Read THE FRAY OF SUPORT. of Minstrelsy of the Scottish border (3rd ed) (1 of 3), free online book, by Sir Walter Scott, on


Of all the border ditties, which have fallen into the editor’s hands, this is by far the most uncouth and savage.  It is usually chaunted in a sort of wild recitative, except the burden, which swells into a long and varied howl, not unlike to a view hollo’.  The words, and the very great irregularity of the stanza (if it deserves the name), sufficiently point out its intention and origin.  An English woman, residing in Suport, near the foot of the Kershope, having been plundered in the night by a band of the Scottish moss-troopers, is supposed to convoke her servants and friends for the pursuit, or Hot Trod; upbraiding them, at the same time, in homely phrase, for their negligence and security.  The Hot Trod was followed by the persons who had lost goods, with blood-hounds and horns, to raise the country to help.  They also used to carry a burning wisp of straw at a spear head, and to raise a cry, similar to the Indian war-whoop.  It appears, from articles made by the wardens of the English marches, September 12th, in 6th of Edward VI. that all, on this cry being raised, were obliged to follow the fray, or chace, under pain of death.  With these explanations, the general purport of the ballad may be easily discovered, though particular passages have become inexplicable, probably through corruptions introduced by reciters.  The present copy is corrected from four copies, which differed widely from each other.


  Sleep’ry Sim of the Lamb-hill,
  And snoring Jock of Suport-mill,
  Ye are baith right het and fou’; ­
  But my wae wakens na you. 
  Last night I saw a sorry sight ­
  Nought left me, o’ four-and-twenty gude ousen and ky,
  My weel-ridden gelding, and a white quey,
  But a toom byre and a wide,
  And the twelve nogs on ilka side. 
  Fy lads! shout a’ a’ a’ a’ a’,
  My gear’s a’ gane.

Weel may ye ken, Last night I was right scarce o’ men:  But Toppet Hob o’ the Mains had guesten’d in my house by chance; I set him to wear the fore-door wi’ the speir, while I kept the back door wi’ the lance; But they hae run him thro’ the thick o’ the thie, and broke his knee-pan, And the mergh o’ his shin bane has run down on his spur leather whang:  He’s lame while he lives, and where’er he may gang.  Fy lads! shout a’ a’ a’ a’ a’, My gear’s a’ gane.

  But Peenye, my gude son, is out at the Hagbut-head,
  His e’en glittering for anger like a fierye gleed;
  Crying ­“Mak sure the nooks
  Of Maky’s-muir crooks;
  For the wily Scot takes by nooks, hooks, and crooks. 
  Gin we meet a’ together in a head the morn,
  We’ll be merry men.” 
  Fy lads! shout a’ a’ a’ a’ a’
  My gear’s a’ gane.

  There’s doughty Cuddy in the Heugh-head,
  Thou was aye gude at a’ need: 
  With thy brock-skin bag at thy belt,
  Ay ready to mak a puir man help. 
  Thou maun awa’ out to the cauf-craigs,
  (Where ânes ye lost your ain twa naigs)
  And there toom thy brock-skin bag. 
  Fy lads! shout a’ a’ a’ a’ a’,
  My gear’s a’ taen.

  Doughty Dan o’ the Houlet Hirst,
  Thou was aye gude at a birst: 
  Gude wi’ a bow, and better wi’ a speir,
  The bauldest march-man, that e’er followed gear;
  Come thou here. 
  Fy lads! shout a’ a’ a’ a’ a’,
  My gear’s a’ gane.

  Rise, ye carle coopers, frae making o’ kirns and tubs,
  In the Nicol forest woods. 
  Your craft has na left the value of an oak rod,
  But if you had had ony fear o’ God,
  Last night ye had na slept sae sound,
  And let my gear be a’ ta’en. 
  Fy lads! shout a’ a’ a’ a’ a’,
  My gear’s a’ ta’en.

  Ah! lads, we’ll fang them a’ in a net! 
  For I hae a’ the fords o’ Liddel set;
  The Dunkin, and the Door-loup,
  The Willie-ford, and the Water-slack,
  The Black-rack and the Trout-dub o’ Liddel;
  There stands John Forster wi’ five men at his back,
  Wi’ bufft coat and cap of steil
  Boo! ca’ at them e’en, Jock;
  That ford’s sicker, I wat weil
  Fy lads! shout a’ a’ a’ a’ a’,
  My gear’s a’ ta’en.

  Hoo! hoo! gar raise the Reid Souter, and Ringan’s Wat,
  Wi’ a broad elshin and a wicker;
  I wat weil they’ll mak a ford sicker. 
  Sae whether they be Elliots or Armstrangs,
  Or rough riding Scots, or rude Johnstones,
  Or whether they be frae the Tarras or Ewsdale,
  They maun turn and fight, or try the deeps o’ Liddel. 
  Fy lads! shout a’ a’ a’ a’ a’,
  My gear’s a’ ta’en.

  “Ah! but they will play ye another jigg,
  For they will out at the big rig,

  And thro’ at Fargy Grame’s gap.” 
  “But I hae another wile for that: 
  For I hae little Will, and stalwart Wat,
  And lang Aicky, in the Souter moor,
  Wi’ his sleuth dog sits in his watch right sure: 
  Shou’d the dog gie a bark,
  He’ll be out in his sark,
  And die or won. 
  Fy lads! shout a’ a’ a’ a’ a’,
  My gear’s a’ ta’en.

  Ha! boys ­I see a party appearing ­wha’s yon! 
  Methinks it’s the captain of Bewcastle, and Jephtha’s
  Coming down by the foul steps of Catlowdie’s loan: 
  They’ll make a sicker, come which way they will. 
  Ha lads! shout a’ a’ a’ a’ a’,
  My gear’s a’ ta’en.

Captain Musgrave, and a’ his band, Are coming down by the Siller-strand, And the muckle toun-bell o’ Carlisle is rung:  My gear was a’ weel won, And before it’s carried o’er the border, mony a man’s gae down.  Fy lads! shout a’ a’ a’ a’ a’, My gear’s a gane.


  And there, toom thy brock-skin bag. ­. .

The badger-skin pouch was used for carrying ammunition.

  In the Nicol forest woods. ­. .

A wood in Cumberland, in which Suport is situated.

  For I hae a’ the fords o’ Liddel set. ­. .

Watching fords was a ready mode of intercepting the marauders; the names of the most noted fords upon the Liddel are recited in this verse.

  And thro’ at Fargy Grame’s gap. ­. .

Fergus Grame of Sowport, as one of the chief men of that clan, became security to Lord Scroope for the good behaviour of his friends and dependants, 8th January, 1602. ­Introduction to History of Westmoreland and Cumberland, .

  Wi’ his sleuth dog sits in his watch right sure. ­P 256. .

The centinels, who, by the march laws, were planted upon the border each night, had usually sleuth-dogs, or blood-hounds, along with them. ­See Nicolson’s Border Laws, and Lord Wharton’s Regulations, in the 6th of Edward VI.

Of the blood-hound we have said something in the notes on Hobbie Noble; but we may, in addition, refer to the following poetical description of the qualities and uses of that singular animal: 

   ­Upon the banks
  Of Tweed, slow winding thro’ the vale, the seat
  Of war and rapine once, ere Britons knew
  The sweets of peace, or Anna’s dread commands
  To lasting leagues the haughty rivals awed,
  There dwelt a pilfering race; well trained and skill’d
  In all the mysteries of theft, the spoil
  Their only substance, feuds and war their sport. 
  Not more expert in every fraudful art
  The arch felon was of old, who by the tail
  Drew back his lowing prize:  in vain his wiles,
  In vain the shelter of the covering rock,
  In vain the sooty cloud, and ruddy flames,
  That issued from his mouth; for soon he paid
  His forfeit life:  a debt how justly due
  To wronged Alcides, and avenging Heaven! 
  Veil’d in the shades of night, they ford the stream;
  Then, prowling far and near, whate’er they seize
  Becomes their prey; nor flocks nor herds are safe,
  Nor stalls protect the steer, nor strong barr’d doors
  Secure the favourite horse.  Soon as the morn
  Reveals his wrongs, with ghastly visage wan
  The plunder’d owner stands, and from his lips
  A thousand thronging curses burst their way. 
  He calls his stout allies, and in a line
  His faithful hound he leads; then, with a voice
  That utters loud his rage, attentive cheers. 
  Soon the sagacious brute, his curling tail
  Flourish’d in air, low bending, plies around
  His busy nose, the steaming vapour snuffs
  Inquisitive, nor leaves one turf untried;

  Till, conscious of the recent stains, his heart
  Beats quick, his snuffling nose, his active tail,
  Attest his joy; then, with deep-opening mouth
  That makes the welkin tremble, he proclaims
  The audacious felon; foot by foot he marks
  His winding way, while all the listening crowd
  Applaud his reasonings.  O’er the watery ford,
  Dry sandy heaths, and stony barren hills,
  O’er beaten tracks, with men and beast distain’d,
  Unerring he pursues; till, at the cot
  Arrived, and seizing by his guilty throat
  The caitiff vile, redeems the captive prey: 
  So exquisitely delicate his sense!


  Methinks it’s the Captain of Newcastle, &c. 
  Coming down by the foul steps of Catlowdie’s loan
. ­. .

According to the late Glenriddell’s notes on this ballad, the office of captain of Bewcastle was held by the chief of the Nixons.

Catlowdie is a small village in Cumberland, near the junction of the Esk and Liddel.

  Captain Musgrave and a’ his band. ­. .

This was probably the famous Captain Jack Musgrave, who had charge of the watch along the Cryssop, or Kershope, as appears from the order of the watches appointed by Lord Wharton, when deputy-warden-general, in 6th Edward VI.