I recently gave a talk entitled “John Buchan’s writing on Tweeddale” and found so many wonderful descriptions from his works about the Upper Tweed Valley that I thought I would share one or two of them.

John Buchan

To the question “why was JB so drawn to write about this part of the world?” the answer is Broughton.  My grandfather’s mother was Helen Masterton, the daughter and sister of a long-established farming family still in the village.  The house itself had once been the village inn – the Highlanders drank there on their way south to Derby and it was to feature largely in JB’s A Lost Lady of Old Years written in 1899.    The farmhouse, as it was then, stands on the Edinburgh to Carlisle road and the farm stood at the mouth of a shallow glen bounded by high hills and the Road, as the Buchan children called it,

“was also an avenue for us into the unknown.  It was the great south road from the Scottish capital to England, armies had walked along it, Prince Charlie’s rugged Highlanders had footed it and in my grandparents’ memories coaches had jingled down it and horns and bugles had woken the echoes in the furthest glens.  Far more than the railway, it was for me a link with the outer world. It followed Tweed to its source, past places which captured my fancy, the little hamlet of Tweedsmuir where Talla Water came down from its Linns, the old coaching hostelries of the Crook and the Bield, Tweedhopefoot, famous in Covenanting days; Tweedshaws, where the river had its source and then, beyond the divide, the mysterious green cavern called the Devil’s Beef Tub and the Annan and the Esk and enormous half-mythical England”. 

But it was not just the landscape – those who peopled that landscape and re-told the Border legends coloured his thinking and his writings all his life and peopled his novels and short stories.

This is from his novel John Burnet of Barns.

“When I rode through the village of Broughton and came to the turn of the hill at Dreva the sun was already westering.  The goodly valley all golden with evening light lay beneath me, the Tweed was one belt of pure brightness, flashing and shimmering by its silver shores and green mossy banks.  Down the long winding hill path I rode watching the shadows flit before me and thinking strange thoughts.  Fronting me over the broad belt of wilder land I saw the great house of Dawyck and the green avenues of grass running straight to the hill”.

That view is the same today as it was at the end of the 19th Century.

In his memoir Memory Hold the Door, he writes

“Most of us have certain childish memories which we can never repeat since they represent moments when life was in utter harmony and sense and spirit perfectly attuned.  Such memories for me are all of Tweeddale and three I have always cherished.  One was the waking on a hot July morning with a day of moorland wandering before me, around me were the subtle odours of an old house somewhere far off the fragrance of coffee and the smell of new mown hay drifting through the open window.  Through the same window came a multitude of sounds – the clank of the neighbouring  smithy, the clucking of hens, sheep fording the burn.  From my bed I could see the sky blue as deep sea water, and against it the bare green top of a hill.  Even today a fine morning gives me something of the thrill of those summer awakenings.  Another memory is of a long tramp on a drove road in the teeth of the wind with the rain in my face and mist swirling down the glens I felt that I was contending joyfully with something kindly at heart. Something to stir the blood and at the same time instinct with a delicate comfort – the homely smell of sheep, the scent of peat reek, the glimpse of firelight from a wayside cottage.   All my life I’ve been haunted and cheered by these recollections.  The green summit against the unclouded blue above a populous friendly world, the buffets of rain on the moorland road -  Each was a summons to action, but there was another which spoke only of peace.  This was the coming down from the hills, very hungry and footsore to a whitewashed farm on the brink of the heather where, in a parlour looking out onto a garden of gooseberries and phloxes with a glimpse beyond of running water, I was stayed with tea and new-baked scones and apple and rowan jelly.  Then I demanded nothing more of life except to be allowed to go on living in this quiet world of pastoral. And if paradise be a renewal of what was happy in our earthly days mine will be some such golden afternoon within sight and sound of Tweed”.


Deborah Stewartby