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    Smailholm Tower: A Walter Scott Trail Landmark In The Scottish Borders

    Smailholm Tower © 2007 Scotiana

    By the green hill and clear blue heaven.
    It was a barren scene, and wild,
    Where naked cliff’s were rudely piled;
    But ever and anon between
    Lay velvet tufts of loveliest green;
    And well the lonely infant knew
    Recesses where the wall-flower grew,
    And honey-suckle loved to crawl
    Up the low crag and ruin’d wall.
    I deem’d such nooks the sweetest shade
    The sun in all its round survey’d;
    And still I thought that shatter’d tower
    The mightiest work of human power;

    (Walter Scott – Marmion – Introduction Canto Third – 1808 )

    Carnet Voyage Ecosse MA 19-20 Juillet 2007 © 2007 Scotiana

    Fortunately enough, our visit to Smailholm Tower, on July 19 th 2007, is still quite vivid in my memory for if I had to rely on the notes I’ve taken about the place, in my little ‘Carnet de Bord’, it would not get me very far. I will draw a lesson from that next time we travel !

    Smailholm Tower notice board © 2007 Scotiana

    Knowing that this fortified tower had a link with Sir Walter Scott we had planned to visit it during our 6th journey to Scotland, as part of our Walter Scott Trail.

    Lilliardsedge campsite Scottish Borders © 2007 Scotiana

    This time, we were travelling by car and the day before, we had planted our tent on the thick and green carpet of Lilliardsedge Park, a very nice and pleasant campsite situated in the Borders. In the morning, we didn’t start as early as we had intended to do and as we lingered a long time in Abbotsford House and Gardens and then in Thirlestane Castle and in the park, when we arrived at Smailholm Tower, the place was deserted and the monument closed.

    Smailholm Tower from the road © 2007 Scotiana

    Green were the hills but not of a clear blue was the sky, as you can see on our photos. The weather was grey and rainy and the place looked rather gloomy but we loved it at once. As written in one of my very first posts, grey can be beautiful in Scotland!
    Except a farmer passing on the road with his truck and a number of cows roaming up and down the hills, we were all alone which gave us the opportunity to feel the sense of place here! Great landscape and eerie atmosphere!
    Smailholm Tower stands amidst very ancient basaltic rocks,  on a rocky outcrop above a dark lochan, six miles west of Kelso. It dominates the whole area and is visible for miles around. How we would have liked to arrive early enough to be able to climb up to the top of this 17 m high tower to get extensive views of the whole area!

    Smailholm Tower © 2007 Scotiana

    The cows, some of the Friesian breed with black and white splotches on their hide and others of the black Aberdeen Angus breed, began to be a little too obstrusive as we tried to make our way to the tower. As Janice was looking at these big creatures very suspiciously, that didn’t improve our relationships with them! A good point for us however : they were not endowed with the splendid horns of their Highlands sisters which, contrary to appearances, are reputed to have a good temperament.

    Cows on our path - Smailholm Tower © 2007 Scotiana

    A truculent cow can be as dangerous as a bull.

    (Mike Tomkies – Moobli –1988)

    More than once these big creatures blocked the path…

    Smailholm Tower Path © 2007 Scotiana

    …preventing us from following the arrows indicating the way to the tower so that we had to cross through rocky, boggy ground and prickly vegetation.

    Smailholm Tower oblique view © 2007 Scotiana

    But, at last, we reached the tower safe and sound… hoping that we could walk down the hills in the best terms with our new four-legged friends!

    Smailholm Tower and barmkin © 2007 Scotiana

    Considering its strategic position up this rocky eminence and its fortified and massive architecture (two metres thick walls), it appears clearly that this 16th century five-storey tower, with its courtyards and barmkin* wall, built in local sandstone rubble, was primarily built for defence. It has very few and small windows, a small round headed door with a big red stone frame and a stone slabbed roof.

    Smailholm Tower massive studded door © 2007 Scotiana

    The door was definitely closed! And there was no opportunity to catch a glimpse inside this austere building, now in the care of Historic Scotland. We would certainly have learned a lot of interesting things since the upper three floors shelter a permanent exhibition of costumed figures and beautiful tapestries depicting scenes of Scottish history and folklore.

    Smailholm Tower Lochan and Thistles © 2007 Scotiana

    Smailholm is one of the most perfect examples of the old feudal keeps to be found in Scotland. A very small pool lies on one side of the tower, but it is suggestive of the loch which once surrounded the entire castle, making it a retreat of great security. ‘The surprise of the spectator was chiefly excited by finding a piece of water situated in that high and mountainous region, and the landscape around had features which might rather be termed wild, than either romantic or sublime.’ It was a surprise to me to find even a small pool of water in such a locality, and I cannot help thinking that at least some recollections of the peculiar situation of Smailholm may have been in the author’s mind when he wrote this description. (The Country of Sir Walter Scott– Chapter XVIII The Monastery – Charles S. Olcott 1913)

    Smailholm was built about the middle of the 15th century by the Pringle family who were factors of the Earl of Douglas. It was acquired early in the 17th century by the Scotts of Harden.The young Sir Walter Scott spent much of his childhood at Sandyknowe, a nearby farm which belonged to his grandfather. Indeed, he vividly describes the tower in The Eve of St. John, one of his earliest Ballads, and in Marmion (1808), his famous epic poem about the Battle of Flodden Field (1513). A series of tableaux illustrating scenes from Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border is on display inside.

    Smailholm Tower lochan © 2007 Scotiana

    Well we would have liked to stay longer at Smailholm Tower but there was another tower to visit before the end of the day… another fascinating place but I will tell you more next time !

    In the meantime, I’m pretty sure Janice will take pleasure to tell us more about Scottish cows 😉

    A bientôt. Mairiuna

    * Barmkin, also spelled barmekin or barnekin, is a Scots word which refers to a form of medieval and later defensive enclosure, typically found around smaller castles, tower houses, pele towers, and bastle houses in Scotland, and the north of England. It has been suggested that etymologically the word may be a corruption of the word barbican. The barmkin would have contained ancillary buildings, and could be used to protect cattle during raids.

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