Landmark Visitor's Guide


The Scottish Borders

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Landmark Visitor's Guide

Central Borders

Around Kelso

Kelso is the most easterly of a string of historically important Border towns. Founded in 1128 by King David I, Kelso Abbey was the most influential ecclesiastical establishment in this area and is a superb example of medieval architecture. The ecclesiastical structure was reckoned, in its heyday, to be the largest of the three Borders abbeys. Although there is not much left to see today, it took 80 years to build.

Set on the confluence of the Rivers Teviot and Tweed, Kelso is now a well-appointed, country-market town. The elegant five-arched bridge over the Tweed dates from 1803 and was built by John Rennie as a model for London Bridge. Closer to the town centre is Turret House, now Kelso Museum, one of the town's oldest buildings. It interprets Kelso's history and its role as a centre for the skinning and tanning industry.

King James Stuart, the Old Pretender, was declared king in the town's French-looking market square in 1715 and his son, returning after his march to London in 1745, stayed at the Cross Keys Hotel. This elegant building still looks over the fine Georgian square claiming to be the biggest town square in Scotland.

The flamboyant outline of Floors Castle may ring bells for many visitors who will suspect they have seen it before. The extensive castellated parapets and elegant interiors of this, Scotland's largest inhabited house, were some of the settings for the film Greystock, where the jungle-liberated Tarzan, the Earl of Greystoke, was seen jumping from rampart to roof. The more romantic may recall the announcement of the engagement of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson on the lawns of Floors.

This sprawling eighteenth and nineteenth century castle and estate is the home and offices of the present Duke of Roxburgh. The rooms seem more intimate and family oriented than most inhabited stately homes as the Duke and his family use them when visitors are away. The family furniture is back-dropped with tapestries and surrounded by porcelain and paintings. The building was designed by William Adam between 1721 and 1725 and added to in 1849 by William Playfair.

Another Adam project lies quite near Floors Castle. Mellerstain House is well known for its distinctive architecture and refined interiors. The estate existed as far back as the fifteenth century but William Adam commenced the present house in 1725. His son Robert took over and completed it in 1778, being mainly responsible for everything bar the wings. There are particularly tasteful ceilings and friezes in the library, drawing room and music room and paintings by Allan Ramsay, Gainsborough and Constable.

The house is situated 7 miles (11km) northwest of Kelso on the A6089. A famous character, though not the subject of Robert Burns' poetry, was probably conceived in these grounds during an illicit love affair between a young master of the house and an estate worker. Known as Tam o'Shanter, his exploits were well established even during his lifetime.

Driving through country lanes, it might prove slightly difficult to find Smailholm Tower but it is signposted, although, at the time of writing, not very distinctly. A busy farm yard is part of the route, a bit disconcerting for those thinking they are lost, but once over the cattle grids and on towards the now visible structure, a single track road provides an impressive approach to this fifteenth century tower.

Fronted by an old mill pond which is garnished with rocks, spearwort and water lilies as well as frequent wildlife visitors such as herons and water hens, Smailholm Tower stands 57ft (17m) high on an already elevated outcrop of rock. It is an unusual setting for an extraordinary monolith whose main purpose was to command a wide prospect over the Tweed Valley and also to withstand attack during the Reiver's raids. From the top there is a fine panorama of the Cheviots, the Lammermuirs and east to the Eildon Hills.

The tower was in ruins by 1799 and would have remained so or been cleared away if not for the intervention of Scotland's most famous author, Sir Walter Scott. He had spent his childhood holidays at the adjacent farm with his grandparents and was quite attached to the old stockade. On hearing of its demise, Scott made a deal with the then owner, Scott of Harden, to write a ballad about the tower providing the farmer made sure that it was saved. The Eve of St John was the consequence. Smailholm was also mentioned in Sir Walter's book, Marmion and it now houses an exhibition of dolls and tapestries.

Dryburgh Abbey

Nearby and this time, well signposted is Dryburgh Abbey. It has one of the most romantic settings of all four of the Borders abbeys founded in the reign of David I.

Set in a horseshoe bend of the River Tweed, it is enclosed by tall trees of several varieties including cedars from Lebanon brought back from the Holy Lane during the Crusades. Its pale reddish brown sandstone was erected and occupied by Augustinian monks from Alnwick in Northumberland in 1140. Again, the English repeatedly ravaged it. In 1322, this ecclesiastic centre was nearly lost but financial aid from Robert the Bruce saw it completely rebuilt.

Acting for Henry VIII in 1545, Hertford, of Kelso infamy, left it a smouldering hulk. Little now remains of the church but the twelfth and thirteenth century cloister buildings are still tolerably intact. The tomb of the Borders' greatest son, Sir Walter Scott, is found here along with that of his biographer, Lockhart, who lies buried at his feet.

Following the B6356 upwards beyond Dryburgh Abbey, you come to a walled outlook over the Tweed called Scott's View. The prospect, centring on the Eildon Hills, was such a favourite of the author that, whilst drawing his funeral cortege on its way to Dryburgh Abbey, his horses paused of their own accord, as they had so often done with Scott.

Around Melrose

What we see of the village of Melrose today has been built in the last two centuries. It is a delightfully quiet hamlet set around a square where four main routes converge.

Most visitors come to Melrose to see its abbey, lying just north of the square. The Cistercian monks that settled here in 1136 preferred a simple existence and the original Melrose Abbey was a plain building that lay at the heart of their farming province. The ever-threatening English dealt the same blows here as at the other Borders abbeys during the Wars of Independence, laying waste the building on several occasions.

Reconstruction took place in a much more elaborate style through to the sixteenth century. This incorporated, as well as grand arches, towers and huge windows, humorous stone-carved figures such as a cook with his ladle, a mason with his mallet and a pig playing the bagpipes, all of which can still be made out around the top.

Beyond the abbey walls, Melrose offers a stimulating Motor Museum with a host of paraphernalia as well as a collection of some 200 cars and motor bikes. To the south of the abbey is a pleasant retreat in Priorwood Gardens where small plant beds contain flowers especially suited for drying.

From Melrose, it is possible to hike up the Eildon Hills. Eildon Hill North was once a fortified Pictish settlement and, later, a Roman Signal Station. For the more enthusiastic walker, the Southern Upland Way passes near town and a good 9-hole golf course graces the lower slopes of the Eildon's.

To get there from the village square, head south up the hill on the B6359. There are many fishing spots in this area primarily on the Tweed and, for all fishing needs, get in touch with Ted Hunter at the Angler's Choice in Market Square. Permits are obtained through his unique Salmon Letting Computer service which tells, at the press of a button, what beats are available at any given time.


Turning south from Melrose on the A68, you enter the Teviot Valley, fringed by the Cheviot Hills and punctuated by some of the Borders' main towns. Situated only 10 miles (6km) above the English Border on a vitally important transit route for armies and supplies, Jedburgh, so called because of its position on the Jed Water, has seen more than its fair share of conflict. Its townsmen gained a deserved reputation for tenacity and aggressive behaviour during the troubled times, no doubt out of necessity.

Founded by David I, first as a priory then elevated to the status of abbey and subsequently destroyed by English armies during the Wars of Independence, Jedburgh Abbey was later reconstructed and now stands imposing above the Jed Water. In the Visitor's Centre the history of this and the other Borders' abbeys is thoughtfully explained.

The town of Jedburgh is encapsulated in the central area behind the abbey. It is a busy place, very well kept, with locals and visitors hunting round a colourful array of gift shops and quality purveyors.

From the central Market Place you can walk up the hill to Castle Jail Museum. This nineteenth century reform prison stands on the site of Jedburgh Castle, a fortification that the Scots destroyed themselves to avoid it coming into English hands. It occupied a strategic position overlooking the town and its valley, which extends to the south.

The jail, maintained in its original condition, gives a good idea of nineteenth century prison life, which does not seem, on viewing the exhibitions, as bad as you might imagine. There is a wide grassy area outside to rest before the hike back into town. Further on out this road, you will come to the clubhouse of Jedburgh Golf Club.

The Mary Queen of Scots House and Visitor Centre on Queen Street presents perhaps a rather over-dramatised version of this much-exposed monarch's life. The fact is they are slightly unsure if she even stayed here. More substantiated events surrounding her life did take place around Jedburgh, very possibly in this house, which is well restored to tell the story.

Hawick and Selkirk

Hawick, pronounced 'Hoik', is set on the banks of the Teviot River. Wool and its products have been Hawick's forte and a great pastime for visitors is 'raking' through the many woollen mill bargain bins for a low-priced jumper. Its main industry was, at one time, hosiery but this has been replaced by more up-market demands for golf sweaters and fashionable woollen fabrics. The history of the town is contained in Hawick Museum and Scott Art Gallery found in Wilton Lodge Park. If it rains you can take refuge in the Teviotdale Leisure Centre with its saunas, steam rooms and swimming pools.

The A7 from Carlisle comes from the west through Hawick and continues on north to Selkirk some 12 miles (19km) away. This 'Ancient Royal Burgh' stands high above the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys, which were alive with the clatter of water-powered textile mills throughout the nineteenth century. There is still plenty of such activity in the production of tweed, tartan and cashmere and most of these items are on sale from the modern factory units found on the outskirts of town or in their millshop outlets. Selkirk is also known for glassware, which can be seen being made at the Selkirk Glass factory also just off the A7.

Selkirk was the first municipality to benefit from King David I's ambitious plan to erect abbeys and priories throughout Scotland. But Selkirk Abbey lasted for only 20 years before the Tyronensian monks, who apparently preferred Kelso's flatter location, abandoned it.

The town's Market Place is squeezed into one corner by the lively A7 road, which passes through the centre of town. It contains a statue of Sir Walter Scott, county sheriff here for 33 years. At the other end of the High Street is a memorial to the Battle of Flodden of 1513. Visit Halliwell's House, the town's oldest building, for an excellent display featuring Selkirk's ironmongery industry, an important part of its heritage.

Abbotsford House

Driving north from Selkirk there is a minor road, the B6360, well signposted for Abbotsford House, the Tweedside mansion of Sir Walter Scott. Scott bought the old farmhouse of Cartleyhole, or 'Clarty-hole' as it was dubbed, in 1811, immediately replacing the name and, in stages, building the present house. One of the great architectural charms of the place is its mish-mash of styles.

Incorporated in the building's fabric are numerous inscribed stones rescued from sites across south-eastern Scotland. Scott assembled a large collection of curiosities, items such as a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie's hair, Flora MacDonald's pocket book, Montrose's sword, Rob Roy's sporran purse and over 9,000 books. It was in Abbotsford that Scott wrote most of his famous Waverely Novels.

Around Galashiels

The Galashiels 'Manufacturer's Corporation's motto encapsulates the community's spirit, 'We dye to live and live to die'. Just off the main shopping area and along Huddersfield Road is Peter Anderson's Woollen Mill, which produces the world's largest range of pure wool and worsted tartans and may be explored by guided tour.

The Borders Wool Centre to the west following the A72, has a collection of rare breeds of sheep as well as spinning demonstrations, a shop and display of fleeces reflecting the importance of wool in the economy of this area. Ladhope Golf Course behind the town to the north has some of the steepest holes in golf, namely the 9th and 10th.

If you are staying in this area an interesting diversion leads north either on the A7 or the A68 from Melrose to the village of Lauder and its nearby Thirlestane Castle. This has been the home of the Maitland family for some 400 years and displays paintings by Gainsborough, Lawrence, Hoppner and Romney.

The A72 west of Galashiels meets up with some spectacular stretches of the River Tweed once it descends on to its plain. The roadside village of Walkerburn has the Scottish Museum of Woollen Textiles, which is worth a short stop if you really are interested in wool. Admittance is free and the displays show the history of the wool trade from its early days as a cottage industry to the fashionable business that it has become. There is a large mill shop and a coffee shop.

Around Innerleithen

The next Tweedsdale village is Innerleithen, a popular holiday escape for those that know its hidden virtues. Innerleithen was famous for its spa throughout the nineteenth century and was mentioned in Sir Walter Scott's St Ronan's Well. A pump room was built by the owner of Traquair House to help capitalise on the fashion, mostly created by Scott's mention of the place, and now there is the St Ronan's Wells Interpretative Centre to further exploit the well's enduring appeal.

Found on the High Street in Innerleithen is a remarkable survivor from the Victorian era as well as a valuable archive of the printing trade. Robert Smail's Printing Works, now run by the National Trust for Scotland, served the local community until 1986 with letterheads, posters, invitations and, up until March 1916, a weekly newspaper. Much of the equipment dates back to the commencement of trade and records of every print job carried since the business started in 1866, were still on file when the Trust took over. The 100-year-old printing press was originally run by water and its water wheel had to be restored to put the press in motion again. Today, you can watch the printer preparing the presses and you can try setting type by hand yourself.

Traquair House

Traquair House is signposted from Innerleithen following the B709. One of the most remarkable homes in Scotland, it is also said to be the oldest continuously inhabited. The same family since as far back as the tenth century, has owned the grounds. The present Traquair House started as a twelfth century keep to which was added a fifteenth century tower. There were further extensions throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, resulting in an odd but impressive conglomeration of period styles.

One of Traquair House's most famous residents was Mary Queen of Scots who stayed here with her husband, Darnley, in 1566. Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', was a brief guest on his march to London in 1745. The main 'Bear Gates', as they are called, are said to remain shut, on the owner's pledge to Charles, until a Stuart king or queen once again sits on the British throne. You enter the grounds, therefore, by the side entrance. Through the back, there is a working eighteenth century brew-house fermenting Traquair Ale. There are craft-shops in nearby buildings.

Around Peebles

Glentress Forest, just before the town of Peebles, is known for mountain bike trails through the forest and over the hills of Moorfoot. Bikes can be hired at the Glentress Mountain Bike Centre where bike holidays are arranged and racing events are often staged. The trails go along the Tweed or through Forestry Commission property but the best rides are for those with stamina enough to climb through the forestry tracks and face the high hills and dales beyond.

Peebles is a large town by Borders standards with a High Street that is well stocked with interesting country stores and unusual gift shops. This is also the main parade for the Common Riding of the Marches, a yearly display of the horse-power of the area. Its origins of vigilance in the time of the Border raids and Wars of Independence are more serious.

The Tweedale Museum is housed in the Chambers Institute found half way down the High Street. The building was presented to the town by the publisher, William Chambers, already full of art works, casts of famous sculptures and colourful friezes. With the help of money donated by Andrew Carnegie, the house was then enlarged to include reading rooms, a library, an art gallery and two museums.

Off Peebles High Street are pends and alleyways such as Newby Court with craft workers turning wood or making bagpipes, both Scottish and Northumbrian. Continue down the alley to overlook the River Tweed, which cuts the town in two and is flanked by wide, grassy commons to relax or stroll on. There are several walks through the surrounding hills listed in the Popular Walks Around Peebles leaflet available from the tourist office.

Neidpath Castle a mile or so west of Peebles, has an imposing prospect over the Tweed which is best appreciated by walking down either of the river banks and gazing up at its domineering situation. The tower is fourteenth century while extensions were built in the seventeenth century. Inside the front doorway is an arrow indicating the 12-foot (4m) width of walls along with a tongue-in-cheek display of trash left by more recent visitors. There is also an interesting little museum.

Thursday, December 26th, 2019

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