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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’.

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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’.

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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’.

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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.

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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’.

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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’.

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