Scottish Field

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

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