Stone unveiled as Auld Wat’s legacy spans 400 years

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It must have been a wild, stormy night when the legendary Auld Wat of Harden crossed the Ettrick in flood about five miles upstream from Selkirk nearly 400 years ago, writes Judy Steel.

A child was swept from his arms and lost in the torrent and Wat vowed to build a bridge to prevent another such tragedy.

On Saturday, on an evening of balmy sunshine in Ettrickbridge, a replica of the stone tablet recording the building of that famous first crossing in 1628 was unveiled on the parapet, along with a brass plaque telling the story.

The unveiling marked the fulfillment of a dream for Alison Maguire, secretary of Ettrick and Yarrow Community Council, and her husband Bob who have lived in the village for several years.

It was a commitment praised by all who attended the unveiling, carried out by Andrew, Lord Polwarth, the descendant of Auld Wat.

All three Selkirkshire councillors were present, with the honour of introducing Lord Polwarth falling to newcomer Michelle Ballantyne.

Lord Polwarth spoke about his family’s history, in particular Auld Wat who was one of the most colourful – and the last – of the 16th/17th century Border reivers.

After the ceremony, the hundred plus who were gathered on the bridge adjourned to the football field where wine, cake and, appropriately, bridge rolls were handed out to everyone.

Now, visitors to the village will be able to see and learn about a small part of Border history which has been hidden to view for four hundred years.

Bob Maguire told us: “The stone is, in effect, the foundation stone of the village of Ettrickbridge and Auld Wat’s bridge, which replaced the notoriously unreliable ford and opened up the first reliable route to the upper Ettrick Valley.”

The stone was carved by sculptor and letter cutter Gillian Forbes of Perth. It shows Auld Wat’s coat of arms and his initials WS, those of his second wife Margaret Edgar and the date of the first bridge.

By the mid-18th century the bridge was in a ruinous state with the present one built in 1780 and doubled in width in 1858.

The stone project, carried out by the community council, was funded mainly from a community grant from Scottish Borders Council.

“It is hoped other projects of an historic, community and tourist interest can follow in the valleys,” said Alison.