Random Notes Anent the Antiquities, Traditions, Superstitions, and Old Manners and Customs of the Borders. – XV. – Miscellaneous.

[Kelso Chronicle Articles Contents]


   WHEN the strong castle of Roxburgh remained in the hands of the English, a party of the Scots belonging to the Douglas dressed themselves in the skins of oxen, and, under this disguise, they succeeded in getting into a field of Springwood Park, in the vicinity of the castle, where they lay as if they had been cattle till evening. Under cover of night they attempted to scale the walls, when they heard a woman singing to her child, which she held in her arms, the following song:- 

“The Black Douglas shanna get thee, hinney; 

The Black Douglas shanna get thee; 

For your father has sworn by his Ripon steel blade 

That the Black Douglas shanna get thee. 


Hush, babie, hush, lie still and sleep; 

The warders are watchful, by dearie; 

The moon shines bright on the river sae deep 

That flows by the castle saw clearly. 


O’er the castle’s high walls nae reivers can come 

To steal thee away or to fear thee 

And far, far away, does the Black Douglas roam – 

Sleep sound for they cannot come near thee.” 

   At the termination of these lines the Scottish party had all got safe over the walls, when one of them answered the last line of the song with “Ye’re no sire o’ that, my woman.” The result is well known. They took the castle. 


   It was firmly believed that there were spirits, who constantly attended every person, and had the power at times given them to take away the lives of their protegees. This is called Thrumpin’, to which the following weird verses refer:- 

“When the hullers o’ night (1) are lowrin’, 

When the quakens (2) are crimplin (3) eerie, 

When the moon is at the latter fa’, (4

when the howlets are scraughin’ drearie; 


When the elleree’d (5) are clumperin’, (6

When the towries (7) hard are thrumpin’, 

When the bauckie bird (8) he kisses the yird, 

Then, then is the time for thrumpin’. 


And gif ye miss the mystic hour, 

When spirits have been raised by invokerie 

                         To thrump ilk faithless wight, 

The heavens will gloom like a wizard’s smile, 

And the foumart (9) will dern (10) his carcass vile 

                         From all uncannie sight. 


For man and beast 

By the three sterns’ (11) light 

Have little chance to thrive 

Till the sixty (12) are past, 

And not till the last 

Can man or beast survive.” 


   It was a common custom when march stones were set up for the sons of the owners of the land in the vicinity to be asked to stand as witnesses. After the stones were fixed, these young men were laid hold of, and their ears severely pinched by the lairds of the respective lands, in order to make them remember the erection of the stones. Some of these old stones have been found between the properties of gentlemen in the south of Scotland, having the face of a man rudely engraved upon them. They are erroneously called head-stones; but they are in reality march stones – the face being a representation of the god Terminus. The lower end of these stones was always surrounded by ashes from the smithy (danders), so that, in case of dispute, it could easily be ascertained whether they were march-stones or not. The elder or bountree, and sometimes the rowan tree, were often placed as marches between gardens in the olden time, no doubt to scare away witches from holding their midnight revels in their green kail yards. 


Gie a thing, take a thing, 

Auld man’s gowd ring; 

Lie ye but, lie ye ben, 

Lie amang the dead men. 

This is repeated with the little finger of the right hand of the giver locked in the right hand of the receiver. If the giver repents of having made the present to his playmate, and, if the receiver observe him recanting, he repeats to him these words – 

Ring the bells o’ London: 

If ye tak it back again 

Yere little pirlie will rot off. 

which generally has the effect of making the original bargain stand. 


   On touching the dead body of any murdered person, if the toucher had had any hand in the murder, blood immediately issued from the nose of the dead. In many places in Scotland, all who went into a house where the body of a murdered person lay were accustomed to touch the dead to shew that they were innocent of his death. 

   A story is told of a person who had murdered his father-in-law for his money, by driving a nail into his head while he lay in bed. Some years afterwards the murderer happening to be at the funeral of an acquaintance, who was to be interred in the same grave in which his father-in-law was buried, observed all the people pointing to a skull with a large nail in it. They all touched it to shew their innocence, excepting the man who had done the injury, The suspicions of the people were roused, and they compelled him to come forward and touch the skull; which he had no sooner done than a stream of blood issued from the wound to the no small astonishment of all who were present. He confessed, and suffered accordingly. 

   Every one will remember the amusing story of “The queer wee bane of the Pedlar’s heel,” by the Ettrick Shepherd, and an instance handed down of blood flowing from the nose of one of our English kings after he had been some time dead, on the approach of his son and successor, who had an active hand in shortening the life of his father. 



Oh! see Johnnie Faa, sirs, pursued by the Fair, 

The constables squealing 

“The rogue has been stealin’;” 

While Johnnie, on cuddy, in front like a hare, 

Takes right owre the moors to Kirk-Yetholm. 


The whip he gars crack 

On poor cuddy’s back, 

While the rabble she leaves far behind her; 

They’ll ne’er get the thief ta’en, 

While she bears the chieftain 

The nearest way o’er to Kirk-Yetholm. 


Wi’ chickin’ an’ kickin’, 

He skelps her alang, 

Out thro’ the howes, o’er the  knowes, 

Up the rigs, o’er the brigs, 

By the mills, o’er the hills, 

Ridin’ alang, 

An’ liltin’ the sang, 

“The cuddy’s quick-step to Kirk-Yetholm.” 


Quo’ John, if folk’s jacket 

Be torn i’ the back o’t, 

That’s just the thing makes folk suspect him; 

Gif heirs o’ a woody 

Ride aye on a cuddy, 

Waes me for ilk soul in Kirk-Yetholm. 


   Hogmenay, or Hagmena, a name given to the last day of the year, is a word of a very doubtful origin, and has engaged the attention and puzzled the ingenuity of numerous learned etymologists. Some deduce it from the three French words, homme est né, signifying the man is born, and others from the Greek agea mene, the holy month. On this day it is the custom for children to go into the houses of their neighbours and ask for their Hogmenay, which is generally given to them in the shape of cheese and farls of oaten cakes. Hence it is called in some places cake day. In former times the demand was made in rhyme, which was different in different parts of the country. A few specimens are subjoined:- 

“Hagmena, hagmena, 

Give us cakes and cheese, 

And let us go away.” 


“Get up, gudewife, and shake yere feathers, 

And dinna think that we are beggars; 

We are bairns come out to play, 

And to seek our Hogmenay.” 


“Rise up, gudewife, and be no sweir 

To deal your breed as long’s you’re here; 

The time will come when you’ll be dead, 

And neither want your meal or bread.” 


“Our feet’s cauld, our shoons thin, 

Gie’s our cakes, and let’s rin.” 


“We joyfu’ wish ye a gude day, 

An’ thank ye for yere Hogmenay.” 

   John Dixon once, in a sermon preached at Kelso inveighed strongly against this custom. “Sirs,” said he, “do you know what Hogmenay signifies? It is the devil be in the house! That’s the meaning of its Hebrew original.” 

J. G. S.      

– Kelso Chronicle, 20th November, 1863, p.3. 

1. Hullers o’’ night – the shades of night, or darkness. 

2. Quakens – a species of grass; also a fire made of small dried thorns. 

3. Crimplin’ – a cracking noise. 

4. The moon is said to be at the latter-fa when she is setting. 

5. The Elleree’d are seers, or people whose look is said to be unlucky. 

6. Clumperin’ – suffering from pain. The Elleree, or seer, is generally much agitated when in the visionary moon. 

7. Towries are spirits which are said to inhabit old towers, &c. They are always heard beating, or making much noise under ground. This happens particularly before the death of any of the family to whom the tower which they inhabit belongs. 

8. Bauckie-bird – the bat. 

9. Foumart – the pole-cat. 

10. Dern – to hide. 

11. The three sterns are those in the belt of Orion which are well known to be those reckoned propitious by the Elleree in time of invocation. “Canst thou bind the sweet influence of Pleiades or loose the bands of Orion.” (Job xxxviii. 31.) 

12. The Sixty are the minutes which form the complete hour wherein the evil spirits have the power of destroying the invoker, or those beings who are under the influence of the Elleree.

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