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Battle

Battle Valleys

hardback: 280 x 215mm
208 pages: 250 colour pictures and 50 diagrams
Frances Lincoln Spring 2012: £17: ISBN 978-0-7112-3229-7


Every valley has its battle, and every stream its song
      — Walter Scott

For three hundred years, the reivers' country of the Border was an enclave between the kingdoms of England and Scotland which had its own laws, its own ethics, and an economy based on theft, blackmail and kidnapping for ransom. Over moorland and bog, through the passes of Cheviot and the fords of the Tyne, the reivers rode 60 miles in an autumn night. A skirmish at dawn with lances and the long-shafted Jedburgh axe; then back again with the stolen cows, and the smoke of burning thatch behind them.
      The beauty of the Border is here captured in words and pictures by Ronald Turnbull, of the Scottish West March. But behind that beauty – on both the Scottish and English sides – the memory of the terrible centuries lingers on. Border ballads stir the blood like the wind across the Cheviot moors. Every valley boasts its 'bastle' or fortified farmhouse, its pele tower or grim border fortress.
      Ettrick and Yarrow, Liddesdale and Redesdale, Teviot and Tweed: they lie almost empty now. Along the big rivers, thickets of hogweed spring tall as reivers' lances, and the fields are splashed with lurid gorse, the colour of road-menders' jackets. Above are bleak moorlands, and the wild high Cheviot hills. Every fifth hill has a hillfort, picked out in yellow grasses by the low autumn sunlight. The curlew cries across the moors, and as a backdrop to everything, the triple hill of Eildon rises pale against the sky.

The first 50 pages, with all their pics and diagrams, will probably be seen on
Google books

download a Border Ballad
Nithsdale vs Annandale 1593

reviews

Throughout the pages of Battle Valleys, Turnbull paints a vivid and often amusing portrait of the borderland between Scotland and England.
Tales of this formerly lawless country, where theft, kidnapping and blackmail were once rife and horseback raiders, known as the reivers, ruled by terror up to the 17th century, are recounted in Turnbull’s lively prose, alongside quotes from various figures of the past. Turnbull’s images reveal the sweeping panoramas dotted with craggy outcrops that the reivers once rode across, as well as the many intriguing fortresses, crumbling ruins, fortifi ed farmhouses and ‘bastles’ that adorn every valley.
Turnbull takes us on an engaging journey through the bleak moorlands, along the rivers and across the wild Cheviot hills, as his wit, gorgeous photography and colourful insights into history combine to make this a fascinating read.
  Outdoor Photographer August 2012

Highly readable book   The Northumbrian magazine

amazon.com an appreciative review from the USA

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Introduction

Bereived means raided, burnt out and starved to death. For three hundred years, the country of the Border was a little world between England and Scotland which had its own laws, its own ethics, and an economy based on theft, blackmail and kidnapping for ransom. Over moorland and bog, through the passes of Cheviot and the fords of the Tyne, the reivers rode 60 miles in an autumn night. A skirmish at dawn with lances and the long-shafted Jedburgh axe; then back again with the stolen cows, and the smoke of burning thatch behind them.
      A few miles from my home in Dumfriesshire, a pink sandstone pile stands on the green banks of the River Nith. Drumlanrig Castle is the seat (during the grouse shooting season, at least) of the Duke of Buccleuch. He's the UK's second largest landowner in terms of area, and an intensely respectable fellow who speaks in the House of Lords on organic farming, squirrels and the disabled. His fortune is founded on stolen cows. For the 'Bold Buccleuch', originally from Teviotdale in the Scottish Middle March, was one of the most successful of the border reivers. He was also one of the most romantic, mounting a commando-type raid across the border in 1596 to rescue Kinmont Willie from Carlisle Castle.
      Among his henchmen on that exciting night there may well have been a Wattie Trummell or Tom Turnbull, subordinate neighbours from further down the Teviot. People sometimes ask me the meaning of my family name; but not in Northumberland, where it's obvious. In Hawick there's a statue commemorating the inaugural Turnbull, who gained name and lands by saving King Robert the Bruce from a nasty pair of horns. But that's a load of bull. Turnbulls too came raiding down across the Tyne during the three centuries of the lawless Border. The name celebrates success at the respected game of robbery – success enough to attract in 1510 the notice of King James IV himself. "The clan of Turnbull having been guilty of unbounded excesses, the King came suddenly to Jedburgh, by a night march, and executed the most rigid justice upon the astonished offenders. Their submission was made with singular solemnity. Two hundred of the tribe met the King at the water of Rule, holding in their hands the naked swords with which they had perpetrated their crimes, and having each around his neck the halter which he had well merited. A few were capitally punished, many imprisoned, and the rest dismissed after they had given hostages for their future peaceable demeanour." (Walter Scott, citing Holinshed's Chronicle).
      Five hundred years ago, this green farmland of Nithsdale was a battleground. Warlords Maxwell and Johnstone burnt each other's villages, and engaged in pitched battle for the position of Provost of Dumfries. And if the business of mutual slaughter did get in the way of the harvest, then it was off across the Debateable Land to raid the fields of Cumbria. The Scottish West March even had its own distinctive sword-slash. The Lockerbie Lick was a downward backhander delivered by a man on horseback towards the head of an enemy on foot.
      It was a lifestyle that's been compared with that in the North-West Frontier of Afghanistan. It extended from Peebles to the gates of Newcastle, from Berwick to Kirkcudbright. As order and civilisation break down, it makes as much sense to go out and steal from your neighbour as to stay honestly at home until your neighbour comes and steals from you. The cattle-thieving, camel-thieving or horse-thieving culture is the same all over the world and throughout history. Its loyalty is not to any nation state or religion, but to the family and the tribe. Blackmail and kidnapping are honourable professions, and inter-clan relations are organised around the blood-feud.
      Bellingham is a quiet country town with three pubs, a convenient Co-op, and a phone box. I left my wallet with £50 in cash in the phone box, and came back to find a polite gentleman searching through it for my address. But in 1597, Walter Scott of Harden raided Bellingham with 300 horsemen, heading north with household goods and 400 cattle. The following year the victims themselves turned raider, bringing home 300 beasts from Liddesdale. North of the village, bog grasses run for a dozen miles into the foothills of Cheviot. In pubs around Otterburn the soldiers relax after hard days driving tanks across the brown moorland. But in August 1388, this was the scene of the greatest of the Border battles. James, 2nd Earl of Douglas, raided out of Scotland with 8000 men. Returning with their stolen cattle, they were pursued by the local warlord on the English side, Henry Percy, Duke of Northumberland. The Border ballad is cold, cruel, and yet stirs the blood like the wind across the Cheviot moors:
      There was ne'er a time on the March-parties
      Since the Douglas and Percie met,
      But it was marvail if the blood ran not
      As the rain doth run in the street.

According to the ballad, nobody on either side surrendered or ran away. Of the combined armies, just 73 English and 55 Scots survived. The 55 Scots had the better of it, coming away with prisoners worth 200,000 francs in ransom. In 1603, the crowns of Scotland and England were united under King James VI and I. But the memory of the terrible centuries lingers on. Every valley boasts its 'bastle' or fortified farmhouse, its pele tower or grim border fortress. Ettrick and Yarrow, Liddesdale and Redesdale, Teviot and Tweed, lie almost empty now. Only the fierce little border towns survive: Melrose and Jedburgh and Galashiels, with their tough rugby and their horseback common-riding ceremonies. The green hollows of the hills, that were once 'passage and bye way for the theefe', lie empty under the wind. A sheep wanders through, and then another sheep, and after a few days a solitary hill walker, sleeping bag wrapped in green nylon against the dew.

Half past five on a November morning: still dark, but the reivers' moon is riding high. Socks that had been slightly damp the night before were now rigid, resisting my incoming toes as if made of stout cardboard. I hadn't taken my boots to bed with me as I'm a bit fussy about my bedmates. Stored in the rucksack, they'd stiffened up as well – but they would still admit feet. My water bottle, even though I had taken it into the bivvybag, rattled with a slush of ice. I did not linger over breakfast. I managed to get my boots tied just before my fingertips froze and became useless.
      At the ridge end, the sky still showed stars above but paled to turquoise and flared orange along the hilltops. Only Nature herself could have the effrontery for such a colour scheme. Down along the shadowy Loch of the Lowes, the flashing light of an early gritter was like a spark dropped out of the sunrise. The sun itself came at 8 am on a low hill called Ward Law. Here shepherds have built tall, fanciful cairns, marking particularly suitable spots to see their sheep from. The low sun turned the moorland into a texture of tussocks, with a fluffed-out fox hunting nose-down after voles. In the valley below, a pele tower rose out of the pastel green of frosted fields, and each tree stood out as if drawn with a scratchy pencil. Ettrick and Yarrow lost their people during the reiving years. Every ten or twenty minutes a car with misted windows zipped along the A708, but the black cows just carried on staring across the green slopes. Below the sky and the hills, St Mary's Loch lay in a haze of mist. Grasses were white against black ice like a photo in negative. Ahead lay the moors and swelling hills of Peeblesshire, with the Tweed beyond and buzzards mewing high above.
      Along the Tweed, thickets of hogweed spring tall as reivers' lances, and the fields are splashed with lurid gorse, the colour of road-menders' jackets. Every ten miles the river passes another abbey broken down by the Earl of Hertford in the Border wars. A tractor trundles across a wide green field with an arc of brown slurry rising into the sunlight. Above are bleak moorlands, and the wild high Cheviot hills. Every fifth hill has a hill fort, picked out in yellow grasses by the low autumn sunlight. The curlew cries across the moors, and behind everything, the triple top of Eildon rises pale against a sky the pale blue of starlings' eggs.
      Three hundred years of killing — and the result today is the most intensely peaceful part of our United (as it now is) Kingdom.

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