Here in Liddesdale you are deep in the heart of reiver country. The Scottish Middle March was the most lawless part of the whole borderland and some of the worst criminals passed through this area on their way to raid England. 400 years ago reivers lived in the old centre of Castleton further up the valley. It was home to some of the most martial families – in particular, the Elliots.
‘‘The Elliots are grown so to seek blood, they will make a quarrel for the death of their grandfather and kill any of the name’
Without the protection of the law ordinary families had to pay a more powerful borderer to protect them. The deal was done with oats, barley and meal and was known as ‘blackmeal’ – which led to the modern word ‘blackmail’. If property was taken, the protector was expected to retrieve the goods. This was known as the Hot Trod and was the lawful pursuit of thieves. All male neighbours had to join the chase and a piece of burning turf was held on a spear to let others know what was happening. Speed and cunning were vital for a successful mission. The reivers chose their horses, shaggy little ponies, for stamina and agility.
Did you know?
in reiving times the Elliot clan dominated this area. Called the 'thieves of Liddesdale' they ruled from their strongholds of Larriston, Redheugh and Stobs. A visitor to the borderlands was seeking shelter. ‘Are there no Christians to be found?’ he asked. ‘No,’ came the reply, ‘we are only Elliots and Armstrongs!’ By the mid-16th century, the Elliots were feuding with most of their neighbours and were engaged in a small war with the Scott family. It was a dangerous time. There was ‘daily slaughter, stealing on all hands and justice nowhere’.
'Lock the door Larriston, Lion of Liddesdale,
Lock the door Larriston, Lowther comes on
The Armstrongs are flying, the widows are crying,
The Castleton’s burning and Oliver’s gone.
See how they wane the proud files of the Windermere,
Howard ah! Woe to the hopes of the day
Hear the wild welkin rend, while the Scots shouts ascend,
Elliot of Larriston, Elliot for aye!'
The Elliot war-cry is ‘Wha daur meddle wi’ me?’ and few did. Nixons and Crosiers rode with the Elliots and the Armstrongs. Despite the fact that life was violent and short, the reivers had a sense of humour and gave each other nicknames like Buggerback or Nebless Clem.
Newcastleton began life in 1793 as a planned village and handloom weaving centre. The Liddesdale Heritage Association was formed in 1985 and it opened a centre in this former Congregational Church. Here is the Elliot Clan display and a model of an Elliot tower. There are census and tombstone records and artefacts of the old Waverley railway line which ran from here to Edinburgh. The magnificent bi-centenary tapestry depicts life in this Scottish Borders village over the last 200 years. This is the Elliot tartan, designed by a countess to match the colour of her eyes. The Elliot chief lives at Redheugh.
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