All about the things that go bump ... in the Borders

Author, Norrie McLeish with his latest book, ' The Haunted Borders'.
Author, Norrie McLeish with his latest book, ' The Haunted Borders'.

“WHEN all the arguments about the existence or non-existence of ghosts are exhausted, it remains the case that there are places in the Borders that have strange stories associated with them.”

Sixteen of these ‘strange’ stories, as Jedburgh writer Norrie McLeish describes them, make up his relaunched book, The Haunted Borders.

Updated from 1997 when first printed, it includes two new stories centred on the Ballad of Tam Lin, and Thomas The Rhymer.

Sir Walter Scott is reported to have said: “In no part of Scotland has the belief in fairies maintained its ground with more pertinacity than in Selkirkshire.”

And the mysterious ballad, set at Carterhaugh near Selkirk, sees a young man captured by the faeries before being saved by a young woman.

Norrie said: “I think it is the best stories that are centred on a particular place and Tam Lin is obviously connected to Carterhaugh.

“It is just a brilliant, honed-down Borders ballad. It combines the supernatural with a realistic human situation.”

However, Norrie’s favourite is The Mystery of Foul Ford, an eerie account of a father and son from Longformacus who died after encountering a ghostly cavalcade of riders on Greenlaw Moor.

It is a memorable story, says Norrie, because “all the people that are mentioned in the story are in the records and the incident is recorded itself in a Kelso newspaper in the 1920s, the historical rather than the supernatural element”.

A common problem for Norrie has been finding information on many tales from the Borders.

“My problem has always been trying to get the factual history behind the story,” added Norrie.

“There are often references to a story about a particular place, but I cannot find anything on record.

“Perhaps they have been in someone’s memoirs or been told as a story, but then disappear.”

Other accounts from the book include Merlin’s links to the Borders, the Lost Village of Polwarth in Berwickshire, The Ghost of Hobkirk, Maid of Neidpath and the De’il of Buckholm Tower near Galashiels.

Norrie added: “One of the unintended consequences of social and economic change is that many of the old stories associated with places in the Borders are being lost.

“ I am attempting to make sure that, at least, some of them are remembered.”

The Haunted Borders is available from most bookshops.