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Poetry & Song


The heritage of the Scottish Borders is full of songs, poems and ballads. The romance and daily life of the reiving times is preserved in the Border ballads.

These were traditionally passed down the generations without ever being written down; it was Sir Walter Scott who took the time to talk to farm workers and shepherds, so gathering up as many as he could. He published the collection as the ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders’.

This area has also produced the more lyrical celebrations of the Border Hills by James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, the idiosyncratic musings Hugh McDiarmid from Langholm, Jean Elliot’s ‘Flowers of the Forest’ and the incomparable Will H Oglivie.

Most ballads are firmly set in time (the reiving times of the 16th century) and celebrate the tough, hard - riding men of the Scottish Border – people with wonderful names such as ‘Whitslade the Hawk’ and ‘Arthur-fire-the-Braes’. Great vernacular poetry.

Jamie Telfer of the Fair Dodheid
Jamie himself is your guide on our Hermitage Trail.

It fell about the Martinmas tyde,
Whan our Border steeds get corn and hay,
The Captain of Bewcastle hath bound him to ryde,
And he’s ower to Tividale to drive a prey.

The first ae guide that they met wi’,
It was high up in Hardhaughswire,
The second guide that they met wi’,
It was laigh down in Borthwick water.

“What tidings, what tidings, my trusty guide?” -
“Nae tidings, nae tidings, I hae to thee;
But gin ye’ll gae to the fair Dodhead,
Mony a cow’s cauf I’ll let thee see.”

And whan they cam to the fair Dodhead,
Right hastily they clam the peel,
They loosed the kye out, ane and a’,
And ranshakled the house right weel.

Now Jamie Telfer’s heart was sair,
The tear aye rowing in his e’e,
He pled wi’ the Captain to hae his gear,
Or else revenged he wad be.

The Captain turned him round, and leugh,
Said — “Man, there’s naething in thy house,
But ae auld sword without a sheath,
That hardly now wad fell a mouse!”

The sun was na up, but the moon was down,
It was the gryming of a new fa’n snaw,
Jamie Telfer has run ten myles a - foot,
Between the Dodheadand the Stobs’s Ha’.

And whan he cam to the fair tower yate,
He shouted loud, and cried weel hie,
Till out bespak auld Gibby Elliot—
“Whae’s this that brings the fray to me?”—

“It’s I, Jamie Telfer o’ the fair Dodhead,
And a harried man I think I be!
There’s naething left at the fair Dodhead,
But a waefu’ wife and bairnies three.”—

“Gar seek your succour at Branksome Ha’,
For succour ye’se get nane frae me!
Gae seek your succour where ye paid black mail,
For man! ye ne’er paid money to me.”

Jamie has turned him round about,
I wat the tear blinded his e’e—
“I’ll ne’er pay mail to Elliot again,
And the fair Dodhead I’ll never see!

“My hounds may a’ rin masterless,
My hawks may fly frae tree to tree,
My Lord may grip my vassal lands,
For there a gain maun I never be!”

He has turned him to the Tiviot side,
E’en as fast as he could drie,
Till he cam to the Coultart Cleugh,
And there he shouted baith loud and hie.

Then up bespak him auld Jock Grieve—
“Whae’s this that brings the fray to me?”—
“It’s I, Jamie Telfer o’ the fair Dodhead,
A harried man I trew I be!

“There’s naething left in the fair Dodhead,
But a greeting wife and bairnies three,
And sax poor ca’s stand in the sta’,
A’ routing loud for their minnie.”—

“Alack a wae!” quo’ auld Jock Grieve,
Alack! my heart is sair for thee!
For I was married on the elder sister,
And you on the youngest of a’ the three.”

Then he has ta’en out a bonny black,
Was right weel fed wi’ corn and hay,
And he’s set Jamie Telfer on his back,
To the Catslockhill to tak the fray.

And whan he cam to the Catslockhill,
He shouted loud, and cried weel hie,
Till out and spak him William’s Wat—
“O whae’s this brings the fray to me?”—

“It’s I, Jamie Telfer o’ the fair Dodhead,
A harried man I think I be!
The Captain o’ Bewcastle has driven my gear,
For God’s sake, rise, and succour me!”—

“Alas for wae!” quo’ William’s Wat,
“Alack, for thee my heart is sair!
I never cam bye the fair Dodhead,
That ever I fand thy basket bare.”

He’s set his twa sons on coal-black steeds,
Himsel’ upon a freckled gray,
And they are on wi’ Jamie Telfer,
To Branksome Ha’ to tak the fray.

And whan they cam to Branksome Ha’,
They shouted a’ baith loud and hie,
Till up and spak him auld Buccleuch,
Said—“Whae’s this brings the fray to me?”—

“It’s I, Jamie Telfer o’ the fair Dodhead,
And a harried man I think I be!
There’s nought left in the fair Dodhead,
But a greeting wife, and bairnies three.”—

“Alack for wae!” quo’ the gude auld Lord,
And ever my heart is wae for thee!
But fye gar cry on Willie, my son,
And see that he cum to me speedilie!

“Gar warn the water, braid and wide,
Gar warn it sune and hastilie!
They that winna ride for Telfer’s kye,
Let them never look in the face o’ me!

“Warn Wat o’ Harden, and his sons,
Wi’ them will Borthwick water ride;
Warn Gaudilands, and Allanhaugh,
And Gilmanscleugh, and Commonside.

“Ride by the gate at Priesthaughswire,
And warn the Currors o’ the Lee;
As ye cum down the Hermitage Slack,
Warn doughty Willie o’ Gorrinberry.”—

The Scots they rade, the Scots they ran,
Sae starkly and sae steadilie!
And aye the ower-word o’ the thrang
Was—“Rise for Branksome readilie!”

The gear was driven the Frostylee up,
Frae the Frostylee unto the plain,
Whan Willie has looked his men before,
And saw the kye right fast driving.

“Whae drives thir kye?” can Willie say,
“To mak an outspeckle o’ me?”—
“It’s I, the Captain o’ Bewcastle, Willie,
I winna layne my name for thee.”—

“O will ye let Telfer’s kye gae back?
Or will ye do aught for regard o’ me?
Or, by the faith of my body,” quo’ Willie Scott,
I’se ware my dame’s cauf’s skin on thee!”—

“I winna let the kye gae back,
Neither for thy love, nor yet thy fear,
But I will drive Jamie Telfer’s kye,
In spite of every Scot that’s here.”—

“Set on them, lads!” quo’ Willie than,
“Fye, lads, set on them cruellie!
For ere they win to the Ritterford,
Mony a toom saddle there sall be!”

Then till’t they gaed wi’ heart and hand,
The blows fell thick as bickering hail,
And mony a horse ran masterless,
And mony a comely cheek was pale!

But Willie was stricken ower the head,
And through the knapscap the sword has gane,
And Harden grat for very rage,
Whan Willie on the grund lay slane.

But he’s taen aff his gude steel cap,
And thrice he’s waved it in the air—
The Dinlay snaw was ne’er mair white
Nor the lyart locks of Harden’s hair.

“Revenge! Revenge!” auld Wat can cry,
“Fye, lads, lay on them cruellie!
We’ll ne’er see Tiviot side again,
Or Willie’s death revenged sall be.”

O mony a horse ran masterless,
The splintered lances flew on hie,
But or they wan to the Kershope ford,
The Scots had gotten the victory.

John o’ Brigham there was slane,
And John o’ Barlow, as I hear say;
And thir ty mae o’ the Captain’s men,
Lay bleeding on the grund that day.

The Captain was run through the thick of the thigh,
And broken was his right leg bane,
If he had lived this hundred years,
He had never been loved by woman again.

“Hae back thy kye!” the Captain said,
“Dear kye, I trow, to some they be!
For gin I suld live a hundred years,
There will ne’er fair lady smile on me.”

Then word is gane to the Captain’s bride,
Even in the bower where that she lay,
That her Lord was prisoner in enemy’s land,
Since into Tividale he had led the way.

“I wad lourd have had a winding sheet,
And helped to put it ower his head,
Ere he had been disgraced by the Border Scot,
Whan he ower Liddel his men did lead!”—

There was a wild gallant amang us a’,
His name was Watty wi’ the Wudspurs,
Cried—“On for his house in Stanegirthside,
If ony man will ride with us!”

Whan they cam to the Stanegirthside,
They dang wi’ trees, and burst the door,
They loosed out a’ the Captain’s kye,
And set them forth our lads before.

There was an auld wife ayont the fire,
A wee bit o’ the Captain’s kin—
“Whae dare loose out the Captain’s kye,
Or answer to him and his men?”—

“It’s I, Watty Wudspurs, loose the kye!
I winna layne my name frae thee!
And I will loose out the Captain’s kye,
In scorn of a’ his men and he.”

Whan they cam to the fair Dodhead,
They were a wellcum sight to see!
For instead of his ain ten milk kye,
Jamie Telfer has gotten thirty and three.

And he has paid the rescue shot,
Baith wi’gowd, and white monie,
And at the burial o’ Willie Scott,
I wat was mony a weeping e’e.


Born near Kelso in 1869, Ogilvie went out to Australia and worked on a sheep station for eleven years. He is well remembered and respected as a poet in Australia, but the best of his poetry is set in the Borders. Hecaptured the wretched romance of the reivers in his best-known poem ‘The Raiders’.

The Raiders

Last night a wind from Lammermoor came roaring up the glen
With the tramp of trooping horses and the laugh of reckless men
And struck a mailed hand on the gate and cried in rebel glee:
"Come forth. Come forth, my Borderer, and ride the March with me!"

I said, "Oh! Wind of Lammermoor, the night's too dark to ride,
And all the men that fill the glen are ghosts of menthat died!
The floods are down in Bowmont Burn, the moss is fetlock-deep;
Go back, wild Wind of Lammermoor, to Lauderdale- and sleep!"

Out spoke the Wind of Lammermoor, "We know the road right well,
The road that runs by Kale and Jed across the Carter Fell.
There is no man of all the men in this grey troop of mine
But blind might ride the Borderside from Teviothead to Tyne!

The horses fretted on their bits and pawed the flints to fire,
The riders swung them to the South full-faced to their desire;
"Come said the Wind from Lammermoor," and spoke full scornfully,
"Have ye no pride to mount and ride your fathers' road with me?

A roan horse to the gate they led, foam-flecked and travelled far,
A snorting roan that tossed his head and flashed his forehead star;
Then came the sound of clashing steel and hoof-tramp up the glen.
And two by two we cantered through, a troop of ghostly men!

I know not if the farms we fired are burned to ashes yet!
I know not if the stirks grew tired before the stars were set!
I only know that late last night when Northern winds blew free,
A troop of men rode up the glen and brought a horse for me!

‘Lammermoor’ refers to the Lammermuir Hills north of the town of Lauder [link]. Carter Fell is better known as Carter Bar, where the A68 road crosses into Scotland. Teviothead [link] is the burial place of the reiver Johnnie Armstrong, hung by James V in 1530.


Sir Walter Scott is one of the giants of Scottish literature and a wonderful ambassador for the Borders. Well known for 22 novels, he also wrote history, short stories and five plays. His earliest poetry comprised long, romantic epic poems such as the ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel’, a tale of border feuding and ‘Marmion’ which leads to the Battle of Flodden. Much later he included in his novel ‘The Monastery’ the rousing poem ‘Blue Bonnets’.

Blue Bonnets
Regimental March of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers

Chorus: March, march Ettrick and Teviotdale,
Why, my lads, dinna ye march forward in order?
March! March! Eskdale and Liddesdale,
All the blue bonnets are over the border.

Many a banner spread, flutters above your head,
Many a crest that is famous in story
Mount and make ready then, sons of the mountain glen,
Fight for your Queen and the old Scottish glory.


Come from the hills where your hirsels are grazing,
Come from the glen of the buck and the roe;
Come to the crag where the beacon is blazing,
Come with the buckler, the lance and the bow.


Trumpets are sounding, war steeds are bounding,
Stand to your arms and march in good order;
England shall many a day, tell of the bloody fray,
When the blue bonnets came over the border.


In 1513 King James IV led a Scottish Army to confront the English at Flodden Field. The resultwas a disaster for Scotland: not only the king but most of the army was slaughtered. Many were Borderers and the event is remembered annually in the Selkirk Common Riding [link] in mid June. It also prompted the poem ‘The Flowers of the Forest’ by Jean Elliot who lived at Minto in Teviotdale.

The Flowers of the Forest

I've heard them liltin' at the ewe milking
Lassies are liltin' before dawn o' day
Now there's a moanin' on ilka green loanin'
The Flow'rs o' the Forest are a' wede awa'.

At baughts in the morning, nae blythe lads are scornin'
Lassies are lanely and dowie and wae;
Nae daffin', nae gabbin', but sighin' and sabbin'
Ilk ane lifts her leglin, and hies her awa'.

At e'en in the gloamin', nae swankies are roamin'
'Bout stacks wi' the lasses at bogle to play;
But ilk maid sits drearie, lamentin' her dearie,
The Flow'rs o' the Forest are a' wede awa'.

In har'st at the shearin', nae youths now are jeerin',
Bandsters are runkled, an' lyart, or grey;
At fair or at preachin', nae wooin', nae fleechin',
The Flow'rs o' the Forest are a' wede awa'.

Dool for the order sent our lads to the Border,
The English, for ance, by guile, won the day;
The Flow'rs o' the Forest that fought aye the foremost,
The prime o' our land lie cauld i' the clay.

We'll hae nae mair liltin' at the ewe-milkin',
Women an' bairns are heartless an' wae;
Sighin' an' moanin' on ilka green loanin',
The Flow'rs o' the Forest are a' wede awa'.

“The Flowers of the Forest” is played by an unseen Piper at the close of the Jethart Callants Festival in early July.


You will learn more of James Hogg, ‘The Ettrick Shepherd’, on our Ettrick Trail and you’ll see the countryside that inspired him. His doughty mother is our principal guide and you can learn more about his life at the museum in his honour at the little school there. On our Dryhope Trail you will see his statue at Tibbie Shiels , where there are more stories about this colourful character. His most famous work is probably ‘Caledonia’.


Caledonia! thou land of the mountain and rock,
Of the ocean, the mist, and the wind-
Thou land of the torrent, the pine, and the oak,
Of the roebuck, the hart, and the hind;
Though bare are thy cliffs, and though barren thy glens,
Though bleak thy dun islands appear,
Yet kind are the hearts, and undaunted the clans,
That roam on these mountains so drear!

A foe from abroad, or a tyrant at home,
Could never thy ardour restrain;
The marshall'd array of imperial Rome
Essay'd thy proud spirit in vain!
Firm seat of religion, of valour, of truth,
Of genius unshackled and free,
The muses have left all the vales of the south,
My loved Caledonia, for thee!

Sweet land of the bay and wild-winding deeps
Where loveliness slumbers at even,
While far in the depth of the blue water sleeps
A calm little motionless heaven!
Thou land of the valley, the moor, and the hill,
Of the storm and the proud rolling wave-
Yes, thou art the land of fair liberty still,
And the land of my forefathers' grave!

Hogg is probably best known for his novel, ‘Confessions of a Justified Sinner’, a tragi-comedy of errors powered by the laughing, fighting, suffering, intelligent, decent, lovable but inequitable Scotland of his lifetime.


As you drive into Langholm from the north [link], there is an obvious monument on the hills to your left. This commemorates Hugh MacDiarmid who was born there in 1892. He was an eccentric intellectual and fanatical Scottish Nationalist. Hence the following poem, ‘Scotland’.


It requires great love of it deeply to read
The configuration of a land,
Gradually grow conscious of fine shadings,
Of great meanings in slight symbols,
Hear at last the great voice that speaks softly,
See the swell and fall upon the flank
Of a statue carved out in a whole country’s marble,
Be like Spring, like a hand in a window
Moving New and Old things carefully to and fro,
Moving a fraction of flower here,
Placing an inch of air there,
And without breaking anything.
So I have gathered unto myself
All the loose ends of Scotland,
And by naming them and accepting them,
Loving them and identifying myself with them,
Attempt to express the whole




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