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David Purves

David Purves (1924 – 2015)

My father was born in Selkirk and spent his childhood in Galashiels.  It was his love of the language he grew up with in the Borders that led to him becoming a champion of writing in Scots.  After his death in January, I found a letter amongst his papers in which he asked that his ashes be scattered at the confluence of the Ettrick and the Tweed.

As we drove down the A7 on a bright May morning, birds were singing and the trees were bursting into vibrant green.  Teams of men in orange overalls were busy with engineering and landscaping works along the route of the Waverley Line.  In Stow, where my grandfather had a shop and I spent the first three years of my life, we passed a large placard for SNP candidate Calum Kerr in somebody’s garden.  Dad would have been tickled by Calum’s victory in the constituency he contested back in February 1974.

At Ochiltree’s restaurant at Abbotsford we met Jamie, Nicola and their labrador, Bella, who had traveled up from Cornwall.  Then we made our way down to the river crossing on the Selkirk road.

The Puddock

The Puddok an the Princess – Edinburgh Fringe First Winner 1985

When Neil and I did our reconnaissance in March, we discovered that the old Tweed Bridge had been closed due to structural deterioration and was completely fenced off.  This made access to the point where the rivers meet more difficult and would have prevented mum from getting down to the waterside.  Luckily, the bridge is now open for cyclists and pedestrians and we were able to get to the desired spot quite easily.

Tweed Bridge

Old Tweed Bridge

As was traditional in many families, in our branch of the Purveses male children were named after Scottish kings.  In our case, the favoured names were James, Alexander and David.  It was Scotland’s first David (1083 – 1153) who, first as Prince of the Cumbrians and then as King of Scots, brought political stability to the contested territory of the Borders and through the religious houses he endowed, established a strong and enduring literary culture. Drawing on Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Norman influences, this led to such notable achievements as The Romance of Thomas the Rhymer, the earliest surviving chivalric romance written in Quant Inglis.  Through the medium of the stark Border Ballads,  this tradition survived the social and economic disruption of the Wars of Independence to inform the work of writers like James Hogg and Sir Walter Scott in the 19th Century.

The rivers were high and the water was moving briskly.  The ashes of a man swirled into the continuing stream in a grey-white cloud and the torrent swept them eastwards to our mother the sea. “Fareweel Soutar Davie!  Ye’ll be at Berwick in nae time!”


A short biography of David Purves can be found on the website of the Scottish Poetry Library.  An obituary was published in The Scotsman on 6 January 2015.