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There has been a church at Ettrick for at least 800 years. By the late 1600s the village, then called Ettrick Kirkton, had some 50 houses, though the population declined rapidly from 1700, when many tenants were cleared by the Laird, James Anderson of Tushilaw.
In 1235 a large area of Ettrick Forest was granted to the monks of Melrose Abbey by Alexander II. Deforestation later followed, but in more modern times the hills to the south have been extensively planted with conifers. Today's Ettrick is little more than a scattering of houses, plus church, hall and primary school, all enjoying a truly magnificent but extremely remote setting.
The most significant part of Ettrick itself is bypassed even by the quiet and lonely B7009 as it makes its way through beautiful countryside from Selkirk south to Eskdalemuir. And the Southern Upland Way long distance footpath doesn't quite reach Ettrick, instead passing just a mile to the west of the village.
The focus of community life in Ettrick today remains the kirk, which lies at the western end of the remaining parts of the settlement. Today's kirk was built in 1824 though in part it seems to reuse material from an earlier church, including a memorial stone dated 1619. The kirkyard is the final resting place of three people who in their different ways each made their mark on the Scotland of their day.
The first was Thomas Boston, a fire and brimstone preacher who inspired both widespread admiration and fear. He was born in Duns in 1676 into a Covenanting family. Boston's uncompromising approach alienated many in Ettrick, leaving him with time to produce a book of sermons that went on to achieve huge success across Scotland and considerably influence religious and political thinking at the time.
Thomas Boston eventually won round the population of the parish, and by the time of his death in 1732 as many as 800 people would come (many on foot) to hear him preach: another sign of a much larger population in the area then than now. Thomas Boston's memory is maintained in the name of the Boston Memorial Hall, the community hall opposite Ettrick Primary School.
The second notable resident of Ettrick Kirkyard is James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd. He was a poet and novelist who wrote in both Scots and English and who became one of the most unlikely literary figures to emerge in Scotland. The site of the cottage in which James Hogg was born is nearby, and marked by a memorial erected in Victorian times.
Also buried in the kirkyard is Tibbie Shiel, who lived from 1783 to 1878. Tibbie (short for Isabella) moved with her husband, a mole catcher, to St Mary's Cottage, overlooking St Mary's Loch, in 1823. Following the death of her husband in 1824, Tibbie supported herself and six children by taking in lodgers: anything up to 35 at a time, although there were only 13 guest beds.
Today the cottage (considerably extended) is known as Tibbie Shiel's Inn and it lies on the Southern Upland Way and the A708 some 5 miles north west of Ettrick.