"The Anglo-Scottish frontier is arguably the most beautiful, and certainly the most bloodstained, region of Britain, perhaps of all Europe. For centuries it was the scene of internecine warfare between England and Scotland, in which great battles were fought, vast areas scorched into wilderness, towns and villages and magnificent abbeys were destroyed, and countless Borderers on both sides were killed" (Fraser, 2000)
We are collecting information about the Southern Borders which will shape the proposal for National Park designation. Drawing on our research we are going to post notes on this site on a series of relevant topics. The first note, presented here, is a brief introduction to the key concept of the cultural landscape, and to some of the unique characteristics of this area which together make it a nationally and internationally important cultural landscape. The UK National Parks are all recognized to be important cultural landscapes and we aim to demonstrate that this area compares favourably with the best of them. Please send us your comments and tell us about important facts we have missed.
"More than fragile inward investment, the Borders needs ideas - ideas which have their beginnings and endings in these hills and river valleys, and which can reach out and touch the lives of anyone." (Moffat, 2002)
Why this area?
Significantly, the communities in this cultural landscape continue to live on, renewing their ancient traditions and evolving their socio-economic structures. Here in this relatively undisturbed area we can see and understand the story of how the communities which developed here shaped the landscape of the Scottish Borders over the millennia and the centuries, and continue to do so.
The concept of the Cultural Landscape
What are the unique characteristics and importance of this Borders cultural landscape? The answer is that there is an unrivalled opportunity to understand and appreciate the epic story of the evolution of the Scottish Border land and its communities in this relatively undisturbed area of spectacular landscapes and ancient settlements. There is a timeless quality to the landscape and yet it is still a living and working landscape which continues to be shaped by the people who live here.
The Scottish Border, the oldest border in the world, established in 1237 by the Treaty of York (see e.g. wikipedia) runs for much of its length along the ridges of the Cheviot Hills. These formed a partial barrier against invaders. However this barrier was repeatedly breached. In addition to local incursions there were several major periods when Roman then Northumbrian then English armies crossed into Scotland but were ultimately repelled. The people who settled here always had to be prepared to defend their homes and stock. The architecture, the traditions, the folklore and the historical records from prehistoric times up through the time of the Reivers bear testimony to this.
Again and again the invaders retreated back over this border. Then the lands enjoyed periods of peace in which the communities were able to accumulate wealth from agriculture, manufacture and trading the distinctive local products. The hills on which the sheep were pastured yielded the wool which generated much of the wealth of the four great abbeys, Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh, in the mediaeval period. The fertile land of the river valleys supported agriculture. The abundant waters of the great rivers powered the mills and provided good transport to the port of Berwick, and the plentiful supplies of wool led to the growth of the Borders textiles industry, famed for the quality of its products. Today in spite of ups and downs the industry still produces some of the finest and most sought after tweeds and woollens in the world.
Much of this narrative can still be read by running the eye across the landscapes of the area. Cycling, walking, riding or driving around the area, takes one out of time, the layers of history are peeled back. The hills are marked by forts and cultivation going back to the pre-Christian era. The placenames, Abbotrule, etc, - recall the era of the great abbeys; Pennygant, Din, etc the p-celtic period, Chesters, Bonchester Bridge etc, the Roman era. The switchback roads e.g. the A68 south of St Boswells - reminds the driver that this is the path of a Roman road.
The architecture and layout of towns and other settlements reveal their origins and evolution to the visitor's eye. Jedburgh Abbey, burnt down by invaders then rebuilt. The house in Jedburgh where Mary Queen of Scots was staying when news of her wounded lover Bothwell reached her, and from whence she scandalously rode over the moors to visit him at Hermitage Castle, dropping her timepiece in the Queen's Mire at Braidlie, now a popular walking route which visitors can follow today.
The name Yetholm means "Gate Town", and the two villages bearing that name lay in the debatable lands during the various wars between England and Scotland. This turbulence meant that permanent settlement in Yetholm may only have started towards the end of the 16th century, but the area had long been home to the Yetholm Gypsies, who found that the border location made travel and avoidance of persecution easier. Most of the gypsies settled permanently in Kirk Yetholm when the laird built houses and a school for the community during the 1700s. The last true King of the Gypsies died in Kirk Yetholm in 1883, though in an early attempt to boost the local economy through tourism, a ceremonial Gypsy Coronation took place as late as 1898. The Pennine Way starts or (more commonly) ends in Kirk Yetholm, a mere 268 miles north of its southern terminus in Derbyshire. More recently, Kirk Yetholm has also become a feature on the St Cuthbert's Way, a 62 mile walk following in the footsteps of St Cuthbert from Melrose to Lindisfarne. The Border Hotel, once a drover's inn, is now a welcome sight for walkers on both trails.
Travelling the area and admiring the vistas as they unroll, the perception of the visitor is at the same time informed from within by the stories s/he has heard of Border families and their roots in this romantic but bloodstained landscape - the wicked Lord de Soulis of Hermitage Castle who stole Fair May of Goranberry, who was the sweetheart of the young Laird of Branxholme, ancestor of the Dukes of Buccleuch (Sir Walter Scott, Poetical Works, V.1). Lord de Soulis had his come-uppance when he was boiled in lead at Ninestane Rig (ancient-scotland.co.uk), a small stone circle still visible on a nearby hill, for dabbling in witchcraft. The Borders telephone directory reveals how many of the people today bear names of historic Border families - Kerr, Scott, Elliot, Armstrong, etc. The story of the Borders is alive and continuing.
The prominent mound upon which Roxburghe Castle stood and which provided the stage for many a romantic drama, factual and fictional, is still readily recognisable today. History tells us that a king of Scotland (James II) died there when a cannon exploded in an effort to regain the stronghold from the English, romance tells us that lovers and hostages and intrigue all played their parts in the many sieges there.
Threats to the landscape
The benefits and possible drawbacks to designation will be explored in another note to be published on this site. Designation of this beautiful and important cultural area as a National Park is well-merited. It would protect the landscape and help sustain socio-economic viability.
You can help to develop this discussion further. Please comment in the comment-box (below the references) or email your comments and information to us.
ELC The European Landscape Convention, Council of Europe, Europe Treaty Series No. 176, https://rm.coe.int
Fraser (2000) Foreword by George MacDonald Fraser to "Warfare and Fortifications in the Borders", Scottish Borders Council, 2000, p.3.(Copyright Scottish Borders Council and reproduced here with their kind permission.)
HESS (2014) Our place in time - the historic environment strategy for Scotland, www.gov.scot/Resource/0049/0049/4887.pdf
Mayhew, 200 , "Unfinished Business", APRS and SCNP, www.aprs.scot
Moffat (2002) "The Borders, A History of the Borders from Earliest Times" by Alistair Moffat, Deerpark Press, Selkirk, 2002, p.417.
NNPA (2015) "State of the National Park Report", Northumberland National Park Authority, www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk
NTS 2003, "Conservation Principles", author John Mayhew, National Trust for Scotland, www.nts.org.uk
Scottish Borders Strategic Assessment (2014)www.gov.scot.uk
SHEF (2015) Landscape and the historic environment workshop 2015 www.gov.scot/Resource/0049/00493501.pdf
SHEF(2015) Landscape and the historic environment - a position statement, www.gov.scot/Resource/0049/00494887.pdf
Tancred, 2001, "Rulewater and its people", George Tancred, Walter Scott Publishing Ltd, Hawick.
UNESCO "Cultural Landscapes" whc.unesco.org
UNESCO (b) "World Heritage Cultural Landscapes - a Handbook for conservation and Management", whc.unesco.org