(Obtained in part from Berwickshire Naturalist Club Transactions, 1890)

The larger part of the Parish of Melrose lies north of the River Tweed, and is bounded on its eastern side by the Leader and on its western side by the Gala.

These two famous streams, renowned in song and story, do not drain the entire district bounded by them. The Elwyn, or El wand, a smaller stream than either, flows in the same direction southwards through the country between, and like them discharges its water into the Tweed. The name Elwyn means White Water, and is most appropriate in wet weather, when the full tide of the stream, swollen with the drain of its entire basin, and hurrying on to pour itself into the Tweed, is of a pale clayey colour. Sometimes the Elwyn is styled the Allan - both words have the same etymological signification, from the idea that Allan-shawes, a property in the north part of the parish, where the head waters of the Elwyn have their source, preserves the original and true name of the stream. But Allanshaws is believed to be so-called from one of its earliest known proprietors, Allan, Lord of Galloway, the owner in his day of most of the country between Gala and Leader.

The Elwyn in the upper part of its course is only a burn flowing through a bare treeless upland district, and is increased mainly by two burns from Blainslee and Threepwood Moss, and not until it reaches Langshaw Mill does it assume the dignity of a stream and offer attractions to anglers.

After leaving Langshaw Mill it flows past Glendearg and Langlee, and finally pours its waters into Tweed, midway between Melrose and Galashiels. The lower part of Tweed's course presents many scenes of sylvan beauty; its steep banks are well wooded and in the course of ages have been worn away so that haughs or level ground of some extent are found along Elwyn side for half a mile above where the latter falls into Tweed.


Down this low ground flows the Elwyn, passing from side to side alternately, so that the road which leads up the glen has within the half mile no fewer than seven bridges, justifying to a certain extent Sir Walter Scott's somewhat far-fetched comparison, when he says it is thrown off from side to side alternately like a billiard ball repelled by the sides of the table on which it has been played. Above the uppermost of these haughs the glen goes by the name of the Fairy Dean. Here on one of the banks, in stiff clay, are found stones known as "Fairy Stones", shaped like buttons, cups, saucers, cradles, etc. It is difficult to account for these stones, and people have found it convenient to call them Fairy Stones[1]. They are not as plentiful as they were at one time, but after heavy rains which wash away the clay into the stream they are still found in small numbers.

[1]Description is very similar to tectites?

In the lower part of its course the Elwyn flows through the Pavilion Estate. In the old pre-Reformation times and until the beginning of the present century a village called Westhouses occupied the ground westwards from Pavilion House.

The present gardener's house was formerly an inn, where the coaches running between Newcastle and Edinburgh used to halt for refreshment. North-west from the inn (a two storey building now reduced to one storey) stood the tower of the Ormistons in the old times, the principal family in this district, a branch of the Ormistons of Ormistonn in the Lothians. In the time of Queen Mary they lost Westhouses, which was forfeited and given to an adherent of the Regent Murray, but the new owner found it impossible to evict the wife of Ormiston, who resolutely held possession of' the tower. From this fact it seems very probable that this lady, Catherine Nisbit, was proprietrix of Westhouses, and that John Ormiston acquired the property through his marriage with her. Shortly after the forfeiture was cancelled, and Ormiston restored to full possession.

Langlee, on the west of the Elwyn, belonged to the monks of Melrose, but in the latter days of James V they were required to give up possession of the estate to one of the Pringles, who had acquired the favour of James by capturing a Douglas, one of the adherents of Angus. From the Pringles, Langlee seems to have passed into the hands of the Cairncrosses, long a prominent family in the district.


Communication between the divisions of Melrose Parish north and south of the Tweed must have been at all times a matter of importance. Antiquarians are generally agreed that the Romans had a bridge near Millmount, immediately north of Newstead, and as long as this bridge stood, safe, if circuitous, access to the dale of Elwyn was always to be had.

The destruction of this bridge must have taken place at a very early date, a date which cannot even be conjectured with probability. Thereafter communication between the north and south banks of Tweed must have been carried on mainly by the old ford at Gattonside Suspension Bridge. It is quite possible, perhaps probable, that the use of this ford goes back to the times of the Roman occupation, as the hill road from Gattonside to Earlston is believed to show signs of Roman formation in some of its parts, and this hillroad leads directly to the old ford. From old deeds it is known that the part of this road between Gattonside and the Tweed bore the name of the Grange Gala, a name going to prove that the products of the Abbey Grange of Drygrange were conveyed to the Monastery along this road,

Farther up Tweed, and above Melrose Cauld, there must have been stationed in Monkish times a ferry boat, as from old deeds it appears that on both the north and south sides of the Tweed the name Boatsheilhaugh was applied to the ground close to the river.

About a hundred and thirty years ago a stone and lime bridge was erected at this point; however it stood no more than ten years, and after it fell it was replaced by the present substantial stone bridge of two arches, a few hundred yards farther up the river. On one of the cope stones of the parapet of this bridge there are the date and initials "1769 W. F.".

In the north side the name Cobbleheugh has taken the place of the older name. The Gateside road leading north started from Cobbleheugh, and is probably the original line or track of the Girthgate. Some gate or road must have given its name to Gateside, and the Girthgate is the only one known to have been used in olden times. If the Girthgate went by Gateside, it must have been on the line of the resent public road, until near Wester Housebyres, when it would strike in a north-westerly direction towards Elwyn, crossing it some distance above the bank where the fairy stones are found, and thereafter proceeding through fields in a slanting direction towards Glendearg farm steading.


Hillslap is much the most interesting of the three towers. It rises to the height of three storeys, the access being by a staircase of the usual spiral type, part of which still remains. Though the building is roofless, the external walls are almost entire. They are built of greywack or silurian, the windows, the door, and the corbel of a quarter-round turret being yellow sandstone. Where this sandstone came from is not known. There is now none of the same kind in the neighbourhood, but it may also be found in the oldest parts of Melrose Abbey; it may have been brought from Alwarden Quarry at Maxton. It is about a hundred years ago that the tower ceased to be inhabited. It was then dismantled, and some few memorials purchased at the displenishing sale are still preserved in the district. Its upper rooms must have been for their day, well lighted and commodious. The upper storey is entirely taken up by a large stone-arched apartment, used probably for driving the Laird's livestock into, when necessary, to preserve them from being "lifted".

Above the door, cut in the yellow sandstone, are the initials N.C. and F.J., with the date 1585 between them. The N.C. represents Nicol Cairncross, the then proprietor, and the F.J., his wife. 1585 no doubt may be taken safely as the date of the erection of the tower, and if that be so, Sir Walter is somewhat in fault in the date when his tale (The Monastery) commences, as the latter is some years previous.

Colmslie Tower is generally supposed to be an older building than Hillslap, but the windows, which are larger than in either of the other two towers, seem to throw some doubt on this, if the size of the windows in such buildings may be taken as evidence of their age. The tower is of rectangular shape, with roofless walls of immense thickness. Its whole appearance has been marred by the freestone of the corners and windows having been torn out for use in other buildings.


Colmslie belonged at the time of the Reformation to the Cairncrosses. An old dial from this tower is to be seen in the front of the farmhouse close at hand; and built into the wall above the door of the farmhouse is a square freestone, also removed from the tower, with the Coat of Arms of the Cairncrosses, and the initials J.C.

Nisbet, in his heraldry, published in 1722, says "The name of Cairncross in old charters writ Carnea Crux of which there was a bishop of Ros and an Abbot of Holyrood-house; and other barons of that name carried the same arms with the Abbacy of Holyrood House as Andrew Cairncross of Colmslie. Argent a stag's head erased and between the attiring or horns a cross croslet fitchie surmounted on the top with a mullet gules; Motto - "Recte faciendo neminem timeo".

Milne in his History conjectures that the Cairncrosses of Elwyndale were a branch of the family of Balmashannan, and mentions some of the prominent men of both families, including a Bishop of the time of James V, and another Bishop, of Raphoe, at the time of the Revolution.

It is somewhat curious that the Cairncrosses of Balmashanner figure largely in the Privy Council records as givers of bands or caution, in the same way as the Elwyndale Cairncrosses. The last of the Calfhill or Hillslap Cairncrosses, when he parted with the estate, is said to have emigrated to America, and not very long ago persons bearing the name of Cairncross visited Elwyndale to see the home of their ancestors. They spent some time making enquiries regarding this old family, and searched Melrose Abbey churchyard for their tombs. However, none are to be found there. Doubtless the Cairncrosses found their last resting place in the old churchyard in the Chapel Park of Colmslie, all trace of which has now disappeared.

The branch of the family owning Colmslie parted with this estate some time in the first half of the seventeenth century, and thereafter Colmslie rapidly and repeatedly changed owners, until it passed into the hands of the Inneses of Stow. It is now (1890) possessed by Lady Reay, whose first husband was Alexander Mitchell of Stow and Carolside, heir-at-law to the Innesses of Stow.


Calfhill, or Glendearg, to use the more modern name, sometime owned by Mr. Borthwick of Crookston, is now in the possession of the heirs of James Dalrymple of Langlee, thereby reversing the order of things, when a Cairncross of Calfhill became the owner of Langlee more than two centuries ago.

In the valuation roll of Melrose Parish for 1643, the following "rowmes" i.e. places, are entered as pertaining to James Cairncross:

Allanshaws400. 0. 0d
Wouplaw293. 6. 8d
Colsmie and Mill 824. 12. 2d
Newton112. 0. 0d
1630. 5. 10d

Calfhill and Colmslie were of course the property of the Melrose monks, but by grant or some other way not known they came into the hands of the Cairncrosses. Different branches of the family held possession of Calfhill and Colmslie; another branch owned Luggate, or Ludgate, as the old writs sometimes termed it, in the Parish of Stow. The name Cairncross Tower was given to an old ruin at the east end of the village of Redpath, in the Parish of Earlston. Redpath, it may be observed, also belonged to Melrose Abbey. The Cairncrosses have utterly passed away from the district, and the ruins of their ancient dwellings of Hillslap and Colmslie alone preserve the memory of a once important and powerful family, who took an active part in the stirring events which preceded the Union of the Scottish and English Crowns,

The first appearance of a Cairncross in the Register of the Privy Council is in 1574, when it is recorded that "William Cairncroce sone and air of umquhile Robert Cairncroce of Colmslie pretendant him to have rycht to certain teind schaves at Duncanlaw in the barony of Yeister and Constabularie of Haddington." From that time forward they appear very frequently, the following being a typical entry:


"1584: caution in E2,000 by Paull Dog of Dunrobin and Nicol Carnecors of Calfhill for Robert Douglas of Coschogill that he shall behave himself dutifully, shall not reset or intercommune with the traitors, and shall appear before the Council on 15 days warning.

From this and many other similar entries, it might be imagined that the Cairncrosses, and particularly Nicol of Calfhill, were givers of Caution by profession, just like money-lenders, doubtless receiving substantial equivalents or rewards or payments of one kind or another for the risks they ran in subscribing to so many bonds. In this way Nicol may have accumulated the wealth he must have had in order to build and furnish what was, for those times, the splendid mansion of Hillslap.

Langshaw Tower lies on the east side of the Elwyn, and is near Colmslie Tower. It was once the property of the Pringles, but is now (1890?) that of the Earl of Haddington. Sir Walter Scott, in his introduction to "The Monastery", says: "All these ruins (Hillslap, Colmslie and Langshaw) so strangely huddled together in a very solitary spot, from a desire of mutual support so natural to troublesome times, have recollections and traditions of their own, but none of them bears the most distant resemblance to the descriptions in the Romance of "'The Monastery". Langshaw, although larger than the other mansions assembled at the head of the supposed Glendearg, has nothing about it more remarkable than the inscription of the present proprietor (Mr. Baillie) over his shooting lodge - "Utinam hanc etiam viris impleam amicis". (Rough translation, "Would that ? likewise ? full friend".)

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