On Sunday the 13th of May Robert Burns and Robert Ainslie awoke from their sleep at Stodrig farm, Kelso. Taking farewell of their host, Robert Kerr, they made their way towards Melrose, and the Bard’s journal says:
“Visit Dryburgh, a fine old ruined Abbey by the way, still bad weather-----cross Leader and come up Tweed to Melrose ---dine there and visit that far famed glorious ruin----come to Selkirk, up Ettrick the whole country here-about, both on Tweed and Ettrick, remarkably stony.
Monday 14th of May
“Come to Inverleithing, a famous spaw, and in the vicinity of the Palace of Traquair, where having dined and drank some Galloway whey, I here remain till tomorrow----saw Elibanks and Elibraes so famous in baudy song today—on the other side of Tweed.”
Tuesday 16th of May
Drank tea yesternight at Pirn with Mr. Horseburgh. Breakfasted today with Mr. Ballantine of Hollowlee---proposal for a four-horse team to consist of Mr Scott of Wauchope, Fittie-land; Logan of Logan, Fittie-furr; Ballantine of Hollowlee, Forewynd; Horseburgh of Horseburgh, Forefurr---Dine at a country Inn kept by a Miller in Earlstone, the birth place and residence of the celebrated Thomas A Rhymer-----saw the ruins of his Castle---Come to Berrywell”
Burns does not say anything more about the Dryburgh Abbey in his journal, only what is recorded above. The Abbey was founded by Hugh de Morville during the reign of David 1st (1124—1153)
The graves of Sir Walter Scott and Earl Haig lie within the present ruins.
Robert Burns and Robert Ainslie dined in this market town of Roxburghshire, and the Bard’s notes record that he visited “that far-famed glorious ruins” This Cistercian Abbey was founded by David 1st and within its ruins is buried the heart of King Robert The Bruce.
The journal of the Border tour informs us that on the day that the two travellers visited Selkirk the rain had been continuous throughout the day. The sought shelter in “The Old Forest Inn” and the following story appears in John Stuart Blackies “Life of Burns (1888) and is attributed to James Hogg, the Ettrick shepherd.
“I have often heard Dr. Clarkson tell ----that when Mr. Ainslie and Burns arrived in Selkirk that evening they were just like “Twa drookit craws” The Doctor and two other gentlemen were sitting in Veitches Inn, near the west port, taking their glass----when the travellers arrived. The trio within viewed them from the window as they alighted, and certainly conceived no very high opinion of them. In a short time however, they sent Mr.Veitch to the doctor and his friends requesting permission for two strangers to take a glass with them. The doctor objected and asked Mr Veitch what the men were like. Mr.Veitch said he could not well say; the one spoke rather like a gentleman but the other was a drover looking chap; so they refused to admit them, sending them word that they were sorry they were engaged elsewhere, and obliged to go away. The Doctor saw them riding off next morning, and it was not till the third day that he learned it had been the celebrated Scotch poet whom they had refused to admit. That refusal hangs about the Doctor’s heart like a dead weight to this day, and will do till the day of his death, for the Bard had not a more enthusiastic admirer.
Today a plaque marks the site of “The Old Forest Inn” in Selkirk.
Robert Burns wrote one letter while he stayed at “The Old Forest Inn” and that was addressed to William Creech his Edinburgh publisher.
I re-print that letter here:
WILLIAM CREECH, Esq. London Selkirk 13th of May 1787
My Honored Friend,
The enclosed I have just wrote, nearly extempore, in a solitary Inn in Selkirk, after a miserable wet days riding----I have been over most of East Lothian, Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirkshires. And next week I begin a tour through the north of England----Yesterday I dined with Lady Hariot, sister to my noble Patron—Quem Deus conservet! I would write till I would tire you as much with dull prose as I dare say by this time you are with wretched verse, but I am jaded to death; so, with a grateful farewell, I have the honor to be,
Good Sir, Your sincerely
William Creech was the publisher of the Edinburgh edition of the Bard’s works, and enclosed in his letter Burns sent the following poem, of which I give two verses.
Auld chuckie REEKIE’S sair distrest,
Down drop her ance weel-burnishe’d crest,
Nae joy her bonnie buskit nest
Can yield ava;
Her darling bird that she lo’es best,
Up wimpling stately Tweed I’ve sped,
And Eden scenes on chrystal Jed,
And Ettrick banks now roaring red
While tempests blaw;
But every joy and pleasure fled,
William Creech was a very mean bookseller who subscribed and sold copies of the Bard’s works. He became a member of the Edinburgh Town Council 1780, was a Magistrate 1788, and Lord Provost 1811. This poem reflects the relationship Burns had with Creech, before they quarrelled over the constant delay in paying the Bard his dues.
Although Burns must have known that he was within a few hundred yards of the ruined church where his hero William Wallace was proclaimed “Guardian of Scotland”, his journal says nothing of this important fact.
The earliest mention of Innerleithen is in the reign of Malcolm 1V in the twelfth century, when the Parish church was given by the Monarch to the Monks of Kelso. At the time of Burns’s visit the village was merely a collection of thatched cottages irregularly spaced out along the main thoroughfare named Piccadilly, (now High Street) The Bard stayed in an Inn which stood in Piccadilly, and this Inn was demolished in the 1860s. A plaque was erected on the site in 1913.
It is rather strange that while he was so near to the Vale of Yarrow he did not go to see what are undoubtedly among the Borders most beautiful scenes. Yarrow gives its name to the river and the Parish in Selkirkshire, and has been extolled by many songwriters
HORSEBURGH OF PIRN.
Pirn was one of the most ancient houses in the county, and the family have been extinct in the male line since 1911. The house has been demolished and Innerleithen Primary school has been built on its site. The Bard immortalised Gala Water in his “Braw Lads O’ Gala Water”, and like many other poems written by the poet, the theme was taken from an old song.
BRAW LADS O’ GALA WATER.
Braw, braw lads on Yarow braes,
They rove amang the blooming heather;
But Yarrow braes not Ettrick shaws
Can match the lads o’ Gala water
But there is ane, a secret ane,
Abune them a’ I lo’e him better;
And I’ll be his, and he’ll be mine,
The bonnie lad o’ Gala Water
Altho’ his daddie was nae Laird,
And tho’ I hae nae meikle tocher
Yet, rich in kindest, truest love,
We’ll tent our flocks by Gala
It ne’er was wealth, it ne’er was wealth,
That coft contentment, peace or pleasure;
The bands and bliss o’ mutual love,
O that’s the chiefest warld’s treasure!”
The Border Journal says “ saw Elibanks and Elibraes so famous in baudy song today---on the other side of Tweed”
This was the seat of Lord Elibank, and it lay some four miles east of Innerleithen.
Burns collected this very old ribald song, (among others) while he was touring the Borders, and in a letter written to Robert Ainslie dated November 1791, he tells of his distress of mind when trying to clean up this song.
The Bard speaks of a proposal for a four-horse team and uses the terms, FITT-LAND and FITTIE- FURR;
These terms were used to describe the position of the horse in the team. Thus:-
Fittie- land was the rear left-hand plough horse
Fittie- furr was the rear right- hand plough horse
Fore-Wynd was the fore left -hand plough horse
Fore-furr was the fore right-hand plough horse.
Looking once more at the Bard’s journal we find him writing, ”Dine at a country Inn kept by a Miller in Earlston, the birth-place and residence of the celebrated Thomas A. Rhymer----saw the ruins of his castle”
The route Burns chose to return to Duns was quite a long detour from the direct, but perhaps he wished to visit Cowdenknowes on the Leader River.
The Inn that Burns dined at in Earlston is demolished, but a plaque was erected by a member of Earlston Burns Club to mark its site.
The Castle referred to by Burns is the Rhymer’s Tower, the ruins of which can still be seen.
During his stay at Duns it is almost certain that the Bard would pass through Greenlaw, but no where in his writings does he mention the town. There is a local legend which says that the Bard stopped at Greenlaw and had a meal there. Apparently he was not too pleased with the meal nor with the Land-lord, and it is alleged that Burns wrote the following piece of doggerel to commemorate the event:
“ If ever I pass by this door,
I’ll eat that devil’s head, by God!
Ane and saxpence for a dinner,
Aye, the damned confounded sinner”.