the Carlisle road. Turning over the bridge that
crossed the rapidly running stream of the River Esk - the cause of the
rush of water we heard in the distillery - we followed the river on its
downward course for some miles. It was a splendid starlight, frosty
night, but, as we were very tired and hungry, we could only proceed
slowly - in fact scarcely quickly enough to maintain our circulation.
Being also very sleepy, we had to do something desperate to keep
ourselves awake, so we amused ourselves by knocking with our heavy oaken
sticks at the doors or window-shutters of the houses we passed on our
way. It was a mild revenge we took for the town's inhospitality, and we
pictured to ourselves how the story of two highwaymen being about the
roads during the midnight hours would be circulated along the
countryside during the following day, but we could not get any one to
come beyond the keyhole of the door or the panes of the shuttered
windows. We were, however, becoming quite desperate, as we were now
nearly famished, and, when we came to a small shop, the sounds from our
sticks on the door quickly aroused the mistress, who asked us what we
wanted. My brother entered into his usual explanation that we were
pedestrian tourists on a walking expedition, and offered her a
substantial sum for some bread or something to eat; but it was of no
use, as the only answer we got was, "I ha' not a bit till th' baker
coomes ith' morn'."

This reply, and the tone of voice in which it was spoken, for the woman
"snaffled," was too much for us, and, tired as we were, we both roared
with laughter; absurd though it may seem, it was astonishing how this
little incident cheered us on our way.

It was a lovely country through which we were travelling, and our road,
as well as the river alongside, was in many places overhung by the
foliage of the fine trees, through which the brilliant lustre of the
stars appeared overhead; in fact we heard afterwards that this length of
road was said to include the finest landscapes along the whole of the
stage-coach road between London and Edinburgh. The bridge by which we
recrossed the river had been partially built with stones from the ruins
of Gilnockie Tower, once the stronghold of the famous freebooter Johnnie
Armstrong, of whom we had heard higher up the country.

[Illustration: COCKBURN'S GRAVE.]

Sir Walter Scott tells us that King James V resolved to take very
serious measures against the Border Warriors, and under pretence of
coming to hunt the deer in those desolate regions he assembled an army,
and suddenly appeared at the Castle of Piers Cockburn of Henderland,
near where we had been further north. He ordered that baron to be seized
and executed in spite of the fact that he was preparing a great feast of
welcome. Adam Scott of Tushielaw, known as the King of the Border, met
with the same fate, but an event of greater importance was the fate of
John Armstrong. This free-booting chief had risen to such consequence,
that the whole neighbouring district of England paid him "black-mail," a
sort of regular tribute in consideration of which he forbore to plunder
them. He had a high idea of his own importance, and seems to have been
unconscious of having merited any severe usage at the king's hands. On
the contrary, he went to meet his sovereign at Carlingrigg Chapel,
richly dressed, and having twenty-four gentlemen, his constant retinue,
as well attired as himself. The king, incensed to see a freebooter so
gentlemanly equipped, commanded him instantly to be led to execution,
saying, "What wants this knave save a crown to be as magnificent as a
king?" John Armstrong made great offers for his life, offering to
maintain himself, with forty men, to serve the king at a moment's
notice, at his own expense, engaging never to hurt or injure any
Scottish subject, as indeed had never been his practice, and undertaking
that there was not a man in England, of whatever degree, duke, earl,
lord, or baron, but he would engage, within a short time, to present him
to the king, dead or alive. But when the king would listen to none of
his oilers, the robber chief said very proudly, "I am but a fool to ask
grace at a graceless face; but had I guessed you would have used me
thus, I would have kept the Border-side in spite of the King of England
and you, both, for I well know that the King Henry would give the weight
of my best horse in gold to know that I am sentenced to die this day."

John Armstrong was led to execution, with all his men, and hanged
without mercy. The people of the inland countries were glad to get rid
of him; but on the Borders he was both missed and mourned, as a brave
warrior, and a stout man-of-arms against England.

But to return to Gilnockie Bridge! After crossing it we struggled on for
another mile or two, and when about six miles from Langholm we reached
another bridge where our road again crossed the river. Here we stopped
in mute despair, leaning against the battlements, and listening to the
water in the river as it rushed under the bridge. We must have been half
asleep, when we were suddenly aroused by the sound of heavy footsteps
approaching in the distance. Whoever could it be? I suggested one of the
Border freebooters; but my brother, who could laugh when everybody else
cried, said it sounded more like a free-clogger. We listened again, and
sure enough it was the clattering of a heavy pair of clogs on the partly
frozen surface of the road. We could not be mistaken, for we were too
well accustomed to the sound of clogs in Lancashire; but who could be
the wearer! We had not long to wait before a man appeared, as much
surprised to see us as we were to see him. We told him of our long walk
the day before, how we had been disappointed in not getting lodgings,
and asked him how far we were away from an inn. He told us we were quite
near one, but it was no use going there, as "they wouldn't get up for
the Queen of England." He further told us he was going to the two
o'clock "shift" at the colliery. "Colliery!" my brother ejaculated; "but
surely there isn't a coal-pit in a pretty place like this?" He assured
us that there was, and, seeing we were both shivering with cold, kindly
invited us to go with him and he would put us near to a good fire that
was burning there. "How far is it?" we asked anxiously. "Oh, only about
half a mile," said the collier. So we went with him, and walked what
seemed to be the longest half-mile we ever walked in all our lives, as
we followed him along a fearfully rough road, partly on the tramlines of
the Canonbie Collieries belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch, where two or
three hundred men were employed.

We each handed him a silver coin as he landed us in front of a large
open fire which was blazing furiously near the mouth of the pit, and,
bidding us "good morning," he placed a lighted lamp in front of his cap
and disappeared down the shaft to the regions below. He was rather late
owing to his having slackened his pace to our own, which was naturally
slower than his, since walking along colliery sidings at night was
difficult for strangers. We had taken of our boots to warm and ease our
feet, when a man emerged from the darkness and asked us to put them on
again, saying we should be more comfortable in the engine-house. If we
stayed there we should be sure to catch a cold, as a result of being
roasted on one side and frozen on the other. He kindly volunteered to
accompany us there, so we thankfully accepted his invitation. We had
some difficulty in following him owing to the darkness and obstructions
in the way, but we reached the engine-room in safety, round the inside
of which was a wooden seat, or bench, and acting upon his instructions
we lay down on this to sleep, with a promise that he would waken us when
he went off duty at six o'clock in the morning. We found it more
comfortable here than on the windy pit bank, for there was an even and
sleepy temperature. We were soon embosomed in the arms of nature's great
refresher, notwithstanding the occasional working of the winding
engines, sleeping as soundly on those wooden benches as ever we did on
the best feather-bed we patronised on our journey.

(_Distance walked thirty-nine miles_.)


_Thursday, October 12th._

We were roused at six o'clock a.m. by the engine-driver, who had taken
good care of us while we slept, and as we had had nothing to eat since
our lunch at Hawick the day before, except the fruit purchased from the
toll-keeper there, which we had consumed long before reaching Langholm,
we were frightfully hungry. The engine-man told us there was a shop
close by the colliery gate kept by a young man, where, if he happened to
be in, we should be able to get some refreshments. He accompanied us to
the place, and, after knocking loudly at the shop door, we were
delighted to see the head of the shopkeeper appear through the window
above. He was evidently well known to the engineer, who told him what we
wanted, and he promised to "be down directly."

It seemed a long time to us before the shop door was opened, and every
minute appeared more like five than one; but we were soon comfortably
seated in the shop, in the midst of all sorts of good things fit to
eat. We should have liked to begin to eat them immediately, but the fire
had to be lit and the kettle boiled, so we assisted with these
operations while the young man cut into a fresh loaf of bread, broke
open a pot of plum jam, opened a tin of biscuits, and, with the addition
of a large slice of cheese and four fresh eggs, we had a really good
breakfast, which we thoroughly enjoyed. He said it was a wonder we found
him there, for it was very seldom he slept at the shop. His mother lived
at a farm about a mile and a half away, where he nearly always slept;
that night, however, he had been sleeping with his dog, which was to run
in a race that day, and he spent the night with it lest it should be
tampered with. He called the dog downstairs, and, though we knew very
little about dogs, we could see it was a very fine-looking animal. Our
friend said he would not take £50 for it, a price we thought exorbitant
for any dog. When we had finished our enormous breakfast, we assisted
the shopkeeper to clear the table, and as it was now his turn, we helped
him to get his own breakfast ready, waiting upon him as he had waited
upon us, while we conversed chiefly about colliers and dogs and our
approaching visit to Gretna Green, which, as neither of us was married,
was naturally our next great object of interest.

[Illustration: PENTON BRIDGE, CANONBIE.]

After our long walk the previous day, with very little sleep at the end
of it, and the heavy breakfast we had just eaten, we felt uncommonly
lazy and disinclined to walk very far that day. So, after wishing our
friend good luck at the races, we bade him good-bye, and idly retraced
our steps along the colliery road until we reached the bridge where we
had met the collier so early in the morning. We had now time to admire
the scenery, and regretted having passed through that beautiful part of
the country during our weary tramp in the dark, and that we had missed
so much of it, including the Border Towers on the River Esk.

Riddel Water, with its fine scenery, was on our left as we came from the
colliery, where it formed the boundary between Scotland and England,
emptying itself into the River Esk about two miles from Canonbie Bridge,
which we now crossed, and soon arrived at the "Cross Keys Inn," of which
we had heard but failed to reach the previous night. The landlord of the
inn, who was standing at the door, was formerly the driver of the Royal
Mail Stagecoach "Engineer" which ran daily between Hawick and Carlisle
on the Edinburgh to London main road. A good-looking and healthy man of
over fifty years of age, his real name was Elder, but he was popularly
known as Mr. Sandy or Sandy Elder. The coach, the last stage-coach that
ever ran on that road, was drawn in ordinary weather by three horses,
which were changed every seven or eight miles, the "Cross Keys" at
Canonbie being one of the stopping-places.

[Illustration: "CROSS KEYS INN."]

Mr. Elder had many tales to tell of stage-coach days; one adventure,
however, seemed more prominent in his thoughts than the others. It
happened many years ago, when on one cold day the passengers had, with
the solitary exception of one woman, who was sitting on the back seat of
the coach, gone into the "Cross Keys Inn" for refreshments while the
horses were being changed. The fresh set of horses had been put in, and
the stablemen had gone to the hotel to say all was ready, when, without
a minute's warning, the fresh horses started off at full gallop along
the turnpike road towards Carlisle. Great was the consternation at the
inn, and Sandy immediately saddled a horse and rode after them at full
speed. Meantime the woman, who Mr. Sandy said must have been as brave a
woman as ever lived, crawled over the luggage on the top of the coach
and on to the footboard in front. Kneeling down while holding on with
one hand, she stretched the other to the horses' backs and secured the
reins, which had slipped down and were urging the horses forward. By
this time the runaway horses had nearly covered the two miles between
the inn and the tollgates, which were standing open, as the mail coach
was expected, whose progress nothing must delay. Fortunately the keeper
of the first gate was on the look-out, and he was horrified when he saw
the horses coming at their usual great speed without Sandy the driver;
he immediately closed the gate, and, with the aid of the brave woman,
who had recovered the reins, the horses were brought to a dead stop at
the gate, Mr. Sandy arriving a few minutes afterwards. The last run of
this coach was in 1862, about nine years before our visit, and there was
rather a pathetic scene on that occasion. We afterwards obtained from
one of Mr. Elder's ten children a cutting from an old newspaper she had
carefully preserved, a copy of which is as follows:

Mr. Elder, the Landlord of the "Cross Keys Hotel," was the last of
the Border Royal Mail Coach Drivers and was familiarly known as
"Sandy," and for ten years was known as the driver of the coach
between Hawick and Carlisle. When the railway started and gave the
death-blow to his calling, he left the seat of the stage coach, and
invested his savings in the cosy hostelry of the road-side type
immortalised by Scott in his "Young Lochinvar." He told of the time
when he did duty on the stage coach for Dukes, Earls, and Lords, and
aided run-a-way couples to reach the "blacksmith" at Gretna Green. He
told of the days when he manipulated the ribbons from the box of the
famous coach "Engineer" when he dashed along with foaming horses as
if the fate of a nation depended upon his reaching his stage at a
given time. He could remember Mosspaul Inn at the zenith of its fame
under the reigning sovereign Mr. Gownlock - whose tact and management
made his Hotel famous. He had frequently to carry large sums of money
from the Border banks and although these were the days of footpads
and highwaymen, and coaches were "held up" in other parts, Sandy's
Coach was never molested, although he had been blocked with his
four-in-hand in the snow. He gave a graphic description of the
running of the last mail coach from Hawick to Merrie Carlisle in
1862. Willie Crozier the noted driver was mounted on the box, and the
horses were all decked out for the occasion. Jemmie Ferguson the old
strapper, whose occupation like that of Othello's was all gone, saw
it start with a heavy heart, and crowds turned out to bid it
good-bye. When the valleys rang with the cheery notes of the
well-blown horn, and the rumbling sound of the wheels and the
clattering hoofs of the horses echoed along the way, rich and poor
everywhere came to view the end of a system which had so long kept
them in touch with civilisation. The "Engineer" guards and drivers
with scarlet coats, white hats, and overflowing boots, and all the
coaching paraphernalia so minutely described by Dickens, then passed
away, and the solitary remnant of these good old times was "Sandy"
Elder the old Landlord of the "Cross Keys" on Canonbie Lea.

Soon after leaving the "Cross Keys" we came to a wood where we saw a
"Warning to Trespassers" headed "Dangerous," followed by the words
"Beware of fox-traps and spears in these plantations." This, we
supposed, was intended for the colliers, for in some districts they were
noted as expert poachers. Soon afterwards we reached what was called the
Scotch Dyke, the name given to a mound of earth, or "dyke," as it was
called locally, some four miles long and erected in the year 1552
between the rivers Esk and Sark to mark the boundary between England and
Scotland. We expected to find a range of hills or some substantial
monument or noble ruin to mark the boundary between the two countries,
and were rather disappointed to find only an ordinary dry dyke and a
plantation, while a solitary milestone informed us that it was
eighty-one and a half miles to Edinburgh. We were now between the two
tollbars, one in Scotland and the other in England, with a space of
only about fifty yards between them, and as we crossed the centre we
gave three tremendous cheers which brought out the whole population of
the two tollhouses to see what was the matter. We felt very silly, and
wondered why we had done so, since we had spent five weeks in Scotland
and had nothing but praise both for the inhabitants and the scenery. It
was exactly 9.50 a.m. when we crossed the boundary, and my brother on
reflection recovered his self-respect and said he was sure we could have
got absolution from Sir Walter Scott for making all that noise, for had
he not written:

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd,
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd.

[Illustration: NETHERBY HALL.]

As the morning was beautifully fine, we soon forsook the highway and
walked along the grassy banks of the Esk, a charming river whose waters
appeared at this point as if they were running up hill. We were very
idle, and stayed to wash our feet in its crystal waters, dressing them
with common soap, which we had always found very beneficial as a salve.
We sauntered past Kirkandrew's Tower; across the river was the mansion
of Netherby, the home of the Graham family, with its beautiful
surroundings, immortalised by Sir Walter Scott in his "Young Lochinvar,"
who came out of the West, and -

One touch to her hand, and one word in her ear,
When they reached the hall-door, and the charger stood near;
So light to the croupe the fair lady he swung,
So light to the saddle before her he spran!
"She is won! we are gone, over bank, bush, and scaur;
They'll have fleet steeds that follow," quoth young Lochinvar.

There was mounting 'mong Græmes of the Netherby clan;
Forsters, Fenwicks, and Musgraves, they rode and they ran:
There was racing and chasing on Cannobie Lee,
But the lost bride of Netherby ne'er did they see.
So daring in love, and so dauntless in war,
Have ye e'er heard of gallant like young Lochinvar?

We were far more inclined to think and talk than to walk, and as we sat
on the peaceful banks of the river we thought what a blessing it was
that those Border wars were banished for ever, for they appeared to
have been practically continuous from the time of the Romans down to the
end of the sixteenth century, when the two countries were united under
one king, and we thought of that verse so often quoted:

The Nations in the present day
Preserve the good old plan,
That all shall take who have the power
And all shall keep who can.

We were not far from the narrowest point of the kingdom from east to
west, or from one sea to the other, where the Roman Emperor, Hadrian,
built his boundary wall; but since that time, if we may credit the words
of another poet who described the warriors and their origin, other
nationalities have waged war on the Borders -

From the worst scoundrel race that ever lived
A horrid crowd of rambling thieves and drones,
Who ransacked Kingdoms and dispeopled towns,
The Pict, the painted Briton, treacherous Scot
By hunger, theft, and rapine, hither brought
Norwegian Pirates - buccaneering Danes,
Whose red-haired offspring everywhere remains;
Who, joined with Norman French, compound the breed,
From whence you time-born Bordermen proceed.

How long we should have loitered on the bank of the river if the pangs
of hunger had not again made themselves felt we could not say, but we
resolved at last to walk to Longtown for some refreshments, and arrived
there by noon, determined to make amends for our shortcomings after
lunch, for, incredible though it seemed, we had only walked six miles!
But we landed in a little cosy temperance house, one of those places
where comfort prevailed to a much greater extent than in many more
brilliant establishments. It was kept by one Forster, a gentleman of
distinction, possessing a remarkable temperament and following numerous
avocations. He informed us he was the parish clerk, and that the Lord
Bishop was holding a Confirmation Service in the church at 3 p.m. We had
intended only to stay for lunch and then resume our journey, but the
mention of a much less important person than the Lord Bishop would have
made us stay until tea-time, and travel on afterwards, so we decided to
remain for the service. Punctually at three o'clock, escorted by the son
of our landlord, we entered the Arthuret Church, the Parish Church of
Longtown, about half a mile away from the town. It was built in 1609 and
dedicated to St. Michael, but had recently been restored and a handsome
stained-glass window placed at the east end in memory of the late Sir
James Graham, whose burial-place we observed marked by a plain stone
slab as we entered the churchyard. In consequence of a domestic
bereavement the organist was absent, and as he had forgotten to leave
the key the harmonium was useless. Our friend the parish clerk, however,
was quite equal to the occasion, for as the Psalm commencing "All
people that on earth do dwell" was given out, he stepped out into the
aisle and led off with the good old tune the "Old Hundredth," so
admirably adapted for congregational use, and afterwards followed with
the hymn beginning "Before Jehovah's awful throne," completing the
choral part of the service to the tune of "Duke Street"; we often
wondered where that street was, and who the duke was that it was named
after. Our admiration of the parish clerk increased when we found he
could start the singing of Psalms and on the correct note in the
presence of a Lord Bishop, and we contemplated what might have been the
result had he started the singing in a higher or a lower key. We
rejoiced that the responsibility rested upon him and not on ourselves.
The Candidates for Confirmation were now requested to stand while the
remainder of the congregation remained seated. The Bishop, Dr. Goodwin,
delivered a homely, solemn, and impressive address. His lordship did not
take any text, but spoke extempore, and we were well pleased with his
address, so appropriate was it to the occasion; the language was easy
and suited to the capacities of those for whom the service was specially
held. As sympathisers with the temperance movement we thoroughly
coincided with the Bishop's observations when he affectionately warned
his hearers against evil habits, amongst which he catalogued that of
indulgence in intoxicating drinks, and warned the young men not to
frequent public-houses, however much they might be ridiculed or thought
mean for not doing so. The candidates came from three parishes, the
girls dressed very plainly and as usual outnumbering the boys. The
general congregation was numerically small, and we were surprised that
there was no collection! Service over, we returned to our lodgings for
tea, intending to resume our walk immediately afterwards. We were so
comfortable, however, and the experiences of the previous day and night



Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 22 of 66)