Monday, December 03, 2018

Neidpath Castle, a seat of Frasers, Hays, and Douglases

The Frasers are a Highland clan. Of course. But before that they were a Lowland clan, and their seat was here at NeidpathCastle on the Tweed, founded by Sir Gilbert Fraser in about 1190.  The last Fraser to own it was his descendant,  Sir Simon Fraser, known as 'The Patriot', for his astonishing feat of defeating three English armies in one day in 1303.  Detail is on Sarah Fraser's excellent blog, Patriot Games. The strawberry plant (fraise) can still be seen above the archway in the Neidpath courtyard.

The Patriot was executed in London in 1306 and his head stuck on a spike on Tower Bridge, next to that of William Wallace. His daughter Mary inherited a ruin but married Hay of Yester who rebuilt the castle, now all in stone and now of walls 10 foot thick with distinctive rounded corners. 

And Neidpath, overlooking a bend of the River Tweed just above Peebles, has dominated the Upper Tweed Valley ever since. Tower houses sprang up all over the Borders in the reiving times of the 16th century but in the 14th century there was really only Hermitage, Roxburgh and Neidpath. (Cessford and Newark followed in 1425 and 1465). One reason for its outlasting its contemporaries is the construction. A vaulted basement to carry the weight of a castle was normal, and sometimes a castle's top floor was vaulted; but Neidpath was built with three vaulted floors.
The castle was gradually extended and ‘modernised’, largely in the 16th century, and no doubt considerably spruced up for the visits of Mary Queen of Scots in 1563 and James VI in 1587 on expeditions to discipline the Border reivers. But the Hays were not reivers; they were establishment, becoming Earls of Tweeddale in 1646.

They sold the castle in 1686 to the Douglas Duke of Queensberry, whose granddaughter, they say, still restlessly walks the battlements. This is Lady Jean Douglas: having not been allowed to marry young Scott of Tushielaw in Ettrick, she pined for him and so became a shadow of herself, to the extent that, returning from exile, he didn’t recognise her; and she, wounded to the core, died of a broken heart. The tale was related by Sir Walter Scott who speaks of ‘cheerful evenings’ at the castle. However it was gradually abandoned as a dwelling in the 19th century,

Neidpath is once again roofed and available for events.  It also plays a significant role in the annual Peebles Beltane Festival. Each year a ‘Warden of Neidpath’ is appointed and has the honour of welcoming the Peebles Cornet, his lass and supporters to the castle from where they will ride the boundaries, an echo of the old reiving times, of course!

Warden of Neidpath, Bob Harrison, addressing the crowd at Neidpath in 2016