Greig Houghton Photography
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Irish Landscape and Travel Photography Blog

Scottish Borders, Scotland

For I’ll hasten to the vision,
of a valley fair, Elysian,
And gaze at Scotland’s Eden
From the spur of Gala Hill
— Roger Quin, Borderland

My Borderland, a land of rolling hills and valleys, farmland, forests and moors. My home.  A frontier land of bygone days.  A land ruled for over 150 years by a clans of outlaws, the Border Reivers.  Lying on the border between England and Scotland, the area at the turn of the 14th century had been blighted by wars and rebellions.  The relentless devastation left the people suffering poverty and hardship. The breeding ground for survival by any means possible.  Out of the ashes, formed the Border Reiver.  Described by George McDonald Fraser in his book 'The Steel Bonnets: Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers' as a "unique figure" in the story of Britain, derived from every social class, some "living in outlaw bands , but most of them ordinary members of the community".   The Reivers were everyday people who became highly skilled professional gangsters perfecting the art of cattle rustling in daring raids under the cover of darkness, but more ominously, introducing the world to the act of blackmail and protection rackets centuries before the American mafia.   George McDonald Fraser describes the reiver as a "fighting man who, on the evidence, handled his weapons with superb skill; a guerilla soldier of great resource to whom the arts of theft, raid, tracking and ambush were second nature". 

The Border Reivers are a light cavalry force, typically depicted wearing a steel, bonnet, quilted jack-of-plates and armed with the border lance.  Their steed was a small, sturdy and resilient horse known as hobbies, perfected adapted and surefooted in the soft ground of the hills and valleys of the border landscape.  The Reivers were not interested in political boundaries with livestock raids not restricted to south into England but also extending west, east and north.  This was not Scotland v England.  George McDonald Fraser sums it up beautifully:

Consider also the perpetual petty jealousies, the conflict of national, family, and personal interest, the great criss-cross of vendetta and alliance, of feudal loyalty and blood tie, the repeated changing of sides and allegiances, and the general confusion bordering on chaos, and one sees that the traditonal Anglo-Scottish antipathy, while it was ever-present, and mattered considerably, will simply not do as an inviolable rule when one looks closely into Border reiving.
— George McDonald Fraser: The Steel Bonnets: Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers

Nationalism may have been the start , but was often cast aside in the business of reiving in everyday struggle of life.  Romanticised as guerilla soldier or disparaged as mafia gangsters, the reign of the reiver was short lived, put to an end by James VI in the union of England and Scotland.  James VI sought to pacify the Borders, renaming the area from the Border Marshes to the MIddle Shire of the new United Kingdom. He installed a commision to restore order to the region. The resulting justice saw many leaders and members of the reiver clans hung.  James' minister George Home Earl of Dunbar, stamped his infamy on the region and in the process gave rise to the legal term  jeddart justice.  Simply speaking, the Earl of Dunbar hung them first and then tried them afterwards.  

The reign of James VI saw the end of the Borders as it was known at that time, a frontier land of outlaws, and laid the foundations of the modern era that I was born into, grew up in and eventually left to explore a life of my own.  Today I see a beauty in my home which passed me by in my youth.  We may not have the dramatic mountains of the highlands, yet the rolling hills and river valleys of my borderland hold a special place in my heart.