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Plate XVIII., Habbie’s How, pp.36-37.

[Scotland Illustrated Contents]

HABBIE’S HOW is a sequestered spot on Glencross-burn, about ten or twelve miles from Edinburgh, which popular opinion has very generally – though perhaps too hastily – identified with the scene of Allan Ramsay’s ‘Gentle Shepherd,’ and which has, in consequence, been for many years a favourite resort of the citizens of the metropolis. Towards the upper part of a glen, a small stream falls, from between two stunted birches, over a precipitous rock, twenty feet in height, and inaccessible on each side of the linn; and beneath, the water spreads into a small basin or pool. So far the scenery exactly corresponds with the description in the pastoral:-

“Between twa birks, out o’er a little linn,
The water fa’s, and maks a singan din;
A pool breast-deep, beneath as clear as glass,
Kisses, with easy whirls, the bord’ring grass.”

But, though there may be one or two other coincidents sufficiently close to satisfy an easy critic, the Habbie’s How of Glencross is far from being a place like the Habbie’s How of the pastoral, –

“Where a’ the sweets o’ spring an’ summer grow.”

The locality is bare, surrounded with marshes, and not in the vicinity of human abodes; it has scarcely a birch or a shrub, except a solitary stunted thorn, or rowan-tree, projecting from a fissure as if dropped by accident from a rock; it is adorned with not a flower or patch of lively verdure, but only, where the soil is dry, with a few tufts of whins, and it seems never to have claimed connection with Ramsay, and probably never met the gaze of his eye, or was mentioned in his hearing.

Tytler, the celebrated antiquarian, the restorer of Ramsay’s fame, and the proprietor of a mansion and an estate in the very parish of the Glencross Habbie’s How, had no difficulty in identifying all the scenery of ‘the Gentle Shepherd’ with the exquisite landscape in and around the demesne of Newhall, lying near the head of the North Esk, partly within the parish of Pennycuick in Mid-Lothian, and partly within that of Linton in Peebles-shire. “While I passed my infancy at New-hall,” says he in his edition of King James’ poems, “near Pentland-hills, where the scenes of this pastoral poem were laid, the seat of Mr. Forbes, and the resort of many of the literati at that time, I well remember to have heard Ramsay recite as his own production, different scenes of ‘the Gentle Shepherd,’ particularly the two first, before it was printed.” Between the house and the little haugh, where the Esk and the rivulets from the Harbour-Craig meet, are some romantic grey crags at the side of the water, looking up a turn in the glen, and directly fronting the south. Their crevices are filled with birches, shrubs, and copsewood, – the clear stream purls its way past, within a few yards, before it runs directly under them, – and projecting beyond their bases, they give complete bield to whatever is beneath, and form the most inviting retreat imaginable:-

“Beneath the south side of a craggy bield,
Where crystal springs the halesome water yield.”

Farther up, the glen widens, immediately behind the house, into a considerable green or holm, with the brawling burn, now more quiet, winding among pebbles, in short turns through it. At the head of this “howm,” on the edge of the stream, with an aged thorn behind them, are the ruins of an old washing-house; and the place was so well calculated for the use it had formerly been applied to, that another more convenient one was built about twenty years ago, and is still to be seen:-

“A flowery hown between twa verdant braes,
Where lasses use to wash and spread their claes;
A trotting burnie wimpling through the ground;
Its channel-pebbles shining smooth and round.”

Still farther up the burn, agreeable to the description in the dialogue of the second scene, the hollow beyond Mary’s bower, where the Esk divides it in the middle, and forms a linn or leap, is named the How burn; a small enclosure above is called the Braehead park; and the hollow below the cascade, with its bathing pool, and little green, – its birches, wild shrubs, and variety of natural flowers in summer, – with its rocks, and the whole of its romantic and rural scenery, coincides exactly with the description of Habbie’s How. Farther up still, the grounds beyond the How burn, to the westward, called Carlops – a contraction for Carline’s Loup – were supposed once to have been the residence of a carline or witch, who lived in a dell at the foot of the Carlops hill, near a pass between two conic rocks: from the opposite points of which she was often observed at nights, by the superstitious and ignorant, bounding and frisking on her broom, across the entrance. Not far from this, on a height to the east, stood a very ancient half-withered solitary ash-tree, near the old mansion-house of Carlops. Ramsay may not have observed or referred to this tree, but it is a curious circumstance that it should be there, and so situated as to complete the resemblance to the scene, which seems to have been taken from the place:-

“The open field; – a cottage in a glen,
An auld wife spinning at the sunny end; –
At a small distance, by a blasted tree,
With faulded arms, and half-raised look ye see,
Bauldy his lane.”
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