Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for Habbie's Howe

Habbie's Howe, the scene of Allan Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd. This has been contended by many persons to be a spot in Penicuik parish near the head of Logan or Glencorse Burn, 10½ miles S by W of Edinburgh and 4 WNW of Penicuik town. Towards the upper part of a glen, a streamlet falls, from between two stunted birches, over a precipitous rock, 20 feet in height, and inaccessible on either side of the linn; beneath, the water spreads into a little pool or basin. So far the scenery answers exactly to the description

Between twa birks, out o'er a little linn,
The water fa's, and maks a singan din;
A pool breast-deep. beneath as clear as glass,
Kisses, with easy whirls, the bord'ring grass.

But though there may be one or two other coincidences close enough to satisfy an easy critic, the Habbie's Howe of Glencorse is far from being a place like the Habbie's Howe of the pastoral

Where a' the sweets o' spring an' summer grow.

The spot is bare, surrounded with marshes, and it has hardly a bush or a shrub, except a solitary stunted thorn or rowan-tree, projecting from a fissure as if dropped from a rock by chance; it is adorned with not a flower or patch of lively verdure, but only, where the soil is dry, with a few tufts of whins; and it seems never to have claimed connection with Ramsay, and probably never met the gaze of his eye, or was mentioned in his hearing. Tytler, the celebrated antiquary, the restorer of Ramsay's fame, and the proprietor of Woodhouselee in Glencorse parish, had no difficulty in identifying all the scenery of the Gentle Shepherd with the exquisite landscape in and around the demesne of Newhall, lying near the head of the North Esk, partly within the parish of Penicuik in Midlothian, and partly within that of Linton in Peeblesshire, 4½ miles WSW of Penicuik town. 'While I passed my infancy at Newhall,' says he in his edition of King James's Poems,'near Pentland Hills, where the scenes of this pastoral poem were laid, the seat of Mr Forbes, and the resort of many of the literati at that time, I well remember to have heard Ramsay recite as his own production different scenes of the Gentle Shepherd, particularly the two first, before it was printed.' Between the house and the little haugh, where the Esk and the rivulet from the Harbour Craig meet, are some romantic grey crags at the side of the water, looking up a turn in the glen, and directly fronting the south. Their crevices are filled with birches, shrubs, and copsewood; the clear stream purls its way past, within a few yards, before it runs directly under them; and, projecting beyond their bases, they give complete bield to whatever is beneath, and form the most inviting retreat imaginable-

Beneath the south side of a craggy bield.
Where crystal springs the halesome water yield.

Farther up, the glen widens, immediately behind the house, into a considerable green or holm, with the brawling burn, now more quiet, winding among pebbles in short turns through it. At the head of this `howm,' on the edge of the stream, with an aged thorn behind them, are the ruins of an old washing-house; and the place was so well-calculated for the use it had formerly been applied to, that another more convenient one was afterwards built on the same site, and is still to be seen-

A flowery howm between twa verdant braes.
where lasses use to wash and spread their claes;
A trotting burnie wimpling through the ground;
Its channel-pebbles shinning smooth and round.

Still higher up, agreeable to the description in the dialogue of the second scene, the hollow beyond Mary's Bower, where the Esk divides it in the middle, and forms a linn or leap, is named the Howe Burn; a small enclosure above is called the Braehead Park; and the hollow below the cascade, with its bathing-pool and little green, its birches, wild shrubs, and variety of nature; flowers in summer, its rocks and the whole of its romantic and rural scenery, coincides exactly with the description of Habbie's Howe. Farther up still, the grounds beyond the Howe Burn, to the westward, called Carlops-a contraction for Carline's Loup-were supposed once to have been the residence of a carline or witch, who lived in a dell at the foot of the Carlops Hill, near a pass between two conical rocks, from the opposite points of which she was often observed at night bounding and frisking on her broom across the entrance. Not far from this, on a height to the E, stood a very ancient half-withered solitary ash-tree, near the old mansion-house of Carlops, overhanging a well, with not another of thirty years' standing in sight of it; and from the open grounds to the S, both it and the glen, with the village and some decayed cottages in it and the Carline's Loup at its mouth, are seen. Ramsay may not have observed or referred to this tree; but it is a curious circumstance that it should be there, and so situated as to complete the resemblance to the scene, which seems to have been taken from the place-

The open field;-a cottage in a glen, -
an auld wife spinning at the sunny end;-
at a small distance, by a blasted tree.
With faulded arms. and half-raised look ye see,
Bauldy his lane.

See also Eckford; and the editions of Allan Ramsay's Poems by George Chalmers and Lord Woodhouselee (Edinb. 1848), and by Alex. Gardner (Paisley, 1877).

(F.H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-4); © 2004 Gazetteer for Scotland)

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "the scene of Allan Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd."
Administrative units: Penicuik ScoP       Midlothian ScoCnty

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