Book review by Steve Matthews.
“They displayed the attributes of devious, vicious and vengeful crooks.” If you have a name like Robson or Routledge or Forster or Armstrong or Nixon, these were your ancestors, the men and women who “terrorised” the Border between England and Scotland between the twelfth and the sixteenth century. They were the Reivers.
The Armstrongs could “put 3000 riders in the saddle at short notice”. They were an effective light cavalry, but though they were feared for robbing and killing, they were also men of honour who protected their families and their clan.
The country they inhabited, the lands of the Borders, contains some of the loneliest, remotest, wildest and most Romantic scenery in the whole country. Few explore the territory and yet walking through this often incredibly beautiful landscape, you are walking through history.
Inspired by the history of the Reivers, and with a sound knowledge of the topography, Andrew Lowes conducts the venturesome reader on some twenty-eight walks covering the territory from Canonbie to Berwick and from Moffat to Newcastle.
Canonbie was at the heart of the Debateable Land, an area where neither the law of England nor the law of Scotland held sway. An eleven mile walk through relatively easy terrain along the river valleys will take about four hours, but in those four hours you will be able to relive one of the great stories of folk history, a story that is commemorated in the Border Ballad of Kinmont Willie. Kinmont Willie was arrested on the banks of Liddel Water just below Kershopefoot. He was arrested by men belonging to Lord Scrope, the English Warden, on a day, 17th March, 1596, which was supposed to be a day of truce. Lord Buccleuch determined to assemble a force and to attack Carlisle Castle and free Kinmont Willie. “So stealthy and quick was the raid there was no alarm or pursuit. Not only had they got their man back, but Scrope had been humiliated by how easily one of the strongest fortresses in the Borders had been breached.”
Those eleven miles take you from Rowanburn south along the Border along the banks of Liddel Water where Kinmont Willie was arrested. You pass Liddel Strength, a one-time motte and bailey castle, and walk to the confluence with the Esk and then turn north to Canonbie. A short detour takes you to the Clan Armstrong Centre at Gilnockie Tower.
Another wal, this time of five miles, makes a round tour of the lake at Lochmaben where there was a pitched battle between the families of the Johnstones and the Maxwells in 1593.
A walk along the South Tyne of about eight miles takes you through the territory of the Ridleys and the Routledges, an area of “bastles, peles, castles and bloody murder”.
Andrew Lowes will also conduct you to the most dangerous place in England, to Flodden Field and Medieval Newcastle, along the Salters’ and the Thieves’ Roads and around The Devil’s Beef Tub.
These are walks through history with a vengeance.