It seems that the key to my continued existence, and my obliviousness to my home’s worrying reputation, is simply the century in which I was born. Had I entered the world 450 years earlier things could have been very different, and the location where I was given life would most likely been responsible for my early demise!
Brutality, violence and conflict were the way of life in the Liddesdale valley throughout the middle ages, and it was this ferocious culture that earned the stretch of land its forbidding reputation. The land through which the Liddel waters flow straddles the England-Scotland border, making it the front line for battles between the two opposing countries long before the concept of a ‘united kingdom’ was ever suggested. However, it was not just warring between nations that bloodied the ground. Neighbouring clans would raid each other’s land to steal livestock (and even women) from their fellow countrymen.
If you wander through this beautiful valley now it is so peaceful and unspoilt it can be difficult to believe that it has been witness to such treachery and betrayal, although there are a few ancient buildings and stone built memorials dotted around the landscape that remind you of times long past. Hermitage Castle, which sits about 6 miles from the village of Newcastleton, is one such relic.
Sinister, stark, and somehow almost threatening, it stands ominously amongst the hills. Unlike many historic attractions, it is a building that I think is best to visit on a day when the sky is dark and the air is cool, making sure you get a real appreciation of just how menacing and intimidating this castle can feel! Complimenting the building’s haunting ambience is the tale of ‘Bad Lord Soulis’ who apparently lived in the castle and was eventually wrapped in lead and boiled to death by the Liddesdale clans – and if you believe the story it was one of the more justifiable murders they committed!
I have to admit that I am rather glad I was not quite so aware of the valley’s terrifying history when, in my youth, I had a very overactive imagination. But I’m glad that I watched the first programme in the BBC series ‘Scotland Clans’ (which was shown on BBC Scotland this Wednesday) from which I gained this increased knowledge about the significant blood-shed which once took place so close to my childhood home.
Those who missed it (or are out with the catchment area for BBC Scotland) can catch it on BBC iplayer until Wednesday 16th February. If it inspires you to explore the area for yourself and indulge in the rich history and traditions of the Border country, my personal recommendation for a place to stay is Braehead Cottage, just 11 miles from Hermitage Castle itself.