Clan Armstrong itinerary

Follow this fascinating itinerary and learn about the Armstrong clan. This was a powerful Border family, their origins reaching back to the Anglo-Danes of the 11th century.

The Scottish Borders, once a turbulent place known as reiving (cattle-rustling) country, was the home of raiding and marauding clanspeople, but is now a gentle and forgiving landscape of farming and tourism centered communities.

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  • Couple walking around the grounds at Dryburgh Abbey
    Dryburgh Abbey
  • Looking out to Edinburgh Castle from the Caledonian Hotel, Edinburgh
    Looking out to Edinburgh Castle
  • Looking across moorland to Hermitage Castle, north of Newcastleton
    Hermitage Castle, north of Newcastleton

This itinerary starts in Edinburgh, one of Europe's most beautiful cities, and takes you southwards to the fertile lands that border Scotland and England. These were the Debatable lands where wars between the English and the Scots took place until the 1600s. The Armstrongs played the roles of both protector and invader over their long history.

Explore Edinburgh, Scotland's magnificent historic capital. You'll be spoilt for things to do and places to visit. A good starting point is the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street. Here, you'll find the history of Scotland from early geological times through to the present day.

At the nearby Scottish Genealogical Society library in Victoria Terrace you'll find plenty of fellow travellers and enthusiastic researchers, as well as a wealth of genealogical information and guidance. No appointment is necessary but there is a small charge for non-members.

You can visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the end of the Royal Mile, and perhaps the new Scottish Parliament building which lies nearby. At the other end of the Royal Mile is Edinburgh Castle, from the battlements of which you can enjoy commanding views across the city.

Before departing Edinburgh, you might like to relax and enjoy one of the excellent bus tours of the city, explore the famous Royal Mile in the Old Town or take a stroll through the elegant New Town.

Head south east on the A68 towards Jedburgh. On the way you will pass through Melrose. The town is graced by the beautiful and imposing Melrose Abbey where the heart of Robert the Bruce was interred. A little further on is Dryburgh Abbey, a fine example of ecclesiastic architecture, despite having endured four wars and being burnt down three times. At Jedburgh, the jewel of the Scottish Borders, you can follow the Town Trail to discover the history of this town with its beautiful Jedburgh Abbey, which was another frequent target for invading armies.

Travel a few miles south west to Hawick. The largest border town, Hawick is where the power of the River Teviot and Slitrig Water was harnessed for the wool and linen textile industry. Hawick became a very prosperous town in the 19th century, which you can explore more about at the Hawick Museum.

Just a few miles south of Hawick is Teviothead. Johnnie Armstrong, the youngest son of the Laird of Mangerton provided safety and protection to the people on both sides of the border between Scotland and England in the 1520s. All paid tribute to him and the Armstrongs became a very wealthy and respected family. The boy King James V perceived the power of the Armstrongs as a threat and tricked Johnnie into meeting him at Hawick in 1530 where he and 36 of his men were executed. The site of Johnnie Armstrong's grave is at Caerlanrig, a short distance from Teviothead. The grave site is now looked after by the Armstrong Clan Trust.

A few miles further on is Langholm, another textile centre with narrow twisting streets. The now ruined Peel Tower was once the home of the Armstrong Clan, the feared outlaws and cattle raiders. The moon played an important part in their raiding plans, the phrase 'there will be moonlight again' being the signal for the next raid. This is rather poignant when we remember that the astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon in 1969.

Continuing south you will reach Canonbie which lies on the Scottish border at the end of Liddesdale where the River Liddel joins the River Esk. The Armstrongs were given the lands of Liddesdale in recognition for their services to an early Scottish king. Here was the Clan Chief's seat and the site of their stronghold. It was said that they could muster 3,000 horsemen and were in virtual control of all the border lands. A few miles north of Canonbie you’ll find the small town of Langholm. Lying at its centre is the Eskdale Hotel, a former coaching inn which from September 2014 will be home to a range of fascinating Armstrong artifacts and historic memorabilia. These items were previously housed in the Clan Armstrong Trust Museum at Gilnockie Tower, now closed due to building structual problems.

Also in the area is Rowanburn, where a carving commemorates Alexander Armstrong, a reiver executed in 1606 who was also known as Lang Sandy. The cross-border conflicts were officially ended with the union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603, however in 1610 the last Armstrong Clan chief to be hanged for reiving met his unfortunate fate.

Take the road north east along the Liddesdale valley. One mile to the south of Newcastleton you will find the Milnholm Cross, which is a memorial to the respected and much loved Laird Alexander Armstrong who was murdered by William de Soulis in 1318. The de Soulis family seat was at Hermitage Castle a few miles north of Newcastleton. Find out about the grissly deed and the legend of the nasty end which de Soulis is said to have suffered as a consequence of this murder.

Half a mile along the side road from the Milnholm Cross is Ettleton Cemetery, Alexander's final resting place, together with many other Armstrongs. From this cemetery the remains of Mangerton Tower, the family's first power base in Scotland, can be seen.