Things to do in the Scottish Borders
Warm, sunny afternoons, empty country roads, windows down…..it sneaks up on me with alarming realisation that I can’t remember the last time I had this experience. This sense of solitude. You’ll certainly never find it in the Highlands in summer and it’s always in August that us locals start to long for traffic-free journeys and a slowing of the pace. This is the Scottish Borders, have you met?
In truth, the same applies to neighbouring Dumfries and Galloway but there is something very appealing about the rolling hills, acres of agricultural land and lingering air of traumatic history that you’ll find in these parts. Backroads and rural villages, sleepy and inquisitive. Medieval ruins, crumbling and melancholic. Wildlife, plentiful and undisturbed.
I’ve decided that I need to come up with an over-tourism itinerary for Scotland. My recent attempts at awareness-raising have been well-received and a lot of travellers out there are looking to do their bit to make tourism sustainable. To take the pressure off the over-promoted areas that face permanent damage as a result of visitor avalanches. Southern Scotland will feature prominently. A gigantic chunk of our landmass that is graced by only a tiny percentage of our international visitors, let’s see what can be done to show you all the full picture of Scotland. That one’s coming soon.
Cultural Activities in the Scottish Borders
Our latest Scotlanders campaign sees us team up to target multiple highlights around the region. Between David, Kim and I we’re focussing on history, leisure and culture. Targeting just part of the sprawling region, we dip in and out of the picturesque towns, get lost in the backroads and drink in the distinctive atmosphere and personality of the Borders over a (by our standards) relaxed weekend. Here’s a run-through of this visit’s cultural highlights.
The Jim Clark Motorsport Museum
Scotland has punched above its weight in the history of motorsports, delivering legends and memories that have helped make the sport what it is. They don’t come better than Jim Clark, a Borders local boy that shot to worldwide fame as a multiple Formula 1 winner, champion of the Indy 500 and one of the most talented drivers of all time.
The newly re-furbished Museum in the little town of Duns has quickly shot up the ladder of the top things to do in the region. It presents a compact and surprisingly intimate tribute to this local hero. Dominating motor racing awards in the 1960s, he won a staggering 25 Grand Prix before being tragically killed in a car crash in Hockenheim in 1968. Even his death was ground-breaking, as a devastated Formula One community redefined their procedures with a renewed focus on safety thereafter.
The Museum contains a cinema, a (rather vast) trophy cabinet, authentic car displays and even a racing simulator. The kids will love it and the adults’ attempts at nonchalance won’t last long either. A shy and modest farmer before the discovery of his unexpected talents behind the wheel, there’s that ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to’ element to his unassuming behaviour. I guarantee, even those with no interest in motorsports will want to know more.
Old Gala House, Galashiels
Located within one of the Borders’ bustling residential hubs, this place is a tucked away little corner of serenity. The building housing the Museum goes back to 1583 and was a former residence of the Lairds of Galashiels. Superbly maintained, it fits in seamlessly with neighbourhood life in a way that Scotland truly does excel at. U-shaped and compact, it manages to pull off both domestic and visitor friendly and is home to some beautiful exhibits.
Artwork dominates the interior with items from the British Museum, sculptures from local master Thomas Clapperton and a rare example of a painted ceiling, dating from the 1600s. Lavish gardens, complete with water features including a mini waterfall, complete the excellent venue.
A town with its own dialect, Teri Talk, and a particularly impressive heritage of producing wonderful knitwear and international-class rugby players, Hawick manages to be both serene and dynamic as it sits just a few miles short of the border with England. Head for the Heart of Hawick for things to do, the core hub of activity and cultural tributes. A cinema and café make for an excellent gathering point for locals and visitors alike, with live music performances even making an appearance if you time it right!
The Borders Textile Towerhouse just over the road covers the knitwear-focussed past, present and future of the town’s creative innovations and is wonderfully constructed within a 16th Century tower. Voluntary contributions of all shapes, styles and purposes are dotted about the multi-floor building within a building. There are also some superb visual depictions of the famous Common Riding. This is a large-scale commemoration of the riding of the town’s boundaries and also of a celebrated victory over an English raiding party by local lads in 1514. Now very much an annual festival, it’s one of those fabulous local traditions that we must hope never fades.
Where to stay
Being off the beaten path for the standard Scotland trip itineraries, large-scale tourism infrastructure is limited throughout Southern Scotland. Therein lies the appeal for us types that have grown weary of the August crowds. But the standards remain high, more so I would suggest than the particularly overrun areas of the Highlands, where a conveyer-belt approach to visitors has started to creep in in the worst cases.
I spent one night just outside Peebles at the Macdonald Cardrona. A large complex (unusual for the Borders) that includes a spa and impressive golf facilities, this is a comfortable and convenient stop for those looking to explore the inland treasures of the region. Or that are simply looking for an escape from Edinburgh, just 20 miles away. Peebles is an energetic and pretty wee place and the Macdonald is ideally sited for immediate access to Go Ape, the miraculous Great Polish Map of Scotland and the cycling and walking options in Glentress Forest.
For my second night I was on the hunt for self-catering options and found a beauty to the north of Jedburgh, The Laurels. Perfect for a rural family get away, the house has all the facilities (with a particularly impressive cooking area) a traveller would need. Luxuriously decorated and overlooked by the distinctive Waterloo Monument atop Peniel Heugh, an afternoon drink in the garden was sheer bliss after a long day on the road.
This campaign promoting the above attractions, and things to do in the Scottish Borders more generally, was part of a paid promotion with Live Borders. Their focus is on promoting leisure, sport and culture locally. Don’t let that take anything away from the fact, though, that I very much see the Borders as one of Scotland’s most underrated spots, and one that merits a lot more fanfare in tourism circles. Expect a further big push from me as I explore more of this huge region in 2020!
Subscribe to Blog via Email