5 September1999 hewat@ill.fr

A Walk Around Old Roxburgh and Kelso (August 1999)

From the Roxburgh Church, where ancient Hewats are buried, I walk west down the unsealed road past small cottages, most built in the past 100 years. But to the left by the Teviot stands the remains of Wallace's Tower, also called Merlin's tower, a reminder of a more distant past. Andrew Bell in his Statistical Account in the 1790's says that near the turn of that century a young maiden on the day of her wedding fell from the top of the tower staircase. Her ghost haunted the place, so that it was left to ruin, inhabited only by sheep and cattle, little more now than a pile of rubble. But in fact it was probably first sacked by a vengeful Scottish queen, who in the 16th century razed ancient Roxburgh with its formidable castle to end 100 years of English occupation. Her king had been killed in the seige, blown up by his own canon, and of the ancient town, one of the 4 most important in medieval Scotland, no trace is now to be seen, but for these piles of stone.

The end of the road is cut by the Victorian railway line, now also in ruin. As I approach a young mother and daughter climb the rail embankment, with the same idea as mine, to walk along the disused line. The little girl dashes about catching butterflies and frogs, while her mother waits. I pass and smile, but when I look back, mother and daughter have changed their mind, turning back to their car. Perhaps they think my lonely figure sinister in such a deserted place. Could they be related to the prudent Hoggs, who had "resided in this parish as heretofor more than 600 years as old records do attest" according to the 18th century inscription of the Roxburgh church wall ? In the Saxon language "Rox" means "strong", a fortified town, and "Hog" simply means careful. The dust of many Hoggs and Hewats lay intermingled in Roxburgh churchyard, as they were in life.

The local council, prudent still, had erected iron gates at both ends of the rail bridge across the river. I scale the gates and continue on my way, now completely alone under a darkening sky. From the height of the embankment I look back across the river to "Barns", where six times great grandfather James had so shocked the elders of his kirk by taking over poor farmers land. His gravestone in the churchyard is small, but richly decorated with the symbols of life and death. Barns today is a large farm, with rolling fields of wheat. It may have been quite different 273 years ago at the time of the "Heuit Bussiness", but if James had aquired at least 3.5 Lands (a Husband-Land is 26 Scots acres or 33 English), then he might have farmed a half square kilometer between the Tweed and the Teviot to the west of the old castle.

But I am now on the opposite side of the Teviot, near Heiton Mill with the curious sheep, looking towards the rolling barley fields of Barns. Heiton is a small village to my right, where curiously the local blacksmith has for generations, and still is, a "Hewit". 150 years ago, James Hewat's great-great grandson William ended up taking over the coal and iron business in Dublin of another Scots imigré Thomas Heiton, and the family still control the company called Heiton's Atlantic. Indeed it was a small world between these two Border rivers, so often fought over.

The railway embankment becomes increasingly difficult to follow, being cut by marshy ground and a small stream. I head off toward the Teviot over fields and end up at Springwoods, former home of a proud Douglas, rival to the Kers who still hold Floors (Fleurs) as Dukes of Roxburgh. But Springwoods is now largely a caravan park. It is full of young (and elderly) owners of large Harley-Davidson motorcycles, who have come from all over Britain to meet.

Kelso is now the principal town, extending over the site of ancient Roxburgh, which is within the grounds of Floors. I stayed in the Coach House, a small hostel near the old Abbey, quite comfortable with even a modest en-suite bathroom, as they say here. There are other hotels serving English food of little interest, except for a tea-shop in the main street where I ate Rhubarb tarte, impossible to find in France, yet a great favourite of mine. Yet there is one outstanding restaurant in Kelso, just off the main street. I went back on successive nights, and was lucky to have a table even in mid-week, it was so popular with the local lairds and tourists. They offered several dishes consisting of foul stuffed with fish (and vice-versa) which sounds "original" to say the least, but which is actually delicious when the fish is salmon, smoked or poached, and the foul is pheasant, venison and of course haggis. I did not order wine - always disappointing or expensive on this side of the channel - but the local beer is excellent.

Kelso Abbey has been in ruins for centuries, but still stands proud and beautiful. The grounds have been dug up to plant graves, but fortunately no Hewats desecrate that place. Yet beside the Abbey in the church grounds just across from the room in which I took breakfast I found the grave of a "Heweit" perhaps some distant relation. But the creature comforts of Kelso have distracted me from the rural pleasure of my walk around Roxburgh, not yet finished !

Crossing the old bridge on the Teviot at Kelso, I follow the curve of the river past the weir once built to raise the waters to protect the medieval castle. There is little trace of it today. Even the castle, built where the Tweed and Teviot try to touch once more before going their seperate ways, has almost gone. Above the wide curve of the Teviot, Marchmount the castle mound rises, formidable still, and when I climb to the top I have a commanding view. Little wonder that the mount on the march between England and Scotland was easy to defend. With the system of weirs and trenches, surrounded by wide waters and behind thick stone walls still visible, the defenders must have felt invincible. Indeed some believe that ancient Roxburgh was the true site of Arthur's Avalon, high above protecting waters.

I descend again toward the river, fearing to fall into some hidden hole in the tall grass, slipping into the subterranean dungeons of the castle. But I survive, and the calm river seems far removed from those romantic times. Ahead of me lies Jame's "Barns", even 300 years ago belonging to a more modern age. If Alexander had lived at Barns he might have walked to school in Kelso, which we know he attended. But the walk to Roxburgh seems much further in the warm afternoon beside the quiet river. When I arrive the village is sleeping.

Alan William Hewat (hewat@ill.fr)