Scots Dike

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Part off the western section of the Scots Dike

The Scots Dike, or Scots' Dike (or 'dyke') is an earthwork three and a half miles long, running between the rivers Sark and Esk, from NY33077367 to NY38727319. It is linear earthwork thrown up in the sixteenth century to mark the division of the Debatable Lands and thereby settle the exact boundary between the then Kingdoms of Scotland and England and consequently today it marks the boundary between Cumberland and Dumfriesshire.

The work was carried out in 1552 during the reigns of two child-sovereigns and cousins; Edward VI of England and Mary Queen of Scots,[1] and marked in physical form the border line settled in an arbitration between the two sides.

The earthwork gives its name to the village of Scotsdike, which straddles the boundary at the eastern end of the dike.


In the Middle Ages and until the early Tudor Period, the border between the kingdoms of England and Scotland in the west was not settled; it was agreed that the border ran along the course of the Esk and Liddel from Gretna to Kershopefoot, but it was disputed whether it reached the sea at the River Sark or the Esk, and if the Sark then between the Esk and the Sark lay an uncertain tract.

The borderlands were lawless: along the whole length of the borderlands, reivers raided across the border ceaselessly from both sides, their cattle raids, murder and ancient blood feuds blotting ths land for centuries, and nowhere more so than the Debatable Lands, where neither kingdom's wardens exercised any authority. Liddesdale in the Debateable Lands was the most notorious tract. While in much of the border there was at least some nominal authority that hanged the worst offenders if ever they caught them, in the Debateable Lands neither kingdom governed.

The families of these lands ruled by force largely without interference from the Crown's wardens and between Esk and Liddesdale the Grahams, Armstrongs, Elliots and Bells were so powerful the Wardens of the March largely left them alone and, owning no allegiance to either kingdom, the families raided freely both sides.

Gilnockie Tower near Canonbie

Eventually the intolerable lawlessness brought both kingdoms' Wardens of the Western March to demand that the Debatable Land be eradicated and so in 1552 the French ambassador was appointed to finalise the Border line, together commissioners from each kingdom. They agreed a compromise demarcation line suggested by the French Ambassador, and issued a final declaration that the borderline would run from the Sark to a point on Esk, opposite the house of Fergus Greme; a cross pattee at each end and styled 'this is the least and fynal lyne of the particion concluded xxiiij Septembris 1552.' [2] and between them lay territory claimed for both kingdoms, known as the Debatable Lands, also known as "Debatable ground" or "Batable ground". These lands lay between the River Sark, to the east by the River Esk and Liddel Water, on the north by the Bruntshiell Moor and Tarras Moss, and on the south by the estuary of the Esk; an area was about ten miles from north to south and three and a half from east to west at its widest part.[3] Canonbie, now a polite village, was the main population centre within the debatable lands.

The Debateable Lands were finally divided between the English and Scottish Crowns by an agreement arbitrated by the French Ambassador, in which a straight line was drawn between the Esk and the Sark at an agreed point. A physical border in the form of an earthwork was to be constructed on the agreed line. The great earthen bank was duly dug and came to be known as the "Scots' Dike" or the "March Dike". In latter years it has become the Scotsdike plantation.

The terminal points of the dike were to be marked by square stones bearing the royal arms of England and Scotland, however if these markers were ever erected, they have long since disappeared. Spaced along the centre of the bank are a number of small unmarked boundary stones of uncertain date, some of which have fallen.

Construction of the Dike

The method adopted to dig the Scots Dike was to dig two parallel ditches, and throw the material excavated therefrom into the intervening space, thus forming an earthen mound of varying height. There is no evidence that stone was used. East of Crawsknow farm, the Dike appears originally to have been about 12 feet broad and 3 or 4 feet high, however it is variable and at one point the Dike takes the form of a narrow strip and then becomes a double ditch with a space of about 30 feet separating them. There is little evidence that the dike has ever been used as a footpath. It may be that two teams built the dike, possibly one from each kingdom, with one starting from the west and another from the east. When the teams came close enough to each other they seem to have been about 21 feet out of their bearings and a correction in the line of the Dike became necessary.[1]

Terminal stones

A Cross pattee

The various sources state that the terminal stones were square stones bearing the royal arms of England and Scotland,[2][4] however the Commissioners stated that .....a cross pattee at each end and styled 'this is the least and fynal lyne of the particion concluded xxiiij Septembris 1552.' [2] It is not known whether these were ever actually made for installation at the dike's terminal points. What fate befell the stones that were made is not recorded. The 19th-century OS maps mark a number of boundary stones which are very unlikely to be contemporary with the terminal stones.

Name of the dike

Mercator's 'Scotiae Regnum' of 1595 shows the Scots' Dike but does not name it.[5] Robert Gordon's manuscript map of 1636-52 clearly marks the dike but does not name it or indicate any farms etc. associated with it.[6] Blaeu's Atlas of Scotland (1654) refers to the Dike as the 'March (dyik) Dike' and indicates a dwelling named 'March-dike (dyik)-foot'.[7] Herman Moll's (died 1732) map gives the name 'March dyck', however he does not show the 'March Dike' as being the borderline.[8]

General Roy's Military Survey of Scotland undertaken from 1747-1752, clearly marks the 'Scots Dyke' by that name for the first time, shown as a set of parallel lines running from the Sark to the Esk.[9]

The name 'Scots Dike' was in use by Roy's time, that is the mid 18th-century, but previously 'March Dike' seems to have been favoured.

Scots Dike in the 20th century

On the Scots Dike


Since at least 1862 the majority of the length of the Scots' Dike has been planted with woodland. Before the First World War, the section within the Scotsdike Plantation was largely intact, however tree felling operations, such as the laying down of temporary railway lines on top of the Dike and the hauling of cut tree trunks, caused considerable damage or even complete destruction in places. The period between 1916 and 1926 seems to have been the worst, despite complaints having been lodged regarding the wholesale destruction of a national monument.[10]

Visual remains

The dike is only traceable within the Scots Dike Plantation, consisting of a bank, with slight ditches on either side, which varies in width from 19 feet at the west end to 11 feet at the east end, standing to a maximum height of 2.6 feet.[11] The E and W ends cannot be traced, and in places the ditches have silted up while elsewhere they have been re-cut.

In June 1999 English Heritage field investigators visited as part of a national survey pilot project. They describe the monument as lying at the centre of a belt of woodland, comprising spruce plantation to the north of the dike and deciduous woodland to its south. Parts of the plantation had been felled recently, but the dense vegetation rendered detailed survey impossible and investigation was limited to surface examination of the dike. The remains of the linear earthwork, between NY33467396 and NY38507325, consisted mainly of flat-topped bank flanked by a ditch on either side. The form and preservation of these features varied considerably along the length of the dike and it was concluded that little of the monument survived in its original form, however its course is preserved in later boundaries and drainage ditches.[4]

Long sections of the ditches, especially the northern ditch, have been re-cut to provide drainage for the conifer plantation, although in places the modern drainage appears to have been cut through the centre of the dike. Elsewhere, for example at 0.0 s (0.0 s), the feature have been almost plough-levelled, the ditches having disappeared and the bank surviving as little more than a rise in the ground. Between 0.0 s (0.0 s) and 0.0 s (0.0 s), where the Glenzier Beck crosses the course of the dike, there are no traces of the earthwork; whether it has simply not survived or whether the dyke was ever constructed across the slack was not apparent. At a number of points along the length of the dike - most notably at approximately NY34457390 and NY36357355 - there is a disjointure in the earthwork which is suggestive of a shift in the line, perhaps due to later land use. At the extreme western end of the dike, between approximately NY33467396 and NY33907392, a second, much slighter bank and ditch lies to the south of the main earthwork but may be nothing more than later drainage. The course of the dike between the western end of Scotsdike Plantation and the River Sark could not be traced on the ground but it was thought that it followed the extant field boundary to the south of Craw's Knowe farm.[4]


The site is marked as an ancient monument on some tourist maps. 'Solway Heritage' unveiled a new access point to the dike in 1999.No interpretation or formal access to the dike itself exists at present (2006). The easiest point of informal access is by way of the minor road at the Sark end of the dike.

Conservation status

The Scot's Dike is recorded as an ancient monument in the laws prevailing on each side of the line it draws, recorded as such in the English National Archaeological Record as ancient monument NY37SE 14, and likewise by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland as NMRS number: NY37SE 6.

Outside links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Mack, James Logan (1926). The Border Line. Pub. Oliver & Boyd. P. 94.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Mack, James Logan (1926). The Border Line. Pub. Oliver & Boyd. P. 89.
  3. Mack, James Logan (1926). The Border Line. Pub. Oliver & Boyd. P. 85.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Information on 'Canmore' relating to the Scots dike
  5. Mercator's map of Scotland
  6. Robert Gordon's map
  7. Blaeu's Map and the March Dike.
  8. Moll's map.
  9. General Roy's Military Survey of Scotland
  10. Mack, James Logan (1926). The Border Line. Pub. Oliver & Boyd. P. 97.
  11. Barber, John (1999).The Linear Earthworks of Southern Scotland; survey and classification. Trans. Dumfriesshire & Galloway Nat. Hist. Soc. LXXIII. ISSN 0141-1292. P. 78.


  • 1. Graham, T H B (1912) The Debatable Land, Trans. Cumberland Westmorland Antiq Archaeol Soc, New, 12, 1911-12, P. 47 - 48,
  • 2. Mack, J L (1923) The Old Scots Dike: its construction, A.D. 1552, and its destruction, 1917-1920, Trans. Hawick Archaeol Soc, 1923, P. 3 - 5.
  • 3. RCAHMS (1920) The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland. Seventh report with inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Dumfries. Edinburgh, xviii-xix, 30, no. 48.
  • 4. RCAHMS (1981 a) The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The archaeological sites and monuments of Ewesdale and Lower Eskdale, Annandale and Eskdale District, Dumfries and Galloway Region. The archaeological sites and monuments of Scotland series no 13, Edinburgh, 16, no. 76.
  • 5. RCAHMS (1997 a). Eastern Dumfriesshire: an archaeological landscape, Edinburgh, 47, P. 327, no. 1940.