Smailholm TowerWritten by Administrator
Home to the Pringles and Scotts, Smailholm is a prominent landmark that proved inspirational to Sir Walter Scott who is buried at nearby Dryburgh Abbey.
About the Tower:
A 20m (65ft) tower house, with walls 2.5m (9 ft) thick, dominates the rock craig. In its shadow lie the ruined foundations of an outer hall and kitchen block, discovered during excavations in 1979–81. A stout defensive wall, 2m (7ft) thick, encloses the barmkin, or courtyard.
The tower house comprised the main residential accommodation for its Pringle laird – ground-floor cellars, first-floor hall, second-floor bedchamber and additional chambers at the top. The views from the battlements are stunning, and on a good day you can see mighty Bamburgh Castle, 33 miles (53km) away in Northumberland.
Border families and reivers
The Pringles, who built the tower in the first half of the 15th century, were a prominent Border family. Their position as squires of the powerful earls of Black Douglas brought them the lucrative position of warden of the Ettrick Forest. They suffered from the reivers, as did all people on both sides of the Border.
During two raids in 1544, reivers from Northumberland got away with over 700 cattle and 100 horses. The family relocated to Galashiels in the later 16th century (their burial vault was in Melrose Abbey), and in 1645 the tower and estate at Smailholm was purchased by the Scotts of Harden, near Hawick. They already had a fine house, so they leased Smailholm to a kinsman, Walter ‘Beardie’ Scott, Sir Walter Scott’s great-grandfather.
Smailholm and Sir Walter Scott
Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh in 1771, but as an infant he fell ill, and his parents sent him to Smailholm for the good of his health. He was just 18 months when he arrived at Sandyknowe Farmhouse, the dwelling down in the hollow that replaced Smailholm Tower as the Scotts’ family home. There his grandmother and aunt told him tales of the Border countryside.
In his old age, Scott acknowledged the powerful effect these Border ballads had on his imagination, as did the sight of his ancestors’ ancient tower, ‘standing stark and upright like a warden’. In 1802, Scott published his much acclaimed Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Later, shortly before his death in 1831, he paid an emotional visit to Smailholm.
The Tower is a Historic Scotland property. For more information including admission and opening hours, please see the website.