One of the most renowned rideout destinations of the Hawick Common Riding, the inn at Mosspaul sits on the border between the Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway, at the top of a dreich and lonely hill-pass between Teviotdale and Ewesdale. For several hundred years a shelter has existed here – the site of rest and refuge for weary travellers – and perhaps established by the monks of Melrose Abbey, who owned the neighbouring lands of Penangushope and others. Later, the lands surrounding Mosspaul were passed through the hands of the Homes’, Armstrongs, and finally the Buccleuchs (listed in 1663 as ‘Mossfauld’, in the lands belonging to the Scotts of Buccleuch). When still an area of unmapped, often treacherously rough moorland, the route through Mosspaul was often used by reivers, who doubtlessly took shelter there, as well as by debtors, said to have been fleeing the debt-collectors of either Dumfriesshire or Roxburghshire.
Mosspaul Inn’s first historical mention is in Dr Alexander Carlyle’s autobiography of 1767, in which he mentions stopping “to feed horses at a rural inn on top of the ridge”. Though, chances are the inn is much older. As travel by Mosspaul grew, the inn became a staging post for the Carlisle-Hawick mail coach; a place where tired horses could be rested and exchanged for fresh steeds, and a chance to allow stagecoach passengers some hospitality. In effect, Mosspaul served as a modern service-station does. At the height of its popularity, in the early-mid 19th century the inn had a large stabling area, consisting of as many as forty-two stalls for housing coach-horses. Unfortunately, with the construction of the Hawick-Carlisle branch of the Waverley Railway Line in the later 19th century, Mosspaul Inn fell into disuse, and finally into disrepair.
Only in 1900 was the inn somewhat restored, thanks to a private group of local gentlemen, who wished to cater to cycling enthusiasts. (A crowd of two-thousand people, including some five-hundred cyclists, attended the re-opening ceremony in 1900.) Among the new facilities offered were a bowling green and six-hole golf course. Mosspaul Inn has continued to operate as a hotel since, and is now a popular restaurant. Since 1901, and traditionally occurring two weeks before the Common Riding weekend, the Mosspaul Rideout sees daring men and women ride the twenty-four miles out from Hawick, across the same moorland that reivers, monks, and mailmen once traversed, to find a bit of respite at the same spot travellers have frequented for centuries.
The name Mosspaul is probably derived from the boggy ground, with the roots being the old Celtic ‘megestu’ for ‘open land’ and ‘pol’ suggesting ‘boggy hollow’ or ‘upland stream’.
Men of the moss-hags, stern and bold,
Often they rode o’er the hills we love,
Swift were their steeds as through storm and cold
Silent they moved with the moon above.
Those were the days of buckler and spear,
Ready, “Aye ready” their watchword then
Over the moors with never a fear
Of man or beast rode the Border men.
Peace in the Borderland lang has reigned,
Each peel in ruins, each keep o’ergrown,
Rich is the heritage we have gained,
Still we are reaping what they have sown.
- Robert Tait source unknown