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The Reivers

Who Were The Reivers?

To ‘reive’ is to rob or plunder. In Scotland, the Reivers are mainly associated with the Borders and the lawless 16th century. This was a violent and fearful time when homes were burned, cattle stolen and men killed with little chance of any redress - apart from a counter raid with retribution visited on the likely perpetrators.

There was probably very little romantic about the reality of those days, but the Border ballads, the pen of Sir Walter Scott and some rose tinted memories have given the reivers an enduring romantic gloss. By the light of the harvest moon they would ride familiar tracks over the hills to lift cattle, and so put food in the mouths of their bairns. Coming back with their booty they were alert for pursuit and would sometimes lay an ambush for the pursuers, just in case. There were feuds within the Border families, feuds with English names but also some co-operation between valleys and across the Border: good intelligence from a possible target was worth a cow or two. These were hard men who lived by their wits and by the sword.

As Alistair Moffat put it in his book ‘The Reivers’, “As Border Society gradually descended into organised criminality, it became progressively poorer. And its governing dynamic turned from production to larceny.”

King James VI considered the lawlessness on the Border a disgrace to both countries and when in 1603 he became James I of England, he finally had the power to clamp down hard. Many were exiled, many were hanged; some survived and were ennobled. The Borders slowly returned to its former rural routines.

But it’s thanks to the Reivers that great stories echo round this beautiful landscape, stories populated by larger than life characters. We have authentic traditions, stretching back to the riding days. The songs have survived. And some of the wonderful old pele towers are still standing… you just need a little imagination. It’s a unique culture, little known outside the Borders, and we look forward to exploring it with you.

Common Ridings

Family Names




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