James Hogg’s ‘Notes on Mess John’ tell tales…Or do they?
‘Where wild Polmoody’s mountains tower,
Full many a wight their vigils keep.’ (Mess John, p78. v. 2.)
The mountains of Polmoody, besides being the highest, are the most inaccessible in the south of Scotland; and great numbers, from the western counties, found shelter on them during the heat of the persecution [of the 1680s]. Many of these, it is supposed, were obliged to shift for their sustenance by stealing sheep; yet the country people, from a sense that Necessity has no law, winked at the loss; their sheep being, in those days, of less value than their meal, of which they would otherwise have been obliged to part with a share to the sufferers.
Part of an old ballad is still current in that neighbourhood, which relates their adventures and the difficulties they laboured under for want of meat, and in getting hold of the sheep during the night. Some of the country people, indeed, ascribe these depredations to the persecutors; but it is not likely that they would put themselves to so much trouble. I remember only a few stanzas of this ballad, which are as follows:
Firthhope Rig from Carrifran Glen © M J Richardson and licensed for reuse.
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‘Caryfran Gan’s they’re very strait,
We canna gang without a road;
But tak’ ye the tae side, an’ me the tither,
And they’ll a’ come in at Firthup Dod.’ [Firthhope Dod]
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Firthhope Rig © Callum Black and licensed for reuse.
‘On Turnberry and Caryfran Gan’s, [Tarnberry and Carrifran Gans]
And out among the Moodlaw haggs, [Molls Cleuch Dod?]
They worried the feck o’ the laird’s lambs,
And eatit them raw, and buried the baggs.’
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Games Castle © Iain Lees and licensed for reuse.
Had Guernsey’s Castle a tongue to speak, [Games Castle]
Or mouth o’ flesh, that it could fathom;
It wad tell o’ mony a supple trick,
Was done at the foot o’ Rotten-boddom: [Rotten Bottom]
Where Donald, and his hungry men,
Oft hough’d them up wi’ little din;
And, mair intent on flesh than yarn,
Bure aff the bouk, and buried the skin.
Rotten Bottom, where Donald Cargill and his men hid? © Eileen Henderson and licensed for reuse.
‘This Guernseys [i.e., Gameshope] is an extensive wild glen on the further side of these mountains; and being, in former times, used as a common, to which many of the gentlemen and farmers of Tweeddale drove their flocks to feed during the summer months, consequently it would be, at that season, a very fit place for a prey. The Donald mentioned may have been the famous Donald Cargill, a Cameronian preacher, of great notoriety at the period.’ (Hogg, A Mountain Bard, 88-90.)
Donald’s Cleuch and the Peden’s Pulpit both lie nearby in Gameshope.
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