× Home Drive and Discover App Borders Calendar The Reivers Things To Do Poetry & Song Shop Contact Us


Jamie Telfer of the Fair Dodhead

1st September 2020

It fell about Martinmas tyde,
When border steeds get corn and hay
The Captain of Bewcastle hath bound him to ryde
And he's ower to Tividale to drive a prey.

The opening lines of 'Jamie Telfer of the Fair Dodhead' set the scene for a rollicking good reiving story (Bewcastle is ten miles across the border, Tividale is Teviotdale). It's one of the ballads set down by Sir Walter Scott (helped by James Hogg, 'The Ettrick Shepherd') in his 'Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border' - braveing the wrath of Hogg's mother, Margaret Laidlaw, who scolded him for getting it all wrong...

"There were never ane o' my songs prentit till ye prentit them yoursel an' ye hae spoiled them awthegither. They were made for singing an' no for reading; but ye hae broken the charm now, an' they'll never be sung mair. An' the worst thing of a', they're nouther right spelled nor right setten doon!"

But we're very fortunate that he did so. Doubtless the English Borderlands had just as many good stories; few survive.

Like all ballads, there are variations: in Scott's version the heroes are, of course, the Scotts and the Elliots are untrustworthy. In the Elliot version it's reversed. The Elliot version is called Jamie Telfer IN the Fair Dodhead, implying that he was a tenant and not the proprietor - seems more likely.

Remains of the Fair Dodhead, Ruberslaw in the background.

Jamie Telfer's tower by the 'Thieves Road' at the top of the Dod Burn is still there, very ruinous. The castle at Bewcastle, once home to the Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, is now an impressive ruin. It was a military outpost in the 16th century, designed to deter Scottish reivers. Whether the Captain of Bewcastle really initiated raids into Teviotdale, we don't know. Fake news perhaps.

Bewcastle Churchyard and Castle

But the story rings true. Jamie Telfer, a simple farmer in an isolated tower house, is robbed of his ten cows. He manages to get a 'hot trod' (hot pursuit) going and they overtake the stolen beasts on the road back to England. The raiders turn and fight. Skulls are split, riders hit the ground, blood stains the snow and the kye (cattle) are recovered. The aggressor has relatives in Liddesdale. A reprisal raid heads off down there and these kye are driven back to Dodhead ...

When they cam to the fair Dodhead,
They were a wellcum sight to see!
For instead of his ain ten milk kye,
Jamie Telfer has gotten thirty and three.


'Jamie Telfer of the Fair Dodhead' is a theme along our Hermitage Trail. We follow the action, hear verses sung, and get the lowdown on life in reiving times from Jamie Telfer himself. 

Download the app to find out more!

Lord Dacre Flodden and the Borders

21st July 2020

Lockdown has delayed the launch of our first audio trail (Hermitage), but it's been a useful window to move forward with the others. The focus now is on Flodden (launching in a few weeks time). Writing this, I keep coming up against Lord Dacre - specifically Thomas Dacre 2nd Baron of Gillsland (1467 - 1525) -  a perpetual thorn in the side of the Scots.

Firstly, a few years before Flodden, Dacre, as English Lord Warden of the Marches, Dacre met Sir Robert Kerr of Cessford Castle, Scottish Warden of the Middle March. It was a ‘Truce Day’ –  a day for the peaceful settlement of grievances. However, there was an argument, then a scuffle which ended up with Sir Robert being killed by three Englishmen: Lilburn, Starhead and the memorably named Heron the Bastard of Ford. The Scots managed to grab Lilburn, Starhead was tracked to a house in York, murdered, and the head brought back to Cessford; The ‘Bastard Heron’ escaped. Dacre's role in all this is unclear.

At Flodden, Dacre commanded the English Border Horse. Initially held in reserve, they then played a major role arriving in strength when Edmund Howard, son of the English commander Lord Surrey, was surrounded and so nearly captured by Lord Home's Borderers.

The Battle of Flodden 1513

Next morning, Dacre is the man who identified the stripped body of the Scottish king, James IV (with whom he had played cards!) and took it off the field. 

Two months after Flodden, Dacre was raiding in Teviotdale. He reports to his king...

On Thursday past I assembled your subjects in Northumberland to the number of a thousand horsemen and rode in at Gallespeth, and so to the Water of Kale, two miles within Scotland and there set forth two forays; my brother Philip Dacre with three hundred, who burnt and destroyed the the town of Ruecastle with all the corn in the same and there-about, and took two towers in it and burnt both roof and floors; and Sir Roger Fenwick with three hundred men burnt the town of Lanton, and destroyed all the corn therein.

He was at it again in 1514. But after raiding up the Ale Water some of his men were ambushed by the callants of Hawick at Hornshole and lost their flag - now the symbol of Hawick and its Common Riding.

Finally, Dacre was back in 1523. "In the morning of the day which was yesterday, we set forward and we went to Kelso where we not only burned and destroyed the whole town that would burn by any labour but also cast down the Gatehouse of the Abbey." 
Yes. We have him to blame.

So who was this swashbuckling destroyer?
Arms of Thomas, 2nd Lord Dacre

Born at Gillsland on Hadrian's Wall, son of a West March Warden and Governor of Carlisle, he was very much a Borderer. 

Aged 18 he was at the Battle of Bosworth Field, fighting for the House of York against the victorious House of Lancaster. But he quickly made his peace with the new King Henry VII, who later made him a Knight of the Bath.

Later that year (still 18!) he became Deputy Lord Warden of the Marches, then five years later in 1490, Warden of the West March .

Aged 21 he fell in love with  Elizabeth Greystoke, 17 year old ward of the powerful Lord Clifford. He abducted her by night from Brougham Castle in Westmorland. Somehow he got away with it, married her and they had eight children.

He seems to have been quite a friend of James IV, whose wedding he attended. When James visited Dumfries in 1504 he played cards against Dacre, who reportedly took him for £2 6s 8d!

From 1509 to 1525 he was Henry VIII's Lord Warden of the Marches, responsible for the entire border. And so it was that whilst he held this position, created to ensure peace along the Border, he was leading these various raids into Teviotdale.

He was clearly a warrior; he also knew how to have others do his dirty work for him. George MacDonald Fraser in 'Steel Bonnets' puts it like this...

"As a stirrer-up of mischief on the Scottish side of the frontier, intriguing among factions, enlisting Scots outlaws to harry their countrymen and promoting his monarch's policy of confusion and harm, he had few equals.

Dacre was in the saddle to the end, dying when he fell from his horse in 1525. He is buried in the family vault at Lanercost Priory. His son William succeeded him as Warden of the West March. 

Lanercost Priory near Brampton


The Nine Scottish Dukes

4th October 2019

10th Duke of Roxburghe,
by Allan Warren       
The Duke of Roxburghe died on 29th August. He was 64, a tragic victim of cancer. Guy Roxburghe was an impressive man in many ways and was given a substantial obituary in ‘The Scotsman’ and The Times. 

However, his achievements would not have been quite so prominently aired had he been plain Mr.

Who are the Scottish Dukes? How relevant are they in 2019?

The oldest and most senior is the Duke of Rothesay (a pleasant town on the Isle of Bute). The title was first given to David Stewart, son of Robert III of Scotland, in 1398. After David’s death it went to his brother, later King James I. Thereafter, the heir apparent to the Scottish Crown has held this dukedom and it is now the title used by HRH Prince Charles when in Scotland.

The other eight dukedoms, with dates of creation, are:

Duke of Hamilton, 1643 (Head of the Houses of Hamilton and Douglas).
Duke of Buccleuch, 1663 (Created for Anne Countess of Buccleuch, widow of the Duke of Monmouth, illegitimate son of Charles II. Chief of Clan Scott)
Duke of Lennox, 1675 (Created for Charles Lennox, illegitimate son of  Charles II)
Duke of Queensberry, 1684 (now held by the Dukes of Buccleuch)
Duke of Argyll, 1701 (Chief of Clan Campbell)
Duke of Atholl, 1703 (Chief of Clan Murray)
Duke of Montrose, 1707(support in the Act of Union, Chief of Clan Graham)
Duke of Roxburghe, 1707 (support in the Act of Union) 

Floors Castle by Kelso. Home of the Duke of Roxburghe.
If you strip out Lennox (lives in England), Atholl (lives in South Africa) and Queensberry (also Buccleuch), we are left with five dukes: Hamilton, Buccleuch, Argyll, Montrose and Roxburghe.

As a body these five are quite impressive: all of them big or massive landowners, four of them clan chiefs and one (Montrose) sits in the House of Lords. The Dukes of Hamilton and Argyll also have ceremonial roles; the latter Master of the Household of Scotland, the former Hereditary Bearer of the Crown of Scotland.

Perhaps more significantly, our dukes own four of the most significant furnished castles in Scotland. The Dukes of Buccleuch have both the magnificent Drumlanrig Castle and charming Bowhill House near Selkirk. The Duke of Argyll has Inveraray Castle (fascinating in its own right and also featured in Downton Abbey!) and the late Duke of Roxburghe was responsible for creating from his splendid home, Floors Castle, with its gardens and grounds, a fascinating and relaxed half day visit.

Inveraray Castle, Argyll, home of the Duke of Argyll.

Where exactly is the Duchy of Albany

31st July 2019

Doune Castle
Visitors to the very fine Doune Castle will learn that it was built by Robert, Duke of Albany. Robert was the first person to own this enigmatic title which, unusually, has no relationship with any land. It was later given to the sons of kings prior to succeeding, or to younger sons (the best available title short of king). Other Dukes of Albany were Henry Lord Darnley, husband of Mary Queen of Scots, Charles I and James II.

The last Duke of Albany
Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Prince Leopold was created Duke of Albany in 1881, but was a haemophiliac and died aged 30. His son, Charles Edward, also reigning duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was deprived of his British peerages and honours for having fought in the German Army (eventually as a general) during WWI.

‘Albany’ comes from the Celtic word Alba, the island of Great Britain as opposed to Ierne, Ireland. When the southern part of Britain became Anglo-Saxon, the name settled on the Celtic lands north of the Forth and Clyde. Today it means Scotland and at the Scottish border you’ll see Fàilte gu Alba, Welcome to Scotland.

‘Albany’ is the Anglo-Saxon rendering of Alba (Cf. Brittany, Saxony, Lombardy). The title was first created in 1398  for the said Robert Stewart, builder of Doune Castle, second son of King Robert II, who was a ruthless Regent for three Scottish kings - his father, brother and nephew - who for various reasons were unable to rule effectively.

Charlotte, Duchess of Albany
‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ latterly styled himself ‘Count of Albany’ and Charlotte, his daughter by Clementina Walkinshaw, was titled Duchess of Albany in the Jacobite Peerage. Charlotte herself had three illegitimate children, two girls and a son, Charles Edward, who became an officer in the Russian army. He told such tall tales of his origins and adventures that few believed his claims to royal descent until the 20th century when it was established that he was indeed who he had claimed to be. He died in 1854 as the result of a coach accident near Stirling Castle and is buried at Dunkeld Cathedral, where his grave can still be seen. He married twice but had no children.

But that, apparently, is not the end of the Duchy of Albany. At least not according to His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Albany, who styles himself 7th Duke of Albany due to his descent (6G grandson) from Prince Charles Edward Stuart through Comtesse Marguerite o’Dea d’Audibert de Lussan - not a familiar name to most. It’s a long story, told at length by Prince Michael in his book ‘The Forgotten Monarchy of Scotland’, available from Amazon in paperback £1.64p.

Clan Mackay

1st May 2019

The Scottish Highlands was at one stage a patchwork of clan territories and I’m drawn to the idea of illuminating this heritage by re-establishing clan lands ‘on the ground’. Roadside signs announcing which bailiwick lies ahead would add character to our countryside and would also be great for tourism: members of the Diaspora would enjoy a surge of excitement, certain that they had arrived ‘home’.

Of course an agreed date would be needed because clan lands grew and contracted over the ages. And even then it wouldn’t be straightforward: the process of fixing the exact location of signs evokes a nice image of red-faced, kilted clan chiefs, tussling with cromachs to establish where boundaries belong.

Fanciful? Not entirely. With, so far as I know, no falling out with their neighbours, Clan Mackay staked out their territory back in 2004 with six "Mackay Country" signs. The lands are in the far North West and so signs were placed at KyleskuAchfary, Forsinard, Dalvina and on the A836 road at the Caithness/Sutherland border.

In Gaelic the name is rendered as Macaoidh, son of Hugh. They claim descent from both Somerled and the Celtic royal house, from both of whom they inherited a robust warrior spirit, much needed in early times as the Earls of Sutherland endeavoured to encroach on “Mackay Country”.

However by the 17th century their neighbours – Sinclairs, Sutherlands, MacLeods and Gunns - were presumably content and gave them relatively little trouble. The Mackays therefore had to go abroad for a fight: in 1626 Sir Donald Mackay took 3000 Mackays to fight for the King of Denmark in the Thirty Years' War. And in 1631 Lord Reay, the clan chief, raised another force for service with Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden; the earliest depiction of the kilt is assumed to be Mackays in the service of Gustavus Adolphus.

General Hugh Mackay of Scourie was a professional soldier. He fought the Turks on behalf of the Republic of Venice (1669), the French on behalf of the Dutch (1674) and commanded the army that faced the Jacobites at the Battle of Killiecrankie (1689), dying in the field at the Battle of Steinkirk (1692), in a doomed attack against the French, ordered by William of Orange (King William III)

During the Jacobite risings. Mackays were unwaveringly Hanoverian and produced two independent highland companies to oppose ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie. It was principally Mackays who won the skirmish at Littleferry near Golspie on 15 April 1746 and captured the Jacobite George Mackenzie, 3rd Earl of Cromartie at Dunrobin Castle.

The Clan Mackay Society is an active organisation, currently encouraging members to celebrate the tercentenary of the Battle of Gleshiel on the 9th of June – another occasion where idealistic Jacobites (this time including Rob Roy MacGregor) were defeated by hard-headed Hanoverians including the MacKays. 

If you venture up to Mackay Country don’t drive past the excellent Strathnaver Museum and find time if you can to walk up to Caisteal Bharraich.

Caisteal Bharraich




© Copyright 2018-2020 The Reivers Road™
Terms of use | Acceptable use policy | Privacy Policy | Cookie policy