There were some streets in Edinburgh called wynds, and it was in one of these, the College Wynd, that Sir Walter Scott was born in the year 1771. It seemed a strange coincidence that the great Dr. Samuel Johnson should have visited the city in the same year, and have been conducted by Boswell and Principal Robertson to inspect the college along that same wynd when the future Sir Walter Scott was only about two years old. We had not yet ventured to explore one of these ancient wynds, as they appeared to us like private passages between two rows of tall houses. As we could not see the other end, we looked upon them as traps for the unwary, but we mustered up our courage and decided to explore one of them before leaving the town. We therefore rose early and selected one of an antiquated appearance, but we must confess to a feeling of some apprehension in entering it, as the houses on each side were of six to eight storeys high, and so lofty that they appeared almost to touch each other at the top.
To make matters worse for us, there were a number of poles projecting from the windows high above our track, for use on washing days, when clothes were hung upon them to dry. We had not gone very far, when my brother drew my attention to two women whose heads appeared through opposite windows in the upper storeys, and who were talking to each other across the wynd. On our approach we heard one of them call to the other in a mischievous tone of voice, "See! there's twa mair comin'!" We were rather nervous already, so we beat an ignominious retreat, not knowing what might be coming on our devoted heads if we proceeded farther. In the event of hostilities the two ladies were so high up in the buildings, which were probably let in flats, that we should never have been able to find them, and, like the stray sheep in the Pass of St. Ninians, we might never have been found ourselves. We were probably taken for a pair of sporting young medical students instead of grave searchers after wisdom and truth. We therefore returned to our hotel for the early breakfast that was waiting for us, and left Edinburgh at 8.10 a.m. on our way towards Peebles.
We journeyed along an upward gradient with a view of Craigmillar Castle to our left, obtaining on our way a magnificent view of the fine city we had left behind us, with its castle, and the more lofty elevation known as Arthur's Seat, from which portions of twelve counties might be seen. It was a curiously shaped hill with ribs and bones crossing in various directions, which geologists tell us are undoubted remains of an old volcano. It certainly was a very active one, if one can judge by the quantity of debris it threw out. There was an old saying, especially interesting to ladies, that if you washed your face at sunrise on May 1st, with dew collected off the top of Arthur's Seat, you would be beautiful for ever. We were either too late or too soon, as it was now October 9th, and as we had a lot to see on that day, with not overmuch time to see it in, we left the dew to the ladies, feeling certain, however, that they would be more likely to find it there in October than on May Day. When we had walked about five miles, we turned off the main road to visit the pretty village of Rosslyn, or Roslin, with its three great attractions: the chapel, the castle, and the dell. We found it surrounded by woods and watered by a very pretty reach of the River Esk, and as full of history as almost any place in Scotland.
The unique chapel was the great object of interest. The guide informed us that it was founded in 1446 by William St. Clair, who also built the castle, in which he resided in princely splendour. He must have been a person of very great importance, for he had titles enough even to weary a Spaniard, being Prince of Orkney, Duke of Oldenburg, Earl of Caithness and Stratherne, Lord St. Clair, Lord Liddlesdale, Lord Admiral of the Scottish Seas, Lord Chief Justice of Scotland, Lord Warden of the three Marches, Baron of Roslin, Knight of the Cockle, and High Chancellor, Chamberlain, and Lieutenant of Scotland!
The lords of Rosslyn were buried in their complete armour beneath the chapel floor up to the year 1650, but afterwards in coffins. Sir Walter Scott refers to them in his "Lay of the Last Minstrel" thus: -
There are twenty of Rosslyn's Barons
Lie buried within that proud Chapelle.
There were more carvings in Rosslyn Chapel than in any place of equal size that we saw in all our wanderings, finely executed, and with every small detail beautifully finished and exquisitely carved. Foliage, flowers, and ferns abounded, and religious allegories, such as the Seven Acts of Mercy, the Seven Deadly Sins, the Dance of Death, and many scenes from the Scriptures; it was thought that the original idea had been to represent a Bible in stone. The great object of interest was the magnificently carved pillar known as the "'Prentice Pillar," and in the chapel were two carved heads, each of them showing a deep scar on the right temple. To these, as well as the pillar, a melancholy memory was attached, from which it appeared that the master mason received orders that this pillar should be of exquisite workmanship and design. Fearing his inability to carry out his instructions, he went abroad to Rome to see what designs he could find for its execution. While he was away his apprentice had a dream in which he saw a most beautiful column, and, setting to work at once to carry out the design of his dream, finished the pillar, a perfect marvel of workmanship. When his master returned and found the pillar completed, he was so envious and enraged at the success of his apprentice that he struck him on the head with his mallet with such force that he killed him on the spot, a crime for which he was afterwards executed.
We passed on to the castle across a very narrow bridge over a ravine, but we did not find much there except a modern-looking house built with some of the old stones, under which were four dungeons. Rosslyn was associated with scenes rendered famous by Bruce and Wallace, Queen Mary and Rizzio, Robert III and Queen Annabella Drummond, by Comyn and Fraser, and by the St. Clairs, as well as by legendary stories of the Laird of Gilmorton Grange, who set fire to the house in which were his beautiful daughter and her lover, the guilty abbot, so that both of them were burnt to death, and of the Lady of Woodhouselee, a white-robed, restless spectre, who appeared with her infant in her arms. Then there was the triple battle between the Scots and the English, in which the Scots were victorious:
Three triumphs in a day!
Three hosts subdued by one!
Three armies scattered like the spray,
Beneath one vernal sun.
Here, too, was the inn, now the caretaker's house, visited by Dr. Johnson and Boswell in 1773, the poet Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy in 1803, while some of the many other celebrities who called from time to time had left their signatures on the window-panes. Burns and his friend Nasmyth the artist breakfasted there on one occasion, and Burns was so pleased with the catering that he rewarded the landlady by scratching on a pewter plate the two following verses:
My blessings on you, sonsie wife,
I ne'er was here before;
You've gien us walth for horn and knife -
Nae heart could wish for more.
Heaven keep you free from care and strife.
Till far ayont four score;
And while I toddle on through life,
I'll ne'er gang bye your door.
Rosslyn at one time was a quiet place and only thought of in Edinburgh when an explosion was heard at the Rosslyn gunpowder works. But many more visitors appeared after Sir Walter Scott raised it to eminence by his famous "Lay" and his ballad of "Rosabelle":
Seem'd all on fire that chapel
Where Rosslyn's chiefs uncoffin'd lie.
Hawthornden was quite near where stood Ben Jonson's sycamore, and Drummond's Halls, and Cyprus Grove, but we had no time to see the caves where Sir Alexander Ramsay had such hairbreadth escapes. About the end of the year 1618 Ben Jonson, then Poet Laureate of England, walked from London to Edinburgh to visit his friend Taylor, the Thames waterman, commonly known as the Water Poet, who at that time was at Leith. In the January following he called to see the poet Drummond of Hawthornden, who was more frequently called by the name of the place where he lived than by his own. He found him sitting in front of his house, and as he approached Drummond welcomed him with the poetical salutation:
"Welcome! welcome! Royal Ben,"
to which Jonson responded,
"Thank ye, thank ye, Hawthornden."
The poet Drummond was born in 1585, and died in 1649, his end being hastened by grief at the execution of Charles I. A relative erected a monument to his memory in 1784, to which the poet Young added the following lines:
O sacred solitude, divine retreat,
Choice of the prudent, envy of the great!
By the pure stream, or in the waving shade
I court fair Wisdom, that celestial maid;
Here from the ways of men, laid safe ashore,
I smile to hear the distant tempest roar;
Here, blest with health, with business unperplex'd,
This life I relish, and secure the next.
Their groves of sweet myrtle let
foreign lands reckon,
Where bright-beaming summers exalt the perfume;
Far dearer to me yon lone glen of green bracken,
Wi' the burn stealing under the long yellow broom.
We walked very quietly and quickly past the gunpowder works, lest conversation might cause an explosion that would put an end to our walking expedition and ourselves at the same time, and regained the highway at a point about seven miles from Edinburgh. Presently we came to the Glencorse Barracks, some portions of which adjoined our road, and, judging from the dress and speech of the solitary sentinel who was pacing to and fro in front of the entrance, we concluded that a regiment of Highlanders must be stationed there. He informed us that in the time of the French Wars some of the prisoners were employed in making Scotch banknotes at a mill close by, and that portions of the barracks were still used for prisoners, deserters, and the like. Passing on to Pennicuick, we crossed a stream that flowed from the direction of the Pentland Hills, and were informed that no less than seven paper mills were worked by that stream within a distance of five miles. Here we saw a monument which commemorated the interment of 309 French prisoners who died during the years 1811 to 1814, a list of their names being still in existence.
This apparently large death-rate could not have been due to the unhealthiness of the Glencorse Barracks, where they were confined, for it was by repute one of the healthiest in the kingdom, the road being 600 feet or more above sea-level, and the district generally, including Pennicuick, considered a desirable health-resort for persons suffering from pulmonary complaints. We stayed a short time here for refreshments, and outside the town we came in contact with two young men who were travelling a mile or two on our way, with whom we joined company. We were giving them an outline of our journey and they were relating to us their version of the massacre of Glencoe, when suddenly a pretty little squirrel crossed our path and ran into a wood opposite. This caused the massacre story to be ended abruptly and roused the bloodthirsty instinct of the two Scots, who at once began to throw stones at it with murderous intent. We watched the battle as the squirrel jumped from branch to branch and passed from one tree to another until it reached one of rather large dimensions. At this stage our friends' ammunition, which they had gathered hastily from the road, became exhausted, and we saw the squirrel looking at them from behind the trunk of the tree as they went to gather another supply.
Before they were again ready for action the squirrel disappeared. We were pleased that it escaped, for our companions were good shots. They explained to us that squirrels were difficult animals to kill with a stone, unless they were hit under the throat. Stone-throwing was quite a common practice for country boys in Scotland, and many of them became so expert that they could hit small objects at a considerable distance. We were fairly good hands at it ourselves. It was rather a cruel sport, but loose stones were always plentiful on the roads - for the surfaces were not rolled, as in later years - and small animals, such as dogs and cats and all kinds of birds, were tempting targets. Dogs were the greatest sufferers, as they were more aggressive on the roads, and as my brother had once been bitten by one it was woe to the dog that came within his reach. Such was the accuracy acquired in the art of stone-throwing at these animals, that even stooping down in the road and pretending to lift a stone often caused the most savage dog to retreat quickly. We parted from the two Scots without asking them to finish their story of Glencoe, as the details were already fixed in our memories. They told us our road skirted a moor which extended for forty-seven miles or nearly as far as Glasgow, but we did not see much of the moor as we travelled in a different direction.
We passed through Edleston, where the church was dedicated to St. Mungo, reminding us of Mungo Park, the famous African traveller, and, strangely enough, it appeared we were not far away from where he was born. In the churchyard here was a tombstone to the memory of four ministers named Robertson, who followed each other in a direct line extending to 160 years. There was also to be seen the ancient "Jougs," or iron rings in which the necks of criminals were enclosed and fastened to a wall or post or tree. About three miles before reaching Peebles we came to the Mansion of Cringletie, the residence of the Wolfe-Murray family. The name of Wolfe had been adopted because one of the Murrays greatly distinguished himself at the Battle of Quebec, and on the lawn in front of the house was a cannon on which the following words had been engraved:
His Majesty's Ship Royal George of 108 guns, sunk at Spithead 29th August 1782. This gun, a 32 pounder, part of the armament of the Royal George, was fished up from the wreck of that ship by Mr. Deans, the zealous and enterprising Diver, on the 15th November 1836, and was presented by the Master-General and Board of Ordnance to General Durham of Largo, the elder Brother of Sir Philip Charles Henderson Durham, Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, Knight Commander of the Most Ancient Military Order of Merit of France, Admiral of the White Squadron of Her Majesty's Fleet, and Commander-in-Chief of the Port of Portsmouth, 1836.
Sir Philip was serving as a lieutenant in the Royal George, and was actually on duty as officer of the watch upon deck when the awful catastrophe took place. He was providentially and miraculously saved, but nearly 900 persons perished, amongst them the brave Admiral Kempenfelt, whose flag went down with the ship.
The wreck of the Royal George was the most awful disaster that had hitherto happened to the Royal Navy. William Cowper the poet, as soon as the sad news was brought to him, wrote a solemn poem entitled "The Loss of the Royal George," from which it seems that Admiral Kempenfelt was in his cabin when the great ship suddenly foundered.
His sword was in its sheath,
His fingers held the pen,
When Kempenfelt went down
With twice four hundred men.
Toll for the brave!
Brave Kempenfelt is gone:
His last sea-fight is fought,
His work of glory done.
Toll for the brave!
The brave that are no more.
All sunk beneath the wave.
Fast by their native shore!
It was nearly dark when we entered the town of Peebles, where we called at the post office for letters, and experienced some difficulty at first in obtaining lodgings, seeing that it was the night before the Hiring Fair. We went first to the Temperance Hotel, but all the beds had been taken down to make room for the great company they expected on the morrow; eventually we found good accommodation at the "Cross Keys Inn," formerly the residence of a country laird.
We had seen notices posted about the town informing the public that, by order of the Magistrates, who saw the evil of intoxicating drinks, refreshments were to be provided the following day at the Town Hall. The Good Templars had also issued a notice that they were having a tea-party, for which of course we could not stay.
We found Peebles a most interesting place, and the neighbourhood immediately surrounding it was full of history. The site on which our hotel had been built was that of the hostelage belonging to the Abbey of Arbroath in 1317, the monks granting the hostelage to William Maceon, a burgess of Peebles, on condition that he would give to them, and their attorneys, honest lodging whenever business brought them to that town. He was to let them have the use of the hall, with tables and trestles, also the use of the spence (pantry) and buttery, sleeping chambers, a decent kitchen, and stables, and to provide them with the best candles of Paris, with rushes for the floor and salt for the table. In later times it was the town house of Williamson of Cardrona, and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries became one of the principal inns, especially for those who, like ourselves, were travelling from the north, and was conducted by a family named Ritchie. Sir Walter Scott, who at that time resided quite near, frequented the house, which in his day was called the "Yett," and we were shown the room he sat in. Miss Ritchie, the landlady in Scott's day, who died in 1841, was the prototype of "Meg Dobs," the inn being the "Cleikum Inn" of his novel St. Ronan's Well.
There was a St. Mungo's Well in Peebles, and Mungo Park was intimately associated with the town. He was born at Foulshiels, Yarrow, in the same year as Sir Walter Scott, 1771, just one hundred years before our visit, and, after studying for the Church, adopted medicine as his profession. He served a short time with a doctor at Selkirk, before completing his course at the University of Edinburgh, and sailed in 1792 for the East Indies in the service of the East India Company. Later he joined an association for the promotion of discovery in Africa, and in 1795 he explored the basin of the Niger. In 1798 he was in London, and in 1801 began practice as a doctor in Peebles. He told Sir Walter Scott, after passing through one of the severe winters in Peebleshire, that he would rather return to the wilds of Africa than pass another winter there. He returned to London in December 1803 to sail with another expedition, but its departure was delayed for a short time, so he again visited Peebles, and astonished the people there by bringing with him a black man named "Sidi Omback Boubi," who was to be his tutor in Arabic. Meantime, in 1779, he had published a book entitled Travels in the Interior of Africa, which caused a profound sensation at the time on account of the wonderful stories it contained of adventures in what was then an unknown part of the world. This book of "Adventures of Mungo Park" was highly popular and extensively read throughout the country, by ourselves amongst the rest.
It was not until January 29th, 1805, that the expedition left Spithead, and before Mungo Park left Peebles he rode over to Clovenfords, where Sir Walter Scott was then residing, to stay a night with him at Ashestiel. On the following morning Sir Walter accompanied him a short distance on the return journey, and when they were parting where a small ditch divided the moor from the road Park's horse stumbled a little. Sir Walter said, "I am afraid, Mungo, that is a bad omen," to which Park replied, smiling, "Friets (omens) follow those that look for them," and so they parted for ever. In company with his friends Anderson and Scott he explored the rivers Gambia and Niger, but his friends died, and Dr. Park himself was murdered by hostile natives who attacked his canoe in the River Niger.
Quite near our lodgings was the house where this famous African traveller lived and practised blood-letting as a surgeon, and where dreams of the tent in which he was once a prisoner and of dark faces came to him at night, while the door at which his horse was tethered as he went to see Sir Walter Scott, and the window out of which he put his head when knocked up in the night, were all shown as objects of interest to visitors. Mungo had at least one strange patient, and that was the Black Dwarf, David Ritchie, who lies buried close to the gate in the old churchyard. This was a horrid-looking creature, who paraded the country as a privileged beggar. He affected to be a judge of female beauty, and there was a hole in the wall of his cottage through which the fair maidens had to look, a rose being passed through if his fantastic fancies were pleased; but if not, the tiny window was closed in their faces. He was known to Sir Walter Scott, who adopted his name in one of his novels, The Bowed Davie of the Windus. His cottage, which was practically in the same state as at the period of David Ritchie's death, bore a tablet showing that it had been restored by the great Edinburgh publishers W. and R. Chambers, who were natives of Peebles, and worded: "In memory D.R., died 1811. W. and R. Chambers, 1845."
Dr. Pennicuick, who flourished A.D. 1652-1722, had written:
Peebles, the Metropolis of the
Six times three praises doth from me require;
Three streets, three ports, three bridges, it adorn,
And three old steeples by three churches borne,
Three mills to serve the town in time of need.
On Peebles water, and on River Tweed,
Their arms are proper, and point forth their meaning,
Three salmon fishes nimbly counter swimming;
but there were other "Threes" connected with Peebles both before and after the doctor's time: "The Three Tales of the Three Priests of Peebles," supposed to have been told about the year 1460 before a blazing fire at the "Virgin Inn."
There were also the Three Hopes buried in the churchyard, whose tombstone records:
Here lie three Hopes enclosed
Death's prisoners by Adam's sin;
Yet rest in hope that they shall be
Set by the Second Adam free.
And there were probably other triplets, but when my brother suggested there were also three letter e's in the name of Peebles, I reminded him that it was closing-time, and also bed-time, so we rested that night in an old inn such as Charles Dickens would have been delighted to patronise.
(Distance walked twenty-five miles.)
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