Hello from the road. Well, not quite. I was meant to be up north, but due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to abandon plans and find myself taking time out closer to home.
St Mary’s Loch, Selkirk
I’ve never ventured to St Mary’s Loch before, and what a treat it was!
A stunning setting that was eerily quiet (pre-season, I assume). We pretty much had the loch to ourselves, bar a few rambunctious bark-chewing sheep.
Tibbie Shiels & the Inn
Tibbie (Isabella) Shiel (1783–1878) was the wife of a molecatcher, Robert Richardson. They lived in St Mary’s Cottage overlooking St Mary’s Loch, rented from the local laird, Lord Napier. After Robert died in 1824, Tibbie supported her family (she had six children) by taking lodgers—up to 35 at a time.
With its picturesque surroundings and lively atmosphere, Tibbie Shiel’s Inn became a much-loved locale frequented by renowned artists, poets and writers such as James Hogg, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson—even William Wordsworth even stopped by.
Being devoutly religious, Tibbie insisted guests attend the family service on Sunday morning after a hard night’s partying on Saturday (sair heeds, I imagine).
In 1878 at the age of 95, Tibbie passed away. Legend has it; her ghost still puts in an appearance at the inn.
When two of Tibbie’s sons emigrated to Canada, she gifted each of them a Bible with a ribbon from her wedding bonnet as a bookmark.
It’s said when her sons married, their brides wore the ribbons at their own weddings, and one of the ribbons has made it back to Scotland and is still worn at family weddings today.
‘Tibbie Shiels in Yarrow’ from ‘Blackwood's Magazine', signed by John Stuart Blackie, 1892.
I found this charming poem by John Stuart Blackie online. It appears to be part of a Digital Victorian Periodical Poetry Project by the Univeristy of Victoria, British Columbia.
It conveys a distinctive ambience, the Inn brimming with locals and travellers. We read of dancing and twirling guests, beautifully rendered as a ‘graceful maze’, with their faces ‘bright as is the light’.
A reference to ‘roguish glances’, ‘advances’, and time to ‘sing and shout’ with a ‘joy that’s kin to madness’ reminds me of the many wee small hours we enjoyed in the pubs of Leith.
With a hum of voices amidst a clank of tankards, there is an insistence to lay aside the worry of ‘dull to-morrows’. A hint, perhaps, of the benefit of choosing to be in the moment.
We meet ‘glorious John’, ‘minstrel Hogg’, and ‘Stoddart’ who’s ‘tramped’ the land with his finishing rod. Through these characters, we are transported to a different yet familiar time—a joyful ‘busy hive’.
And here they come, both old and young, A sight to sweeten sorrow, In rustic bravery gaily clad At Tibbie Shiel's in Yarrow.
Above all, I enjoy this poem for its affectionate observation of nature and the inescapable lure of the Scottish landscape and wildlife. Linnets, skylarks, eagles, and heather bring to life the colourful, characterful setting.
Having crossed the bridge to the Inn and revelled in the scenery, I can confirm there is indeed an unforgettable presence of ‘green huge-shouldered hills’ and ‘silver-shimmering waters’ at Tibbie Shiel’s in Yarrow.