The Mosstroopers

Mosstroopers is the name given to those who follow the Cornet on the Mosspaul ride-out, from Hawick twenty-four miles across rough and boggy moorland to the hotel at Mosspaul, a tradition began in 1901. Male riders who successfully complete this ride-out receive the Mosstrooper’s badge, and may be considered for initiation into the Mosstrooper’s Club, whose members comprise the Ancient Order of Mosstroopers. During the period 1920-1931 women were also awarded the Mosstrooper’s badge, but no longer.

The term ‘mosstroop’ is synonymous with ‘free-booting’ or ‘reiving’: the habit of 17th century Border families, denounced as outlaws and bandits, of riding the lawless Borderlands (and south into England) in search of plunder to be had and cattle to steal. In a sense, like the Vikings of old or the Pirates of the sea, Reivers (or ‘mosstroopers’ as they came to be called) were acting in the age-old manner of folks belonging only to themselves, existing for a time outside the jurisprudence of church and state.

‘The lonely birds are screaming,
The autumn light is low,
The Border hills are dreaming
Of their battles long ago.
By moor and moss and river,
To the swish of swathed grass,
And burnside reeds aquiver,
The dead mosstroopers pass.

The dim light shows their faces,
So grim and white and wan,
Through well-remembered places
They seek the foe till dawn.
Their lips are set for battle,
Their eyes are fierce and bright,
Their horses bridles rattle
In the silence of the night

The autumn winds are sighing
And moaning where they ride,
They greet the dead and dying
And never one beside.
Where lonely graves are scattered,
And ruined castles stand,
The holy cross is shattered
By the red unchristened hand.

For them no dreamless sleeping,
The earth gives up her dead,
The secrets in her keeping
Flit spectral overhead,
The moonbeams tip their lances,
Their horses stir the grass,
Amid the fairy dances
The dead mosstroopers pass.

The watching shepherds fear them,
They dread the crash of spears,
The lonely cattle hear them
When lost to human ears.
They meet by ground unhallowed,
They part at break of day,
Where never man has followed,
They pass in mist away.’
- The Mosstroopers, by R.S. Craig