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History of Nisbet Rhodes and Cottage

Buildings have stood on this site since at least the C16. The word “rhodes” is derived from Anglo Saxon; “a clearing in a wood on a hill”. A fragment of the ancient wood still exists. The Nisbet family owned this area from the time of Anglian Northumbria (C6 – C11), and lived at Nisbet House. The family fought for King Charles I in the English Civil War, and suffered severely for being on the losing side.

Nisbet Rhodes was rebuilt in 1747 as a Coaching Inn. In about 1800 a visitor to Nisbet House referred to it as “the Little Inn”. The remains of the historic Duns Spa are in the woodland behind the house. Nisbet Rhodes Cottage was built in 2012, out of  the old stable block, as a holiday cottage. Internally it is a comfortable modern house, while some of the external walls, and the walled garden, still stand to retain its charm.

Your hosts ,Carol and Lancelot, are originally from south of the border, but have strong local connections. They settled here recently to be near their grandchildren, and enjoy the many positive aspects of Scottish rural life. Behind the houses they are replanting a small historic wood, with new woodland paths down to the Langton Burn and the Duns Spa. 

Duns Spa Wood, behind the houses, is now managed as a traditional coppice wood, supplying  basketry, fencing, and gardening items. It is also occasionally a host site for first millennium re-enactors and Forest Schools. If you would like a tour, please ask your hosts. Working woodlands have unexpected hazards, and we will be happy to guide and show you what we are doing.

This is Jim Clark Rally country. On one weekend a year the property is near the epicentre of two of the special stages. However during the rest of the year the numerous local paths and byroads are more likely to be disturbed by deer and wildlife. It has gentle slopes for less able walkers and cyclists. For the more adventurous, we look south at the Cheviot Hills, and north at the Lammermuirs.  The Jim Clark Museum in Duns holds many mementos and stories of his life as  the World Champion racing driver, including a Lotus racing simulator (very popular with visitors) and his favourite Cortina.

The Borders region generally has had an eventful history, and many major attractions are close at hand, notably Berwick upon Tweed and Holy Island, many Border reivers’ towers and bastle houses, Scott country, and the many imposing C18 and C19 border mansions. Dunbar and Alnwick Castles are not far away. Duns itself was in the eye of the storm during the Reiving period.  The town motto is: “Duns Dings A’, in memory of the Battle of Duns (or Dunse) in 1377 when the townsfolk routed the Earl of Northumberland and his men by shaking rattles at night around their camp near the town. Natives of Duns are known as Dingers.

There has been a settlement here since the Iron Age. Johannes Duns Scotus, the very eminent C13 Philosopher and Theologian was born here in 1266. A Covenanter army on Duns Law faced down King Charles I who was encamped in Berwick in 1639. No major engagement took place between the two armies, and the parties signed the Pacification of Berwick, which obliged the King to become the Head of the presbyterian Church of Scotland, and not to impose the Church of England prayer book on the Scots. He was very unhappy with this outcome, but his disagreements with the English Parliamentarians overtook such matters. There is an easy walk from the town to Duns Law, where signs of the army defences are still evident.

Robbie Burns spent some time in Duns in 1787, staying with his friend Robert Ainslie. He wrote a number of poems which are connected to people of the town, notably one to Rachel Ainslie, scribbled during the Minister’s sermon. Given his predisposition for strong drink, it would be surprising if he had not called at the Little Inn for refreshment as he passed to and from Coldstream.

Duns also  played  a major part in the Disruption in the C19, which resulted in the creation of the Free Church of Scotland. Nowadays the local churches of all denominations have a much more cordial relationship.

During WWII Duns was host to the First and Second Armoured Regiments of the Polish Army. The town has a memorial to the 127 of those Polish soldiers who were killed. In the town square there is also a memorial to Wojtek (1942 – 63), the Syrian brown bear adopted by the Polish Army. Wojtek (say “Voychek”) acted as a munitions carrier in the Italian campaign, notably at the battle of Monte Cassino. He was demobilised to Edinburgh Zoo after the war. The Duns area still has a notable Polish community, and the town is twinned with the Polish town of Zagan.

As a local footnote, one of our older neighbours informed us that a Polish tank collided with the east end of Nisbet Rhodes during the war.     

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