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  • Writer's pictureJohn

Border Line!


Border Line! (Not an 80’s Madonna hit), but one that marks the boundary between the countries of England & Scotland. The aptly named River Tweed which is an Old Brythonic (Celtic) name means ‘border’, as for 17 of its 97 miles it forms a natural border from slightly to the west of Carham too 2 miles west of Berwick-Upon-Tweed. The River begins its journey at ‘Tweed’s Well’ in Scotland to the west so is therefore classed as a Scottish river.

There is a huge amount of border history which could not be covered in a short blog, but basically in 1237 the two Kings created the border which is more or less the same today with the exception of Berwick-Upon-Tweed changing sides 13 times along with Queen Victoria’s declaration of war with Russia and subsequent Treaty of Paris leaving the town technically still at war with Russia. Anyway I digress so back to the Tweed.

At first glance of the 17 miles of natural border it would appear that Scotland is on the north bank and England is on the south bank. However on closer inspection there are at least two exceptions. Both are essentially small pockets of land and technically without leaving their respective countries they would have to be accessed by boat or helicopter!

The first one (Thanks Gail for your research on this) is called The Ba Green which is a small piece of land under 3 acres (1.2 hectares) whereby Scottish men from Coldstream would play English men at football and the winners would claim the Ba Green for their country. Apparently Scotland always won so the land became a permanent part of Scotland. Not following football I was initially sceptical of how old the game is but indeed the earliest reference I could find on wiki for football was in 1314!

See below link


The next pocket of land that attracted my attention was that located slightly to the west of the village of Horncliffe. Modern day OS maps shows the border giving an apparent parcel of English land about the size of a large garden attached to Scotland on their side of the river bank. This one was trickier to ascertain why especially as Google seemed to draw a blank. I spoke to a friend who lives there and they were not aware of this but gave me the details of a contact at the Northumberland Archives who provided with what I agree is the most plausible reason which is a change of the river course. I have been granted permission to use links for the maps at the National Library of Scotland but not the images themselves so I created an interpretation using ‘paint’ for illustration purposes only. On an old OS map dating back to 1866 there are two small islands referred to as Green Knowes, (Twitchly Shot)? But between then and 1899 they had silted up? To create an area physically connected to the Scottish bank and a new island has appeared to the right which eventually connects to the river bank in Horncliffe.


(This is a photo taken this summer of the area in question. Is the post in the photo the border marker or just a coincidence?)


(The below images have been created on 'paint' and are not to scale.)

(The border on the Tweed is between two islands.)

See below link for OS map


(30 years later the two islands have silted up and a new un-named one has formed slightly to the right?)

See below link for OS map


(All 3 islands have gone. A piece of English land has now joined to the Scottish bank of the Tweed.)

See below link for OS Map


To try and prove this theory of the ever changing topography there is a good example in Norham. Willow Island (to the east of Blount Island) was on a 1926 map but has since been washed away.

See below short youtube clip of the 1948 flood.

Many thanks to the Wharton family for their input on this as two of them remember Willow Island as youngsters with willow Bushes growing on a low level gravel based island. And also to the staff at Foreman's Butchers who also recall it.

A short section of the English footpath level with Blount Island has also eroded away. Blount Island was originally a Scottish Island but is now in both countries. The Rack Ford crossing near this island is no longer shown on maps. I found this description on Google.

‘A shallow across the River which, before Norham Bridge was built; was the safest passage the public had crossing the river to Norham. The crossing of the Ford is now prohibited by Act of Parliament.’

See below link for OS map printed in 1926.


(Blount Island is now in both countries and a section of footpath on the English bank near the island has eroded away and Willow Island has disappeared from current OS maps.)

Some modern day maps don't yet show the bank erosion.

( Another example is Bendibus Island to the west which is now there all but in name and perhaps a victim of the 1948 flood?)


Below is an interesting link regarding horses that 'ride the bounds.'


So in conclusion it appears nature has redefined the river over the centuries as water will always find a weakest point to cause erosion especially when it is in spate. Oxbow lakes may eventually be formed and has global warming played a part, such as the extreme flood of 1948?

An interesting programme is available on iPlayer for the next 11 months.

There is also an excellent book by Eric Robson called The Border Line which is border walk by the author describing its history.

Also without getting too political, if Scotland were to gain independence in the future would the powers that be decide to redefine the existing border?

Some of what I have written here is conjecture and like all the Discovery blogs are written in good faith and any errors are therefore mine alone. As a relative newcomer to the village there are far more knowledgeable local people than I.

Please leave any comments in the description box below.


More from the Discovery series coming soon.

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Bill n Ali White
Bill n Ali White
13. Dez. 2020

Great article John, and very interesting documentation and maps. It would be great to get out in the better weather and photograph the spots you have highlighted and show the border lines on those. Even though the ford you mentioned has been closed by an act of parliament I wonder if its still crossable. Perhaps you and I should done a couple of wetsuit and have a go sometime when the water is low..... lol

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