TWEEDSMUIR PARISH HISTORY.

Tweed's Well - the source of the River Tweed - and other wells of Tweedsmuir.

 

At the source of the River Tweed, at the extreme south end of Tweedsmuir Parish, there is a stone monument in a viewpoint layby on the A701.(1)   This monument tells the story of the river's journey through the Scottish Borders between Tweedsmuir and the North Sea at Berwick. 

The monument was recently - 2018- cleaned by a group of Tweedsmuir volunteers after date of above photograph.  New signage was also provided.

The monument displays five panels that tells the story of the Tweed.

Panel 1 - This moor is an open hand, the palm lined with streams, in winter, on frozen land, Tweed's Well shows up as green.   In summer when upland dries, the source is flowing free.   A clear spring will always rise, while Tweed runs to the sea.

Panel 2 - In the field across the field, among pools and trickles in the wet ground, Tweeds starts its journey of nearly one hundred miles to the sea.  Its famous salmon depend on the pure water.   They hatch in the river, leave to spend four years at sea, then find their way again to spawn. 

Panel 3 - From here to Peebles, the river runs through a land of mysteries, Merlin of Caledon, said to be one of the last druids, came here around 580 AD at the end of his life.   Perhaps he accepted the new religion, Christianity, and was baptised.   Or perhaps he held to the old beliefs, a wandering prophet for thr people who shared them.

A thousand years later Tweed saw other religious struggles.   The Covenanters rejected the Book of Common Prayer issued in 1635, but were persecuted for their independence.   Government troops hunted them, so they held services on the open moors with lookouts to keep watch.

Panel 4 - Further downstream, the border valley snd rolling hills make good sheep country.   The great abbeys at Melrose and Kelso grew powerful from the wool trade and from farming.   When industry came to the Borders, Tweed powered the early textile mills.

Many of the great houses of the valley began as towers to defend their owners in troubled times.   Neidpath castle is still a fortress, but the grand settings of Traquair, Abbotsford, Floors Castle and Paxton House show how later owners laid out their ground to enjoy the landscape carved river.

Panel 5 - Tweed forms the border between Scotland and England for only a few miles, but the river has long been a symbol of the boundary between two uneasy neighbours.   Many armies have crossed the Tweed, going both from north to south and vice versa.

Torn between Scotland and England, the Borders suffered in the struggles of the ambitious and sometimes foolish Kings.   Incessant change and the upheaval made the region an outlaws' stronghold in the 1500s and 1600s, and both Scots and English rulers left it alone.   But through the commotion the Borders and their people developed their own proud identity, with Tweed at its heart.

The mention of Merlin of Caledon on the above Panel 3 is significant.   Although undoubtedly the reference was to Merlins association with Drumelzier/Stobo a few miles down stream it is a happy coincidence that the monument is in fact in the Wood of Caledon.   In fact, the summit of Hartfell, the mountain where Merlin sojourned for many years, should be visible to the south east from the layby. For more about Merlin see page Merlin Caledonious .

The mention of Melrose Abbey and sheep farming on panel 5 is also significant for Tweedsmuir.  For more about this see the Hopecarton/Carterhope page.

It is hoped in due course to improve and enhance the layby and the stone monument area.

 

Other recorded wells in Tweedsmuir Parish.

On mid nineteenth century Ordnance Survey maps of Tweedsmuir parish there are several draw wells shown, rather surprisingly they were shown adjacent to water ways.  One of these wells as indicated above was at the source of the river Tweed – in fact the source of the  river is still known as Tweedswell.  There is also a Marchwell in the Fruid valley and a well at Forkfoots which is at the confluence of the Glenrusco and Westerhope burns  The reason for these wells must indicate that there was a severe drought at some time.  The records are not great on drought but they are on spates when bridges etc were carried away.   A good supply of water was very important for the watering of the very large flocks of sheep kept at the hill-farms in the area.   This requirement maybe going back to the Monks of Melrose in the thirteenth/fourteenth centuries who had huge flocks spread over the Tweedsmuir Hills.

John Buchan in his early novel titled John Burnet of Barns(2) mentions a drought in 1683 when  the Manor Water dried up and the river Tweed at Manor was just a trickle. If the Tweed at Manor was a trickle it would have been dried up in Tweedsmuir. Using a fictional novel to justify history is not good practice but John Buchan did a prodigious amount of research for his historical stories and of course he could call on his brother James Walter Buchan the author of the 3 volume History of Peeblesshire for assistance.

There was a the book published in 1911 titled Highways & Byways in the Border(3) by Andrew and John Lang. The book included many fine illustrations of the Upper Tweed area by Hugh Thomson.   Mr Thomson was obliged to add a note at the beginning of the book - this reads  The artist wishes to call attention to the fact that his drawings were made during the long drought of 1911, when all the rivers were exceptionally low.

Assuming that there was a drought resulting in the river Tweed drying up it does suggest that Global Warming is not something new!

References.

1) Dent, John & McDonald, Rory; Heritage Sites in the Borders, Scottish Borders Council, 2001. p73 and plate 15.

2) Buchan, John; John Burnet of Barns - Unified Edition, Nelson, Edinburgh, 1927. p34.

3) Lang, Andrew and John; Highways & Byways in the Border, McMillan, London, 1913. Frontispiece Note.

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