Scots Dyke – The Debatable Land

Aug 24th, 2009 | By | Category: Photo History

This is a stretch of land measuring, at the longest, 12 miles by 4 miles, but its size bears little relation to the trouble it caused. It had been called the Debatable Land as early as the 15th century, because its ownership was in dispute between England and Scotland. By the 16th century the Debatable Land was a thorn in side of both opposing countries. As neither England nor Scotland would recognise its ownership to the other, neither could hold the other responsible for its occupants behaviour. The most notorious borderers soon saw this Debatable ground as the ideal place for residence. As the area became worse, one way to deal with it was to lay it to waste. This was done on numerous occasions, one example is that of William, Lord Dacre, Warden of the English West March in 1528. Lord Dacre assembled a force of 2000 riders for a surprise attack on the Armstrongs of the Debatable Land. Unfortunately, an ‘English’ Storey, had tipped off the Armstrongs who subsequently repulsed the attack. In a later attack Dacre did manage to destroy Johnnie Armstrong’s tower at Hollows on the Esk. Unfortunately for Dacre, while he was attacking the Armstrongs tower, the Armstrongs were plundering and destroying Netherby and a mill belonging to Dacre at Gilsland.

Scots Dike

Scots Dike - The Debatable Lands

This not only gives an idea of the type of forces that the Debatable Land could muster, but also the cross Border loyalties that existed. By 1552 the Scots Dyke was built (pictured above) which was meant to divide the land, and the straight line of this is clearly visible on the map found on page vi. This may have allowed the English and Scottish governments to say which part belonged to who, but the people who lived there had scant regard for this trench that had been dug in their land.

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