Craigvinean :: Chapter 3 - Early Settlement

Chapter 3 - Early Settlement

Several thousand years ago, when the valleys and the low-lands were covered by dense forest and inhospitable swamps, early man appears to have chosen the more open upland areas for his first permanent settlements. The Eastern Cheviots appears to have been a favourable area for settlement judging by the very large number of hill-top camps and other antiquities recorded in this area. The early hunters and food gatherers were supplanted by the subsistence farmers of the Neolithic and Iron Ages whose way of life was completely disrupted by the coming of the Romans. The most significant event after the Roman invasion was the organisation of the upland pastoral economy by the early abbeys and large estates.

The First Settlers

Who the first men in this part of Scotland were we shall never know, for the Ice Age removed all trace of early man and his way of life by the process of ice erosion. Following the glacial epoch the first comers to the Tweed Basin were the Mesolithic (or Middle Stone Age) hunters and food-gatherers. Their settlements were temporary huts or shelters and the only sure evidence we have of their existence are chance finds of flint tools and waste flint flakes, sometimes in association with fire sites, as at Kalemouth in the Parish of Eckford.

(Flint does not occur naturally in this part of Scotland and any flint finds must be associated with manís activities. Flint was in such short supply that flint substitutes such as agate and chalcedony were much used in this area. Early man must have searched the river gravels of the Kale and Bowmont valleys for raw materials as do the pebble-polishers of the present day).

Hunters and Farmers

The Mesolithic peoples were succeeded by the Neolithic (New Stone Age) groups, who, along with hunting and food gathering, appear to have had some domesticated livestock. They also probably cultivated some primitive cereals in small patches on the south-facing hill slopes. Chance finds of lost arrowheads and stone axes, as at Cunzierton and Hownam Rings, are the only clues to their existence in the area, though a long cairn (or long barrow) at Caverton, in Eckford Parish, appears to have survived until relatively recent times. Two of the axes were ceremonial types of particularly fine workmanship. The axe-head from Hownam Rings is known to have come from the axe quarry at Great Langdale in Westmorland. One can only speculate on the value in trade goods of a beautifully worked ceremonial axe-head.

Bronze Age

Proof of the existence of Bronze Age peoples in the area come from finds of weapons, such as bronze shields, spearheads, axeheads and flint arrowheads of Bronze Age type. Funerary urns and beakers in single graves in stone cists are characteristic of the Bronze Age people, with circular cairns probably representing the burial places of the leaders and chiefs. Occasional stone circles, such as the Five Stanes on the line of Dere Street, and some of the individual standing stones, may also date from the Bronze Age.

Iron Age Settlers

The most striking evidence for early settlement in the area comes from the abundant remains of hill-forts and homesteads of the Iron Age peoples, probably built in the period between the 1st Century B.C. and the 1st Century A.D. Compared with English examples these hill-forts tend to be small, though the one on Hownam Law appears to have contained at least 155 hut sites.

It has been suggested that the small size of the hill-forts indicates a fragmented Celtic society of petty kingdoms, compared with the large units under centralised autocratic rule further south. It seems likely that the broken nature of the ground and the relatively small amounts of land suitable for cultivation would also favour fragmentation.

Many lightly protected settlements have also been recognised, including palisaded structures enclosing as many as sixteen huts of substantial size. Such small villages may have housed eighty to one hundred people, living in family units in individual huts. Some of these huts had stone walls, with a diameter up to ten metres, and a central pole as the main roof support.

One normal characteristic of the Iron Age is the use of the ox-drawn plough, with an iron plough-share, working a strip-field system. In the Towford area most of the Iron Age farmers appear to have used hoes on irregular patches of ground but at Tamshiel Rig, 13 kilometres to the south-west of Towford, there was a perfect example of an Iron Age settlement with narrow stone-walled enclosures and evidence of substantial cultivation by ox-plough. Regrettably, Tamshiel Rig has now been planted over with coniferous trees.

Quern stones, for grinding corn, pottery and metal-work provide other evidence of Iron Age settlement and there is little doubt that through time more discoveries will be made. There have been to date very few excavations at sites in the area, in spite of its archaeological richness.

The coming of the Romans must have had a devastating effect on the primitive society of the Towford area. The technological superiority of the Romans in weaponry, transport and building standards must have been awesome, quite apart from the wholesale conscription of thousands of men, forcibly taken from their home areas for service elsewhere in the Roman Empire. Details of the Roman occupation of the area are given in the following chapter and are therefore not duplicated here.

The Dark Ages

The Romans finally left the Cheviot area in 369 A.D. and little is known of the native peoples who survived their rigorous occupation. It seems very likely that local populations must have been much reduced, either by being killed in battle or by transportation to other parts of the Roman empire. There followed a long period of which we know little, the period now known as the Dark Ages, which lasted until Mediaeval times. There is scant evidence of settlement or land use in the Towford are throughout this very long period and of all the many forts in Roxburghshire only ten can possibly be ascribed to the Dark Ages.

The Pictish peoples of the Iron Age appear to have been largely supplanted by the Angles, invading and settling on the east coast. One of their chiefs, Ida, used Bamburgh as his base of operations in the sixth century, A.D. There is good evidence of large scale rural organisation in this period and in Norman times. The development of religion and religious houses, with associated lands and holdings must also have had a profound effect on the development of the countryside. In 670 A.D. Bowmont Water and the lower part of the Kale valley were mentioned in grants of land to Lindisfarne Abbey and from this time onwards the hills must have been taken over almost exclusively by the pastoralist. Place names mentioned in the Lindisfarne charters, such as Crock Cleuch and Sourhope, are still in existence at the present day. The break up of the estates belonging to the abbeys did not greatly change the systems of land use established in these early times, though ownership of the land itself may have changed.

The early charters just mentioned bring us into the period of recorded history, a period handled in more detail in a later chapter.

Sites of Interest in the Area

Ordnance Survey Grid References are shown in brackets.

Woden Law (767125) Site of Iron Age native hill fort and Roman siege works with nearby Dere Street. Very impressive site. (If you are planning to visit Woden Law please note that Mr Tweedie of Bughtrig Farm has specifically requested that Groups do not enter the small forest plantations on the opposite side of the valley from the Centre.)
Five Stones (752168) Bronze Age circle of standing stones, about 7 metres in
diameter, 30 metres east of Dere Street, in rough pasture.
Trestle Cairn (751161) Bronze Age circle of 17 stones with dilapidated cairn.
Standing Stone (758160) Bronze Age standing stone, about 1Ĺ metres high.
Hownam Law (797219) An oppidum of the Celts and one of the highest Iron Age hill
forts in Scotland (449 metres). The remains of 155 huts have
been located.
Hownam Rings (790194) Complex native site including palisaded enclosure, fort,
settlement and homestead. The standing stones known as the
Eleven Shearers are the basis of local legend.
Blackbrough Hill (808177) Site of a small but impressive hill fort; easy access only by
saddle on N.E. side. Note natural defences.
Hut Knowe (794157) Two former settlements, one enclosing the other. Two small
ovals suggest hut sites.
Chatto Craig (767166) Oval citadel and use of rocky outcrops suggest Dark Age
setting for this fort.
Braemoor Knowe (787213) Cultivation terraces, covering about 20 ha. Origins not known
but very impressive site. 23 terraces may be distinguished.
Observe from Hownam/Morebattle road near Heavyside
Blackhall Hill (780117) Two Bronze Age cairns, much eroded, which may have been
the graves of chieftains. On top of a ridge, with impressive
Cunzierton Law (744175) Bronze Age fort in strong natural defensive position. Single
rubble rampart.

Sources of Information

  1. The County of Roxburgh; Royal Commission of the Ancient Monuments in Scotland; published by H. M. S. O. , 1965.
  2. A History of the Border Counties; Douglas, Sir G. ; 1899.
  3. The History and Antiquities of Roxburghshire and adjacent districts; Jeffrey, A.;1836.