The story of a trial at Court Knowe, near Bogue farm. Taken from the book Lights and Shadows of Scottish Character and Scenery, by "Cincinnatus Caledonius" published in 1824.


In many parts of Scotland yet rise little green knolls or "moats." They are certainly artificial. And certainly they were raised, either as Roman stations, or for the purpose of distributing justice by our ancestors.

The "Moat of Urr" is well known. And not far from the old Castle of Sanquhar, down the bank of the Nith, remains the "moat," or ancient "Court-hall," where the Crichtons were accustomed to administer justice, according to the feudal system.

In the farm of Bogue in Galloway, not very far from "Holy Linn," stands a little green mount, yet named the "Court Knoll." From the top is seen Kenmore Castle, the burgh of New Galloway, part of the Lake of Ken, and the fine plantations on the east side of "Lowran." Looking straight across by the head of Holy Linn, the ancient castellated mansion of Barscobe rises venerable among its woods. Here formerly dwelt the M'Clellans. They took part against Turner in 1665, for his oppressions and exactions. Even from this little knoll or knowe, may be marked the mountains at the head of Loch Truil.

On the top of this knoll, then, did the barons of the Kenmore, — the Lords of Lochinvar, — before 1715, hold their justice courts. The Viscount stood on the summit, his bailies or officers around him; and, ranged round the sides or base of the knoll, stood the plaintiffs and defendants. Here, at stated times, did the Gordons of Kenmore, (perhaps the Douglasses before them,) dispense that justice which was craved by their tenants and retainers.

Surely it was a noble sight to see a feudal baron, accoutred in all the insignia of equity, dispensing justice, sub dio, to a crowd of kinsmen dependents. The sun of heaven shed its lustre on his head, and the wind perhaps waved his venerable locks.

Sometimes momentous suits and grave debates would be brought before him. Again — there might be cases of a more ludicrous kind,

A case was once brought before the Lord of Lochinvar on this little knoll. That case partook of both the tragic and the comic. An old woman, Elspeth _____ , was brought limpin' before the Lord, by the tenant of Bogue. Elspeth dwelt on the western side of the farm. She was not far from the House of Ardoch; and one of her neighbours was a tenant of Lord Galloway's. Elspeth was counted a witch: at least everybody said she was half a witch! Most of her neighbours, however, counted her "uncanny."

Whenever Elspeth was refused any demand or asking, she generally contrived to take personal vengeance. She had a subset from the tenant of Bogue. The cattle of "Tower," Lord Galloway's tenant, were sometimes trespassing. She one day demanded butter to atone for the trespass. No butter was given. Elspeth was angry. At dead of night, however, she crossed a little stream; she went into the "Tower" byre, and she milked the tenant's cows very completely. This she repeated. The gudewife of the "Tower" began to see less milk coming from her cows. She scolded her maids. Her maidens bade her try for herself. She tried, and milked no more than the rest. She watched the next night. Something came in, and was whizzing the milk into a dish. The gudewife called out "robbery!" and Elspeth disappeared.

She ventured back, however. The gudeman was on that night watching for the intruder. The intruder came, and was caught. The gudeman, being a stout, gurly man, tore up a cowstake, and broke the leg of the lawless Elspeth!

Elspeth was now compelled to lie. In this situation she sent to Bogue to borrow meal. From a sense of some former ill-returns, the meal was refused. As soon as Elspeth could stir, she vowed to be avenged. The tenant had a beautiful young mare feeding at some hundred yards' distance. Elspeth pulled some long hair from the filly's tail. She then stroked the mare, and tied down her tongue to her nether jaw.

The poor beast could eat none now. It was some time ere the creature was observed. At length a herd-boy told Bogue, that the young grey mare was always standing, and never eating. Ramsay went to see what was wrong. He opened the mare's mouth. The hair had cut her tongue almost through!

From knowing the temper of Elspeth, and her tricks at the "Tower," he made little doubt but she had done it. He had her summoned before his landlord the Baron. She refused to attend. His Lordship ordered his attendants to bring her by force. Elspeth, after many a grin and struggle, was carried to "Court-knowe." The Baron demanded — " Was it you, Elspeth, that tied dbwn the mare's tongue?" "In troth, Sir, had ye been as crippled as me, ye could hae tied down nae mares' tongues." "A cripple can limp where she wants to go," cried a strong voice in the crowd. "Bring forward that man," cried the Baron. The tenant of "Tower" came forward. He told all Elspeth's doings to himself. He then told, that, a week ago, he had seen Elspeth limping over the dyke to where Bogue's grey mare stood — she seemed to be tying something which was loose. "Base limmer!" cried Ramsay, "Can ye deny now?" " Hoot, and be hanged t'ye," grinned Elspeth; "I was looking that the pickle hair wasna loose!" "Wellconfessed," cried Kenmore; "a cripple, it seems, can limp. You have been a very wicked woman, and 'tis time that justice should overtake you. Murray and M'Naught,"cried the Baron to two of his lictors, " bring her up to me." "My Lord," cried Murray, " I dare not touch ber — she's an arrant witch, and she bites like an adder!"

The Baron smiled. The whole of the court were convulsed with laughter. "Witch or not," says the judge, "she must come to justice. You, tenant of 'Tower,' hold her legs — Murray and M'Naught hold her hands; and you, Ramsay, tie down her tongue to her nether jaw!"

"O Lord, 0 Lord !" cried Elspeth, "O for a broomstick to flee to France!" " Ye's get neither broomstick nor cow-stake, ye base limmer," cried 'Tower;' "What think ye now of milking my kye?" "O mercy!" roared Elspeth, "I'm ta'en at last!" " Come, Bogue, man," quoth "Tower," " tie down her tongue!"

The wretch was held fast. Ramsay tied her tongue to her teeth, with some of the "grey mare's" hairs. She was carried to a dungeon in Kenmore Castle: the hairs, after a week's hampering, were removed. But Elspeth was never removed from the dungeon till she was taken to her grave!

And she merited what she got. This woman was of such a devilish disposition, that, when her neighbours had cast their peats, she would go by night, or grey dawn, and harrow them! This of course rendered the moss or turf for ever after unfit for peat. She would also go by night, and throw down her neighbours' dykes!

If Elspeth was not actually a witch, she was certainly in compact with the devil!

Such characters are not now very rife in Scotland. Neither with "breeks on their hinneren's," nor wanting them, are such characters rife. There are still such characters on the Continent, however. Yes! "old women" in men's apparel! and, (what is worse,) great Christian kings, who go, by day and by night, and harrow the green but gracious reformations of their neighbours! Ay — and these potentates are such horrid "old wives," that they do the saddest work of Satan, while they pretend to league themselves under the banner of the Saviour!

Many a "neighbour's dyke" they wish to throw down! Yes — the hallowed dykes of international law and moral independence!