The Watchknowe

There are many ‘Watch Knowes’ in the Borders, and doubtlessly around Scotland, the name meaning simply ‘Watch Hill’, and referring to a hill’s former use as the site of a warning beacon or watchtower. Warning beacons were used in warring times (especially so during the 16th century, during which the Borderlands were most fiercely contested) to spread messages of approaching danger from settlement to settlement. A family was typically stationed upon a Watch Knowe, and it was their job to keep watch for the fires of other beacons, that they might then light their own using a barrel of tar kept nearby. The Watchknowe here in quesiton is the name belonging to the highest point of Crumhaughhill, rising just to the southwest of Hawick.

The last time the beacon at Watchknowe on Crumhaughhill was lit was in 1804, and the event has been remembered since as ‘the False Alarm.’ Mistaking the nearby fire of a charcoal burner for a warning beacon, Sergeant Stewart of the Regular Army lit his beacon at Watchknowe, raising the alarm all throughout Teviotdale and Liddesdale. Those who saw it took it as a sign that Napoleon had successfully invaded Britain (the perceived threat of French invasion a constant worry in the early-19th century). Volunteer forces were quickly mustered, and many made the long journey to Hawick in preparation for battle. Of course, Napoleon was not on British soil, and so thankfully the troops were soon dispersed again, without the need for bloodshed. A bonfire was lit near the original Watchknowe site on the centenary and bi-centenary of ‘the False Alarm’ (1904 and 2004, respectively).