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Broughty Wa’s / Burd Helen

[ Roud 108 ; Child 258 ; Ballad Index C258 ; trad.]

Katherine Campbell sang Burd Helen in 2004 on her CD The Songs of Amelia and Jane Harris which is a companion to the book The Song Repertoire of Amelia and Jane Harris, edited by Emily Lyle (2002). Her album’s notes commented:

The Harris family appear to have been the sole source for this ballad (Broughty Wa’s: Child 258). As shown by Emily Lyle et. al. in The Song Repertoire of Amelia and Jane Harris, this ballad is one of several written out by Amelia when only a child from her mother’s recitation and sent to Peter Buchan prior the publication of his Ancient Ballads and Songs of the North of Scotland in 1828 (that is, when Amelia was no more than 12 years old). The ballad was not included in Buchan but was included by Child from Peter Buchan’s manuscript collection together with reference to the almost identical text as later supplied by Amelia written out from her own memory and sent to Professor Child in Harvard in 1873.


Katherine Campbell sings Burd Helen

Burd Helen was her mother’s dear,
Her father’s heir to be;
He was the Laird o Broughty Walls,
An Provost o Dundee.

Burd Helen she was much admired
By all that were round aboot,
But to Hunglen she was betrothed,
Her virgin days were oot.

Glenhazlen was a comely youth,
An virtuous his friens;
He left the schules o bonnie Dundee,
An on to Aberdeen.

It fell oot once upon a time,
Burd Helen was left alone;
All for to keep her father’s towers,
They stand two miles from toun.

Glenhazlen he came riding by,
And thinking to get in;
But the wind it blew and the rain dang on,
And weet him to the skin.

He was very well entertained,
Baith for his bed an’ board,
Till a band o’ men surrounded them,
Well armed wi spear and sword.

They hiesèd her along wi them,
Owre mony a rock an glen,
But a’ that they could say or do;
To weep she would not refrain.

“The highland hills are high, high hills,
The highland hills are hie,
And if you wald my favour gain,
Oh! tak me to Dundee.”

It fell oot once upon a time,
They went oot to tak the air,
She threw hersel into the stream,
Between wind an’ despair.

The stream was deep, he couldna wade,
Boats waurna to be found,
So he leapt in after her himsel
An’ sank doun like a stone.

“The highland hills are high, high hills,
The highland hills are hie,
They are no like the pleasant banks o’ Tay,
Nor the bonnie toun o’ Dundee.”

She kilted up her green cleiden,
A little below her knee,
And never rest, nor was undrest,
Till she reached again Dundee.

“I learnt this at Brochty Walls,
At Brochty near Dundee,
That if water waur my prison walls
I could swim for liberty.”