When King James VI of Scotland became King of all Britain, in 1603, he set about pacifying the Borderland. In November, a detachment of the armed guard under Sir William Cranston was sent to Dumfries, with the aim of pacifying the Scottish West March. Their discipline was not accepted gladly and the townspeople tried to massacre Cranston and his troops; three of his mounts were shot down and Cranston had to fight his way out. Dumfriesshire was the 'last outpost of the Border Reivers', continuing to the end to be the final refuge of the reivers where they put up their final armed resistance against an authority whose policy was one of wholesale hanging.
To finish we want to make a claim that we cannot back with any evidence. In the Scottish Border country we have a long history of understanding horses, and there is something quite unique, something significant to the story of the Border Reivers. Each of the Border towns holds a Common Riding or a festival each year. Dumfries holds its Guid Nychburris festival in mid June. Included in the calendar of events is the Riding of the Marches, which involves a young man elected as Cornet leading a great tearing charge of his mounted followers. The principle is that a group of mounted townspeople ride out to patrol the common land, the territory they hold in common. To see horses gallop where the Border Reivers passed by is an evocative sight. We believe that the Riding of the Marches is folk memory of the finest light cavalry in Europe - the Border Reivers. But that is a matter of taste.
In compiling this narrative we excluded wartime English inroads, which cannot be classed as reiving proper.
The above paper was distributed by John and was picked up by the local media. The Dumfries Courier, which is based in Annan (which is an irony in itself for anyone who knows anything on the subject John is writing about), picked it up and asked two local “authorities” for their views, which are printed below. It is interesting to see that, even after 400 years, the Nithsdale/ Annandale rivalry is as strong as ever.
Statue Plans Spark New Heritage Clash - by Bryan Armstrong
Plans for a Border Reiver statue in Dumfries could spark a new wave of border “warfare”. Fo r amid claims by Annandale and Eskdale councillors that the town receives higher priority in public spending a new front in the rivalry has opened up.
The proposal to promote links between Dumfries and the Reivers has brought claims that the town is snatching the heritage of its border neighbour. A Dumfries group has set up a trust fund to commemorate the town’s links with the marauding raiders by erecting the large sculpture - possibly on the Whitesands. They argue Dumfries was once the main centre of the West March and believe awareness should be raised about the reiving links.
Trust member John Bell, from Lincluden, has sought councillors’ support and has pointed out that as well as being a reminder of the past, the sculpture would greet tourists arriving on buses at the Whitesands. He said “The Reivers are associated mainly with the east of Dumfries but the town was once the main centre of the West March and was on a fierce and bloody frontier. There is world-wide interest in the Border Reivers and we feel erecting a sculpture would not only serve to encourage pride in family history but would have a knock-on effect for the tourist industry”. The group favour a £30 000 larger-than-life sculpture on a plinth either near Devorgilla Bridge ot the tourist information office.
But the plan has raised eyebrows in Annandale and Eskdale where there have been claims that Dumfries as attracting greater rsources because of its regional capital aspirations.
Historian, Bruce Graham, chairman of the Clan Graham Trust, said he was surprised about the plan as the true Debateable land was the area around Newcastleton, Langholm, Longtown and Gretna. He siad “it would be far more appropriate for such a statue to be in that area. I hope this is not Dumfries trying to move in on our history. If the project does go ahead I think it is important that there is an information board pointing visitors towards the true
Gretna councillor, Allan Graham, described the Dumfries claim as “tenuous” and said he would like to see further historical research done. He said “there is no doubt that Gretna, with the Lochmabenstane nearby, is genuinely at the heart of Reiver history”.
The next week the following letters appeared in the same newspaper: one from John as his riposte to the Grahams:
With reference to your article in last Friday’s edition, I would like to explain that as the Dumfries Border Reivers Trust Fund, we are pushing the Border Reiver theme throughout Dumfries and Galloway. Aside from being amateurs in the old sense of loving it, and certainly not in the new sense of being sloppy or less than serious, we have only one claim to bring to the reader’s attention. It is simple; our proposal to erect a sculpture of a Border Reiver in the town of Dumfries was based on sufficient research and common sense. What became increasingly clear to us as we studied numerous books and looked at articles in periodicals, was how important Dumfries was to the story of the Border Reivers. By any measure, Dumfries was the caopital; of the Scottish West March. It was both the main judicial centre and the headquarters of the Warden. It was where the law courts were held, it was where the Warden supervised regular courts and sessions, it was where Border Reivers were hanged and imprisoned. It was a centre of Border Law and it was where marauding reivers “hung-out”. In short, it is pure fact that the story of the Border Reivers is an important theme in the rich history of Dumfries.
It is necesary, however, to make a couple of points. Firstly, we are flexible with regards to the site of the eventual sculpture and, secondly, if our project is successful and the sculpture is situated in Dumfries, perhaps an information board could be displayed, together with an audio-visual display at the Burns Centre, encouraging tourists towards the area that was once the infamous Debateable Land. In addition to this, we feel it is important that we all work together.
John Bell, Border Reiver Trust, Dumfries
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