For Canonbie and district use O.S. map No. 85

Canonbie is situated in Liddesdale, three miles from the English Border. It was situated in the Scottish half of the Debateable Land and was Armstrong territory.

There was a Priory once at Canonbie, hence its name, but it was destroyed by the English in 1542. The stones were used in the building of Canonbie Bridge.

Here, the Border was dominated by the Armstrongs on the Scottish side and the Forsters on the English side. Border ties were stronger than national affiliations, the families having more in common with their neighbours than with members of the own nationality living beyond the Borders.


Gilnockie Castle

The site lies immediately left of the north side of Hollows bridge. 
It occupied a strong defensive site once the seat of the Lairds of Mangerton (Armstrongs).
Not much of the castle  remains.

It was the home of Johnny Armstrong of Gilnockie and was unfinished at the time of his death.

It can be reached from Canonbie bridge.

Canonbie lies within the area which was known as the Debateable and this great tract of land was  under the jurisdiction of neither the Scots nor the English and thus became a refuge for all the outlaws and undesirables in the region.

For more information about the Debateable Land and of the Scots Dyke associated with it, go to the Debateable Land pages.



Lamyford, near Kershopefoot was one of the places where the wardens of the Marches met to settle international disputes. Typically the jury consisted of six Englishmen selected by the Scots and six Scotsmen selected by the English. They would exchange grievances and seek to settle all disputes amicably.

To the east of Kershopefoot stretches a great area of moorland, crossed by innumerable tracks, many only known to the moss-troopers. Much of it is now an equally featureless forest of conifers.


Gilnockie Tower 

Gilnockie Tower (Hollows Tower)

The tower was built in the late sixteenth century on the site of an earlier bastle house.

Although a number of Armstrong chiefs are reported to have lived here, it could scarcely have accommodated a chief and his family and his retinue. 
It was more likely to have been part of the defensive system of Gilnockie Castle.

A rare feature still to be found is the beacon grate perched on the roof. These were part of a signalling system to warn of an impending attack.

Inside the entrance is a stone slab known as the "Dead Stone." It is said that beneath this slab many Armstrongs of note lie buried. The practice of burying the dead at the entrance to the tower appears to have been quite common in the Borders.

However, in some parts of the Border an enemy of the owning family was buried under the entrance slab. They were humiliated in death by being walked upon by their enemy.

The tower was restored in 1980 and there is access right up to the parapet on the roof.

There is said to be a passage from the tower under the Esk to Gilnockie Castle but no trace of it has been found.

Presently owned by an Armstrong in the custody of another Armstrong who lives nearby in Canonbie who will arrange a guided tour which is strongly recommended.

Phone 013873 71876 to make arrangements..

To locate the tower take the A7 north from Longtown. Pass the second road off to the right signposted Canonbie and then turn right down a minor road.
Take the first on the left to the tower.


The Debatable Land  

The Debatable Land extended from Tarras Moss in the north to the Esk estuary in the south. It was about three and a half miles wide. 

The history of this small but important territory is one of petty warfare and constant dispute.  

When the Border between Scotland and England was established, three areas along the border remained in disputeIt was about the year 1450 when we first hear this district described as the Debatable Land, which, because of its size and position, 
obscured the other disputed regions.

When the differences involving the other disputed areas were settled,  this problem remained unresolved until 1551 when agreement was eventually reached.  

As both countries were suspicious of any involvement of the other, the Debatable Land became a haven for all the 'broken men', drop outs and miscreants in the area. 
It was a sanctuary for thieves and, as would be expected, a source of great distress for those trying to establish the rule of law. 

Both countries claimed this land but neither had any jurisdiction over it. Both England and Scotland, however, made a joint declaration outlining their involvement, and declared that everyone should refrain from conflict and conduct themselves in an orderly manner. 

Elements of the Elliots, Crosiers, Nixons, Turnbulls, etc, 
and, of course, the Armstrongs, the clans that had spread into  the Debatable Land,  hadn't much time for declarations, and went about their business in their usual fashion. 

Frequent attempts were made to dislodge them by official forces, but most attempts failed and the few successes were temporary. They simply melted into the nearby wastes, and returned to resume their lawless activities when the immediate danger to them was over.

Such was the trouble caused by the Debatable Land that both Scotland and England were forced into making a joint declaration that 'all Scotsmen and Englishmen from this time forth shall be free to rob, burn, spoil and slay any person or animals or goods belonging to all who inhabit the Debatable Lands.'

 It was a free for all, an open invitation to take any desired action against those who had settled there and had used it as a base from which to launch their pillaging. 

That didn't work, either.

Eventually, It wasn’t until agreement was reached to share out the land, that each country assumed responsibility for enforcing the law in their portion. 
However, it took a long time for both governments to achieve some sort of order and maintain even a uneasy peace.

About 7 miles north of Canonbie a track leads  to a large standing stone which was the northern boundary of the Debatable land.

Map ref: 79 431 839


Driving north from Canonbie you will come upon the farms of Harelaw and Caulside. (map ref: 79 45 80) Here you could linger  a while and consider that you are now in the very heart of Reiver country, for it was here there lived the most active and the most feared of all the Reiving families. 

To the east are the farms of Bankshead and Whitlawside, the haunts, in days gone by, of many a famous Reiver. It is worth leaving the car behind and straying from the road to savour the very sights which were so very familiar to those in Reiver times.

If you take the track to the left within two miles you will reach the standing done which marked the northern boundary of the Debatable Land and, to the south, beyond the Long Cairn  burial site is Tinnis Hill. 

Today, Liddesdale is quite sparsely populated. 


Other family place names in Liddesdale include:-


Liddesdale has always been a separate Lordship under the authority of a keeper who was captain of Hermitage.

The Greens
The Park


Whithaugh Tower
was the home of the second house of the Armstrong Clan.

Map ref: 85 49 88


Auchenrivock Bastle House

Take the A7 south and it is on the right 3 miles south.

Considerable remains of an Armstrong bastle house, burnt by Dacre in 1513. 
The bastle is now in private hands.

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