The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Castle O'Er



In the district [of] Eskdale, in the parish of Eskdale moor, is a very complete encampment, of an oval form, named Castle-O'er or Overbie. It is generally supposed to have been a Roman station, which communicated with those of Middlebie and Netherbie; and that the difference of form may [be because] of it being placed on top of a hill, where the square form could not be adhered to..
Well, that strange logic aside, the camp has the Black Esk down on its west flank, and the White Esk to its east. They meet to the south. And so, what an apt place for the following -
..According to tradition, a spot, at the confluence of the waters called the Black and White Esk, was remarkable in former times for an annual fair that had been held there time out of mind, but which is entirely laid aside. At that fair it was the custom for the unmarried persons of both sexes to choose a companion according to their liking, with whom they were to live till that time next year. This was called hand-fasting or hand in fist. If they were pleased with each other at that time, they continued together for life; if not, they separated, and were free to make another choice as at the first. The fruit of their connection (if there were any) was always attached to the disaffected person.

In later times, when this part of the country belonged to the abbacy of Melrose, a priest, to whom they gave the name of book-i-the bosom (either because he carried in his bosom a bible, or perhaps a register of the marriages), came from time to time to confirm the marriages. This place is only a small distance from the Roman encampment of Castle-O'er.
From p283 of 'The Beauties of Scotland -vol 2' by Robert Forsyth (1805), which you can read at Google Books. I think he copied most of it from the original Statistical Account. The New Statistical Account has an account of a letter from 1796 which says (p405, v4, 1845):

No account can be given of the period at which the custom of hand-fasting commenced, but I was told by an old man, John Murray.. that he was acquainted with or at least had seen an old man, I think his name was Beattie, who was grandson to a couple of people who had been handfasted. You perhaps know that the children born under the handfasting engagement were reckoned lawful children, and not bastards, though the parents did afterwards resile.

Talk about 'friend of a friend' stories. Who can say what the truth might be.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
25th October 2007ce

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