For the first time we questioned our Tour Organiser's ability to arrange good weather, but we were wrong to doubt him. As usual Graham Coe had set the tour and the weather to our maximum advantage. This time to be different his borders theme was to be – "rain permissible while driving, and sunshine when out on foot". It appears that Mr Coe has some strange pact with he who really controls the weather! The pact seems to be that during any castles tour then all rain previously scheduled for our designated area is reassigned to wherever our (now former) secretary David Littlefair is at that time, if he is not with us on the day.
On a previously very wet but now dry Sunday morning the tour attendees gathered in the car park of NEIDPATH CASTLE by Peebles. We were met by the Earl of Wemyss and March. He is head of the ancient family who still hold Neidpath and several other castles. The Earl gave us a historical and architectural introduction to this famous and picturesque building. Following this we were permitted to make our own way throughout the tower to explore and investigate, then finally to return with questions and comments on what we had seen. The Earl had opened up the tower for us outwith normal opening times, and had allowed us to access areas not normally open to the public. This was appreciated greatly by all in our group. When we had finally ran out of available time at Neidpath we set off on the next leg of the tour accompanied by the Earl, his wife and son.
Next stop was at the much ruined ELIBANK CASTLE by Innerleithen. This required some use of Ordnance Survey maps to find the ideal point to park our assorted vehicles and clamber through the forest in search of the castle remains. The group finally followed a particularly steep, rough and muddy forestry track, which brought us to our goal. The terrain took its toll on some of our group. The Editor`s wife, who had recently broken a bone in her foot, had to set her own pace and slowly fell behind the main group. Another lady (whose name we will not mention here) actually fell on her behind, becoming quite mucky and wet in the process. On regaining her composure and dignity she was heard to question her decision to leave her four wheel drive vehicle parked at the foot of the hill with the other cars.
Those who managed to cross the fence to view the castle ruins at close quarters were able to see, from the extensive ground floor vault and the remaining walls and features, that this had been a sizeable building. After exploring the remains we returned downhill to the cars, where everyone seemed to be showing some evidence of this off road excursion.
The cars then moved to that famous and ancient house of TRAQUAIR HOUSE. Here again we were met and hosted around the many rooms, features and artefacts. We were given a detailed history of the family which has occupied this beautiful old place from earliest times, and in the passing of the years suffered many setbacks. The most important fact of the many we discovered was that the family have always ensured that the countries troubles were kept away from their door. This has resulted in a fortified house that has survived complete, showing its many alterations and growth stages. The completeness of the survival has extended to the minute details of every day life. Artefacts, personal items, clothes, letters, bills, accounts and various other surprises have been put away for safekeeping. Many examples of these are displayed throughout the house. All who visited believed that Traquair deserves a further and much longer visit. This impression was enhanced when we sat down to enjoy lunch, which had been prepared for us in an outbuilding close by the main house.
Newark Castle - Selkirkshire
Refreshed we set of for NEWARK CASTLE a stronghold of the Duke the Bucchleuch. At this massive tower the Duke's Bonhill Estates Factor and his wife met us. We were warmly greeted and provided with a handout documenting the history and features of Newark. Following some discussion of the external features we were allowed to enter the now roofless and floorless tower, to explore and discuss all we could see there. The remaining turnpike stair climbed up through the missing floor levels into one of the two wallwalk caphouses. From this level access had been gained to the original parapet. These features and the many gun ported barmkin walls caused much discussion. We were advised that an extensive programme of structural consolidation was being undertaken to minimise the ravages of weather and time. This news was welcomed by all present.
Kirkhope Tower - (now restored)
As time was now running away from us we decided to drop our scheduled visit to Dryhope Tower and to proceed directly to KIRKHOPE TOWER. A mile or so of unmade track led from the roadway up the side of the Ettrick valley to the picturesque but isolated small tower.
The owner, who has recently completed this restoration, met us, and gave a detailed guided tour which allowed us to see every room and feature. The extent of the restoration was brought home to us by viewing the video recording that showed the progress from ruin to home.
Some discussions followed regarding the external evidence of a filled in basement vault window position and Historic Scotland's refusal to accept its reinstatement. We were shown also the nearby pile of stones, which are known to be the remains of the original barmkin, which was destroyed by an English invasion force supporting Henry VIII and his rough wooing of Scotland.
Our final visit of the day was scheduled at AIKWOOD TOWER, by Selkirk, for 17.15 hrs. Our arrival came as a great surprise to our hostess, Lady Steel, who had not expected to see us until 7.15 pm. While this misunderstanding was being sorted, we were encouraged to make use of the remaining daylight hours and view the Aikwood gardens.
Following much speedy rearranging within the tower our hostess joined us in the garden, welcomed us and began the "official" tour. Here and inside we discussed the history and the many excellent architectural features of the tower. The restoration of this tower appears complete and is indeed the marvel that we expected. Lord and Lady Steel made us most welcome to their beautiful home. Our hosts extended true Scottish Borders hospitality, to our group.
The atmosphere of this visit was enhanced by glasses of wine, music was provided by a local piper playing on Scottish Small Pipes. Lady Steel read some of her Aikwood poetry, and a singer provided further entertainment using some of Lady Steel`s poems which have been put to music. The group felt privileged to enjoy the modern welcoming atmosphere of Aikwood Tower. Such hospitality, we thought, was so different from the famous "Reiving Traditions" of the Border Lairds.
THANKS TO OUR HOSTS