Thursday, 9 October 2014

Take a Walk in the Footsteps of the Justified Sinner (Part 1)

Take a Walk in the Footsteps of the Justified Sinner

A travel guide to accompany James Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

Alasdair Thanisch [1], Chloe Wrighton and Peter Thanisch [2]      


The title of James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, is a bit of a mouthful, so we abbreviate it to ‘Justified Sinner’ (see the section "What's a Justified Sinner" below if you’re not sure about this). This document is a travel guide for Justified Sinner. You can enjoy Justified Sinner without us imposing imagery on you, but if you’re interested in the landscapes and cityscapes in which Hogg located the events in the novel, or if you want to see what they look like today, but especially if you want to explore them yourself, then read on.

To help you plan walks and visits to the locations mentioned in the novel, we provide you with maps, photos, directions, hiking routes and suggestions on where to park, stay, eat, drink, etc. Occasionally, we throw in an old print to give you an idea of what a place looked like at the time of the Justified Sinner, i.e. the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Many of the places mentioned in the novel are well worth a visit and although some are off the beaten track, for most, the track is tolerably well-beaten.  So regardless of your level of fitness, we urge you to take a walk in the footsteps of the Justified Sinner– though if you murder anyone it won’t be us justifying you (again, see "What's a Justified Sinner" below).



We are grateful for assistance from Marguerite Nesling of the University of Stirling, Iain MacNair (the Archivist for St Mungo’s Cathedral, Glasgow), Joanna Sworn of Toronto and Eystein Thanisch of the University of Edinburgh. However, full responsibility for factual errors, bad grammar, poor taste and pathetic attempts at humour must be taken by my co-authors. So if you want to complain about them, or alternatively, if you want to say something nice about me, my email address is


If You Haven’t Read the Novel and Don’t Want To

If you do not want to read Justified Sinner, but you want to know a bit about the plot, etc., take a quick look at the book’s Wikipedia page: Justified_Sinner from which you will see that the book means different things to different people. Apparently Justified Sinner is gothic, romantic, allegorical (in at least three different ways), autobiographical, post-modern, satirical, psychological, and a work of crime fiction, etc. Surely at least one of those genres must appeal to you unless, of course, you’re a complete bloody philistine. So stop trying to be awkward and take a look at the next section.


In Case You Haven’t Read the Novel and You Might Consider Giving It a Try

There are several editions of Justified Sinner currently in print and it does not really matter which one you get.  If you want a recommendation then the edition with the most background information is as follows:

James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, ed. Peter Garside (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002). ISBN: 9780748663156.

When we quote from Justified Sinner and give a page number, this is the edition to which we refer.  The novel is quite short (175 pages in the above edition), so if you use some other edition, you should be able to figure out the page from which the quotation is taken without too much trouble. You can get electronic versions of the text free from a number of sources on the Web, including one from Project Gutenberg:

Of course, you can also buy an electronic version from that well-known company, one of those charmed group of US corporations doing business in the UK that the UK government regards as “too big to tax”.

As a novel, Justified Sinner polarizes readers. Of the folk we know who have at least made an attempt (no matter how pathetic and half-hearted) to read Justified Sinner, slightly less than half love it and slightly more than half hate it. The ones who hate it often abandon the book quite early on and their complaints are depressingly similar to the ludicrous criticisms trotted out by the book’s reviewers following the publication of the novel in 1824. So if you do give it a try, PLEASE persevere [3].

The novel is, however, very popular amongst modern English literature students, but don’t let that put you off. It’s not all just food for rambles about post-structuralism and psychoanalysis. There’s certainly lots of that there but it’s also a novel in which lots of stuff happens. Some of it even happened in real life (more of that later), which is part of the reason people wax postmodernist about it. Whatever your opinion of it, though, it’s certainly a very rich text.

What’s a Justified Sinner?

In the novel, the main character, Robert, describes himself as a justified sinner. What does justified” mean?

Nowadays, justified usually means that a thought or an action is morally OK. (“I was justified in hitting him because he gave me a funny look.”)  In days gone by, justified referred to a person who had been “made right with God”.  

How do you know if you are one of the justified?

In general, this is tricky, but in Robert’s case it was simple: his minister (Rev. Wringhim) told him.

So how did his minister know?

Rev. Wringhim says that he was told by God that Robert is one of the justified. So there. 

But if Robert thinks he is one of the justified, how can he also think of himself as being a sinner?

The justified can go off the rails, just like anyone else. But the difference is that their faith will cause them to confess and repent, putting them back on track, spiritually speaking.

What if they don’t confess?

Then they were kidding themselves: they were never really justified in the first place.


A Bit about Structure and Time in Justified Sinner

It is not our purpose to promote a particular interpretation of Justified Sinner [4], but we do need to give a bit of background. It is not just the text itself that makes Justified Sinner a challenging novel. The structure of the novel is also a bit tricky. Indeed, our remarks about Justified Sinner will make little sense unless you know something about that structure, so here we go.

In the world of the novel, in 1823 a group of people dig up a grave, which is believed to be that of someone who committed suicide in 1712. In the grave, they find a document comprising a printed pamphlet and a hand-written journal. Both the pamphlet and the journal appear to be written by one Robert Wringhim and there is a presumption that it is his grave. One member of the grave-robbing group takes on the task of restoring the two documents and then does some research on the events described therein. That character is not given a name by James Hogg, but is referred to as “The Editor”. Hogg published his novel anonymously, making it appear to be the work of “The Editor”.  So James Hogg’s novel purports to be the end-product of The Editor’s researches, including what is supposed to be the full text of Robert’s pamphlet and journal. So we shall find it useful to think of the novel as having four distinct parts.

Table 1. Justified Sinner in its Fourfold State
I. The Editor’s Narrative
This is the Editor’s narrative account of what he has discovered about the life of Robert Wringhim, the author of the document that was retrieved from the grave.
pp. 3-64
II. Robert’s Printed Pamphlet
This is Robert’s autobiography, describing his life up until the pamphlet was printed in July 1712.
pp. 65-153
III. Robert’s Handwritten Journal
This is Robert’s account of himself after the pamphlet is printed.
pp. 153-65
IV.  The Editor’s Postscript
This describes how the Editor travelled to the grave and discovered Robert’s document and also what he discovers from his guide concerning the circumstances of Robert’s death
pp. 165-75

What about Time?

It is clear that Hogg’s intention was to correlate (in a very loose sense of that word) events in the novel with events in Scottish history. There are many indications that Hogg also wants the reader to regard the different components of the novel as products of their age: in terms of style, Hogg wrote Robert’s Printed Pamphlet in the style of the early eighteenth century, whereas Hogg wrote the Editor’s Narrative and Editor’s Postscript in a contemporary style. There’s a similar sense of shifting paradigms as you find in the novels of Walter Scott, only Hogg’s two first-person accounts arguably intensifies it. The two voices are subjective, restricted by their own prejudices and by the cultural assumptions of their respective ages.

Unfortunately this means, wonderful as the structure is, that Hogg is deliberately dodgy on matters chronological. Bearing this in mind we’ve provided a timeline on the next page. Perusing our timeline, you may well be asking why we mention the executions of Thomas Aikenhead and “Janet Horne”. Well, they were, respectively, the last person in Scotland to be executed for blasphemy and the last person in Scotland to be executed for witchcraft. The point we are attempting to make is that the period during which the novel is set was a violent one and Hogg assumed his readers would be aware of this, so we need to ensure that you are aware too.

Although Robert is described as a “fanatic”, back in those days, Scotland was “institutionally fanatic”. When Thomas Aikenhead was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death, Aikenhead petitioned Scotland’s Privy Council [5]. The Privy Council ruled that they would not grant a reprieve unless the Church of Scotland interceded on his behalf. The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, sitting in Edinburgh at the time, did not intercede. On the contrary, they urged "vigorous execution" to curb "the abounding of impiety and profanity in this land" and Aikenhead was executed.  Note the language that the Church of Scotland used. If you have already read Hogg’s novel, you might notice that the style and tone of Robert Wringhim is very similar to that of the General Assembly’s missive. Some present-day commentators describe the language of Robert and his minister, Rev. Wringhim, as “biblical”. This is misleading: In his novel, Hogg wrote their utterances in the style that was common for churchmen in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Here is our timeline.

                Figure 1. Timeline associated with Justified Sinner


When Justified Sinner was published in 1824, the critics were merciless and the novel was ignored for a 100 years. In 1924, the French author André Gide read Justified Sinner, liked it and eventually wrote an introduction for a new edition of the novel published in 1947 (coincidentally, the year Gide received the Nobel Prize for Literature). So in the novel the manuscript was buried for a century and in the real world, the novel itself was forgotten for about a century. Finally, and most importantly of all, in 2014 your present authors committed fingers to keyboards to create Take a Walk in the Footsteps of the Justified Sinner. This makes us very confident that sometime next century, someone might actually read this document.


The Editor’s Postscript: A Journey from Edinburgh to Ettrick

Just to confuse you, we are going to start our travel guide at the end of the novel, i.e. the fourth section listed in Table 1, which we call the Editor’s Postscript.  In our edition of Justified Sinner, this is on pages 165-75. In this section, the Editor describes how he read about a suicide’s grave, located on a hilltop in the Scottish Borders, that contained a perfectly preserved corpse and how he set off to investigate it. 

Justified Sinner was published anonymously: Hogg gives the impression that an anonymous Editor is the author. This was all part of a cunning plan that must make present-day post-modernist authors green with envy. In August, 1823, the year before the publication of Justified Sinner, Hogg stirred up interest in the subject matter of the book by publishing a long letter (three full pages, double-column) in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (at the time a hugely influential publication with an impressive circulation and a global reach) that described how a suicide’s grave had been dug up. Hogg then uses his own letter in his novel to provide the basis for its “frame story”: the Editor reads James Hogg’s letter in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and determines to visit the suicide’s grave, where he discovers Robert’s Manuscript.  The Editor quotes large chunks of Hogg’s letter in the novel. Here is a very small part of James Hogg’s letter that also appears in the novel:

On the top of a wild height called Cowan’s-Croft, where the lands of three proprietors meet all at one point, there has been for long and many years the grave of a suicide marked out by a stone standing at the head and another at the feet. Often have I stood musing over it myself, when a shepherd on one of the farms, of which it formed the extreme boundary, and thinking what could induce a young man, who had scarcely reached the prime of life, to brave his Maker, and rush into His presence by an act of his own erring hand.
(Justified Sinner, pp. 165–66)

Figure 2 ‘a wild height called Cowan’s-Croft’: the view to the South-West from Cowan’s Croft [6]

Why would the Editor have taken it into his head to spend several days travelling to Ettrick in order to inspect a suicide’s grave? Well, at the time, the reading public was greatly excited by this sort of thing. Napoleon had brought mummies back from Egypt, Frankenstein had been published in 1818 and the idea of digging up dead bodies, physical resurrection, etc. was all the rage. So when the Editor takes an interest in the grave, he is simply following the fashion of the day.

To reinforce the idea that James Hogg really did write the letter to the magazine, Figure 3 shows the contents page of the August 1823 issue of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. (Actually, it was digitized by another of those US corporations that the UK government regards as too large to tax.) You can find the full text of the letter, in electronic form, from the same source.

Figure 3. Contents page of Blackwood's Magazine. It was digitized by a company whose name appears in the bottom right-hand corner and which is regarded by the UK government as too big to tax.

In the novel, the Editor travels from Edinburgh to Ettrick with a companion who has some local knowledge. The companion tells the Editor that they are likely to meet James Hogg at a sheep sale near Ettrick. So for our first trip, let us follow the Editor from Edinburgh to Ettrick. The Editor tells us that they “rode through the ancient royal burgh of Selkirk” (p. 170).  These days, driving from Edinburgh to Ettrick via Selkirk is a bit of a dog’s leg, but maybe in 1823 the state of the roads and tracks for riding might have made this the sensible route. Travelling from Edinburgh to Selkirk by car is very easy: just go south along the A7 road. The journey, which is less than 50 miles, takes less than an hour.

If you happen to be a Walter Scott fan, you are in for a treat because just before you get to Selkirk, the A7 goes very near to Scott’s country des res, Abbotsford. Abbotsford was completed in 1824, so work may have been underway when the Editor was supposed to have passed by in 1823. If you’re not a Walter Scott fan, drive straight past the Abbotsford turning with a feeling of smug superiority that Justified Sinner is considered by some to be a kind of spoof on Scott’s style of historical fiction: in Scott’s novels, the narrator is all-knowing, whereas in Justified Sinner, the Editor is incompetent, out of his depth and morally suspect.

When the Editor and his pals reached the centre of Selkirk, one of the prominent buildings they would have noticed would be the courthouse at which Walter Scott was sheriff [7]. You can park in the small square just outside the courthouse. See Figure 4

Figure 4 Scott’s Sheriff Court in Selkirk, with a statue of Sir Walter. (Right-hand side: the plaque beside the door to the old courthouse.)

Of course, you must eat a Selkirk bannock when you are in Selkirk and there is indeed a shop which sells them bang next door to the courthouse (well almost bang). Before you tuck-in, you might even consider reciting Robert Burns’ Selkirk Grace (hey let’s not spare the clichés):

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

We would like to reassure our veggy readers that (a) Burns wasn’t particularly referring to bannocks and (b) he meant “meat” in a broad sense. So you have little to fear from a run-of-the-mill bannock.‘Bannock’ is basically an old Scots word for bread – for some reason the people of Selkirk managed to cash in on it more than anywhere else. Their bannocks are, though, very nice and are distinctive for having raisins in them – and they are very nice toasted with lots of butter. There are many other traditional kinds of bannock that are worth looking into, as well as various associated traditions usually involving saints, fairies and dead people. So if you are of a mystic bent, then bannocks are a bit of a must. If you are still hungry after your bannock, the Selkirk Deli on the other side of the high street does very good food for eating in or taking away.

To continue along the Editor’s likely route, take the A707 road out of Selkirk for a short distance and you must make a choice: stay on the A707 or turn left onto the B7009, also called Ettrick Road. This road goes along the south bank of Ettrick Water. The A707 crosses the Ettrick Water river and if you turn left onto the A708, you will pass the site of the Battle of Philiphaugh (1645), where the Covenanters defeated the Marquis of Montrose’s Royalist army. Having killed the royalist soldiers who had surrendered on the strength of a promise that they would not be killed, the Covenanters then murdered about 300 camp followers (mainly women and children) [8]. So do take a detour to the north side of Ettrick Water there if that sort of thing turns you on. James Hogg’s Tales of the Wars of Montrose includes the story Wat Pringle o’ the Yair , in which the Wat Pringle of the title is a farmer near Philiphaugh at the time of the battle.

However, the less ghoulish among you, who have stuck steadfastly to the B7009 on the south bank of Ettrick Water, are about to be rewarded with a special treat, especially if you are James Hogg fans, because the B7009 goes past Aikwood Tower, which is the setting for one of the trippier passages of Hogg’s novel The Three Perils of Man. In the novel, Aikwood Tower is the home of a warlock, Michael Scott. It is possible to rent accommodation at Aikwood Tower, but be warned: it ain’t cheap [9].  

Michael Scott deserves a special mention because he is the only Scottish person to get a mention in Dante’s Inferno [10]. He actually enjoyed a pretty good rep as a scholar in both Christian and Muslim parts of Medieval Europe and was even chummy with the Pope, but Dante still had it in for him. We have not managed to figure out what evidence there is to support the idea that the Michael Scot(t) of  Inferno is the Michael Scott who lived in Aikwood Tower. Maybe a reader could enlighten us on that one?

The Editor does not mention Aikwood Tower, though. The first stopping-off point after Selkirk is described thus-wise:

We […] halted and corned our horses at a romantic village, nigh on some deep linns on the Ettrick […].   
(p. 170).

The Historical and Geographic Note which follows (p. 208) but it doesn’t explain why. So taking them at their word, here is a photo of Ettrick Water from the bridge as you enter Ettrickbridge from Selkirk. Maybe if the Ettrick Water had been in fuller spate, it would have passed muster as a ‘deep linn’.

Figure 5. Ettrick Water from the bridge in Ettrickbridge. We’re sorry it was not very linn-like when we took this photo – but it’s still reasonably romantic, right?

We have no idea where the horses were corned, but if you feel the need to be corned (now regretting that you passed on the chance to eat a second bannock) then you are in luck. The Cross Keys in Ettrickbridge is well worth a visit (which is just as well as there is nowhere else in Ettrickbridge). They also do accommodation.

Figure 6. The Cross Keys in Ettrickbridge


After the Editor and his pals left Ettrickbridge, the next stop which is mentioned is a sheep sale at Thirlestanehope [11] Farm in Ettrick. We talked to people in the area and we were pleased to discover that even today, the various sheep farms in the area, including Thirlestanehope, take it in turns to host sheep sales.

The Editor and his companions go to the sheep sale to find a local shepherd to guide them to the suicide’s grave. At this particular sheep sale, all of the shepherds were post-modernists.  One of the shepherds they bump into is none other than James Hogg (how ‘meta’ is that?). Yes, James ‘The Ettrick Shepherd’ Hogg wrote himself a cameo role, as a shepherd, in the novel (remember, it was published anonymously). In that cameo role, Hogg tells The Editor and his companions that he is too busy to guide them, post-modernistically distancing himself from his own plot. Eventually, they persuade another shepherd to take them to the site of the grave. As we shall see, this shepherd proved himself to be yet another post-modernist.


How to get there

Cowan’s Croft and Fall Law are on Ordnance Survey Landranger Map 79 (scale 1:50,000). The Ordnance Survey Grid Reference is: NT 251 192 GB Grid. See Map 1 and Map 2 for details. If you travel there by car, it is a bit less than two hours from either Glasgow or Edinburgh. It might take a bit longer if you travel via Selkirk, especially if you linger over your bannocks.

Map 1. Route from the east to Fall Law and Cowan’s Croft. Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service, with kind permission of Ordnance Survey


Wardlaw to Cowan’s Croft/Fall Law

We describe how to get to Cowan’s Croft and Fall Law from Wardlaw. In Map 1, Wardlaw is just by the B709 road, i.e. the brown-coloured road in the bottom right-hand corner of the map.  This is likely to be close to the route that Hogg had in mind for The Editor and his party.  They started off from a sheep fair at Thrilestanehope farm.  Thirlestanehope is marked on the map in Map 1.

This walk assumes that you approach the hills from the east. The Tushielaw Inn (frequented by James Hogg) is about a mile from where the path leaves the B709 road.  The footpath that takes you to the foot of Cowan’s Croft and Fall Law is signposted as ‘Captain’s Road’. The minor road marked in the bottom right-hand corner of the map (B709) is too narrow to park in, so you will have to look carefully for a parking place that does not inconvenience local people. If you are staying at the Tushielaw Inn, you can leave the car there and walk along the B709 road. There is not much traffic.

Just after you start the walk along Captain’s Road, you will walk past a small area of woodland.  Please note that just after the woodland, the public footpath is off to the left through a gate. (The other way leads in to the Thirlestanehope farmyard: it is not a public footpath, so please make sure that you avoid it.)

The Editor tells us:

We went into  shepherd’s cot to get a drink of milk, when I read out to our guide Mr. Hogg’s description […]  (p. 170)

A possible location for this milk drinking is Sheperdscleuch, marked on Map 1 half way between Thirlestanehope Farm and Cowan’s Croft.  In his reply to The Editor, the shepherd proves himself to be another post-modernist, undermining Hogg’s authorial authority by telling the visitors that James Hogg’s letter in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine is wrong: the grave is not on Cowan’s Croft, but on Fall Law, just to the North-West of Cowan’s Croft. The shepherd guiding The Editor and his companions gives a different version of events from the account in Hogg’s letter:

the Eltrive men, with Mr. David Anderson at their head, had risen before day on the Monday morning, it having been on the Sabbath day that the man put down himself; and that they set out with the intention of burying him on Cowan’s-Croft, where the three marches met at a point. But, it having been an invariable rule to bury such lost sinners before the rising of the sun, these five men were overtaken by day-light, as they passed the house of Berry-Knowe; and, by the time they reached the top of the Faw-Law, the sun was beginning to skair the east. On this they laid down the body, and digged a deep grave with all expedition; […]. (Justified Sinner, p. 171)

Hogg cleverly sows the seeds of doubt. Were there supposed to be two different suicides’ graves, one on Cowan’s Croft and the other on Faw Law? Incidentally, on maps these days, the name of the hill is ‘Fall Law’, rather than ‘Faw-Law’.  Maybe the Editor wrote the name down as it sounded. And what about that name ‘Cowan’? It is a surname in Scotland, but it is also a Scots word of some antiquity. It originally meant someone who passed themselves off as a master mason without having served an apprenticeship, but it took on an analogous meaning in freemasonry: one who surreptitiously attempts to enter a masonic lodge.

Anyway, let us resume our hike. The Captain’s Road path becomes indistinct in places, but you can always see where the path continues. Just keep going along the path until you come to the gate at the edge of the woodland. Here you have a choice.

(1) Go through the gate and continue along Captain’s Road if you want to go to Fall Law. (We describe this part of the hike in detail below.)

(2) Turn left and walk up the slope to Cowan’s Croft. Just keep walking up the slope parallel to the edge of the forestry plantation, which will be on your right. See Map 1.

(3) Turn right and go up the slope, keeping the forestry plantation on your left, until you get to a cairn. This route takes you along the edge of the plantation that you can see in Figure 7. This hill give you a better view to the east than you will get on Fall Law. See Figure 8.

Although the top of Fall Law is clear of trees, the conifers on the slopes grow above the peak and thus dominate the horizon. That makes it tricky to get a good shot of the sunrise from the top of Fall Law. So we cheated a bit and got our sunrise shot just east of Fall Law.

If you want to be on one of these hills at sunrise, you will probably want to stay in the vicinity. There are a few options, but in particular, you could consider Tibbie Shiells Inn ( on the A708 to the West of Fall Law or the Tussielaw Inn ( to the East of Cowan’s Croft.

There is a public footpath called Captain’s Road that runs roughly East-West and goes over the saddle point between Cowan’s Croft and Fall Law. Please do not be misled by the name ‘Captain’s Road’. It bears no resemblance to a road and at places is very indistinct, even for a hill path.

Figure 7. View northeast from Cowan’s Croft of not-so-wild forestry plantation. (“Faw Law”, or Fall Law, is off-camera, just to the left of this picture)

We ask you to take heed of the following advice.

  • Parts of the path can get muddy and slippery, so wear waterproof footwear with good treads.
  • Weather in Scotland, especially on the hills, can take a turn for the worse very quickly, even in summer. So wear waterproof outdoors clothing.
  • If you approach the hills from the East, please keep to the footpath when in the vicinity of the farm at Thirlestanehope. There is a track that leads through the farmyard, but this is NOT the public footpath. The public footpath is signposted and skirts around the farm buildings to the South.

If you want to be on Cowan’s Croft or Fall Law at sunrise, we offer the following additional advice.

  • Check the weather forecast. If the weather is too cloudy and overcast, you won’t get much of a sunrise.
  • We advise you to do the hike first during the day, then come back and do it again at night. You will find it much easier to navigate in the dark if you are already familiar with the landscape.
  • We strongly advise you to do the hike when there is a reasonable amount of moonlight. So check the phase of the moon and the time when the moon sets on the night that you plan to do the hike.  You should definitely bring a torch, but for finding your way on the hills at night, the moon is really your best friend – even if you’re not a bannock munching mystic.
  • You should leave the Inn about two hours before dawn, so you need to check on the time the sun rises for the day on which you plan to hike. Please don’t wake the other guests. Also, tell the folks at the Inn what you are going to do.
  • Wrap up very warm. If the skies are clear, it will be cold and you will be hanging around for some time. In Scotland, the nights can be cold even in the summer.
  • After sunrise, it will take you about one and a half hours to get back to either Tibbie Shiels Inn or the Tussielaw Inn. So, depending on the time of year, you may want to check if you can get back to the Inn before they stop serving breakfast.

Figure 8 The cairn on the hill to the east of “Faw Law”, i.e. Fall Law, just after sunrise


Fall Law

We resume our description of how to get to Faw Law/Fall Law.  We assume that you have walked along Captain’s Road from the East and that you have got as far as the gate that leads into the forestry plantation. So, go through the gate and stick to the path. As you can see from the Map 1 and Map 2, the path skirts around Fall Law. We do not recommend trying to batter your way through the trees to get to the top. There are a couple of firebreaks that you will see of to the right, going straight up the slope. The first firebreak that you come to was quite muddy when we were there and there were several fallen trees in the way. So unless you like mud and clambering over fallen trees, you might as well keep going along Captain’s Road until you get to the second firebreak. The path turns into a track for forestry vehicles. Keep watching out on your right for the next firebreak; see Figure 9. Walk up the firebreak and eventually you will find yourself in a clearing at the top of Fall Law. The horizon is dominated by conifers, but you can just about get a glimpse of the top of Cowan’s Croft to the south; see Figure 10.


Tibbie Shiels Inn to Fall Law/Cowan’s Croft

Although this is not the route taken by The Editor and his pals, you may want to consider this hike as an alternative.

There is a car park to the west of the bridge near Tibbie Shiels Inn. Take a few moments to visit the James Hogg monument nearby. Tibbie Shiels Inn is a piece of history in itself. James Hogg, Walter Scott and William Wordsworth all drank there. They do meals, snacks and drinks as well as accommodation. Furthermore, they have a picture of James Hogg in the bar. Tibbie Shiels Inn has a patrons-only car park. 

On the road that goes past Tibbie Shiels Inn, follow the signs for the Southern Upland Way. (This is marked by the red diamond shapes on the map.) Eventually, you will see a wooden signpost where the path you need to take branches off from the Southern Upland Way.  Your path is signposted as Captain’s Road, but do not be misled: this is no road. It starts off boggy in patches, but it is not so bad once the path leads into the conifer plantation. Eventually Captain’s Road joins a vehicle track. Turn right onto the track and keep going until you see a firebreak between the trees up the slope to the left. (This photo was taken in 2010. The trees have grown a bit since, so the gap between the trees was much narrower when we did the hike in 2014.)

If you want a better view from a hilltop, don’t go up Fall Law. Just continue along Captain’s Road until you are clear of the conifers. There is a gate when the vehicle track fizzles out. If you go through that gate, Cowan’s Croft is directly ahead of you. Alternatively, keep on the Captain’s Road path through the conifer plantation. Eventually, you will arrive at the gate that we mention in the description of the hike starting from the East.  There is actually another gate, which leaves the plantation at the foot of Cowan’s Croft. This gate is where the Landrover track ends and where the muddy path begins. You can go straight up Cowan’s Croft from that gate or continue on to the second gate  

Walking from Tibbie Shiels Inn to Fall Law and back to Tibbie Shiels Inn takes no more than three hours with breaks, photos, etc., but considerably longer if you end up disinterring corpses.

Map 2. Route from Tibbie Shiell's Inn to Fall Law and Cowan's Croft. The red diamond shapes mark the Southern Upland Way. Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

Figure 9. The firebreak up the slope of Fall Law. (The gap is smaller today than when this photo was taken in 2010)

Figure 10. From the top of Fall Law, the horizon is dominated by conifers.

The Editor and his companions discover Robert’s Manuscript whilst robbing Robert’s grave on Fall Law: 

[We] picked up a leathern case […] on opening it out, we found, to our great astonishment, that it contained a printed pamphlet. We were all curious to see what […] it could contain that he seemed to have had such a care about. For the slough in which it was rolled was fine chamois leather […]. But the pamphlet was wrapped so close together, and so damp, rotten, and yellow that it seemed one solid piece.  […] With very little trouble, save that of a thorough drying, I unrolled it all with ease, and found the very tract which I have here ventured to lay before the public, part of it in small bad print, and the remainder in manuscript. The title page is written and is as follows:

Fideli certa merces.                                                     (Justified Sinner, pp. 173–74)

So The Editor dries it out, reads it and does some research on it and then writes the Editor’s Narrative, leading us on to our next section.

The Editor’s Narrative

We now go back to the Editor’s Narrative, at the beginning of the novel, which starts on page 3 of our recommended edition. The Editor has dried out the manuscript which he retrieved from the grave and has done his research on the contents. He now presents his narrative account of the events described by the “Justified Sinner”, who the Editor believes to be one Robert Wringhim. The Editor chooses to start his narrative in 1687, a couple of years before Robert’s birth when Robert’s mother, a Glaswegian called Rabina, married the Laird of “Dalchastel”, George Colwan.


The Editor’s Narrative starts as follows:

It appears from tradition, as well as some parish registers still extant, that the lands of Dalcastle (or Dalchastel, as it is often spelled) were possessed by a family of the name of Colwan, about one hundred and fifty years ago, and for at least a century previous to that period. That family was supposed to have been a branch of the ancient family of Colquhoun.
(Justified Sinner, p. 3)

Spelling of proper names was fairly haphazard right up to the nineteenth century. In this case, it is not much of a stumbling block for us since ‘Dalchastel’ is a fictitious place name anyway.  The consensus among Hogg experts is that Dalchastel should be equated with Luss, a village on the banks of Loch Lomond. The main point in favour of Luss is that, in Hogg’s time, the real life Lady Colquhon of Luss had several personality traits in common with one of the characters in the novel, namely Robert’s mother Rabina, the Laird of Dalchastel’s wife.  Both Lady Colquhon and Rabina viewed their respective husbands as religious conversion projects.

The only other fact that fits with Luss as the real-life Dalchastel is that it is about the right distance from Glasgow. The first time Rabina ran away from her husband, George Colwan, it took her about a day to walk back to her native Glasgow: Luss is about 40 kilometres from Glasgow, so the distance is about right.

Hogg says that transport was more difficult in Rabina’s day because there was no steamship transport. In other words, the clue is that the location which Hogg has in mind would be served by a steamship in 1824. There was indeed a steam ship on Loch Lomond in 1824, but it would only have got Rabina as far as Balloch. Everything else about Luss is completely wrong.

·         In the novel, the should be a “village about two miles below Dalchastel” (p. 56), whereas Luss is north of    Rossdhu and there are no villages that distance away from Rosdhu.
·         Hogg describes the castle as a “mansion” with three stories (p. 9), whereas Rossdhu castle was a simple  keep.
·         As Robert escaped from Dalchastel, a mob was heading towards Dalchastel from a deep glen to the East. As  you will see from Map 3, Loch Lomond is to the East of Rossdhu.
·         The servants at Dalchastel have lowland names (“Scrape” and “Penpunt”)

In our view, Levan Castle, near Gourock, is a better candidate than Luss/Rossdhu. It does not have the Lady Colquhon connection, but everything else about it is right, including the steamer service in 1824. However, having stated our objections and our alternative, we grudgingly describe Luss/Rossdhu.

Rossdhu Castle was occupied by the Colquhons until the late eighteenth century. Since then, it has become a ruin. Some years ago, the Loch Lomond Golf Club acquired the land around Rossdhu Castle from the chieftain of the Colquhon clan.  The castle is located behind the 18th green. Unnecessarily officious security guards stopped us from getting close to Rossdhu Castle. It is one of those posh golf clubs that go to great lengths to keep out the riff-raff. The security guards pretend that you have to be a member of the Golf Club to get any nearer or that you must get the permission of the Golf Club’s Secretary. The legal basis for saying this is, in Scots law at least, rather dubious but golf clubs tend to regard themselves as above these things – rather like a certain US bookselling corporation.

Figure 11. Rossdhu Castle. Is this really what Hogg had in mind?

Rossdhu Castle is about three kilometres south of Luss. The road between the castle and Luss can be busy and the traffic is fast-moving. It is not advisable to walk.


Getting there

The map in Map 4 shows how to get to Luss by road from Glasgow.  To travel from Glasgow to Luss by public transport, you could get a train from Glasgow Queen Street Station to Alexandria (the journey time is just over half an hour) then a bus from Alexandria Station to Luss (another half an hour).

Map 3. Location of Rossdhu. Don't be fooled by the map. You'll have trouble getting up close. Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

Where to stay

Luss is a popular tourist destination, so there is a wide variety of accommodation available in the area. If you do not have Internet access, contact the Visitor Information Centre in Tarbet. Telephone: 08707 200 623.


How to get away from there

The day after her marriage to Colwan, the Laird of Dalchastel, Rabina Orde did a runner.

Matters, without all doubt, had been very bad between the new-married couple; for in the course of the day the lady deserted her quarters, and returned to her father's house in Glasgow, after having been a night on the road; […]
(Justified Sinner, p. 8)

Map 4. Luss (top left) and Glasgow (bottom right). NOT a recommended hike.

Sad to say, the journey would have been a lot safer in 1687 than it is today.  Strictly NOT recommended as a hike, especially not overnight the way Rabina did it.

Rabina’s brutal father forced Rabina to return to Dalchastel. At some later time, however, Rabina left Colwan for good. She went back to Glasgow, taking young Robert with her, but she left her first son, George, with his father, Colwan, the Laird of Dalchastel. This time, though, she does not go to her father’s house, but instead looks for assistance from her Glasgow minister, Rev. Wringhim (p. 15). The Editor hints that Rabina may have been seduced by Rev. Wringhim, and that he was Robert’s biological father. Rev. Wringhim denies this in public, but does agree to let Robert use his surname. The Editor’s Narrative contains very little about Robert’s formative years in Glasgow. We cover Glasgow in Section III Robert’s Printed Pamphlet.


Edinburgh: Robert’s First Visit

We pick up the story of the Wringhims and the Colwans in the early 1700’s. Both the Editor’s Narrative and Robert’s Printed Pamphlet describe Robert’s first visit to Edinburgh. The Editor is a bit vague about the year, but around 1703 or 1704, the Laird of Dalchastel, by now a Member of the Scottish Parliament, travelled to Edinburgh with his son George (now in his late teens) to attend the Parliament (p. 15). The Laird of Dalchastel would almost certainly have been in the Cavalier party, sympathizing with the exiled King James – loosely speaking the same faction as the lot we mentioned getting jibbed by Covenanters back in 1645. At the same time, Rev. Wringhim also travelled to Edinburgh, taking young Robert with him. Robert is about a year younger than George. Rev. Wringhim acts as a sort of eighteenth century spin doctor/rabble rouser for the other main party, known as the Court Party, which supported Queen Anne. So we shall start by taking a look at where that Parliament met.


The Scottish Parliament

When Hogg wrote Justified Sinner in 1824, there was no Scottish Parliament. It was shut down in 1707, but was re-established in 1999. The new Scottish parliament building is … on second thoughts, don’t get us started on that new Scottish parliament building. The old Parliament House has undergone extensive alterations, so much that it is now unrecognizable. Figure 12 is a print showing what the building looked like at the time of the Justified Sinner.

Figure 12. Parliament House, Edinburgh (from roughly the time of the Justified Sinner)

The building was given a new façade: see Figure 13. To make matters worse, when you go into the building, you can go into the Hall, which looks great, but there is a row of security guards who will stop you taking photos [12].  To add insult to injury, one of them then had the nerve to try selling us a £4 glossy booklet about the building (with photos). However, the hall itself has been preserved well and is definitely worth a visit. The permanent exhibition is also worth seeing if you do not know much about Scottish history. After Scotland stopped being an Iranian-style theocracy, it jumped out of the frying pan into the fire to become a lawyerocracy in which dodgy legal types ran the show with no discernible checks and balances.

Figure 13 Facade in Parliament Square. The structure is from a later date than Justified Sinner. Below is the door behind which lurks the group of security people who stop you taking photos of Parliament Hall.

Figure 14. The Hall in the Old Parliament House. (The picture was provided by somebody who thought of an ingenious way to circumvent the "no photography" rule.)

Consequently, the best that you can do if you want to see a similar building from this period is to take a look at George Heriot’s School, which is a five-minute walk from the old Parliament House.

Figure 15. George Heriot's School from Greyfriar's Kirkyard. Heriot's is not mentioned in Justified Sinner, but the building dates from roughly the same period as the old parliament and to our untutored eye, the architecture looks similar.

Figure 16. George Heriot's School from Lauriston Place.

Yet another security guard at the gatehouse will stop you going in, but you can get a reasonable view from the street (lower photo) or from Greyfriars’ Kirkyard (upper photo).



(Half-?) brothers George and Robert had not met for many years, but they bumped into each other in Edinburgh. George is a bit of what the Americans might call a ‘jock’ and the English might (more loquaciously) call a ‘rugger-bugger’. (We can think of no equivalent in Scots.) The Editor says that

shortly after their arrival in Edinburgh, Robert, for the first time, met with the young laird his brother, in a match at tennis. The prowess and agility of the young squire drew forth the loudest plaudits of approval from his associates, and his own exertion alone carried the game every time on the one side, and that so far as all I along to count three for their one. The hero’s name soon ran round the circle, and when his brother Robert, who was an onlooker, learned who it was that was gaining so much applause, he came and stood close beside him all the time that the game lasted, always now and then putting in a cutting remark by way of mockery. (Justified Sinner, p. 16)

Map 5. Edinburgh South of the High Street. ‘The Links’ is the green bit at the bottom on the left

The pundits like to argue about what sort of tennis George and co. could have been playing in 1703: the rules of lawn tennis had not been invented and so-called ‘real’ tennis, as played in 1703, required a court. Also, Hogg is vague about where the tennis game occurred. However, if you play tennis on the Meadows, you will not be too far from the location of the tennis game in Hogg’s mental map, just a wee bit to the south. There are 16 public courts run by Edinburgh Council.

Figure 17. Tennis courts on the Meadows, Edinburgh. (These are not the ones used by George, but they are the nearest public courts we could think of.)

At the time of the Justified Sinner, the Meadows was partly under water. The Meadows as we know it today was created when the Burgh Loch was drained and it had only been partially drained by the Justified Sinner’s time. So we stress that there are no grounds for thinking that the present-day courts are near the ones used by George and his pals.

The confrontation during a tennis match is one of the few examples of an event which is described in both the Editor’s Narrative (Justified Sinner, 16) and Robert’s Printed Pamphlet (Justified Sinner, 102).

The Black Bull
So once you have worked up a healthy thirst from a game of tennis, it is time to walk in the footsteps of the justified sinner again.

The very next time that George was engaged at tennis, he had not struck the ball above twice till the same intrusive being was again in his way. The party played for considerable stakes that day, namely, a dinner and wine at the Black Bull tavern; […]
(Justified Sinner, p. 17)
But the persecution of the latter terminated not on the play-ground: he ranked up among them, bloody and disgusting as he was, and, keeping close by his brother's side, he marched along with the party all the way to the Black Bull. […]
(Justified Sinner, p. 19)
The Black Bull [stood] in a small square half-way between the High Street and the Cowgate, and the entrance to it being by two closes […].
(Justified Sinner, p. 21)

Today, there is no Black Bull in any of the small squares between the High Street and the Cowgate. We discuss this below. So, where should you quench your thirst after your tennis game? There is a Black Bull [13]  just a couple of minute’s walk away from the Cowgate, in the Grassmarket (see Map 5). You will not be disappointed: the food and drink today would be very acceptable to George and his pals.

Figure 18. The Black Bull in the Grassmarket. (NOT the location of the Black Bull in Justified Sinner.)

However, once you have taken the edge of your thirst at the Black Bull, it is worth exploring the other closes between the Cowgate and the High Street for further refreshment.


The Castle

Hogg describes how Robert’s shenanigans outside the Black Bull trigger a riot in Edinburgh:

The town-guard was now on the alert; and two companies of the Cameronian Regiment, with the Hon. Captain Douglas, rushed down from the Castle to the scene of action; but, for all the noise and hubbub that these caused in the street, the combat had become so close and inveterate that numbers of both sides were taken prisoners fighting hand to hand, and could scarcely be separated when the guardsmen and soldiers had them by the necks.
(Justified Sinner, p. 22)

Edinburgh Castle is open to the public, but it is not cheap. Plan to spend sufficient time there to get value for money.

Figure 19. Edinburgh Castle from the Grassmarket (top) and from the North-East (bottom)

The name ‘Douglas’ has close associations with the origins of the Cameronian Regiment: it was formed following a meeting at Douglas Parish Church and the original colonel was from the Douglas family.

Figure 20. The only picture we could find of a Cameronian soldier of this period looks like the bloke on a porridge oats packet (albeit toting a gun so unlikely to be a Quaker)

This scene of the Grassmarket shows what a pleasant place Edinburgh was in years gone by. By contrast, the Edinburgh of today is blighted by the inconsiderate behavior of passers-by.

Figure 21. “The Porteous Mob” by James Drummond (National Gallery, Edinburgh). Drummond’s painting depicts Edinburgh in a more sedate era, before all of the hustle and bustle that besets our modern age.

The Links

The next day George and his companions […] were to meet on the Links for a game at cricket.  They did so; and, stripping off part of their clothes, they began that violent and spirited game. They had not played five minutes till Wringhim was stalking in the midst of them, and totally impeding the play.
(Justified Sinner, p. 25)

Figure 22. The Links, facing towards Barclay Church (built in the 1860’s)

Cricket ‘violent and spirited’? Who said that Hogg did not have a sense of irony? Golf was played on the Links before the action depicted in Justified Sinner and you can play pitch and putt where George and his mates had their ‘violent and spirited’ game of cricket.  For cricket itself, however, you can stroll north-east from the Links across Melville Drive (see Map 5) to The Meadows to see some cricket pitches.

Figure 23. Cricket pitches marked out on the Meadows. Cricket is so boring that it is more interesting to watch the grass grow. Hence the lack of cricketers in our picture.

Cricket is a summer game and you will only see it played at weekends and some evenings. But there is nothing to stop you having a ‘violent and spirited’ game yourselves at any time. You will observe that many contemporary teenagers act rather more like Robert Wringhim than George Colwan when they see people doing things like playing something other than football.

[A link to the second part of this article follows the Notes]

NOTES (Part 1)
[1] Master’s Student, Women’s Studies, Humanities Division, University of Oxford, UK. Email:
[2] Associate Professor, School of Information Sciences, University of Tampere, Finland. Email:
[3] The authors have a relative who stopped reading Justified Sinner because “Robert wasn’t very nice”. That’s a bit like giving up on George Orwell’s Animal Farm because you don’t like pigs. We write this safe in the knowledge that even in the unlikely event that our relative starts to read this document, it is quite inconceivable that she should ever do such a thing as read a footnote.
[4] Well that is not entirely true: we do actually attempt to foist some our own ideas on you, but we sneak them in so that you will hardly notice.
[5] The Privy Council was not so much a court of appeal as a body which might grant a pardon, similar to the way in which a governor or the president can grant a pardon in the US.
[6] Remember the name “Cowan”, we’ll be talking about this later. And there’ll be Freemasons involved – but, don’t worry, this isn’t all leading up to some conspiracy theory, though you’re welcome to make your own.
[7] In Scotland a sheriff is a kind of judge. They used to be part-time and are quite low down the judicial pecking order. They are a bit like magistrate judges in the US.
[8] The Royalists, of course, weren’t much better themselves, they just had nicer hair.
[9] None of the authors has stayed there (for the very reason that it ain’t cheap) but if any of you fancy a stay but are a little nervous from reading The Three Perils of Man,  we understand that the present management have taken steps to control the goblin infestation following a visit from ‘Elf and Safety inspectors.
[10]  Well, alright, there is a local legend about Pontius Pilate coming from Fortingall in Glen Lyon. And undoubtedly Caiaphas came from Invercockieleekie (or was it Brigadoon?).
[11] Do not confuse the name Thirlestanehope Farm with Thirlestane Castle, which is about 30 miles north-east of Ettrick. In the novel, The Editor refers to the farm as “Thirlestane”. We note that the hill to the South of the farm is called Thirlestane Hill.
[12] To be fair, the building is currently used as a law court and the Hall is a vestibule area. So the “no photos” regulation is because witnesses waiting to give evidence might not like being photographed. If you desperately want a photo, apparently you can write to one of the senior law officers, the Lord President, for special permission.
[13] There is at least one other Black Bull in Edinburgh (in Leith Street), but that it even further away from the action.


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