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Ettrick Forest

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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Ettrick Forest, a popular, poetic, and historic name for the whole or chief part of Selkirkshire, together with contiguous parts of Peebles and Edinburgh shires. All the country drained by the Ettrick and the Yarrow, with part of that drained by other affluents of the Tweed, as also the country now forming the upper ward of Clydesdale, was clothed with wood once, a remnant of the ancient Caledonian Forest. Oak was the commonest tree, mingled with birch and hazel. Great numbers of oaks have been dug up in mosses which evidently owed their formation to the stagnation of water upon the neglected woodlands. The forest, judging from the prevalence of a Saxon nomenclature throughout the district, appears to have been early settled by the Northumbrian Saxons. From the time of Earl David (afterwards David I.), early in the 12th century, many grants were made, chiefly to the abbeys of Selkirk, Melrose, and Kelso, of various ` easements ' within the wide range of the forest. At the close of the 13th century Edward I., acting as arbiter of Scotland, gave away the forest's timber; and was followed in this conduct by Edward II. and Edward III. Robert Bruce at his accession gave the forest to Sir James Douglas in guerdon of his services; and with his family it continued till their forfeiture in 1455. On the 4th of Aug. in that year Ettrick Forest was, by Act of parliament, annexed to the Crown. Abounding in beasts of chase and birds of prey, the forest now became again-what it had been before its tenure by the Douglases-a favourite hunting-ground of the Scottish kings. In 1528, James V. ` made proclamation to all lords, barons, gentlemen, landward-men, and freeholders, that they should compear at Edinburgh, with a month's victuals, to pass with the King where he pleased, to danton the thieves of Tiviotdale, Annandale, Liddisdale, and other parts of that country; and also warned all gentlemen that had good dogs to bring them, that he might hunt in the said country as he pleased: the whilk the Earl of Argyll, the Earl of Huntly, the Earl of Athole, and so all the rest of the gentlemen of the Highland, did, and brought their hounds with them in like manner, to hunt with the King, as he pleased. The second day of June the King past out of Edinburgh to the hunting, with many of the nobles and gentlemen of Scotland with him, to the number of twelve thousand men; and then past to Meggitland, and hounded and hawked all the country and bounds; that is to say, Pappert-law, St Mary-laws, Carlavirick, Chapel, Ewindoores, and Longhope. I heard say, he slew, in these bounds, eighteen score of harts ' (Pitscottie's History of Scotland, folio edition, p. 143). After this stately hunting, James, who ` made the rush -bush keep the cow, ' in order to increase his revenues, turned 10, 000 sheep into Ettrick Forest, to graze there under the tending of a thrifty keeper, instead of 10,000 bucks that scoured its woodlands during the bounteous age of Edward I.; and by this act he lcd the way to such a conversion of the entire forest into sheep-pasture, as occasion d a rapid and almost total destruction of the trees. The last sovereign of Scotland who visited it for the sake of the chase was the beautiful Mary. Excepting a few straggling thorns, and some solitary birches, no traces of ` Ettricke foreste feir ' now remain, although, wherever protected from the sheep, copses soon arise without any planting.

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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