- Ministrelsy of the Scottish Border, Vol. I (Jamie Telfer of the Fair Dodhead.) by Sir Walter Scott
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Ministrelsy of the Scottish Border, Vol. I
Jamie Telfer of the Fair Dodhead.

by Sir Walter Scott

There is another ballad, under the same title as the following, in which nearly the same incidents are narrated, with little difference, except that the honour of rescuing the cattle is attributed to the Liddesdale Elliots, headed by a chief, there called Martin Elliot of the Preakin Tower, whose son, Simon, is said to have fallen in the action. It is very possible, that both the Tiviotdale Scotts, and the Elliots were engaged in the affair, and that each claimed the honour of the victory.

The editor presumes, that the Willie Scott, here mentioned must have been a natural son of the laird of Buccleuch.
It fell about the Martinmas tyde,
When our border steeds get corn and hay,
The captain, of Bewcastle hath bound him to ryde,
And he's ower to Tividale to drive a prey.

The first ae guide that they met wi',
It was high up in Hardhaughswire;
The second guide that they met wi',
It was laigh down in Borthwick water.

"What tidings, what tidings, my trusty guide?"
"Nae tidings, nae tidings, I hae to thee;
But, gin ye'll gae to the fair Dodhead,
Mony a cow's cauf I'll let thee see."

And whan they cam to the fair Dodhead,
Right hastily they clam the peel;
They loosed the kye out, are and a',
And ranshackled [133] the house right weel.

Now Jamie Telfer's heart was sair,
The tear aye rowing in his e'e;
He pled wi' the captain to hae his gear,
Or else revenged he wad be.

The captain turned him round, and leugh;
Said—"Man, there's naething in thy house,
But ae auld sword without a sheath,
That hardly now wad fell a mouse!"

The sun was na up, but the moon was down,
It was the gryming [134] of a new fa'n snaw,
Jamie Telfer has run ten myles a-foot,
Between the Dodhead and the Stobs's Ha'.

And whan he cam to the fair tower yate,
He shouted loud, and cried weel hie,
Till out bespak auld Gibby Elliot—
"Whae's this that brings the fraye to me?"

"Its I, Jamie Telfer o' the fair Dodhead,
And a harried man I think I be!
There's naething left at the fair Dodhead,
But a waefu' wife and bairnies three."

"Gar seek your succour at Branksome Ha',
For succour ye'se get nane frae me!
Gae seek your succour where ye paid black mail,
For, man! ye ne'er paid money to me."

Jamie has turned him round about,
I wat the tear blinded his e'e—
"I'll ne'er pay mail to Elliot again,
And the fair Dodhead I'll never see!

"My hounds may a' rin masterless,
My hawks may fly frae tree to tree,
My lord may grip my vassal lands,
For there again maun I never be!"

He has turned him to the Tiviot side,
E'en as fast as he could drie,
Till he cam to the Coultart Cleugh,
And there he shouted baith loud and hie.

Then up bespak him auld Jock Grieve—
"Whae's this that bring's the fray to me?"
"It's I, Jamie Telfer o' the fair Dodhead,
A harried man I trew I be.

"There's naething left in the fair Dodhead,
But a greeting wife and bairnies three,
And sax poor ca's [135] stand in the sta',
A' routing loud for their minnie." [136]

"Alack a wae!" quo' auld Jock Grieve,
"Alack! my heart is sair for thee!
For I was married on the elder sister,
And you on the youngest of a' the three,"

Then he has ta'en out a bonny black,
Was right weel fed wi' corn and hay,
And he's set Jamie Telfer on his back,
To the Catslockhill to tak the fraye.

And whan he cam to the Catslockhill,
He shouted loud, and cried weel hie,
Till out and spak him William's Wat—
"O whae's this brings the fraye to me?"

"Its I, Jamie Telfer of the fair Dodhead,
A harried man I think I be!
The captain of Bewcastle has driven my gear;
For God's sake rise, and succour me!"

"Alas for wae!" quo' William's Wat,
Alack, for thee my heart is sair!
I never cam bye the fair Dodhead,
That ever I fand thy basket bare."

He's set his twa sons on coal-black steeds,
Himsel' upon a freckled gray,
And they are on wi' Jamie Telfer,
To Branksome Ha' to tak the fraye.

And whan they cam to Branksome Ha',
They shouted a' baith loud and hie,
Till up and spak him auld Buccleuch,
Said—"Whae's this brings the fraye to me?"

"It's I, Jamie Telfer o' the fair Dodhead,
And a harried man I think I be!
There's nought left in the fair Dodhead,
But a greeting wife, and bairnies three."

"Alack for wae!" quoth the gude auld lord,
"And ever my heart is wae for thee!
But fye gar cry on Willie, my son,
And see that he come to me speedilie!

"Gar warn the water, braid and wide,
Gar warn it sune and hastilie!
They that winna ride for Telfer's kye,
Let them never look in the face o' me!

"Warn Wat o' Harden, and his sons,
Wi' them will Borthwick water ride;
Warn Gaudilands, and Allanhaugh,
And Gilmanscleugh, and Commonside.

"Ride by the gate at Priesthaughswire,
And warn the Currors o' the Lee;
As ye cum down the Hermitage Slack,
Warn doughty Willie o' Gorrinberry."

The Scots they rade, the Scots they ran,
Sae starkly and sae steadilie!
And aye the ower-word o' the thrang
Was—"Rise for Branksome readilie!"

The gear was driven the Frostylee up,
Frae the Frostylee unto the plain,
Whan Willie has looked his men before,
And saw the kye right fast driving.

"Whae drives thir kye?" can Willie say,
To mak an outspeckle [137] o' me?"
"Its I, the captain o' Bewcastle, Willie;
I winna layne my name for thee."

"O will ye let Telfer's kye gae back?
Or will ye do aught for regard o' me?
Or, by the faith of my body," quo' Willie Scott,
"I'se ware my dame's cauf's skin on thee!"

"I winna let the kye gae back,
Neither for thy love, nor yet thy fear;
But I will drive Jamie Telfer's kye,
In spite of every Scot that's here."

"Set on them, lads!" quo' Willie than;
Fye, lads, set on them cruellie!
For ere they win to the Ritterford,
Mony a toom [138] saddle there sall be!"

Then till't they gaed, wi' heart and hand;
The blows fell thick as bickering hail;
And mony a horse ran masterless,
And mony a comely cheek was pale!

But Willie was stricken ower the head,
And thro' the knapscap [139] the sword has gane;
And Harden grat for very rage,
Whan Willie on the grund lay slane.

But he's tane aff his gude steel cap,
And thrice he's wav'd it in the air—
The Dinlay [140] snaw was ne'er mair white,
Nor the lyart locks of Harden's hair.

"Revenge! revenge!" auld Wat can cry;
"Fye, lads, lay on them cruellie!
We'll ne'er see Tiviotside again,
Or Willie's death revenged sall be."

O mony a horse ran masterless,
The splintered lances flew on hie;
But or they wan to the Kershope ford,
The Scots had gotten the victory.

John o' Brigham there was slane,
And John o' Barlow, as I hear say;
And thirty mae o' the captain's men,
Lay bleeding on the grund that day.

The captain was run thro' the thick of the thigh,
And broken was his right leg bane;
If he had lived this hundred years,
He had never been loved by woman again.

"Hae back thy kye!" the captain said;
"Dear kye, I trow, to some they be!
For gin I suld live a hundred years,
There will ne'er fair lady smile on me."

Then word is gane to the captain's bride,
Even in the bower where that she lay,
That her lord was prisoner in enemy's land,
Since into Tividale he had led the way.

"I wad lourd [141] have had a winding-sheet,
And helped to put it ower his head,
Ere he had been disgraced by the border Scot,
Whan he ower Liddel his men did lead!"

There was a wild gallant amang us a',
His name was Watty wi' the Wudspurs, [142]
Cried—"On for his house in Stanegirthside,
If ony man will ride with us!"

When they cam to the Stanegirthside,
They dang wi' trees, and burst the door;
They loosed out a' the captain's kye,
And set them forth our lads before.

There was an auld wyfe ayont the fire,
A wee bit o' the captain's kin—
"Whae dar loose out the captain's kye,
Or answer to him and his men?"

"Its I, Watty Wudspurs, loose the kye!
I winna layne my name frae thee!
And I will loose out the captain's kye,
In scorn of a' his men and he."

When they cam to the fair Dodhead,
They were a wellcum sight to see!
For instead of his ain ten milk kye,
Jamie Telfer has gotten thirty and three.

And he has paid the rescue shot,
Baith wi' goud, and white monie;
And at the burial o' Willie Scott,
I wat was mony a weeping e'e.


It was high up in Hardhaughswire.—P. 140. v. 1.
Hardhaughswire is the pass from Liddesdale to the head of Tiviotdale.
It was laigh down in Borthwick water.—P. 140. v. 1.
Borthwick water is a stream, which falls into the Tiviot, three miles above Hawick.
But, gin ye'll gae to the fair Dodhead.—P. 140. v. 2.
The Dodhead, in Selkirkshire, near Singlee, where there are still the vestiges of an old tower.
Now Jamie Telfer's heart was sair.—P. 140. v. 4.
There is still a family of Telfers, residing near Langholm, who pretend to derive their descent from the Telfers of the Dodhead.
Between the Dodhead and the Stobs's Ha'.—P. 141. v. 1.
Stobs Hall, upon Slitterick. Jamie Telfer made his first application here because he seems to have paid the proprietor of that castle black-mail, or protection-money.
Gar seek your succour at Branksome Ha'.—P. 141. v. 4.
The ancient family-seat of the lairds of Buccleuch, near Hawick.
Till he cam to the Coultart Cleugh.—P. 142. v. 2.
The Coultart Cleugh is nearly opposite to Carlinrig, on the road between Hawick and Mosspaul.
Gar warn the water, braid and wide.—P. 144. v. 4.
The water, in the mountainous districts of Scotland, is often used to express the banks of the river, which are the only inhabitable parts of the country. To raise the water, therefore, was to alarm those who lived along its side.
Warn Wat o' Harden, and his sons, &c.—P. 144. v. 5.
The estates, mentioned in this verse, belonged to families of the name of Scott, residing upon the waters of Borthwick and Tiviot, near the castle of their chief.
Ride by the gate at Priesthaughswire.—P. 145. v. 1.
The pursuers seem to have taken the road through the hills of Liddesdale, in order to collect forces, and intercept the foragers at the passage of the Liddel, on their return to Bewcastle. The Ritterford and Kershope-ford, after mentioned, are noted fords on the river Liddel.
The gear was driven the Frostylee up.—P. 145. v. 3.
The Frostylee is a brook, which joins the Tiviot, near Mosspaul.
And Harden grat for very rage.—P. 146. v. 4.
Of this border laird, commonly called Auld Wat of Harden, tradition has preserved many anecdotes. He was married to Mary Scott, celebrated in song by the title of the Flower of Yarrow. By their marriage-contract, the father-in-law, Philip Scott of Dryhope, was to find Harden in horse meat, and man's meat, at his tower of Dryhope, for a year and a day; but five barons pledge themselves, that, at the expiry of that period, the son-in-law should remove, without attempting to continue in possession by force! A notary-public signed for all the parties to the deed, none of whom could write their names. The original is still in the charter-room of the present Mr. Scott of Harden. By the Flower of Yarrow the laird of Harden had six sons; five of whom survived him, and founded the families of Harden (now extinct), Highchesters (now representing Harden), Reaburn, Wool, and Synton. The sixth son was slain at a fray, in a hunting-match, by the Scotts of Gilmanscleugh. His brothers flew to arms; but the old laird secured them in the dungeon of his tower, hurried to Edinburgh, stated the crime, and obtained a gift of the lands of the offenders from the crown. He returned to Harden with equal speed, released his sons, and shewed them the charter. "To horse, lads!" cried the savage warrior, "and let us take possession! the lands of Gilmanscleuch are well worth a dead son." The property, thus obtained, continued in the family till the beginning of last century, when it was sold, by John Scott of Harden, to Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch.
John o' Brigham there was slane.—P. 147. v. 3.
Perhaps one of the ancient family of Brougham, in Cumberland. The editor has used some freedom with the original in the subsequent verse. The account of the captain's disaster (tests laeva vulnerata) is rather too naive for literal publication.
Cried—"On for his house in Stanegirthside.—P. 148. v. 3.
A house belonging to the Foresters, situated on the English side of the Liddel.

An article in the list of attempts upon England, fouled by the commissioners ar Berwick, in the year 1587, may relate to the subject of the foregoing ballad.
October, 1582.
Thomas Musgrave, deputy {Walter Scott, laird } 200 kine and of Bewcastle, and {of Buckluth, and his} oxen,300 gait the tenants, against {complices; for } and sheep.

Introduction, to History of Westmoreland and Cumberland, p. 31.


[133] Ranshackled—Ransacked.

[134] Gryming—Sprinkling.

[135] Ca's—Calves.

[136] Minnie—Mother.

[137] Outspeckle.—Laughing-stock.

[138] Toom—Empty.

[139] Knapscap—Headpiece.

[140] The Dinlay—is a mountain in Liddesdale.

[141] Lourd—Rather.

[142] Wudspurs—Hotspur, or Madspur.

Terms Defined

Referenced Works