Day 8&9: Carter Bar to Barrowburn

Now heading East across the Cheviots and joining the Pennine Way, the first day I had the company of Janet, Jerome and Matty and the second day, Bridget. The forests of Kielder and Liethope give way to upland moors, heather and peat hags. Nice views though as we reach the watershed which the border will continue to follow alongside the Pennine way till Kirk Yetholm.

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Day 7: Bloody Bush to Deadwater

Disused quarry in Kielder Forest

Disused quarry in Kielder Forest

Bells Burn border line

Bells Burn border line

Peat bog with Water Starwort (callitriche palustris) - British Native submerged oxygenator with masses of small star shaped green leaves.

Peat bog with Water Starwort (callitriche palustris) – British Native submerged oxygenator with masses of small star shaped green leaves.

Bloody Bush Toll Pillar

Bloody Bush Toll Pillar

Small military plane flying above Kielder forest

Small military plane flying above Kielder forest

The Battle of Solway Moss

A few miles north east of the Solway, just by the Esk is the area of Arthuret Howe, where in 1542 the English forces faced the Scots, in a battle that ended in a huge and tragic loss of life. When Henry VIII of England broke from the Roman Catholic Church, his nephew, James V of Scotland, refused to do the same. Furious, Henry VIII sent troops against Scotland and in retaliation, James responded by assigning Lord Maxwell, the Scottish Warden of West March, the task of raising an army.

On 24 November 1542, an army of 15,000–18,000 Scots advanced into England and was met near Solway Moss by Lord Wharton and his 3,000 men. The battle was uncoordinated and ended in catastrophe. On sighting the tiny English force atop the hill in front of them, the Scots hesitated fearing a ruse. The English cavalry seized their chance and charged; the Scottish ranks broke and attempted to retreat. Trapped at the ford on the south bank of the River Esk, some Scots made a rearguard stand before finally surrendering. Many drowned attempting to cross the ford and those that survived hid in the boggy heathland that gives the battle its name, Solway Moss. Losses as a direct consequence of the battle were relatively few, however several hundred Scots were believed drowned and around 1,200 taken prisoner. Humiliated by the defeat, King James died a few weeks later aged just 30, leaving behind a six-day-old daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots.

The site remains largely undeveloped agricultural land. However, the character of the landscape has changed considerably with the process of enclosure and the draining of the large floodplain between the hamlet of Arthuret and the River Esk.

Day 6: The Solway Firth

According to the OS map a mile or two into the estuary of the Solway Firth, somewhere in the channel of the river Eden amongst the mud flats and quick sands is the western end of the border. The Lochmaben Stone marks a more distinctive end of the border. It is all that is left of a stone circle dating back to around 3000BC, now sitting in an arable field on the north banks of the firth about a mile from the the Sark where the border leaves the Solway. At 7 feet high and 18 feet in girth it would have been a very visible landmark on the flat Solway Plain for several millennia. During the centuries of turmoil and bloodshed prior to the Union of the Crowns, it was a meeting place for arrangements for truces and exchange of prisoners. Raiding parties also met here before launching expeditions into England and Scottish armies assembled here before major incursions or defence operations took place.

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The Lochmaben Stone, traditional marker for the Western end of the border and meeting point for the Wardens of the Marches and raiding parties.

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Grass island in the quicksand of the Firth

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Coy figure on the banks of the Firth at Eastriggs

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Swans on the Channel of the Esk in the Firth

Day Five: Penton to Gretna

This last stretch to the west coast and is the longest so far at about 15 miles, continuing along Liddell Water where it eventually becomes one with the Esk. Shortly after, for the first time in three days the border suddenly stops following a water source and takes a sharp right heading west in straight line across the A7 to join the Sark, three and a half miles away. This is one of the most substantial man-made sections of the whole borderline, known as Scots Dike and was once the most contentious length of frontier in Britain. It consists of two parallel ditches with the earth piled up between and was built to end a long-standing and bloody dispute over the Debatable Lands between the Sark and the Esk rivers.

In 1551 Lord wardens of both countries issued a joint proclamation calling open season on lawlessness:

“All Englishmen and Scottishmen, after this proclamation made are and shall be free to rob, burn, spoil, slay, murder and destroy all and every such persons, their bodies, buildings, goods and cattle as do remain or shall inhabit upon any part of the said Debatable land without any redress to be made for the same”.

By the following year nearly every dwelling had been burnt to the ground so realising that probably wasn’t the wisest policy ever enacted, they enlisted the diplomatic assistance of the French ambassador. In September 1552 he drew a straight line running due east from Sark to Esk Rivers in the hope to finally to settle the arguments over the boundary line.

A long strip of dense dappled woodland now covers the dike, every now and again I could make out the remnants of the ditches covered by a thick carpet of fern. It was tough going but quite a magical scene in the dappled light.

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View of the Liddel Viaduct from Rowanburnfoot

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Scarecrow border gaurd at the foot of Scots Dyke

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Woodland covering Scots Dyke

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Woodland covering Scots Dyke

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Evertown, Dumfries and Galloway, just north of Scots Dyke

The last stretch of the border runs through the small Sark River and underneath the M6 motorway before flowing into the Solway Firth.