Havens of stone in the Scottish Borders – The number of stone keeps and peel towers scattered across the Borders landscape are testament to the turbulent times that ebbed and flowed through the region for hundreds of years.
One of the best preserved is Smailholm Tower in the Scottish Borders, a defiant landmark built on a rocky outcrop between Kelso and St Boswells and visible for miles around.
To the English, Smailholm was akin to a red rag to a bull.
Built in 1450 by the Pringle family, Smailholm was a life-saving haven on more than one occasion during those turbulent times.
The Pringle family suffered terribly at the battle of Flodden in 1513 when David Pringle, the laird, lost his elder son and three brothers fighting the English.
Hostilities, however, ceased around 1548 when John Pringle became what was known as an ‘assured Scot.’ In other words he cut a deal with the English promising not to raid south of the border or help efforts against the English when their armies came north. In return his lands were left alone.
Insolvency forced the sale of the tower on the death of Sir James Pringle in 1635 and it was bought by Sir Willam Scott of Harden. He built a house in the west courtyard and the family moved into more comfortable lodgings a few hundred yards away at Sandyknowe.
It was here, in the brooding presence of Smailholm that Sir Walter Scott spent time as a child while recovering from illness. He acknowledged in later life that Smailholm, “standing stark and upright like a warden,” was a formative inspiration.
Today, Smailholm is under the care of Historic Scotland and houses a number of visitor displays. They include a permanent exhibition of costumed figures and superb tapestries illustrating Scott’s collection of ballads and the Borders violent past.
The tower is open all year round (weekends only in winter). Access is restricted for those with mobility problems.