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Mediaeval Roads: Evidence from Monastic Charters

Maps based on 1914 OS half-inch maps. With thanks to Ordnance Survey


In 1235 or 1236 Alexander II granted extensive lands in Ettrick to Melrose. The charter reads: "our whole waste from the river of Ethryc ascending by the rivulet of Tymeye, as far as the bounds of Nigell de Heryz - thence ascending by the watershed between Ethric and Glenkery to the borders of Esckdal and Ethric as far as the mountain called Vnhende (identified as Wind Fell in OPS), and thence eastwards along the watershed between Annandale and The Forest to the head of Rodanoch, and thence eastward by the watershed between the Forest and the land of Thomas de Hay, to the head of Copthra-werisclouch, and thence descending to the greater lake (doubtless St Maryís Loch), and thence ascending by the lake to its head, and thence ascending southward to the rivulet of Whythhop, and thence ascending as far as Thyrlstangate, and along the same road to the head of Wulfhop, and thence descending by a sike to the rivulet of meikle Thyrlestan, and by the same rivulet descending to the river of Ethric, and by that river ascending as far as Tymeymuth."
(transl. from Origines Parochiales Scotiae)

OPS, Volume I, page 260
Lib. De Melros, pps 234, 235 and 666, 667
Monastic Annals of Teviotdale, page 273


Looking towards Ettrick Forest - Wind Fell on the left

From the map the various places in the charter can be easily seen. Ethryc and Tymeye are the Ettrick and Tima and Glenkerry still exists as a place name. The OPS identifies Vnhende as Wind Fell. More difficult is Rodanoch but there is a Rodono Hotel beside St Maryís Loch and the NMRS have a record for Rodono Chapel just south of Loch of the Lowes. The New Statistical Account notes that the whole area of Megget used to be known as Rodonno. Copthra-werisclouch is Cappercleugh and the Whitehope Burn runs into Loch of the Lowes near Tibbie Shiels Inn (other OS maps show part of it as Crosscleugh Burn). Wolfhope and Wolfhope Burn are shown on the old 6" map (Selkirkshire XVIII). Finally Thyrlstan must be connected with the Thirlestone place names shown on the map.

Despite the name Thyrlstangate, it is unlikely given the occurrence of another Thirlstane near Lauder, that it refers to a "stone gate" but rather that it was the road to Thyrlstan. The name itself refers to a "stone with a hole in it" (Nicolaisen, Scottish Place-names, John Donald, p.34) but there is no record of such a stone in the area.

From the charter one would think it easy to identify the road but there are difficulties. Whitehope Burn is clear enough and the charter suggests that from it one could easily reach Thyrlstangate. It is tempting to identify the road with The Captainís Road (presumably used by reivers and drovers at a later date) which leads over to Hopehouse but its course does not accord with the reference to Wolfhope.

A strict reading would take the Thyrlstangate over by Coom Law to the head of the Wolf Burn from where it must have continued to Thyrlstan, although it seems a circuitous route. At this point the boundary leaves the road following a sike which may have been Kings Grain which leads to Hopehouse Burn and from there to the Ettrick. This however would require the identification of Hopehouse Burn as Thirlstane Burn which the early 6" maps show on the other side of Thirlstone Hill.

As to the purpose of the road and when it originated there are too many uncertainties to say anything useful other than that it connected St Mary's Loch and the valley of the Ettrick. Once Melrose started to develop the area it is easy enough to imagine that they would have travelled down the Ettrick to Selkirk and then to Melrose a few miles further on.

In a charter dated between 1113 and 1124 David I, before he became king, founded an abbey at Selkirk. The site eventually proved unsuitable and was moved to Kelso in 1128. In the charter detailing the boundaries of the territory granted to the monks, mention is made of a road running between the castle and the place where the abbey was to be built.

From a close analysis of the charter, R P Hardie (Roads of Mediaeval Lauderdale) was able to determine the site for the abbey as very near the old church of Lindean (NT 483 308), 2 miles north of Selkirk. He was also able to determine the likely course for the road, given that the castle was sited just south of the town centre near the Haining (NT 4700 2810).

Sometime after this they were granted the lands of Lesmahagow and it appears that they built a bridge over the Ettrick to give easier access to the Minchmoor road along which they could reach Lesmahagow. A charter of Alexander II dated to 1234 refers to land on both sides of the Ettrick granted on condition that the abbey would maintain the bridge, as well as to pasture on Minchmoor. This was at Bridgelands, just under 2 miles north of Selkirk and it is interesting to see that the parish boundary for Selkirk includes a detached portion of land on the other side of the river at this location.

R P Hardie, Roads of Mediaeval Lauderdale, 1942, Chapter 1
OPS, Volume I, Selkirk, page 267
Monastic Annals of Teviotdale, page 109
Liber S Marie de Calchou (for David I see page 3 and 6, Alexander II page 309)