Friday, December 15, 2006

Hume Castle

Just beyond the Crosshill Cross, see previous entry, lies Hume Castle, or at least a 17th Century folly on the site of the original castle. It was destroyed in 1651 by the army of that well known counter-revolutionary and pain in the bum Oliver Cromwell.

On the day we visited the door was locked and although a key can be obtained from a nearby house, its door was also locked and no-one was answering. This is probably why Cromwell's army blew the place up, if only they'd found someone in and got the key a lot of unecessary damage could have been avoided.

I borrowed this description of the Castle from the excellent site at

Situated more-or-less centrally in the Merse, Hume Castle stands on a prominent mound visible for miles. Constructed in the 13th century, it was the seat of the Humes (a.k.a. the Homes) and conveniently placed to keep an eye on the English border stronghold of Roxburgh, just outside modern Kelso.
James II, en route to an important appointment to be blown apart by one of his own cannons in the siege of Roxburgh castle, stayed at Hume. In 1547, Lady Hume (the Humes were the Scottish Wardens of the Eastern March) surrendered the castle to the besieging English only after they started to hang her son in front of her. Finally, after being taken in 1547, 1549, and 1569, the castle - like so many - was destroyed in 1651 by the artillery of Oliver Cromwell's leading poetry critic, Colonel Fenwick, after he read these immortal lines penned by the defiant Governor of the castle:

I Willie o' the Wastle
Stand firm in my castle;
An' a' the dogs in your toun
Sanna gar me gang doun.

Talk about poetic justice.

An iron cannon ball (laminating quietly) was found in one of the neighbouring gardens a few years ago. In 1794, the Earl of Marchmont constructed the present folly upon the ruins of the old castle. There was a beacon here when, in 1804, a charcoal-burner's fire was (wrongly) interpreted as a French invasion, sending the whole border region into confusion.

Fittingly, for a place that served as a strong point in the medieval period and a beacon station in the Napoleonic Wars, Hume was also the site of a Second World War lookout post (which can still be seen).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Crosshall Cross

Journey 2 in the band's cycle tour of the Merse takes us to Crosshall, near Eccles, see map.

In stark contrast to the neat and tidy memorial to Richard Hillary, see previous entry, the 12th Century cross at Crosshall is shamefully neglected and handily kept behind a stock-proof, barbed wire, fence. Presumably to help keep it handy for local livestock and inaccessible to humans. We do, however, approve of Borders Council's policy of not building car parks at potential tourist sites, presumably because SBC want people to travel by bike or by foot and therefore not require anywhere to park their motor.

Perhaps only in the Borders could something that might attract the passing tourist be made as difficult to see as possible. This is a shame, for if it were restored it would be really quite interesting, being in the lee of Hume Castle and in a quiet area of the Merse it gives you a feel for a much older time, before roads and fences.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland ( describes the Cross thus:

Crosshall cross is situated by the side of the road approximately 300m south-west of Crosshall farmhouse.

It probably dates from the twelfth century, and is thought to be a memorial stone erected to mark the grave of an important person.

The cross is just under 3m high, and is inserted into a large block of stone that is itself over 1m in height. The shaft tapers towards the top, terminating in a disc on which a cross is carved on either side. Each side of the shaft bears carved decoration; a naked man and greyhound on the east side, and a coat of arms on the west, south and possibly the north side. On the west and north sides, there are also depictions of a carved cross. A sword is depicted on the south side.

The symbols carved on this cross suggest that the person whom it commemorates may have been to the Crusades and the coat of arms may represent the Soulis family.

In the nineteenth century, local tradition recorded that it commemorated a governor of the nearby Hume Castle who had been killed in a skirmish.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Richard Hillary

Another in our 'what to do at the weekend' series sees the pipe band recommending the healthy option of a cycle out to the Richard Hillary memorial at the former Charterhall airfield, near Leitholm. (The memorial is also well signed off the A697 for car-dependent people).

Hillary was a fighter pilot during the Battle of Britain, serving with the City of Edinburgh Squadron. During the battle he was badly wounded, but survived, recovered and was determined to return to the fight. So in 1942 he was posted to Charterhall, which was a training school for night-fighter pilots but was killed in a crash near the base in early 1943.

Charterhall had something of a bad reputation as a base and was nicknamed 'Slaughterall'. Some of those who were killed were from the Commonwealth and they are buried in the cemetery in nearby Fogo village. It seems a long way to come from New Zealand to die in a crash in the Merse.

Hillary's memorial is very well done and a helpful interpretative briefing is attached to a nearby tree to give a full understanding of his story.

Quite a lot of the base remains intact and is used for agricultural storage. Some light planes also use the runways, more here:, and if you are Steven Speilberg: