This was a period of medieval renaissance when great monasteries and abbeys were built in Kelso, Jedburgh, Melrose and Dryburgh. The wealthy wool traders preferred to export from Berwick direct to Europe rather than to their southern neighbours. Writers, scholars and intellectuals too travelled to share and exchange ideas and culture across France and Italy. The golden age was however shortlived following the death of Alexander III in 1286. The wars of independence between England and Scotland began, not least the endlessly disputed battle of the Border territory involving brutal warfare and devastation. A civil war of a kind broke out as law and order broke down; the Border Reivers began to criss-cross the rich farmlands between the Cheviots and Lammermuir hills and the Yorkshire dales, plotting and plundering everything they could seize. The English and the Scots, previously close and friendly neighbours, stole cattle, sheep and horses from each other. They were similar to the Rustlers of the American Wild West, riding in troops, hiding and lurking in the darkness of night and thick mists of the valleys.
This vicious and destructive period raged for centuries, provoked by the continuous contention between the Kings of England and Scotland, contesting the border frontier. Local commerce and international trade withered as the image of the Border region became one of danger, notoriety and lawlessness. One town at the centre of the dispute was Berwick, situated in the vitally important vanguard position at the mouth of the Tweed, which between the 12th and 15th centuries changed hands between England and Scotland thirteen times. There were sieges and destruction with the citizens forced to flee or be killed. Today Berwick is just south of the Border but very Scottish in character and interests. The football team plays for the Scottish league. These were cruel and brutal times and in utter contrast to the peaceful and prosperous times beforehand when the ancient counties of Mid-Britain lived harmoniously side by side. Quite simply, the building of Hadrian's Wall was not a good thing for the Borders.
If you want to read more about the area, a new history of the Scottish Borders, from the earliest times, entitled "The Borders" written by the eminent broadcaster and writer Alastair Moffat, has just been published by Deerpark Press, Selkirk.
The Scottish Borders Today
The people of the Borders region today retain a strong-willed independence and distinctive character borne out of the determination to preserve their lands. The 300-year feud when the Borders region was caught in the turmoil between England and Scotland could have destroyed more than just the magnificent abbeys and pride of face. The Borders people held on tenaciously to a sense of identity and culture throughout the troubles and beyond. Local poets and writers used their daily encounters and experiences to write stories and ballads inspired by every aspect of Borders life, from the shepherds, supernatural folklore, love and romance to the plundering and pillage by the Reivers. Oral history was, and is, very strong and strolling minstrels spread the word by singing these heartfelt ballads wherever they travelled.
The story of the Borders` people and their fight for survival has always been at the heart of their strong literary heritage. The Border Ballads inspired two great writers, James Hogg and Sir Walter Scott. And it's through Scott's epic novels and poetry as well as his own passionate love-affair with the Tweed valley which put the Borders firmly on the map - then and now - as a beautiful and romantic place to visit.
"Last night a wind from Lammermuir came roaring up the glen,
With the tramp of trooping horses and the laugh of reckless men,
And struck a mailed hand on the gate and cried in rebel glee,
Come forth, come forth my Borderer, and ride the March with me."
William Ogilvie, from "The Raiders."