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Scottish Border

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The Scottish Border, the Anglo-Scots Border, or the English-Scottish Border (depending on your perspective, was legally established in 1237.

This was achieved through the The Treaty of York between Scotland and England, with the exception of a small area around the town of Berwick (Berwick-upon-Tweed), which was taken by England in 1482.

Until the Union of the Crowns, the area around the border was regarded to be largely lawless territory, thanks to the Border Reivers, who carried out repeated raids in both directions across the border. The Border Reivers were families or clans with no fixed allegiance or loyalty to either country or side of the border, and would merely switch alliance to whichever best suited their own interests at any given time. They were notorious for carrying raids on either side of the border with no regard for the allegiance of the their victims.

When the two thrones were united in 1603, King James VI of Scotland became James I of England, and embarked on the Pacification of the Borders, purging the Border Reivers and destroying their fortified tower houses, rounding up the families, and sending them to Ireland and elsewhere.

After the Treaty of Union of 1707 united Scotland and England to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, the border defined the boundary between the two distinct legal jurisdictions of each country, and guaranteed the continued separation of Scots law and English law.

The Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999, adjusted the marine boundary so that the boundary within territorial waters (up to the 12-mile (19 km) limit) is 0.09 kilometres north of the boundary for oil installations as established by the Civil Jurisdiction (Offshore Activities) Order 1987.

Debatable Lands

Map of The Debatable Land, p 72, The Border Line, James Logan Mack. Oliver & Boyd, 1926.
The Debatable Land

The Debatable Lands, also known as Debatable ground, batable ground, thriep or threpe lands, referred to land which lay between Scotland and England, and was formerly in question with regard to which it belonged when the two were distinct kingdoms. It is the same as litigious, or disputable ground.

The Debatable Lands extended from the Solway Firth near Carlisle, to Langholm, with the largest population centre being Canonbie. The lands included the baronies of Kirkandrews, Bryntallone and Morton, and were about ten miles (16 km) long from north to south, and four miles (6 km) wide. The boundaries were marked by the rivers Liddel and Esk to the east, and the River Sark in the west. For more than three hundred years they were effectively controlled by local clans, such as the Armstrongs, who successfully resisted any attempt by the Scottish or English governments to impose their authority. These clans would launch frequent raids on the farms and settlements which lay around their Debatable Lands, and the profits of these raids ultimately allowed then to become major landowners.

In 1530, James V took action against the lawless clans of the Debatable Lands, and imprisoned Lords Bothwell, Maxwell and Home, Walter Scott of Buccleuch, and a number of other border lairds for their lack of action. James broke the strength of the Armstrongs by hanging Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie, together with thirty-one others at Carlanrig Chapel, albeit under questionable circumstances.

In 1551, the Crown officers of England and Wales attempted to clear out the troublemakers by declaring that, "All Englishmen and Scottishmen, after this proclamation made, are and shall be free to rob, burn, spoil, slay, murder and destroy all and every such persons, their bodies, buildings, goods and cattle as do remain or shall inhabit upon any part of the said Debatable Land without any redress to be made for the same."

In 1552, a border line was agreed by commissioners, and soon after the Scots' Dike was built to mark it, but this did little to stop the lawlessness. This would only come about with the union of the thrones in 1603. The Scots' Dike or dyke was a 3.5 mile (5.25 km) long linear earthwork, constructed by the English and the Scots in the year 1552 to mark the division of the Debatable Lands and mark the exact boundary between the Kingdoms of Scotland and England.

Liddel Motte border deviation

Liddel Motte bend reinforcement, 2007
Liddel Motte bend reinforcement
© Howard Mattinson

The Scotland/England border makes a significant deviation from its original route along the Liddel River at a bend near Liddel Motte, also known as Liddel (sometimes Liddell) Strength Castle, an earthwork castle situated at the edge of a steep wooded escarpment of boulder clay. The castle is first mentioned in 1174, then taken and destroyed in 1346 to be superseded by a wooden tower. Records indicate it seems likely that it was never rebuilt in stone.[1]

Liddel also appears as Liddle, and even Liddell, in various sources, and purely for reasons of consistency, Liddel has been used throughout this page.

The deviation came to light when it was featured in a BBC News item, which arose when Ian Ellithorn bought Riddings Farm during 2002, and was informed by his English solicitors that they were unable to do the conveying for a two acre section at Liddel Motte, and that this task would require to be carried out by Scottish solicitors.

A further complication arises from the passage of the Liddel River through the Scottish section of his land, and is therefore subject to Scottish fishing laws, meaning that he is not allowed to cast a line into that section of river on a Sunday.

The anomaly arose in 1861, when the Waverley Line was built take trains from Carlisle to Edinburgh. Engineers found a number of natural obstacles in their way, including a section of the Liddel River that ran against a cliff face which rose almost 30 metres above the water. They realised they would have to change the course of the track, or the river, and it would appear the easier choice was the river. An area of almost two acres was built up, with heavy sandstone blocks being used to move the course of the river northwards, and leave an area on which the track could be laid.

As the original course of the Liddel River had clearly been used to establish the route of the border, the result was a piece of land enclosed by the original border, and the new course of the river. It seems that little mention was made of this change, perhaps to avoid the complication that would doubtless have arisen if the two countries had been aware of the change had formal applications been made to the authorities responsible for the boundary.

Despite the restrictions and legal requirements, which were said to cause more problems than all of the 300 acres on the English side of the border, the owner has said that he is honoured to own the farm with its unique feature.[2]

The deviation has also been mentioned in a book which describes the Waverley rail route:

Considering that Carlisle, one of the cities connected by the erstwhile Waverley Route, is only a few miles from the Border, it is remarkable that the actual crossing point for the line occurs some 21 miles from Carlisle's Citadel Station. This was partly because of the NBR's somewhat circuitous route out of Carlisle, coupled with the topographical factors involved. (In fact, the Anglo-Scotttish Border makes a short zigzag on to the Waverley Route south of Riddings junction, at Liddel Mote. This was not publicized by the NBR, LNER or BR, and in mentioned here only for accuracy's sake. The author is indebted to Mt. R. B. McCartney for this information.)
- Rails Across the Border. AJ Mullay. PSL. 1990.[3][4]

Modern mapping errors

Detailed comparison of the various online mapping services (as listed below) is interesting, because it shows that while the satellite or aerial imagery clearly shows the true course of the Liddel River as seen from above, the digital mapping is actually in error, and shows the river as following the line of the Scotland/England border, which it clearly does not at the Liddel Motte bend.


1 The Gatehouse website record for Liddel Strength Castle

2 BBC Cumbria, 'Marooned' in Cumbria. December 15, 2009

3 Rails Across the Border. AJ Mullay. PSL. 1990.

4 Riddings Junction

External links

Aerial views



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