A weekend in the Scottish Borders
The Scottish Borders is a region on the rise. Too often missed in favour of the more dramatically obvious lure of the landscapes in the north there is still something hugely appealing about this neck of the woods. So with the new Borders Railway about to deliver a huge boost to the area in terms of accessibility from the Central Belt, here’s my go at picking out the region’s gems.
As my previous blog review of Abbotsford House subtly hints at, a visit to Sir Walter Scott’s home is an absolute must. It would be a bit of a travesty to come to the Borders and miss out on Abbotsford, and nearby Melrose makes for an excellent base for a weekend of wider exploration. Backed by the beautiful Eildon Hills, Melrose boats one of the finest ruins in the country in Melrose Abbey and also hosts the famous Rugby Sevens which occurs annually over April.
Aside from the wonderful Borders Abbey trail that I have also blogged about in the past, other historical Borders highlights include the eerie and desolate Hermitage Castle just shy of the Scotland-England border. Unapologetically sinister and dramatic it would fit in nicely with a Macbeth or a Game of Thrones – some sort of middle of nowhere torture house where nobody can hear your screams kind of affair. Loved it. It was also a favourite of Sir Walter and one of the famous spots visited by Mary Queen of Scots, she got about. Near Kelso you can find the paradoxically regal Floors Castle, the mansion home of the Duke of Roxburghe. Yet another is Traquhair House, the oldest inhabited house in the country and which is to be found near Peebles. There’s also the William Wallace statue on the Bemersyde Estate near Melrose, one of numerous tributes to Scotland’s historical guardian. On that note, I also recommend a day trip visit to the town of Lanark, former home of Wallace and where his legacy kicked off.
The Scottish Borders is also a haven for lovers of the outdoors. A clear highlight of our recent Scotlanders trip to the region was a visit to Go Ape. Long a member of my to-do list, this is something special. The concept is pretty simple – become at one with your inner ape and take “to the trees!”. Memories of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves anyone? Cue a goosepimply moment for the boy within the man. Bounding about majestically between treetops with the odd tarzan-style announcement is how it is meant to go. The reality for first timers like myself involves a fair amount of the pathetic, the undignified and the simply shameful. From irritable mutterances about my lack of horizontal progress along a rope ladder to foul-mouthed rants as to the effect on my knees of crawling through a cylindrical assault course to the ludicrous image of becoming inexplicably entangled in suspended foot monkey bars……
But it is every bit as much fun as it looks and more and I absolutely loved it! The build-up throughout the adventure course is very much to the gigantic climatic zip wire ride. Fleeing gleefully over a reservoir and allowing for wonderful views over a vast forest, it makes for a hugely exhilarating 30 seconds or so. I can very much see the appeal for workplace team building experiences in particular. After watching a colleague frolic helplessly about on those bars there’s not likely to be any quarrelling over the photocopier for some time. Go Ape have their Borders presence at luscious Glentress Forest, another one near Peebles. They have a further 27 sites dotted around the UK.
The Scottish Borders are of course ideally suited to long and short walking and cycling excursions. The 212 mile long Southern Upland Way is the best known and passes through Melrose for those interested in jumping in for a stretch or two. The same applies for St Cuthbert’s Way and the Borders Abbeys Way, a romantic (if arduous) means of exploring the four great ruins. For less committed alternatives, consider the Scottish Borders Walking Festival that caters to a range of preferences and runs in September. The options really are endless.
Getting about. With attractions well spread out, having your own wheels has always been advantageous in The Borders. To see all of what I’ve just described above that is possibly still the case, particularly for the likes of Hermitage Castle in the far south. That being said, the new trainline (running from Edinburgh to Tweedbank and which will include occasional steam trains), and long standing bus routes, do present a wonderful alternative for shorter stays in and around the likes of Melrose, Hawick, Selkirk, Kelso and more. I find the Borders towns to be attractions in themselves. Relaxed and picturesque any of those would make for an excellent base for those that want to leave the car behind. So pore over the bus timetable, rummage about for the walking boots or get on your bike, there’s plenty waiting for you when you get here.
This blog post comes as part of the latest campaign for the Scotlanders – a collaboration of the top Scotland travel bloggers that scour the country to pick out and highlight the best bits.
You can listen to more on my top things to do in the Borders by clicking play below to listen to my regional summary on Radio Scotland.
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