Bowden Moor on the West side of the Eildon Hills is rich in magic and mystery. It was once a meeting place for witches and also where, many years ago, a famous seer (that's one who can tell the future) called Thomas the Rhymer made his prophesies, many of which have already come true. And, as this story suggests, in the deepest hills, there may still be strange magic waiting to be freed.
A long time ago in the Borders Region there lived a Horse Cowper (trader) called Canobie Dick. He was both admired and feared for his bold courage and rash temper.
One evening, he was riding over Bowden Moor on the West side of the Eildon Hills. It was very late and the moon was already high in the night sky.
He had been to market but trade that day had been poor and he had with him a brace (pair) of horses, which he had not been able to sell.
Suddenly, he saw ahead of him on the moonlit road, a stranger. The stranger was dressed in a fashion that had not been seen for many centuries. The stranger politely asked the price of the horses.
Now Canobie Dick liked to bargain, and was not worried by the strange man's looks. Why, he would have sold his horses to the devil himself, and cheated him as well, given half a chance. They agreed a price which the stranger promptly paid.
The only puzzle was that the gold coins he used to pay were as ancient as his dress. They were in the shape of unicorns and bonnet pieces (Scottish coins from 1400s and 1500s). However, Canobie Dick shrugged his shoulders. Gold was gold. He smiled to himself, thinking that he would get a better bargain for the coins than the stranger had got for the horses.
When the stranger asked if he could meet him again at the same place, Canobie Dick was happy to agree. But the stranger had one condition: that he should always come by night and always alone.
After several more meetings, Canobie Dick became curious to learn more about his secret buyer. He suggested that 'dry bargains' were unlucky bargains and that they should seal the business with a drink at the buyers home.
"You may see my dwelling if you wish," said the stranger; "but if you lose courage at what you see there, you will regret it all your life."
Canobie Dick was scornful of the warning, after all he was well known for his courage and the stranger seemed harmless enough.
The stranger led the way along a narrow footpath, which led into the hills between the Southern and central peaks to a place called the Lucken Hare. Canobie Dick followed but was amazed to see an enormous entrance into the hillside. He knew the area well but had never seen before such an opening or heard any mention of it.
They dismounted and tethered their horses. His guide stopped and fixed his gaze on Canobie Dick.
"You may still return," he said.
Not wanting to be seen as a coward, Canobie Dick shook his head, squared his shoulders and followed the man along the passage into a great hall cut out of the rock.
As they walked, they passed many rows of stables. In every stall there was a coal black horse, and by every horse lay a knight in jet black armour, with a drawn sword in each hand. They were as still as stone, as if they had been carved from marble.
In the great hall were many burning torches. But their fiery light only made the hall more gloomy. There was a strange stillness in the air, like a hot day before a storm. At last they arrived at the far end of the Hall. On an antique oak table lay a sword, still sheathed, and a horn. The stranger revealed that he was Thomas of Ercildoun (Thomas the Rhymer) the famous prophet who had disappeared many centuries ago.
Turning to Canobie Dick he said, "It is foretold that:
He that sounds the horn and draws that sword, shall, if his heart fails him not, be king over all broad Britain. But all depends on courage, and whether the sword or horn is taken first. So speaks the tongue that cannot lie."
The stillness of the air felt heavy. Canobie Dick wanted to take the sword but he was struck by a supernatural terror, such as he had never felt before. What, he thought, would happen if he drew the sword; would such a daring act annoy the powers of the mountain?
Instead he took the horn and with trembling hands put it to his lips. He let out a feeble blast that echoed around the hall. It produced a terrible answer. Thunder rolled and with a cry and a clash of armour the knights arose from their slumber and the horses snorted and tossed their manes.
A dreadful army rose before him. Terrified, Canobie Dick snatched the sword and tried to free it from its scabbard (sheath). At this a voice boomed:
"Woe to the Coward, that ever he was born,
Who did not draw the sword before he blew the horn"
Then he heard the fury of a great whirlwind as he was lifted from his feet and blasted from the cavern. He tumbled down steep banks of stones until he hit the ground.
Canobie Dick was found the next morning by local shepherds. He had just enough trembling breath to tell his fearful tale, before he died.
As for the passage into the hill, it was never found.
Deep, deep in the hillside that terrible army still sleeps in readiness to be awakened once more should anyone brave enough to command such a powerful force find a way into that magical underworld cavern.