Debatable Lands book launch

This is the culmination of my 6 month residency Visual Arts in Rural Communities, walking the Anglo-Scottish border and exploring communities of this contested region.

Photographic images on one side and a reproduction of hand-drawn map on the reverse. Limited edition of 150.

Each book is signed and comes with a hand-made wrap and a limited edition print of ‘No Fly Zone’ (see image of feathers in the landscape).

Special exhibition price of £29.95 until 15th October. Follow the link to order a copy.…/debatable-lands-zoe-childerley

Debatable Lands Exhibition Opening

As part of my residency at VARC in Northumberland, I have spent the past couple of months walking the length of the Scotland/England border. This follows a desire to explore areas of contested land. Along the way I have been photographing the distinctive landscape and features and talking to and photographing individuals who live and work on both sides of the line. I am using photography and drawing to map and tell stories of people and their relationship with place, past and present.



Image credit: Neil Denham


Image credit: Neil Denham


Image credit: Neil Denham

The Eastern end of the border

To reach the North sea at the end of the border is tricky as the East coast mainline and 30 metres of sea cliff present substantial obstacles. The best route is a few hundred metres south via Marshall Meadow caravan park which has a footbridge over the train line and more obscurely an abandoned railway tunnel down to the beach, the entrance to which now lies between two static caravans.

It’s been suggested that the 240 ft long tunnel was constructed in a bid to allow farmers to transport seaweed from the shore to the headland above, since the rugged coastline at Marshall Meadows which makes access difficult. In days gone by, kelp was commonly gathered from the beaches and spread on nearby fields, its rich mineral content providing an ideal fertilizer. It’s likely the tunnel was also used by fisherman bringing their catch ashore, as well as the transportation of sandstone quarried from the sheer cliffs.

Bored through solid sandstone, the tunnel passed beneath a stretch of the East Coast Main Line, which had been built by the North British Railway in 1846, and was later moved to the west due to a cliff collapse. It runs at an incline of around 40 degrees from the headland and emerges some 13 metres above the chilly North Sea.


Seacliff tunnel from the bottom


Seacliff tunnel from the top


Perilous concoction of ropes and ladders to climb the last 30 feet

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The North Sea and the end of the border


Day 13: Norham to Berwick

Great final stretch, taking in the Union Chain bridge which spans the border and the Tweed and was the longest suspension bridge in the world  when built. Also Chain Bridge Honey Farm, the cereal fields of the Tweed valley and the boundary road that skirts around Berwick.

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The Tweed river near Horncliffe

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The Chain Union Bridge


Willie Robson, Beekeeper


Berwick boundary route

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Final border crossing on the cliff path

The Border Reivers

As I mentioned them in previous posts but didn’t go on to explain, here’s some background to the Border Reivers, particularly for those from further afield. They are an integral part of border history and contemporary cultural identity.

Map of Reiver Family Names

Map locating Reiver Family Names

From the late thirteenth century to the beginning of the seven­teenth England and Scotland were almost constantly in a state of active enmity and Northumberland, Cumberland and the Scottish border counties were the lands across which the battles raged. Neither Scots nor English Law meant anything to the bor­derers and for self preservation the inhabitants allied themselves to the leaders of local graynes or clans. These graynes comprised the border names – Charlton, Robson, Hall Armstrong, Kerr etc who throughout the sixteenth century were all-powerful and were termed the Border Reivers.

The feuds and fighting which went on are sometimes misrepresented as England versus Scotland; it was also family vs family. There were shifting alliances which were often cross border- a raid on farms where several hundred ‘beasts’ were taken and driven back to England could not have been successful if the families in the Scottish Borders had not been in on the act.

The characters of the Reivers and their activities have acquired a romantic patina over the ages often attributed to the writing of Sir Walter Scott but in truth they were thoroughly ruthless. It is not surprising that their legacy to the English language is the words bereaved and blackmail. Sir Walter and later others collected the folk songs of that time preserving the lives, legends and landscapes of these people. The Border Ballads provide narrative sweep, a dark humour and lyrical poetry to tell the tales of a barbarous era.

Border Ballad illustration by Tom Scott

Border Ballad illustration by Tom Scott

Border Ballad illustration for The Twa Corbies by C.O. Murray

Border Ballad illustration for The Twa Corbies by C.O. Murray