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Gala Water

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2016.

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Gala Water, a river of Edinburgh, Selkirk, and Roxburgh shires, rising among the Moorfoot Hills in the first-named county, and joining the Tweed near Melrose, after a course of 21 miles, during which it descends from 1100 to 300 feet above sea-level. From its source on the northern verge of Heriot parish, the Gala first flows for 2 miles eastward to the boundary of a detached portion of Stow parish, and thence takes a south-south-easterly direction, which it maintains to the SE border of Edinburghshire, successively crossing the eastern wing of Heriot parish, tracing the boundary between Heriot and Stow, and traversing the main body of the last-named parish. Within Stow parish it receives, on the right, the Heriot Water and the Luggate Water - the former a tributary almost as large as the Gala itself - and on the left, the smaller affluents, Armit or Ermet Water, Cockum Water, and Stow Burn. Its further course lies in a south-easterly direction, chiefly along the boundary between Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire, till it reaches the Tweed, into which it falls a little below Abbotsford, and about 2½ miles W of Melrose. The course of the Gala is remarkably sinuous; and the road from Edinburgh to Jedburgh and Carlisle, which traces the windings of the river along the E bank is, says Mr Chambers, at least a third longer than the crow-flight. An older road ran along the W bank; but the North British railway line, which traverses almost the entire length of the valley, crosses and recrosses the stream several times. The river-basin consists for the most part of a narrow valley flanked with rounded hills, and presents scenery with all the usual characteristics of the Scottish Lowlands, alternating agricultural and pastoral scenes with the rougher beauty of uncultivated nature. At the beginning of the century, the Gala dale was almost entirely pastoral and nearly destitute of trees; but since then much of the ground has been broken up by the plough; and numerous plantations have arisen, in many cases as the protection or ornament of the private mansions along the banks. Of these last the chief are Crookston, Burnhouse, Torsonce, Bowland, Torwoodlee, and Gala. As a fishing-stream, the Gala was once famous for the abundance of its trout; now, however, it has been so much over-fished, that a considerable amount of time and skill, and perhaps a certain amount of good fortune, are required to secure even a small basket. The Gala waters Stow village, and 2 miles of its course lie through the busy town of Galashiels, whose mills sometimes in summer draw off almost all the water from its natural channel. There are several ruined castles and towers in the valley of the river, and traces of perhaps a dozen ancient camps. The name Gala has been connected with the Welsh garw, 'rough;' some authorities derive it from the Gaelic gwala, meaning 'a full stream.' An ancient name for the valley was Wedale, sometimes explained as meaning the vale of woe, as having been the scene of some sanguinary prehistoric struggle; others connect it with the Norse Ve, a temple or church, and translate the name 'holy house dale.' In Wedale Dr Skene places Guinnion, the scene of one of the twelve battles o Arthur. Two ballads, one of them by Burns, celebrate the 'braw lads o' Gala Water.'-Ord. Sur., sh. 25, 1865. See Sir Thomas Dick-Lauder's Scottish Rivers (Edinb. 1874).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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