My main reason for visiting Minto (see last post) was to see Fatlips Castle, a picturesque pele tower perched on top of the Minto Crags which can be seen from miles away.
The original pele tower was built as a stronghold for the Turnbull Border Reiver clan of Bedrule (a village about a mile from Minto) in the early 16th century before being burnt to the ground by the Earl of Hertford during a raid on the Scottish Borders in 1545.
The castle was rebuilt in 1857 by the Elliots of Minto and modified into its current form in 1897 by Sir Robert Lorimer for the 4th Earl of Minto. It was used as a shooting lodge and a private museum until the late 1960s, following which it fell into disrepair and was heavily vandalised. The exterior was refurbished in 2013 with funding from Historic Scotland, Scottish Borders Council, the Minto Estate and private donations.
Why Was It called Fatlips?
The origin of the curious name is uncertain but a plaque at the site puts forward three possible theories:
One of the Turnbulls had thick lips.
There was a goat nicknamed Fatlips which warned of the approaching English by bleating loudly.
Gentlemen were traditionally allowed to kiss one of the ladies on entering.
How to Get to Fatlips Castle
The location is marked on this map:
You can park on the roadside or at the start of the wooded track shown on the map, then start walking.
Minto Crags are of volcanic origin and they rise abruptly above the surrounding countryside so the path to the top, which is clearly signposted, is steep. It takes half an hour or so to reach the castle. It’s an easy enough walk but you are sure to be puffing a bit by the time you get there.
The path is likely to be muddy so suitable footwear is required. There is a patch of stinging nettles near the top so long trousers are recommended.
You will be rewarded with excellent views of the Teviot valley and the scenic Borders landscape.
The metal grille door to the castle was firmly bolted when I visited the other day but I believe it is possible, during normal non-Covid days, to obtain a key from the Thos. B. Oliver Garage in Denholm for £10, of which £5 is refunded on return of the key.
I first heard about the Minto Stone when I visited Malang in East Java in 2016.
It is a 1,100 year old stone slab, two metres tall and weighing close to four tons known to Indonesians as the Prasasti Sanggurah, or Sanggurah Inscription. It is inscribed in ancient Javan, or Kawi, and apparently designates the local village as an administrative area and bestows certain rights on the local ruler. The most interesting part is a curse, a lengthy description of the dire and gruesome fate awaiting anyone who dares to remove the stone from its place. From the rough translation that I have seen it seems the punishments include disembowelment, being eaten by tigers, bitten by snakes, struck by lightning, torn by giants, drowning, cast to the four winds and reincarnation as a madman.
Despite these warnings the stone was removed 200 years ago from its original position on the outskirts of Malang and is now in the garden of a cottage in Roxburghshire, Scotland. How did it end up there and did anyone suffer from the curse?
From Malang to Minto
Britain occupied Java for a five year period from 1811 under the leadership of Sir Stamford Raffles as Governor of Java. Raffles commissioned the able Colonel Colin Mackenzie, a military engineer and surveyor, to carry out a geographical, economic, historical and cultural survey of the island of Java – no small task.
In the course of his survey he came across a number of artefacts including the Prasanti Sanggurah. With the consent and assistance from the local regent he uprooted the stone and transported it by cart to Surabaya. Raffles then shipped it to Calcutta as a gift for his boss and supporter Lord Minto, the Governor-General of India.
Minto was pleased with the stele and said “I shall be very much tempted to mount this Javan rock upon our Minto craigs, that it may tell eastern tales of us, long after our heads lie under other stones.”
In the end the stone didn’t quite make it to the top of Minto craigs but it was shipped to Scotland and was installed in the garden of a house on the nearby Minto Estate where it has remained for 200 years.
Lord Minto himself never got to see it in Scotland because he died soon after retirement from India. The local regent in Malang who allowed the stone to be removed also died unnaturally. As for Raffles, he suffered a lot of bad luck in his life including the death of four of his children from tropical disease and he retired in disgrace and was pursued for debt by his employers the East India Company (though his reputation has since been restored). Maybe there was something in the curse after all.
Back to Malang?
In view of the Minto Stone’s antiquity and historical importance, Indonesia would very much like to have it back and their Government entered into negotiations to have it returned in 2003.
The International Institute for Asian Studies newsletter dated Summer 2016 reported that the current Lord Minto supported the idea of the stone’s repatriation, implying that it had not yet taken place. I cannot find any confirmation on the internet that it has since been repatriated so presumably it is still in Minto.
Since I was passing near Minto village the other day I stopped to look around. I did not find the stone or cottage shown in the above photos. Presumably it is on private property on the Minto Estate.
Minto is a pretty planned village with a Gothic church built in 1831. The whole village was moved in 1827-1831 as the old location was spoiling the 2nd Earl’s view from his mansion.
The war memorial. A plaque lists seven casualties from World War One and one from the Iraq War (2005). Although the soldier is dressed in a private’s uniform, the face is said to have been modelled on Lt. Esmond Elliot, son of the Earl of Minto, who was one of the seven casualties listed.
I expect the Minto Stone will be returned to Indonesia at some stage, if it hasn’t been already. Perhaps an additional inscription should be added to commemorate its 200 year stay in the Scottish Borders.