SCOTTISH BORDERS

UK South Scotland Junction pool and view of Tweed at KelsoThe Scottish Borders is a region full of history and intrigue, as it had been the site of border struggles since the Roman times. It has also seen several historic battles between the Scottish and English sides, such as the Scottish Wars of Independence and the raids of the Scottish Reivers. The Scottish Borders originally encompassed the Borders region, which spanned from Dumfries to the English town of Cumbria. Today, the administrative section covers the eastern part of the Southern Uplands.

The Scottish Borders remains a remarkably beautiful place, despite the numerous ugly battles that have taken place here. The region is home to rich greenery- from wild upland areas and rolling hills, to pastoral green plains. The air is pleasantly scented by the changing seasons, which add character to the large border land that is divided by the trickling River Tweed, which runs eastwards. Hence, the beauty of the Scottish Borders has been aptly described by Sir Walter Scott (local writer and poet) in many of his poems.

The region is also generously sprinkled with ancient architectural gems such as the medieval abbeys, which can be discovered during a comfy stay in one of the Borders’ neat towns. The Scottish Borders was once well populated with large monastic communities that were supported by small burghs (from the 12th century onwards). These communities however, were constantly under attack during the Scottish-English clashes; and hence many monuments from this period have been ruined. However, the influence of these communities was strong as the Scottish Borders is still considered to be one of the cradles of the spread of Christianity in Northern England and Scotland.

Activities
The natural landscape of the region is encouraging to walking, cycling and even fishing enthusiasts. The Scottish Borders tourist board is actively involved in creating and promoting the region’s trails, such as The Southern Uplands Way and The Cuthbert’s Way (coastal routes) and the Borders Abbeys Way (a 65mile route that links the major the abbeys in towns such as Melrose and Kelso). These trails are conveniently separated for walkers and cyclists. There are also additional cycling routes around the region (each with a different ‘feel’), boasting challenging hills and forested paths. Alternatively, you can head to the wild upland areas for bird-watching; or to the River Tweed for a fruitful salmon and trout fishing trip.







UK South Scotland neidpath castleThe town of Peebles (pop 8,000) sits on a pretty spot on the northern banks of the Tweed River. Hardly housing any great tourist attraction, Peebles sees many visitors in the summer especially; thanks to its serene atmosphere and tree-lined pathways that make for good strolls. The town was once a royal burgh and evidence of its past prosperity (thanks to its ventures into the wool and hydropath industries) can be sighted in the rows of Victorian era houses. You can easily spend a few days simply exploring the town’s quirky stores and cafes, as well as the surrounding hills and woodlands.

Sights
Peebles’s location makes it a great place for strolls (along the river) and cycling trips. The area’s banks are also known for being a good picnic spot, with its grassy patches and playgrounds. However, the town also offers some architectural intrigue in the form of its Neidpath Castle - a 14th tower house in the west of Peebles that is reputed to be haunted. The Old Parish Church (also in the west of town) is another ancient structure worth exploring. You can also pop by the local Tweeddale Museum & Art Gallery [High Street +44 172 1724820, www.scotborders.gov.uk/outabout/visit/museums/3132.html Free] (which was just recently refurbished) to sight some interesting artworks.

 


UK South Scotland Traquair House WikipediaLying a few kilometres southeast of Peebles, the iconic Traquair House [+44 189 66830323 http://www.traquair.co.uk ad/ch £7.60/4.10] is the oldest inhabited residence in Scotland. No one knows the exact year that this building was erected; however, the earliest documentation of this house dates back to 1107. The fortified mansion had a rather humble beginning, as it is believed that the Traquair House was initially used as a royal hunting lodge. The impressive tower house that you see today was a result of continual expanded over the next 500 years.

The Traquair House is famous not only for its architecture and age, but for its royal heritage as well. This mansion was held under the custody of the Stuart House (the first monarchs of the Kingdom of Scotland) since the 14th century. The House of Stuart faced great opposition in the 17th century, due to their Catholic loyalties. This eventually led to their downfall. Therefore today, the Traquair House remains the way it did in 1624- when it was inhabited by the last member of the Stuart House. The house’s catholic ties also made it an ideal base to sheathe Catholic priests, up until the 19th century, when the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed.

Such rich history makes a trip to the Traquair House a truly fascinating one; as you will find the secret rooms in which these priests were sheltered, as well as relics like the bed of Mary, Queen of Scots and the cradle of her son, James VI. The Traquair House was not just a vacation home- it was the true residence of the members of the Stuart House; hence several family members left behind important personal belongings such as letters and diaries. The House now exhibits these historical documents periodically. The Traquair House is also home to the Traquair House Brewery, which has been concocting ales since the 18th century. Kids will also be occupied in this historical monument, as a garden maze and playground has been installed for their entertainment. It is recommended that you visit the Traquair House in the month of August, as this is when the annual Traquair Fair (an entertaining festival that celebrates the House’s history) is held.

 


Selkirk (pop 5,800) was once a bustling mill town in the early 19th century, churning out endless rolls of wool. The town is not only one of the oldest Royal Burghs in Scotland; it is also one of the oldest settlements in the Scottish Borders region. Hence, the town has an air of antiquity about it. However, Selkirk is better known for its bannocks (a flat bread pastry) and its turret-roofed courtroom [Market Place +44 175 020096 www.scotborders.gov.uk Free] that was once the domain of Sir Walter Scott (Scottish poet and writer who was elected to be Selkirk’s sheriff in 1799). This famous writer’s courtly life and writings have been preserved in the sombre building, which stands proudly in Selkirk’s main square.

 


UK South Scotland Dryburgh Abbey, Scottish BordersDryburgh Abbey [+44 183 5822381, www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/ ad/ch £5/3] is perhaps the most intact abbey in the Scottish Borders region. With more than half of its façade intact, the Dryburgh Abbey certainly gives visitors a good taste of medieval monastic life. The abbey was founded in 1150, by the Premonstratensians (a religious order that was founded in northeast France). Although the abbey hardly rose to great prosperity like that of its counterparts, it remained close to the hearts of the Scots, thanks to its a serene atmosphere. This secluded abbey along the Tweed River was finally put on the map in the 18th and 19th centuries when famous names such as David Erskine (Earl of Buchan) and Sir Walter Scott (Scottish poet and writer) were put to rest here.

 


UK South Scotland smailholm towerSmailholm Tower [+44 157 3460365, www.historic-scotland.gov.uk ad/ch £4.50/2.70] is located just a short distance from Kelso. It is believed that this 20m high tower was built in the 15th century to act as a border stronghold, under the rule of the Pringle House (an influential Border family). Despite seeing many battles, the tower is best remembered as being Sir Walter Scott’s childhood haunt. Walter Scott, who was born in Edinburgh, was sent to live with his grandparents as a child, whenever he fell ill. His grandparents’ home was located in the nearby Sandyknowe farm, from where he could clearly sight this medieval tower. The writer was greatly influenced by stories of the tower that were told to him during his childhood; causing him to pen ballads and prose inspired by them. Hence, the Smailholm Tower quickly gained popularity as a place of inspiration. Today, the tower offers visitors a good view of the surrounding plains and a small museum that houses a costume figure and tapestry exhibition.

 


UK South Scotland Jedburgh abbeyInhabited since the 9th century, Jedburgh (pop 4,000) has a long and tumultuous history. The area was once an important fortified town (one of five fortresses that were created by King David I) as it lay close to England. Jedburgh was also chosen as the site of a castle, by David I. Hence the town occasionally housed Scottish royalty, making it a hotspot for cross-border attacks in the medieval times. These days, however, Jedburgh is ‘attacked’ by throngs of visitors (local and international) as it is considered one of the most beautiful Border towns; thanks to its narrow alleys, historic buildings (such as the abbey) and pretty town layout. You can arrive at Jedburgh via buses, which are well connected to other popular Border towns like Melrose and Kelso.

Sights
The reddish stones of Jedburgh abbey [+44 183 5963925 www.historic-scotland.gov.uk ad/ch£5.50/3.30] dominate the town’s skyline. The main sight in Jedburgh, attracts many visitors thanks to its grand, ‘mostly intact’ façade. Said to have been erected in 1138, by the Augustinians (who, like many other religious orders, were brought into Scotland by King David I), the Jedburgh abbey was a place of royal patronage. The ornate architectural elements stand as evidence of the abbey’s importance, as it served as the royal place of worship when the Jedburgh castle stood nearby (in the 13th century). The entire abbey features a mix of both Romanesque and Gothic styles, making it an impressive structure that was meant to announce the Border lands’ superiority. Today, the Jedburgh abbey stands as a bold reminder of a magnificent past, welcoming visitors with an audiovisual display and artefact collection. It is also recommended that you head up the stairs at the nave to catch a panoramic view of the town.

The Mary Queen of Scots Visitor Centre [Queen Street, +44 183 5863331 www.scotborders.gov.uk Free] is another notable building in town. Standing in a 16th century tower house (which used to be the Queen’s residence), the visitor centre explores the short life of this memorable monarch. The displays are sparse yet powerful (including her last letter before her execution), as they still manage to tell the story of her sad life.

 


UK South Scotland Hermitage CastleThe partially-ruined Hermitage Castle [+44 138 7376222, www.historic-scotland.gov.uk, ad/ch £4/2.40] is considered to be one of the most evocative structures in the Scottish borders. The eerie walls of the castle speak volumes of its dark past, which earned it the nickname “the guardhouse of the bloodiest valley in Britain”.

The Hermitage Castle is believed to have been built around 1240, by a noble, Nicolas de Soulis. His family lost this property to the Scottish kings on account of practising witchcraft; and Sir William Douglas took over the property in 1338. He made the building famous by imprisoning his enemy, Sir Alexander Ramsay here and starving him to death. The castle saw many more bloody events through the years, as it stood at a strategic location on the Scottish Borders, where several ruthless battles were fought. The marathon trip that Mary, Queen of Scots made to the Hermitage Castle; was probably the most positive historical event to have been recorded about place. She made the arduous journey to this lonely spot, as it housed her wounded lover, Lord Bothwell in 1566. It is said that he recovered well after this and went on to kill her husband, so as to marry her for himself. Unfortunately, their married life was short-lived as he abandoned her soon after, only to flee into exile.

The stoic walls of the castle are a fetching sight themselves. This historic building, coupled with its scenic location; makes for a memorable visit. The castle is usually open from April to September; however, the management closes it occasionally due to the unpredictable weather. So, call ahead for good measure.




 
UK South Scotland Kelso Abbey, Borders, Scotland The little market town of Kelso (pop 6,300) sits on the confluence of the Tweed and Tevoit rivers; inheriting a pretty cobblestoned town square from its heydays, as a bustling trading area in the Middle Ages. The French style market square is flanked by beautiful Gregorian buildings, and has an alluring charm that attracts visitors. Today, the buzzing town still stands as evidence of the Scottish Borders’ economic prosperity. 

Sights
The main attraction in town is Kelso Abbey [www.historic-scotland.gov.uk Free] - one of the more prosperous abbeys in the Scottish Borders region. This picturesque abbey was founded in the 12th century by the Tironensian monks (a Roman Catholic order from France that was brought to Scotland by King David I). Believed to have been erected in 1128, the Kelso abbey remains a stalwart structure, overlooking the Tweed and Tevoit rivers. The abbey once belonged to the Royal Burgh of Roxburgh- the capital of the southern Scottish Kingdom. Over time, the abbey grew in importance together with the burgh. The rising prominence of Roxburgh made it an open target for English attacks in the 14th century, exposing the abbey as well. Hence, much of the Kelso abbey has been brought to ground and the remaining facades still bear their battle scars. Nonetheless, the Kelso abbey still retains its air of elegance with its towering west end that features some fine architectural elements.

UK South Scotland Floors Castle, KelsoA few kilometres northwest of Kelso is the magnificent Floors Castle [+33 157 3223333, www.roxburghe.net, ad/ch £8/4]. Built in1721, under the guidance of the first Duke of Roxburghe, the Floors Castle stands in a natural terrace by the Tweed River. Its original architect, William Adam, was commissioned to build a simple Gregorian country home (which was what the building was in the 18th century). It elegance, however, was slightly marred by the reconstruction works that were carried out later in the 19th century; when ornate features such as battlements and turrets were added. Today, this mesh-mash of architectural styles creates a picturesque, fairy-tale like aura around the Floors Castle. You can venture into the castle grounds to sight rich Flemish tapestries, ancestral furniture that feature intricate woodworks; as well as ornate windows that boast a widescreen view of the unspoilt countryside.  Floors Castle has made use of its natural beauty by incorporating a hotel and restaurant in its service catalogue.




UK South Scotland Melrose AbbeyThe quaint town of Melrose (pop 1,600) snuggles in between the picturesque Eildon Hills and the Tweed Valley. This small town is a popular day tripping destination, as it draws visitors with its pretty ensemble of colourful cottage houses, tall Victorian and Gregorian residences; as well as charming little stores that decorate the foot of Eildon’s green hills. This little town is best known for its famous abbey and sporting prowess, as Melrose was the birthplace of the Rugby Sevens. Hence, rugby is still the most popular sport in town. Its local parks and delightful little market squares make Melrose a great place for a stroll or a bike trip.

Sights
Melrose Abbey [+44 189 6822582, www.historic-scotland.gov.uk, £5.50/3.30], laid out in the shape of a cross is one of the finest abbeys in the Scottish Borders region. This pinkish stone structure stands tall against the Tweed River backdrop, on the northern end of town. The abbey was founded in 1136, by King David I, for Cistercian monks who quickly became a thriving community here by selling wool and hides. However, the abbey hardly remained serene as it was constantly besieged by English attacks (most notably under Richard II in 1385 and the Earl of Hetford in 1545). This called for continual restoration works, explaining the abandonment of the austere Cistercian architecture for the more elaborate Gothic one, in certain parts of the abbey. The abbey’s last resident monk died here in 1590 and the edifice withstood its last attack during the English Civil War in the 17th century.

Although parts of the Melrose abbey are in ruins, the complex is still touted for its intricate sculptures and relatively well-preserved architectural features (such as the abbey church’s south aisle, several 15th century windows and interesting gargoyle figurines). The abbey is also known for housing the heart of Robert the Bruce (King of Scots in the 13th century), buried in a sealed casket, which was discovered during an archaeological dig in 1996.
Melrose’s hillside location allows it to boast great walking and cycling trails, such as the St Cuthbert’s Way (which starts right after Melrose abbey) and the coastal Southern Upland Way.