lyrics text

The Fray Of Hautwessel

words & tune anonymous

Yon limmer thieves o' Liddesdale
Wadna leave a kye in the hail countrie
But aye an' we gie them the caud steel
Our gear they'll reive it a' awaye
Sae pert they stealis I you say
O' late they came to Hautwessel
And thowt that they wad drive a fray
But Alec Ridley shot too well

'Twas some time gane, they took our naigs
And left us eke an empty byre
I wad the de'il had had their craigs
And a' things in a bleeze o' fire
Eh! But it raised the warden's ire
Sir Robert Carey was his name
But an John Ridley thrust his spear
Right through Sim o' the Cathill's wame

Then cam Wat Armstrong to the town
Wi' some three hundred chiels or mair
An' swore that they wad burn it down
A' clad in jack, wi' bow and spear
Harnessed weel, I trow they were
But we were aye prepared at need
And dropt ere lang upon the rear
Amangst them, like an angry gleed

Then Alec Ridley he let flee
A clothyard shaft, ahint the wa'
It struck Wat Armstrong in the e'e
Went through his steel cap, heid and a'
I wot it made him quickly fa'
He couldna rise, thourgh he essayed
The best at thief-craft or the ba'
He ne'er again shall ride a raid

Gin should the Armstrongs promise keep
And seek our gear to do us wrang
Or rob us o' our kye or sheep
I trow but some o' them will hang
Sharp is the sturdy sleuth dog's fang
At Craweragge watchers will be set
At Linthaugh ford too, a' neet lang
Wow! But the meeting will be het.

In the times of the Border reivers the enmity between the Ridleys of Haltwhistle and the Armstrongs of Liddesdale was fierce and enduring. This ballad commemorates a memorable encounter between the two families, though it compresses the action somewhat. (See page 171 of G M Fraser's The Steel Bonnets for a more detailed account.) We first found the poem in Haltwhistle Library (book now forgotten) in the 1970s. It's been attributed to Sir Walter Scott, but doesn't appear in any edition of Scott's collected works. The tune comes from a version of the Border ballad Thomas The Rhymer.

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