The Hot Trod: A History of The Angloscottish Border
Although the bloody history of the Debatable Lands has not attracted quite as many books and column inches as the Highlands, the area around the border has still attracted an impressive literary and historical canon. Writers such as Allan Massie, George Macdonald Fraser and Alistair Moffat have thoroughly explored the northern side of the border, and especially the history of the Reivers.
Sadler’s commendably detailed historical and topographical history of the area is a wonderful addition to this genre. An Anglo-scot born in Northumbria, the author looks at the history in the round, spending a significant amount of time on the perspective of those south of the border, where the Reivers frequently roamed as far south as York. Sadler, an academic, keen re-enactor and battlefield guide, has an enthusiastic and engaging writing style, plus a bloodthirsty streak which he regularly indulges, which means whether he is describing small-scale raids or the Battle of Flodden, his narrative is never dull.
If the geographical scope of Sadler’s history is impressive, so is its historical breadth. Sadler encompasses everything from pagan gods and the impact of the Roman occupation upon the marches, before moving on to the three centuries in which the violent land was a desolate threap (wasteland), and the unremittingly brutal Wars of Scottish Independence.
Sadler, who lectures in history at Newcastle University, is particularly good on the way in which the marches which had seethed with criminal violence and ancient hatreds were pacified by James VI & I and then cleansed so effectively after the union of the crowns in 1603. Many of its most troublesome clans, partly from south of the border but particuarly north of the line, were sent to settle the Ulster Plantations before as the so-called Scotch-irish heading to America where their culture had a profound impact and where they continue to dominate to this day, with 17 of the 33 US presidents claiming Scotch-irish descent.
Above all, Sadler’s incredibly deep knowledge of, and affection for, the area in which he grew up shines through and elevates every page of this hugely enjoyable book. This is a rare history book in the sense that you can just drop in and out at will.
Although its author does meander at times, this just adds to the book’s charm. Sadler heads off not so much into dead-ends but into ancient byways which illuminate and fascinate in equal measure. (RB)
The author has a bloodthirsty streak which he regularly indulges. His narrative is never dull