We follow in the footsteps of the Border Reivers to Hermitage Castle and Liddesdale, "the bloodiest valley in Britain". Once echoing with the sound of hooves, the lowing of stolen cattle and the clash of steel, these beautiful and dramatic hillsides are now peaceful with just a scattering of sheep. We also visit Johnnie Armstrong's tower at Gilnockie and hear some stories of 'Truce Days' on the English Border.
The trail starts at the Common Haugh car park in Hawick. The length is 45 miles, driving time is approximately 1.5 hrs and the trail will take you a full day.
Please explore the trail map and plan your day by taking advantage of your Reivers Pass, free when you buy this trail.
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Musical excerpts from "A Reivers Moon" By kind permission of Ian Landles and Alan Brydon
Drone footage by Above the Borders and Borders Aerial Photography
Johnnie Armstrong (d. 1530)
Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie was perhaps the most famous of all the Border reivers; feared in England, dearly loved and respected by his people. It is said he could put 2,000 men in the saddle and he enjoyed leading them over the border. In 1530, 17 year-old King James V visited the Borders both for some hunting and in an attempt to stamp out the reiving. Johnnie was summoned to meet his king at Caerlenrig. Mistaking the king's intention, Johnnie arrived with 36 followers, all wearing their very best attire. We don't know what passed between the young king and the flamboyant Armstrong freebooter, but James ordered that Johnnie and all his men should be hung as traitors on the trees nearby. There was no trial. Johnnie is reputed to have said, "I am but a fool to seek grace in a graceless face". The ballad of Johnnie Armstrong, handed down over the generations, amplifies the tale of this most celebrated of reivers, unjustifiably killed by his own king.
Sir William de Soulis (d. 1320)
The de Soulis family had owned Hermitage Castle since 1240. It may still have been a wooden structure when Sir William de Soulis began his reported reign of terror in 1318. It is said he practiced the 'black arts' and kidnapped the local children, using their blood in his sinister rituals, during which he would conjure up his demonic goblin companion, 'Robin Redcap'. The local people petitioned King Robert the Bruce, begging to be relieved of their wicked lord. In exasperation after several outrages, Bruce reportedly said, "Soules, Soules, go boil him in brew!" Taking his words literally, the locals stormed the castle, wrapped de Soulis in lead (to nullify his supernatural powers), and boiled him at a stone circle on the hill called Nine Stane Rig.
Auld Wat Scott of Harden
1550 - 16 29
An infamous reiver, he led raids both across the Border and against his fellow countrymen. When his son was killed by a rival band of Scotts, Wat refused to let his sons start a feud and instead locked them in a cellar whilst he rode to Edinburgh, obtaining a grant of the murderer's land. He famously remarked, 'the lands of Gilmanscleuch are worth the loss of a son'. Auld Wat was with 'The Bold Buccleuch' in the rescue of Kinmont Willie Armstrong from Carlisle Castle. He was married to Mary Scott, daughter of John Scott of Dryhope, known as the "Flower of Yarrow"; one of their descendants was Sir Walter Scott, the novelist.
The Bold Buccleuch
1565 - 1611
The Bold Buccleuch, heidsman of the Scotts, was 'Keeper of Liddesdale' 1594 - 1603, also a reiver who could put 3,000 men in the saddle. He famously led the raid to rescue 'Kinmont Willie' Armstrong from Carlisle Castle. Sent to England by James VI to explain himself, he was asked by Elizabeth I how he dared to undertake such an enterprise, and replied, "What is it that a man dare not do?". Elizabeth turned to a lord-in-waiting and said, "With ten thousand such men, our brother in Scotland might shake the firmest throne of Europe."