Saint Mary’s Loch is the largest natural loch in the Scottish Borders and is situated on the south side of the A708 road between Selkirk and Moffat, about forty-five miles south of Edinburgh. It is slightly over three miles long and just under two-thirds of a mile wide. At its centre, it is around ninety feet deep.
The loch takes its name from a church dedicated to Saint Mary which once stood on its northern shore and where William Wallace was named Guardian of Scotland. Only the burial ground is now visible.
Tibbie (Isabella) Shiel was born in Ettrick in 1783, the daughter of Mary and Walter Shiel. After minimal education, she earned a living working on local farms. In 1806 she married Robert Richardson, a molecatcher and in 1823 they moved with their three sons and three daughters to Saint Mary’s Cottage, rented from the local laird, Lord Napier, on land overlooking the southern end of Saint Mary’s Loch.
After her husband died in 1824, Tibbie supported herself and her six children by taking in lodgers: anything up to thirty-five at a time, even though there were only thirteen guest beds. Tibbie Shiel’s Inn soon established itself as a local institution, a process assisted by the patronage of writers like James Hogg and Sir Walter Scott. Other prestigious visitors included the poet William Wordsworth.
Tibbie died on the twenty-third of July, 1878, at the grand old age of ninety-five.
Sadly, the inn closed in 2017 because of ongoing trouble between a somewhat irascible innkeeper and yobs camping wild on the loch shore.
This is one of many literary quotes by different writers which can be found, in various forms, in March Wood, which is situated on the south bank of Saint Mary’s Loch. The woodland is shown on one of the earliest maps of Scotland and may be a remnant of the Ettrick Forest, an ancient royal hunting ground.
The Loch of the Lowes is connected to the more northerly Saint Mary’s Loch by a water channel a mere hundred and fifty yards long. The loch is about a mile long and four hundred and forty yards wide. At its deepest, it is sixty feet.
A popular watering hole for old men on motorbikes who, in their, now distant, youth used to illegally race around the roads of this region terrorising decent, law-abiding folk trying to go about their business. However, the cafe does serve an exceptionally good, cooked English breakfast and the Age-Concern on wheels gangs are amusing to observe.
James Hogg (1770–1835) was a Scottish poet, novelist and essayist who wrote in both Scots and English. As a young man he worked as a shepherd and farmhand, and was largely self-educated through reading. He was a friend of many of the great writers of his day, including Sir Walter Scott, of whom he later wrote an unauthorised biography. He became widely known as the “Ettrick Shepherd”, a nickname under which some of his works were published. He is best known today for his novel “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.” His other works include the long poem “The Queen’s Wake” (1813), his collection of songs “Jacobite Reliques” (1819), and his two novels “The Three Perils of Man” (1822), and “The Three Perils of Woman” (1823).
Tragically, the poem that he wrote which would have, no doubt, made him world famous and very wealthy was brazenly stolen by a certain Lakeland poet who often used to hang around Tibbie Shiel’s public-house nicking the ideas of the other writers who were staying there whilst cadging drinks off them.
This is the first verse of that poem as written by Mr Hogg. I will leave it to you to work out the identity of the evil plagiarist.
I wandered alane as a clood
that flotters aboon where the shepherd whistles,
whan all at once I saw a crood,
a load, of blooming, purple thistles;
beside the loch, aneath the trees,
fluttering and dancing in the fecking breeze.