Coldstream History Castle Law Mote Hill

The Mote Hill (Mount) noted off Ryle Elliot’s 1954 notes, is thought to be one of the oldest camp sites in south Berwickshire and may date back as far as the Iron Age. In Roman times it was obviously a fairly large camp although not quite so large as a similar one at Belchester.

One of the finest vantage points on south Berwickshire, the camps at Pennymuir and Pinielheugh could easily be seen for signalling. The Mote hill, the only one in Berwickshire, is possibly 11th or 12th century and most certainly to have been used in the Norman Conquest. Probably the defence work of a minor Barron.

Until the 12th century there is no written evidence and the first mention of the spot is in a charter of that date. Where the present castle stands was originally the site of the tower of Drienchester. The land belonged to Sir Thomas Drienchester, and the grant of certain lands by him to the Abbey of Coldstream, is dated in a charter in 1150. The Chaplain was granted an acre of land called Cake well gate in the township of Darnchester. This is the earliest record of the Darnchester family at Castlelaw.

Sir Thomas and Walter are repeatedly named in the 12th-13th centuries charter, now in Durham Cathedral. The township is shown in John Blaver’s map of 1562 and on a Hondious map of an earlier date. The village lay to the north and carried on a considerable trade of pearls from mussels in the river Let.

Nothing more is recorded till the 17th century when the house proper began to take shape, then the property of the Trotter of Kettle shields. Then in the late 17th century it became the property of the Ainslie family. Robert married Magdalane Elliot in 1723 and lived there. Their son also Robert, was a correspondent of Robrt Burns. His son Whitlaw, wrote “The Meteria Medica of Southern India” and was knited by William IV. His other son became a writer to the signet in Edinburgh and Ainslie Place in the city is named after him. The Ainslie family left Berwickshire in 1770 to succeed to the Delgotty Estates in Aberdeenshire. The Castle was then bought by William Waite.

The house of this period was of the stone town type. Both its wells are of ancient date and were reconstructed in the late 16th century. The cellars are large and vaulted, one with a roof span of 28ft by 18ft, and of unusual shape. There are obvious signs of 18th century reconstruction work, the floor has been much lower, and elaborate water channels extend beyond the 18th century house. There is a drop hole into the tunnel, which may have been used as an escape passage, which measures 35yds in length by 18inches in height. The ceiling has some exceedingly fine plaster work. A brass chimney piece, a magnificent example is now in use at Bughtrig. The park and grounds were laid out at the same time with two long carriage drives and a magnificent entrance, which was still there within living memory.

“St margaret’s Walk” is no doubt named after Wait’s wife Margaret. Wait’s father owned and fished the sandstell at Berwick-upon-Tweed. Waite junior married a Miss Dysart who was buried at Lennel in 1813 and where there is a handsome monument in her memory.

Unfortunately, it was soon discovered the Waite had no money after having lived lavishly off his wife. He lived in obscurity near Lennel till his death near thirty years later. Wait crashed from sheer vanity and love of display. Meanwhile the property passed into the hands of Dickson of Chatto, quite unconnected with the Dicksons of Anton’s Hill and Belchester.

The majority of the house was pulled down in 1818 and the stone used for new farm buildings. Castlelaw then fell into disrepute. Hence the lines in “Henderson’s popular rhymes of Berwickshire” :- “that’s Castlelaw growth, Strae belly ropes, tow fit ropes and brak nineteen times a yokin” (A synonym for all that’s useless and rotten.)

Today you can walk up to the Mote and Castle with the kind permission of Messrs. Dickson at Castlelaw farm. There is an definite atmosphere at the site, the castle being particularly eery at night. There are great views both south towards Cheviots and east over the Merse valley which is best seen at dusk.