QUESTS appear to be very popular at the moment with much attention given to 'The Da Vinci Code.' Rosslyn Chapel features prominently in this novel and is well worth a visit, advocated by Dan Brown or not. As a family we have always been interested in quests for mythological figures such as Arthur and Merlin and have spent holidays looking around Shropshire and Cornwall trying to find traces of these legends in today's landscape. Little did we think that, settling in the Scottish Borders, we would find a fair amount of evidence to support the fact that Merlin lived close to us at Merlindale.
The house has not always been called Merlindale. It started life as Rachan Cottage; when the Victorians modified the house, it faced the river instead of away from it and they gave it its new name. If you cross the Merlindale Bridge between Broughton and Drumelzier and follow the footpath downstream on the fight-hand side of the River Tweed you come to 'Merlin's Grave'. You have to wade through a small stream, the Drumelzier Burn, to get to the spot marked by a thorn bush so you will need to wear your 'wellies'. Further down the Tweed is a standing stone, a little more than five hundred yards away that is also said to mark the grave of Merlin. The reason for the discrepancy between the two is that this was near where the Pausyl, or the Powsail, and the Tweed met before the stream was diverted in the last century. There is a very old saying about this place, quoted by Walter Scott in 1807, which goes back four hundred years to Thomas the Rhymer.
‘When Tweed and Pausyl meet at Merlin's grave Scotland and England shall one monarch have'
Thomas the Rhymer
If you look on the Ordnance Survey Explorer 336, you will be able to see this stone; on earlier maps it was marked as Merlin's Grave. Merlin had been a Druid and, as Druids believed that water meetings were powerful places, it follows that this would be a very suitable resting place for such a one. Following the river on the map you will see that there is a farm named Altarstone and then, close to the farm, there is a very old standing stone of the same name. Legend has this stone as a place of sacrifice. This has also been connected to Merlin. It is thought that Merlin met his death close to this point; he predicted a violent, triple death for himself, and this is what apparently happened. Legend has the story that he was caught by shepherds after the Battle of Arfderydd in AD 573 when the King of Rheged, Urien, together with the King of Dunbarton, Rydderch, beat the pagan King Gwenddlau who had been supported by Merlin, his bard.
Gwenddlau was killed in battle and Merlin was chased by the shepherds who stoned and beat Merlin and then impaled his body on a fisherman's stake in the river where he drowned.
Following the river again to Stobo, you will find Merlin pictured in one of the stained glass windows of the Kirk. In the wall of the North Aisle Chapel, which has been built on the site of a seventh century cell dedicated to St. Kentigern, there is a window showing two figures. One is a Franciscan monk, St. Kentigern and the other is kneeling. This is Merlin dressed in an animal skin. It is said by Jocelyn in his ‘Life of St Kentigern’ that Merlin was being admitted into the Christian Church just before he died. The other connection linking Merlin to this area is the name Drumelzier. This is a Celtic name and was previously referred to as Dunmedler. This has been suggested as meaning the dun of Merlin (or Myrddin) or Merlin's fort, his home. A variation of this is that it was Meldred’s dun from Dunmellor and that Merlin was held prisoner there. There are also the remains of several Iron Age hill forts close by, Rachan Hill, Dreva and Tinnis Castle. It is significant that Merlindale looks out over both Drumelzier and the Tweed where Merlin's grave has been designated; the name of the house seems very well chosen.
St Kentigern with Merlin in a window at Stobo Kirk