Society shows how much it digs WALTER

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LOCAL historian and author Walter Elliot has been presented with one of Scottish archaeology’s most prestigious honours.

Walter was awarded the Dorothy Marshall Medal from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland – of which he is a member – at a special ceremony in Edinburgh on Monday evening.

Walter Elliot Medal

Walter Elliot Medal

The medal was given for what the society called his “outstanding voluntary contribution” to Scottish archaeology.

Walter has been involved in the archaeology and history of his native Borders for more than 50 years, in active fieldwork, in popularising and in preserving the area’s past.

Born in Selkirk and brought up in the Ettrick valley, Walter served in the army during National Service and afterwards ran a sawmill and worked as a fencing contractor.

He describes himself as a “poor but honest woodcutter”, and this took him across the Border landscape, developing a deep first-hand familiarity with the traces of the past and a curiosity about the antiquities he picked up on the way.

This led him to contact the Mason brothers, great fieldwalkers of the Borders, and sparked a passion for fieldwalking, particularly at the Roman fort of Trimontium at Newstead, but also over many flint scatters.

His practical field involvement included digging with Dorothy Marshall when she excavated at Hanging Shaw in Selkirkshire.

Those gathered for the award ceremony heard a description of Walter’s career in which Trimontium featured largely.

The Roman fort has been a happy hunting ground for Walter for many years, and important finds led to a string of academic papers, both alone and in collaboration with specialists, with the finds donated to national collections.

Walter played a major role in the establishment of the Roman museum in Melrose for the Trimontium Trust, and served as the trust’s chairman for 13 years.

His enthusiasm for the past led him to see the value of metal-detecting at a time when many professionals were sceptical, and he has acted as a valuable channel for information and finds over the years.

However, his interests go beyond the archaeological. He played a key role in ensuring that the Walter Mason Papers, a substantial collection of late medieval Selkirk burgh records, were preserved, and has been involved in their translation and publication.

He writes poetry, most evocatively in Border Scots, and recently published a collation of Border poets, The New Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, picking up where Sir Walter Scott left off.

His desire to spread the word about Borders archaeology and history has seen him writing a regular column for the Southern Reporter and broadcasting for BBC Radio Tweed and Border TV, as well as advising various TV and radio programmes and authoring a number of books and pamphlets.

Most recently this saw the publication of the first volume of his substantial Selkirkshire and the Borders, with his perspective on the area’s archaeology and early history.

Speaking to The Wee Paper this week, Walter said he was delighted to have received the medal.

“It was a very enjoyable night and very well attended – the hall was full and another room had to be used which saw a broadcast of the ceremony via a projector. Mind you, there was also a guest speaker for the night – they weren’t all there just to see me!

“But it is a beautiful medal and it is nice to be recognised in this way after 50 years of collecting and interest in this subject.”