The Legend of Twinlaw Cairns
This weekend I visited my friends in the countryside, as I had heard there was going to be snow. Being from a semi-tropical climate, snow is still quite a big deal for me, so I jumped at the chance of getting even a tiny bit of white gold.
We set out for a walk on Sunday with dogs in tow and thankfully, plenty of snow falling. Over snow dusted fields, across icy streams, through the woods and down into the valley – every old stone wall and wind swept flank we passed seemed to whisper clues to the area’s rich history. I asked my friend if he knew any stories from the surrounding area and he told me a tragic tale from the Lammermuir Hills, about half an hour down the road from where we were.
The Lammermuirs form a natural boundary between Lothian and the Scottish Borders. The name literally means “lambs’ moor”, and sheep farming on the moors have provided the basis for the local economy since earliest times. The Lammemuirs have a rich history – remains of Iron Age forts built by the Celts dot the countryside, and the hills were the scene of many battles between the Scots and English in the 14th Century until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. In yet another piece of wonderful synchronicity between Scotland and my home, The Lammermoor Range in the South Island of New Zealand takes its name from the Lammermuirs in Southern Scotland.
On top of the hill stand two cairns about 100 meters apart from each other. Named the Twinlaw Cairns, the ancient stones are a monument to a pair of mighty twin brothers. Legend goes that there was once an ancient Scottish chief named Edgar who had twin boys. When the twins were infants, Saxon assailants attacked Edgar’s village, killing many and capturing those not killed. The twin’s nurse was able to escape alongside the chief, but only managed to conceal one of the twins from the invaders.
Many years later, old Edgar and his men again came up against invading Saxons, this time upon the hilltop of the Lammermuirs. As the two sides prepared to fight, the Saxon leader challenged one mighty Scottish warrior to a one-on-one battle. Edgar sent forth his son and an epic battle ensued between the two champions who were matched physically. Steel clashed and blood flowed from the Saxon and Scot, but they fought on until finally the Scot set the final blow upon the Saxon.
Lamenting the death of his leader, an aged Saxon let slip the true identity of the fallen Saxon warrior. He was in fact the lost twin brother, captured in infancy then raised Saxon. Frantic with remorse, and suffering heavily from the battle, the Scot tore the bandages from his wounds and died on the body of his long lost brother.
The two armies, aghast at what had happened, worked side by side to raise two large piles of stones. They stood in a line from the burn to the hilltop, and hand by hand passed stones up the hill to build a lasting memorial to the fallen twins.
The legend was also immortalised in an old border ballad, with the final verse appearing on a plaque at the hill summit. Sadly the cairns were used for tank and artillery firing practice during the Second World War. However they have been restored and you can still see the tragic memorial to local lore at the top of the Lammermuirs today.
“And they biggit twa cairns on the heather
And they biggit them round and high
And they stand on the Twinlaw Hill
Where they twa brithers lie.”