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The History of the Lammermuirs


'Last night a wind from Lammermuir came roaring up the glen,

with the tramp of trooping horses and the laugh of reckless men,

And struck a mailed hand on the gate and cried in rebel glee,

Come forth, come forth my Borderer, and ride the March with me'

Wiliam Ogilvie from 'The Raiders'

The Lammermuir Hills, steeped in history and lore from throughout the ages, range across two counties, East Lothian and Berwickshire, and have provided a dramatic backdrop for Scottish history.

From the earliest times the Lammermuirs have had sheep inhabiting the moors providing the basis for the local economy. In fact the name ‘Lammer’ comes from the word ‘lamb’ as do the names of many other places. There are ‘Wedderlies’, ‘Wether Laws’ and a ‘Wedders lair’. A ‘wedder’ or ‘wether’ is a castrated lamb. ‘Lamb hill’ and ‘Sheeppath Glen’ amongst other names, testify to the importance of sheep in these southern hills.

 As the ice retreated after the ice age, leaving rich sediment, the warmer climate left forests of oak and birch, inhabited by wild boar, elk, wolf and bear. After the arrival of man, pastures were cleared in the forests and the landscape gradually turned to grasslands and heather moors, with the forests disappearing and leaving landscape much like how we see it today.

Remains of Iron Age hill forts are dotted throughout the hills built by the Celts. The major tribe of the area, the Ottadini, had their capital on Traprain Law in East Lothian, and though they had a lot of inter tribal conflicts, there seems to have not been any resistance with the Romans. Once the Romans left, the Picts, Scots and Angles all launched onslaughts on the Ottadini at various times, and in the seventh century the Lammermuir Hills eventually became part of the Anglian kingdom.

The hills of Lammermuir became a frontier area in the long and bloody struggles with England, which lasted until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. At Ellem, the Scottish army gathered before invading northern England, and it was also at Ellem in 1513 that they mustered again before the battle of Flodden. It was a turbulent place at the time, as indicated by the ruins of many fortified houses still visible now.

The Lammermuir Hills circa 1596

 The peasants working the land struggled to survive amongst all the fighting. The farmers took their sheep up to the high pastures for summer grazing and there the ‘shielings’ were established. But by the 14th century, with the climate cooling, these upland farms were gradually abandoned. Some of them survived and their origins are indicated by the use of ‘-shiel’ in the farm names. The improved development of agricultural techniques, and the drainage of the bogs and marsh, changed the landscape and the way the people lived and worked. Smaller farms were amalgamated into big ones, and as a result many small tenant farmers found themselves without land and had to rely on seasonal work at the big farms to survive. l

To the left is an old map of the Lammermuir Hills circa 1596, and above an old photo of Hardens Road