The Neidpath Castle visitor's brochure (2002) mentions the following - "The north side of the existing drive has a fine avenue of yew trees planted in 1654.   The variety known as Taxus Baccata Neidpathensis is virtually unique to Neidpath.   Differing from the common yew only in its steeply ascending branches and short rather dense leafage.   It is probable that the trees were acquired from a continental nursery."

YewTreeAvenue01.jpgThere had been Taxus Baccata Neidpathensis at Neidpath for many years prior to 1654 - The Innerleithen Alpine Club in 1897[1] mentions the following - "Approaching Neidpath Castle, Professor Veitch stated.... some yew trees within the the castle grounds were pointed to as a distinct variety of Taxus Baccata, not known to occur anywhere else, and known to botanists as T. baccata Neidpathensis. It had also been affirmed that bows made from Neidpath yews were used in the last crusade.   This was what is known as the seventh of the series undertaken by St. Louis of France, but finished by Prince Edward - afterwards Edward I - about 1271"


The Royal Horticultural Society[2] made the following comments regarding the Neidpath Yew.   "T.b.Nidpathensis, resembles cheshuntensis in the leaf, branch and colour of the foliage, but is of stiffer growth, being columner rather than pyramidal in habit, with a disposition to spread at the top."

Was it the characteristic of "stiffer growth" that made the Neidpath Yew superior to other yews for making both short and longbows but also for crossbows that required a shorter/stiffer stave?

The area in the grounds of Neidpath covered by trees was probably extensive and clothed both sides of the Neidpath gorge. How many of these trees were yew is unknown.   The image above - Edgar's map of 1741 - does not indicate where the entrance to the site was and there is no sign of a drive.   It would appear that the original road to the castle entered the property at the White Yett (Gate) on the A72 that was adjacent to the boundary of Hay Lodge.  

The records of battles during the First War of Independence indicate that Scottish archers were involved in these battles - for instance at Largs, Stirling Bridge, Falkirk, Pass of Brander, Methven and Bannockburn.

William Wallace was heavily involved at Stirling Bridge and Falkirk and he had his base in the Ettrick Forrest which was much larger then than it is now - stretching north into the Lothians.   One of the allies of Wallace was Sir Simon Fraser whose family were Wardens of Ettrick Forest.   Simon Fraser held the Barony of Oliver Castle in the Upper Tweed Valley - the Barony included Neidpath. It can be seen that Wallace had access to the Neidpath yews that would provide him with the best quality staves for his archers.

Lubeck seal backIn 1297 while Guardian of Scotland Wallace sent a letter to the merchants of Lubeck indicating that Scotland was open for business.   This letter had his seal attached and the reverse of the seal would appear to show a drawn short bow.   Why would Wallace have such a device on his seal unless it was of extreme importance to him.   It could show that Wallace himself was a skilled archer or it could indicate the importance of the short bow in the succesful guerrilla tactics employed against the English or indicates the importance of archers generally in the struggle?

When King Robert the Bruce came to the Scottish throne in 1305 he also appreciated the importance of the Scottish Archers as indicated by G.W.S. Barrow[3] who stated "That there is positive evidence that Knight service was converted into Archer service.   The barony of Manor in Tweeddale, for example, had formed one Knight's fee in the thirteenth century. Robert I, regranting it in 1309, asked for ten archers." Ten is a considerable number of Archers particularly when compared with other Baronies.   Significantly the Barony of Manor is adjacent to Neidpath!   The lands of Hawkshaw, a few miles upstream, also had to supply Robert the Bruce the service of Archers, but only two in this case.[4]

The above includes a lot of circumstantial evidence concerning the importance of the Neidpath Yews to the Scottish Cause.   However there is one fact and that is that the yew is the plant badge of Clan Fraser while Lovat Fraser has the strawberry plant.

The yew had been used for millennia for bows. The bow found with Otzi the Iceman, 3359 - 3105 BC, was also made of yew as was also the handle of his copper axe.


[1] Principal Excursion of the Innerleithen Alpine Club during the years 1889-1894. Scottish Borders Record, Galashiels 1897.

[2] Proceedings of the Royal Horticultural Society. Notes on the varieties of Common Yew.   Vol 1, 1859-61.

[3] Barrow, G.W.S. Robert Bruce & The Community of the Realm of Scotland, Edinburgh University Press 1999.

[4] Renwick, Robert. Historical Notes on Peeblesshire Localities. British Library 1897.


Tony Hope