> June Tabor > Songs > Queen Among the Heather

Queen Among the Heather

[ Roud 375 ; G/D 5:962 ; Ballad Index K141 ; Bodleian Roud 375 ; trad.]

Jeannie Robertson sang the Scottish traditional love song The Queen Among the Heather to Alan Lomax in London in November 1953. This recording was included in 1998 as the title track of her Rounder CD The Queen Among the Heather. The album's booklet commented:

This song is known variously as Up the Wide and Lonely Glen, Skippin' Barefoot Through the Heather and Far Up Yon Wide and Lofty Glens. Its many variants are widespread in the British Isles. In this sunniest of Love stories, no motives of greed or pregnancy force the union of the couple.

Belle Stewart sang Queen Amang the Heather in a recording by Bill Leader in his own home, Camden Town, London, in 1964 or 1965. This was published in 1965 on the Topic LP The Stewarts of Blair. Hamish Henderson commented in the album notes:

This splendid version of a song equally well-known among the Scots farming community and the travelling folk was learnt by Belle when she still was a wee bairn—among the singers to have contributed to her version are old Henry MacGregor of Perth, her cousin Jimmy Whyte and her brother Donald MacGregor. Version of it used to be as thick as blueberries in Strathmore and the Braes of Angus. It seems to be related to Ower the Muir Amang the Heather, of which Burns wrote: “This song is the composition of Jean Glover … I took the song down from her singing as she was strolling through the country with a sleight-of-hand blackguard.” Subsequent collecting makes it almost certain that Jean's version was itself a re-shaping of an older Ettrick song. James Hogg, the Ettrick shepherd produced a version which was in turn modified. Musical and textual evidence however, suggests that—as in the case of Huntingtower—a classic ballad lies behind the lyric lovesong. In this case, the progenitor is Glasgow Peggie (Child 228), the tunes for which are clearly related to Queen Amang the Heather, and whose story present a parallel situation—the Highlander who takes the heiress he has carried off and beds her down “amang the heather” before revealing that he is himself a Chieftain.

Fred Kent recorded Belle Stewart singing this song again in Blairgowrie in May 1976; this was published as title track of her 1977 Topic LP Queen Among the Heather. It was included on the Topic anthologies As Me and My Love Sat Courting (The Voice of the People Series, Vol. 15; 1998) and Three Score and Ten. A recording of her daughter Sheila Stewart by Doc Rowe in Blairgowrie on October 15, 1998 can be found on her Topic CD From the Heart of the Tradition. She also sang it on the 1971 Tangent album of songs from the Greig-Duncan Collection, Folk Songs of North-East Scotland.

Archie Fisher sang Queen Among the Heather in 1976 on his Folk-Legacy album The Man With a Rhyme.

June Tabor learnt Queen Among the Heather from the singing of Belle Stewart and sang it unaccompanied on her first solo album, Airs and Graces (1976). This recording was later included in her anthology The Definitive Collection.

Dick Gaughan learned Bonnie Lass Amang the Heather from Gordon MacAuley of Campbelltown and sang it in 1978 on his eponymous Topic album Gaughan.

Colin Thompson sang Bonny Lass Amongst the Heather in 1980 on his Fellside album Three Knights.

Ellen Mitchell sang Queen Among the Heather on her and Kevin Mitchell's Musical Traditions anthology Have a Drop Mair. The album's booklet commented:

Ellen: I heard this song over many years, sung most famously by Belle Stewart, but I didn't actually start singing it until much later. And sometimes the reason for learning a song at a certain time is inexplicable but I decided really to learn it after hearing Sheila Douglas singing it. Maybe she broke the spell of an imaginary idea I had that it was Belle's song.

Although a very different version of this song, usually called Down the Moor, is popular in the north of Ireland, the present one is very much a Scottish song—the great majority of Roud's 50 examples being from there, along with most of the broadside printings. Jeannie Robertson and Belle Stewart were the main contenders for the crown, and of course, Belle's daughter Sheila now sings it too.

Jeannie Robertson's cousin Stanley Robertson sang Up a Wild and Lonely Glen at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2005. This recording was included a year later on the festival anthology For Friendship and for Harmony (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 2).

Iona Fyfe sang Queen Amang the Heather in 2016 on the Iona Fyfe Band's EPEast. She commented:

An iconic song in ballad history. Features in Greig-Duncan Volume 5. Sung amongst tradition bearers such as Jeannie Robertson and Belle Stewart and was popular amongst travelling families. The song has multiple variants including Up the Wide and Lonely Glen and Skippin’ Bar’fit Through the Heather—which was collected from Jessie Murray of Morayshire.

Lyrics

Jeannie Robertson sings Queen Amang the Heather Stanley Robertson sings Up a Wild and Lonely Glen

For it's up a wide and a lonely glen
It was shaded by many a lofty mountain,
For it being into the busy hands of men
It being the first day that I went out a-hunting.

It's up a wild and lonely glen,
Shaded by many a fearful mountain,
'Twas far fae the busy haunts o men,
The first day that I gaed oot a-huntin.

For it being to me a happy day,
There did I spied my roving fancy.
She was herding her yowes to her knowes
And in amongst the carling heather.

For her coat was white, her gown was green,
Her body it being long and slender.
Wi' her cast-down look and her weel-far'd face,
It has oftimes made my heart to wonder.

For it's I've been to balls where they were bussy and braw,
And it's I've been as far as Balquhidder,
And the bonniest lassie that e'er I saw,
She was kilted and barefooted amongst the heather.

Now I hae been tae parties and balls,
And I hae been as far as Balquhidder,
And the bonniest lassie that e'er I spied,
She wis herdin her yowies among the heather.

Her face wis white, her goun wis green,
Her form it wis sae tall and slender,
Wi her douncast looks and her weel-fared face,
For she made my hert nae mair tae render.

Says I, “My lass, will you come with me
And sleep with me in a bed of feathers?
I'll gie ye silks and scarlets that will make ye shine,
And leave all your mains amongst the heather.”

Says I, “Bonnie lass, wid ye gang wi me,
And lie wi me in a bed o feathers?
And the silks and the scarlets I'll mak them thine:
Leave aa your lambs and yowies thegether.”

She said, “My lad, you're very fair,
I really think you're all for sportin'.
For it's your being the son of a high squire man
And me but a poor humble shepherd's dochter.”

Says she, “Kind Sir, your offer's fair,
But I think it is meant in laughter,
For you are the son o some rich squire,
And I but a humble shepherd's dochter.”

But it's her I sought, and her I got,
And it's her I really intend to marry.
Fare-ye-well, fare-ye-well to your heather hills,
Fare-ye-well, fare-ye-well, my song is ended.

I bless the time, I bless the day,
When first it taen my rovin fancy,
She wis herdin her sheep amongst the hills,
The first time I ever hae spied my Nancy.

Belle Stewart sings Queen Amang the Heather June Tabor sings Queen Among the Heather

Noo, as I roved out one summer's morn
Amang the lofty hills and moorland and mountain,
It was there I spied a lovely maid,
Whilst I with others was out a-hunting.

Oh, as I rode out one morning fair
Over lofty hill, moorland and mountain,
It was there I met with a fine young girl,
While I with others was hunting.

No shoes nor stockings did she wear;
Neither had she hat nor had she feather,
But her golden locks, aye, in ringlets rare
In the gentle breeze played around her shoulders.

No shoes nor stockings did she wear;
Neither had she hat nor had she feather,
But her golden curls, aye, and ringlets rare
In the gentle breeze played round her shoulders.

“Oh,” I said, “braw lassie, why roam your lane?
Why roam your lane amang the heather?”
For she says, “My faither's awa fae hame
And I'm herding a' his yowes thegether.”

I said, “Fair lassie, why roam your lane?
Why roam your lane among the heather?”
She said, “My father's away from home
And I'm herding of his ewes together.”

“Noo,” I said, “braw lassie, if you'll be mine
And care to lie on a bed o' feathers,
In silks and satin it's you will shine,
And you'll be my queen amang the heather.”

I said, “Fair lassie, if you'll be mine
And you lie on a bed o' feathers,
In silks and satin it's you will shine,
And you'll be my queen among the heather.”

“But,” she said, “kind sir, your offer is good,
But I'm afraid it was meant for laughter,
For I know you are some rich squire's son
And that I'm a poor lame shepherd's dochter.”

She said, “Kind sir, your offer is good,
But I'm afraid it's meant for laughter,
For I know you are some rich squire's son
And I'm a poor lame shepherd's daughter.”

“But had you been a shepherd loon
A-herding yowes in the yonder valley,
Or had you been a plooman's son,
Wi' all my heart I would hae lo'ed ye.”

“Oh, but had you been some shepherd lad
A-herding ewes among the heather,
Or had you been some ploughman's son,
It's with all my heart I would have loved you.”

Noo, I hae been to balls and I hae been to halls;
I have been in London and Balquhidder,
But the bonniest lassie that ever I did see
She was herding the yowes amang the heather.

Now, I've been to balls and I have been to halls;
I have been to London and Balquhidder,
But the bonniest lassie that ever I did see
She was herding of her ewes together.

So we baith sat doon upon the plain.
We sat awhile and we talked thegether,
And we left the yowes for to stray their lane,
Till I wooed my queen amang the heather.

So we both sat down upon the plain.
We sat awhile and we talked together,
And we left the ewes for to stray their lane,
Till I won my queen among the heather.

References

See also the Mudcat Café discussion Origins/lyrics: Queen Among the Heather