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April 4, 2012

When is a pub not a pub?

It’s nigh on impossible to imagine how a community can really function as a community without some kind of shared space for people to meet. This was the stark realisation suddenly facing the folk in Tweedsmuir in the Borders when their only shared space –the local pub – called orders for the last time six years ago.  It has been a titanic struggle to stop the owner converting the site for housing but at long last there’s light at the end of the tunnel.


ONE of Scotland’s oldest and most historic inns, famous for its literary connections with the likes of Robert Burns and John Buchan, will reopen its doors to the public after six years. The 400-year-old Crook Inn, in Tweedsmuir, in the Borders, one of the first licensed establishments in Scotland, was closed in 2006 when the owner attempted, unsuccessfully, to convert it into homes.

Following a campaign by locals to keep the pub in its original form, the Tweedsmuir Community Company (TCC) has provisionally agreed to buy the premises and carry out any necessary renovations. However, the community must first raise the £160,000 needed by the end of the year.

During this period the TCC will have access to the property to examine it and gain estimates for repair work and apply for funding.  James Welch, director of TCC, said: 

“It has been part of the community for so many years. It was one of those fairly historic landmarks that people used to stop at going north or south for lunch or a coffee.  But for the community, it also provided one of the most valuable things: a source of employment in an area where there are few other opportunities.”

The inn proved to offer literary inspiration for Burns, who was a regular, and was where he wrote his poem Willie Wastle’s Wife. Buchan also frequented the pub during the time he wrote the adventure novel, The Thirty Nine Steps, and immortalised the hostelry in his short story, Gideon Scott.

However, the pub, which was also a favourite haunt of Scott, has fallen into disrepair since it was shut in 2006.

Duncan Davidson, chairman of TCC, said: “It’s in a very bad state, partly because it had dry rot, which is being treated, but also there have been burglaries and people going in and stripping out metal from the place.It’s not fit for use.”

Mr Welch said the final bill for the restoration would far exceed the £160,000 asking price. “We’ll be looking at a considerably greater investment to bring it back,” he said.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if it was several hundred thousand pounds to carry out a full restoration.”

A spokesperson for Historic Scotland, which has given the property a Class-C category, said: “Keeping a building in use is the best way to protect its long-term survival.”


Established as a licensed premises in 1604 and as a place for drovers to rest while taking cattle from the Borders to markets in England, the Crook Inn has had a colourful history.

During the 17th century, a falling out with the local minister led to the town’s congregation being locked out of the church and the pub became a temporary kirk. The building also became a Presbyterian meeting house when Covenanters were being hunted.

Robert Burns was a regular at the inn and it was there he wrote his famous poem Willie Wastle’s Wife in 1792. But it was during the mid-19th century the place became an established favourite with the Edinburgh literati, who would go walking in the nearby hills.

Scots author John Buchan also frequented the pub during the time he penned his novel The Thirty Nine Steps, and he immortalised it in his short story about poaching, Gideon Scott.

According to the Historic Scotland, the current property dates back to the early 19th century, incorporating the remains of its earlier incarnations along with Art Deco additions from 1936.