River Tweed

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.

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Tweed, a large river in the SE of Scotland, draining also part of the N of Northumberland, and forming, for 16 miles of its course downward from a point midway between the mouth of Eden Water and Birgham, the boundary between England and Scotland. The remaining 2 miles of its course is entirely in England. It rises near the centre of the Southern Uplands, in. the extreme S of the county of Peebles, at a small spring called Tweed's Well, 1500 feet above sea-level; and has from this a course first north-easterly, then northerly, and again north-easterly, till it reaches the North Sea at Berwick, a distance, in a straight line from source to mouth, of 64 miles, or, following the windings of the river, of about 97 miles. The drainage basin covers an area of about 1870 square miles, and in this respect is surpassed in Scotland -only by the Tay. The boundary of this basin commences close to Berwick, and passes north-westward along the heights between the hollows of Eye Water and Whiteadder Water, till it reaches the Lammermuir Hills; follows this line of heights to a point E of Borthwick Castle; crosses thence to the Moorfoot Hills; strikes off north-westward between Leadburn and Lamancha, and round the hollow of the Lyne in the Pentland Hills, NW of West. Linton; passes southward to the W of Dolphinton and Biggar; then along the line of heights between Lanarkshire and Peeblesshire; along the hills between Peeblesshire, Selkirkshire, and Roxburghshire on the N, and Dumfriesshire on the S; strikes through Roxburghshire round the head of Liddesdale, and gaining the Cheviot Hills at Peel Fell (1964 feet), follows their summits to Cheviot Hill (2676), and thence curves through England round the valley of the Till, and so back to the coast a short distance S of Tweedmouth. The basin thus comprehends five-sixths of Berwickshire, a small portion of Haddingtonshire, a sixth of Edinburghshire, almost the whole of Peeblesshire, the whole of Selkirkshire, the whole of Roxburghshire except a portion in the S along Liddesdale, and a considerable portion of the N of Northumberland. Of the whole course of the river itself, the first 36 miles are through Peeblesshire alone, and hence that county received its old name of Tweeddale. During this portion the stream traverses or bounds the parishes of Tweedsmuir, Drummelzier, Broughton, Stobo, Manor, Peebles, Innerleithen, and Traquair. The next 9 miles are through Selkirkshire, the next 2 ½ along the boundary between Selkirkshire and Roxburghshire, the next 5 through Roxburghshire, the next 10 ½ along the boundary between Berwickshire and Roxburghshire, and the next 11 ¾ through Roxburghshire. During this portion the course is through or along the borders of the parishes of Yarrow, Stow, Selkirk, Galashiels, Melrose, St Boswells, Maxton, Merton, Makerstoun, Roxburgh, Kelso, Sprouston, Ednam, and Eccles. Except for 2 miles at the mouth, where it is entirely in Northumberland, the rest of the course is along the boundary between England and Scotland, and between the counties of Berwick and Northumberland. On the Scottish side the parishes are Eccles, Coldstream, Ladykirk, and Hutton.

The solitary spring of Tweed's Well, with its hill border to the E, S, and W, has its claim to be the i true source of the river disputed by some of the other head-streams, in particular by the Corse or Cross Burn, which rises ¼ mile higher up, and joins the streamlet from the Well about 30 yards below the spring. It takes its name from a cross which stood on Corse Dod (1670 feet) on the E, by the side of the old road over the shoulder of the hill from Tweeddale to Annandale. In the Peeblesshire portion of the course the principal tributaries from the W, NW, and N are Old, Glenbreck, Glenwhappen, Hallow, and Kingledoors Burns, Biggar Water (with Kilbucho Burn and Holms Water), Weston Burn, Lyne Water, Eddleston Water, Horsburgh Burn, Leithen Water, Walker Burn, and Glenhopeknowe Burn - the last on the boundary with Selkirkshire. From the E, SE, and S come Cor Water, Glencraigie Burn Fingland Burn, Hawkshaw Burn, Fruid Water, Menzion Burn, Talla Water, Westhope Burn, Hearthstane Burn, Polmood Burn, Stanhope Burn, Drummelzicr Burn, Manor Water, Hundleshope Burn, and Kirk Burn. In the course through Selkirk, -Berwick, and Roxburgh, it receives from the N Cadon Water, Gala Water, Allan Water, Leader Water, and Eden Water; and from the S Quair ater, Ettrick Water (with the Yarrow), Bowden Burn, and the Teviot (with Ale Water, Jed Water, Oxnam Water, and Kale Water). After the river finally quits Roxburghshire, from the Berwickshire side come- the Leet Water and the combined stream of the Blackadder and the Whiteadder; and on the English side the principal stream is the Till. All along the course there are a very large number of smaller streams. From the influx of Biggar Water there is a continuous series of railway lines to the mouth of the river at Tweedmouth, sometimes on the one side of the stream and sometimes on the other, but mostly, especially in the lower portion, on the S bank. From near Biggar to Peebles the line is a portion of the Caledonian system; from Peebles to Maxwellheugh near Kelso, different sections of the North British system; and from Maxwellheugh to Tweedmouth, a section of the North-Eastern, an English company. A good line of road also follows the course of the stream, generally at no great distance, all the way from Berwick to the source at Tweedshaws, whence it passes over the ridge into Dumfriesshire, and down Annandale. There are very old bridges at Peebles and Berwick, but till a comparatively recent period there was not a bridge anywhere between. Now there are within this distance a private suspension bridge at Kingsmeadow, a timber bridge near Innerleithen, a stone bridge at Yair, a stone bridge and a railway viaduct near the mouth of the Ettrick, a good stone bridge and a railway viaduct near Darnick, a suspension bridge for foot-passengers near Melrose, a stone bridge and a railway viaduct near the mouth of the Leader, a private suspension bridge near Dryburgh, an iron suspension bridge and a good stone bridge at the lower end of Kelso, a stone bridge near Coldstream, a suspension bridge for carriage traffic near Tweedhill, and a very large railway viaduct at Berwick. Some of the head-streams of the Tweed, Annan, and

Clyde rise within ¾ mile of one another; and hence the old rhyme that says

`Annan, Tweed, and Clyde
Rise a' out o' ae hill side;'

and the Tweed and Clyde flow in parallel courses, and within about 7 miles of each other, till near Biggar they finally take their separate ways E and W. They are much on the same level, and it would not be a very difficult matter to divert the upper Clyde waters into the Tweed by the cutting of a very short channel; and even were good care not taken of the banks of the Clyde, it is possible that the river might perform the work for itself. Tradition says that before Glasgow had acquired commercial importance, a project was conceived of actually making this cutting, in order so to increase the volume of the Tweed as to make it navigable for a considerable distance upwards from the mouth. Farther down, near Dolphinton, a small stream divides so as to send a portion of its waters to Medwin Water and so to the Clyde; while the other portion passes to Tarth Water, and so by Lyne Water to the Tweed. At some parts of the river's own course there are reaches where lakes of considerable size seem to have at one time existed, and there are also traces of old courses, which were occupied probably in pre-glacial times. One well-marked example is above Neidpath Castle near Peebles, where there is the basin of an old lake extending upwards from the narrow glen at Neidpath. It had existed before the narrow neck of rock there was cut through, and at this time the course of the river had been first southward by the line of Manor Water to Cademuir, and thence eastward through the narrow hollow -NW of- Hundleshope, and then south-eastward by the line of the lower part of Hundleshope Burn to the present course of the river near Whitehaugh. Of the 1250 feet of fall along the course of the Tweed, from the source to the sea, over 700 are accomplished in the 26 miles between Tweed's Well and Peebles; and as only 500 remain to be distributed over the other 70 miles of flow, there are, as might be expected, deep still pools and long reaches of water, with hardly any perceptible current, with rapids of no great length or steepness coming between. In consequence of the gravel-beds at these rapids, it is, however, navigable - and that for craft of very small size - for only a short distance from the mouth, -there being sufficient depth of water at high tide to float a vessel to New Water Ford, 6 miles above Berwick; while the tide flows 10 miles up, to about Norham Castle.

Though otherwise of little commercial importance, the Tweed and its tributaries afford the best salmon, grilse, and sea-trout fishing in Scotland, ` and although it is beyond a doubt that salmon were more numerous in its waters some 50 or 60 years ago than now, a large stock of fish generally find their way each season into the respective casts, and excellent sport is the rule.' There are no fewer than 316 named salmon casts, of which the 55 from the Inch 3 miles above Peebles to Kame-knowe-end near Elibank are open to the public. The others are preserved, but fishing may sometimes be had by arrangement with the tenants. The excellence of the spawning ground, both in the Tweed itself and in all its tributaries, makes the river very prolific; but to such an extent did over-fishing prevail in the first half of the present century, that between 1808 and 1856, the number of fish captured in one year had fallen off very considerably. Special Acts of Parliament were obtained in 1857 and 1859 for the prohibition of fixed nets for 9 miles along the coast on both sides of the mouth, and the regulation of the fishing on the river itself, and the result is that the number of salmon captured yearly is in excess of the annual returns of the beginning of the century. The upland districts are now so well drained that in dry summers the river is always low and angling -poor, and of late years the fungus, saprolegnia ferax, has made severe ravages among the fish, and although a large amount of scientific attention has been directed to the investigation of the disease, all efforts to discover its cause or find a cure have hitherto been in vain. The harm that is being done may be estimated from the fact that in the years 1880, 1881, 1882, no fewer than 22, 756 diseased salmon, grilse, and sea-trout were removed from the river. The rental is about £13, 000 a year. The rod season extends from 1 Feb. to 30 Nov. Trout-fishing is excellent all along the river, which for this purpose is open to the public from the source to the junction of Leader Water, from Kelso to Carham, and nearly the whole way from Wark to Tweedmouth. The fish vary from 3 pounds downwards, but the majority of them are under one pound.

All along the vale there are a number of towns and thriving villages, of which the chief are Peebles, Innerleithen, Walkerburn, Galashiels, Darnick, Melrose, Newton, Lessudden, Maxton, Rutherford, Roxburgh, Kelso, Sprouston, Birgham, and Coldstream; and on the English side Carham, Wark, Cornhill, and Norham: while at the mouth are Berwick and Tweedmouth. There are also a large number of old castles and modern mansions, of which the chief are Oliver Castle, Tennis or Thane's Castle, Dalwick House, Stobo Castle, Easter Dalwick, Easter Haprew, Lyne, Neidpath Castle, Rosetta, Venlaw House, Kerfield, Haystoun, Horsburgh Tower, Kailzie House, Cardrona, Glenormiston, Grierston Tower, Traquair, Elibank, Ashiesteel, Fernielee, Sunderland Hall, Abbotsford, Pavilion, Darnick Tower, Littledean Tower, Gattonside House, Allerly House, Drygrange, Bemersyde, Merton House, Smailholm Tower, Makerstoun House, Floors Castle, Hendersyde Park, Ednam House, Pinnacle Hill, Lennel House, Tillmouth Castle, Twisel Castle, Milnegraden, Ladykirk House, Norham Castle, Swinton House, Tweedhill, and Paxton House. Nor do these exhaust the old keeps many of them with historic names - that studded the whole valley `from Berwick to the Bield,' and frowned defiance across the border at the line of strengths on the English side. These peels are a peculiar feature of the whole line of the river as well as of the courses of its tributaries, marking `barbarous times when Border raids were in continual activity, and when no one on either side of the marches, or debateable land, could lay down his head to sleep at night with out the chance of having to stand to his defence, or perhaps to mount and ride ere morning. Intended for the general advantage and preservation of all the inhabitants of the valley, they were built alternately on both sides of the river, and in a continued series, one in view of another; so that a fire, kindled on the top of any one of them, was immediately responded to, in the same way, by all the others in succession; the smoke giving the signal by day and the flame by night - thus spreading the alarm through a whole country of seventy miles in extent, in the provincial phrase, from "Berwick to the Bield," - and to a breadth of not less than fifty miles, carrying alarm into the uppermost- parts of every tributary glen. Would that we could be inspired with the fancy of our own immortal Sir Walter, that we might, for only one moment, imagine the sudden upstirring in this way of the wild and warlike population of so great an extent of country, during the days of Border contest! What a shouting of men and neighing of horses - what a hurried donning of back and breast-pieces and morions - what a jingling of bridles and saddling of steeds - what a buckling on of swords and grasping of lances, and how the woods and the steep faces of the hills must have re-echoed to the gallop of the various little parties, hastening to unite themselves together. Then came the assault of the invading foe - the crash of combat - the shouts of triumph and the shrieks of dying men - all full of the most romantic and picturesque suggestions. Nay, if we could only fancy the laird of any one of these little fortalices, after having been warned by his provident dame, by the usual hint of a covered dish full of steel spurs set before him, that there was no more meat in the larder - if we could only imagine him and his followers getting hurriedly to boot and saddle, to ride across the Border on a foray into England to harry some district of its beeves, we should conjure up a picture full of the most romantic circumstances and stirring interest. ' The whole district is full of historic associations. Berwick, Norham, Coldstream, Birgham, Kelso, Dryburgh, Melrose - the names need but to be mentioned; and more, they have had their poet in the great magician of the north, whose ambition was to be a Border laird, and to found a new branch of the great Border family, and whose name and genius must ever be associated with Ashiesteel and Abbotsford; and for much of whose most congenial work this Border land provided both scene and material. But while, looking back upon the course of the Tweed, `no one who has seen it, and who knows the land through which the stream flows, can be indifferent to the memories of ancient towers and olden names famous in Scottish story, which it bears along, of holy though broken shrines which keep sacred for us the illustrious dead, Bruce, and Douglas, and Walter Scott, or fail to feel the soothing power of that pathetic peace which broods over ancient battlefields;' yet `that which most attracts the stranger, which unites the natives of the Borders themselves most closely, most deeply, which binds in one the people of Teviot and Ettrick, of Yarrow and of Tweed, is the poetry, both old and new, the ballad and song of the Minstrelsy and such strains as "The Flowers of the Forest" and "Lucy's Flittin'." This touches the old heroic life that was once loved in the Border Land, our sympathy with the griefs, the loves, the sorrows, the fates, and the fortunes of the men and the women who dwelt long ago in the ancient Border homesteads, whose ruins now speak to us on many a Lowland brae with a weird old-world suggestion and an inexpressible pathos. For true it is that no poetry is less indebted to foreign inspiration than that of the Borders. It is purely autochthonal. It has sprung from the soil, from native deeds and story, from the very heart of the people through successive generations. Border men did the deeds and Border maidens felt the love which the Border minstrels sung. The ballad and the song truly reflect the whole character of the people in its freshness, vigour, old roughness, its dark -shades and its bright sides, its heroism and its tenderness. In the early dawn of Border story, in the thirteenth century, there are two dim personages who seem to prefigure the two main lines of subsequent Border activity - intellectual and imaginative. 'The one is ' the wondrous wizard,' Michael Scott, whose scientific bent was but the prototype of that which animated Mungo Park, Sir David Brewster, and Mrs Somerville; the other Thomas the Rhymer of Ercildoune, forerunner of those who sang of the Dowie Dens o' Yarrow, The Bush aboon Traquair, and The Broom o' the Cowdenknowes and on to the mightier minstrelsy of Thomson, Hogg, Leyden, and Scott. The older hards, according to Professor Veitch, have caught and reproduced in their verse the pure characteristics of Tweedside. Their poetry `breathes a sweet pastoral melody. There is a passionate fondness dashed with sweetness and regret - a mingling of love and sorrow, hopefulness and -despair. This curious blending of opposite feelings flows all through the songs of the Tweed, and seems to reflect the familiar contrast in the Scenery - the sparkling gleam of the morning and noon gradually passing into the pathetic shade of the gloamin' on the river itself. 'From Tweedside Thomson must have drawn the then daring idea that scenery was an object of poetic interest in itself. From the `mysterious belt of grey clear light - the weather gleam - that runs at nightfall across the wavy lines of the Border hills, ' Hogg drew that charm and inspiration of faërie and fairyland that enabled him in Kilmeny to reproduce the best and purest part of the old rude belief in the constant presence of-the invisible and supernatural around us; while Leyden first

`Saw with strange delight the snow-clouds form,
When Ruberslaw conceives the mountain storm,'

and then by showing us'the beauty, the gentle beauty and not less the power, the grandeur, to be found in the Border scenery, ' opened ` the eyes of dwellers on the Border to the glory that is at their own doors.' And Professor Veitch himself is a proof that the song-compelling power of the river is by no means exhausted.

In picturesqueness of scenery the Tweed is inferior to the Tay, or any of its great tributaries, as well as to the Clyde. For the first 15 miles of its course down nearly to the j unction of Biggar Water the valley is narrow, bare, and solitary, but the soft green pastoral heights by which it is bounded give it a distinct character of its own. The river flows `down over the bluish greywacke rock, and for miles amid broken, isolated, halfsmoothed blocks, severed from its bed. Here and there its banks have an abrupt picturesqueness, but as a rule its flow is a rippling rapid movement spreading out in silvery sheen, by the foot of the confining hill, or amid the narrow haughs by the way; occasionally a knowe of rock juts out from the bank, and then the river swings round the obstruction into a restful pool, again to pass into the rapid ripple of its falling soft-sounding stream; still bare of tree and bush until at Polmood it becomes scantily fringed with alders and birches, remains of the old forest. The haughs here widen considerably, and soothe the eye with soft green pasture. Ever and anon a burn from its mountain glen joins and enriches the river; and thus is suggested the reserve of beauty and solitude in the valley of the Tweed, for the glen leads the eye upwards, between hills meeting hills from the opposite sides in a wonderful harmony and symmetry of fold, far away to the half-seen, dim, massive heights which form the broad and lofty background of the valley and feed the springs of the tributary waters.. Those long, rounded, far-spreading heights seldom visited, spaces of dreamy solitude and soul-subduing pathos, are never at any season of the year without their charm. Early June decks them with a tender green, in which are set the yellow violet and the rock rose, and even the cloudberry lifts its snow-white blossom from the heart of the black peatmoss. Midsummer deepens and enriches the bloom, and brings the bracken in the lush green of the year. In early August the braes and moors are touched and brightened with the two kinds of the heatherbell ere they gradually flush deep in large breaks of the common purple heather. Autumn, late autumn, throws the fading beauty of tender colour over the heather bloom; and the bent of the Moorland, "the bent sae brown" of the old ballads, that knew and felt many a blood-stain in long gone foray and feud, - that bent amid which, in the very dawn of Border legend and poetry, the Queen of Faëry took her leave of Thomas of Ercildoune throws in October days its tresses free to the wind with a waesome grace, touching the heart as with the hushed life of the old story. And in winter the snow wraps those hills in a robe so meet, that their statuesque outlines are seen and followed in their entireness and in their minute details, as at no other time; standing against the heavens in the clear relief of forms, new, as it were from the sculptor's hand.' From Broughton downwards the valley is much wider, the bottom being occupied by large tracts of fertile haughland, and though the bounding lines of heights continue, they are farther from the river. Owing to the windings of the stream, the heights seem at many points as if almost meeting and enclosing rich and fertile vales, as at Melrose, where the whole hollow seems from some points of view to be entirely shut in by hills. Many of the haughs here and elsewhere have rich orchards. ' After the first mile or two, ' says Dorothy Wordsworth, in describing the course of the river from Peebles to Melrose in the beginning of the present century, ' our road was seldom far from the river which flowed in gentleness, though perhaps never silent; the hills on either side high and sometimes stony, but excellent pasturage for sheep. In some parts the vale was wholly of this pastoral character; in others we saw extensive tracts of corn ground, even spreading along whole hill sides and without visible fences, which is dreary in a flat country; but there is no dreariness on the banks of the Tweed - the hills, whether smooth or stony, uncultivated or covered with ripe corn, had the same pensive softness. In one very sweet part of the vale a gate crossed the road, which was opened by an old woman who lived in a cottage close to it; I said to her, "You live in a very pretty place." "Yes," she replied, " the water of Tweed is a bonny water." The lines of the hills are flowing and beautiful, the reaches of the vale long; in some places appear the remains of a forest; in others you will see as lovely a combination of forms as any traveller who goes in search of the picturesque need desire, and yet perhaps without a single tree; or at least if trees there are they shall be very few, and he shall not care whether they are there or not. 'The constant character of the gently varying scenes' was that of tender pensiveness; no bursting torrents when we were there, but the murmuring of the river was heard distinctly, often blended with the bleating of sheep. The transitions of this vale were all gentle except one, a scene of which a gentleman's house was the centre, standing low in the vale, the hills above it covered with gloomy fir plantations, and the appearance of the house itself was gloomy. There was an allegorical air-a person fond of Spenser will understand me - in this uncheerful spot single in such a country,

"The house was hearsed about with a black wood." '

The absence of wood and the constantly pastoral appearance of the hills is not now so marked, for, from the point where the valley widens out, downwards, the skirting hills are fringed or covered with thriving plantations, mostly formed since the beginning of the present century. At some points, particularly about Neidpath and Floors Castle, these woods have been laid out with taste, but at other places the scenery has often suffered from the too regular and methodical nature of the planting. The bed of the river is almost everywhere composed of basaltic and sandstone rocks, or of pebbles of these imbedded in clear sharp sand, and the water is generally bright and clear.

See also Sir Thomas Dick Lauder's Scottish Rivers (Edinb. 1874); J. Russell's Haigs of Bemersyde (Edinb. 1881); Professor Veitch's Bordr History and Poetry (Glasg. 1878); the same author's River Tweed in volume issued to subscribers to the Royal Association for the Promotion of Fine Arts in Scotland (Edinb. 1884); Borrow's Lavengro; and, for sketches of the scenery along the upper part of the river, Black's Strange Adventures of a Phaeton.

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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