Ruberslaw is a giant of the Borders. An unmistakable landmark, and an imposing sight, this conical-peaked mountain – rising to a height of 424m (or 1392ft) – commands a wide and uninterrupted view all around: from the Cheviot Hills to the south and east, the Eildon Hills to the north with the Lammermuir Hills in the distance, and Hawick to the west with the hills of Liddesdale and Selkirkshire beyond it. Long believed to be an extinct volcano, closer examination of ‘the Law’s’ geology has shown that its inception was more nuanced. Though its craggy summit was formed within a volcanic vent (including a small area of volcanic materials caused by eruption), the greater part of the mountain’s shape was the result of ancient river erosion, in a time before the volcanic activity. Pine trees on the north side of Ruberslaw are said to be remnants of the ancient Caledonian forest.
As one would imagine, the strategical advantages (and mystical allure) of such a setting have long attracted the attention of settlers. In fact, the summit of Ruberslaw was probably the site of an early-Iron Age hillfort, represented by the remains of an outer wall, circling the hill, and enclosing an area of seven acres, with a well-defined entrance to the south. In later years, when Roman forces occupied the borderlands, a Roman signal station replaced the fort – indisputable evidence of this exists in the presence of Roman-dressed sandstone at the summit, carved with diamond shapes: the same as those found at the site of Castlecary on the Antonine Wall. Furthermore, in 1863, a workman digging field-drains on the south-eastern slopes uncovered a hoard of bronze vessels of Roman age, which are now housed in Hawick Museum.
After the retreat of the Romans from Britain, their signal station was dismantled, and the mountain’s summit repurposed once again; this time as the site of a Dark Age ‘nuclear’ fortification. The Dark Age residents of Ruberslaw reused the Roman stone to build a citadel at the summit (about 72m by 32m), defended by a wall, with an entrance on the north-east side and an annex to the south. During the reiving years of the 16th century, Ruberslaw would undoubtedly have served as a guiding landmark and meeting point. When, in the late-17th century rebellious Presbyterian ministers were ejected from the Church, forming the outlawed Covenanters, Ruberslaw (and nearby Denholm Dean) served as the location of secret sermons, delivered to conventicles of locals loyal to the Covenanting cause. Covenanter Alexander Peden was said to have preached from a chasm in the cliffs of the summit, now known as Peden’s Pulpit. The Hagburn, a deep wooded glen on Ruberslaw’s western slopes, served a similar purpose.
This gaunt, yet starkly beautiful monolith of the Borders has long been the subject of poetic musings, especially those of John Leyden, who in boyhood spent countless hours exploring the solitude of the mountain’s slopes.