Discover Scotland’s Borderlands… Something most US tourists miss
Do you like many tourists think of Edinburgh when you think of Scotland?
Maybe a quick stop on a multi-city tour. But there is so much more to see, experience and explore in Scotland. Like discovering the borderlands. Head south an hour outside Edinburgh, and discover castles, abbeys, and quaint towns. Rich in history, beauty, adventure, and opportunities.
This is a tour you can easily do in five days with no rush. If you like biking, hiking, and the outdoor life, be sure to add extra days in the Tweed Valley. For “high-octane” adventure, you’ll need more time.
It’s only 21.9 miles between Peebles and Selkirk so you have lots of choices of a place to stay. You’ll find accommodations that range from castles, hotels, guest inns, bed-and-breakfast, to bunkhouses, camping, and self-catering.
There is a lot to see in a small area. Pick a town as a home base. Or tour and stay over in multiple spots to get a sense of life in the very different communities.
As in all of Scotland, the weather can change quickly. It’s always good to have a raincoat and good walking shoes.
Venues generally close before dark for guest safety. Since they depend on natural light, winter hours are shorter. In very inclement weather, there can be surprise closures. It’s good to do a last minute check.
Edinburgh – Tweed Valley
From Edinburgh take the A703 to its junction with the A72 and head toward Peebles. You are driving through the stunning Tweed Valley. It’s one of the most popular places in the borderlands. Prized for its natural beauty and outdoor activities of every imaginable type.
An hour 15 minutes down the road you come to the little town of Galashiels.
Just outside of town is Abbotsford, the home of writer Sir Walter Scott. The
striking hills, valleys, and history of the area were a great inspiration to him. Tours of the house and gardens are available March to November, but the gift shop and restaurant are open year round.
Galashiels was a textile town. It has a more modern post-industrial feel to it. There is still a textile making school here. Famous for its sheep, wool was readily available and the fast-flowing Tweed River powered the mills.
Selkirk is less than 7 minutes down the road. Here you can visit Bowhill House and Country Estate, and two glass studios. Lindean Mill Glass and Twist Glass Studio will both amaze and tempt you to buy.
From this area of the lowlands came a grace that Robert Burns popularized as the Selkirk Grace. A two-line prayer often recited before eating.
Melrose, about 5 miles from Galashiels, offers the historic charm of a border market town. It’s full of history well worth exploring. Melrose is 14.6 miles, about 27 minutes west of Kelso.
Explore Melrose – Kelso
You could easily spend two days in this area of the borderlands. There is a lot to see and do. Be sure to take your camera as there are lots of photo opportunities.
This is a must-see. One of the most famous ruins in Scotland. Founded by
David I, in 1136 for the order of the Cistercian. Melrose suffered damage at the hands of the English during the middle ages. In the 1380s, rebuilding took place. After the last monk passed away in 1590 it fell into disuse.
The abbey is open year round, but October through March the hours are shortened. The Commendator’s House Museum has a diverse collection of medieval objects.
Three Hills Roman Heritage Center
The Romans arrived in the Melrose area in 79-80AD. They built a major fort called Trimontium, ‘Place of the Three Hills’. The Three Hills Roman Heritage Center houses a museum dedicated to Roman life in Scotland.
The name Three Hills refers to the distinctive three-peaked hill, also called Elidon, just south of the town of Melrose. One of the highest and most distinctive geographical features in the borderlands, it was a natural location for an outlook or signal station. The military base would have been along the Roman army road that ran through the valley near the Tweed River.
This abbey is nearby in St. Boswells. Established in 1150 you’ll find well-
preserved ruins. They rank among the most beautiful in Scotland. It survived three fires and is the final resting place for both David Eskrine, 11th Earl of Buchan in 1829, and three years later his friend Sir Walter Scott. The abbey is open to visitors year around. It’s easy to access… flat with no steps.
Located in Kelso you’ll find the remains of the abbey founded in the twelfth
century. The ruins are a testimony to one of the greatest architectural achievements in historic Scotland. It was one of the largest and most affluent of the abbeys in Scotland. The area is so pretty, it has attracted artists since the 1600s.
This high point was an inspiration to Sir Walter Scott. Located off the
narrow B6404 that runs between Kelso and St. Boswells it offers commanding views of the Three Hills and the Tweed Valley. A bench and marker commemorate where Scott liked to contemplate. On our tour, we stopped past Scott’s View on our way to find Smailholm Tower.
This is a classical borderland tower house. Four stories tall (65 feet), and
built on a rocky crag called Lady Hill its address is Sandyknowe Farm. This reflects its location adjacent to a local farm on the narrow B-road.
It’s a gem of a find. To get there park in the small carpark and hike up the hill. The ground is rocky and uneven. Not recommended for those with physical challenges.
Amazing views reward your hike. Inside the hall, there is a model of the Pringle residence and a collection of garments and tapestries from Sir Walter Scott’s time. Scott’s grandparents brought him to the area when they stayed at Sandyknowe Farm.
Located just outside of Kelso, the 1st Duke of Roxburghe built Floors in 1721.
It is more a country estate than a defensive fortification. Offering tours for over 40 years, this huge castle is still an inhabited family home. There have been many modifications over the years as families suited it to their needs.
If you have the family names of Ker, Kerr, Car, or Carr in your ancestry, you’ll enjoy researching in this area. Both lines of the family were in high power positions as lords of the middle marshes and favorites of King James VI.
You’ll find Cessford just over 11 miles south and slightly east of Floors. It
was the stronghold of the Ker family during the 16th and 17th century. The area was in constant turmoil for 200 years. But the Kers exercised considerable power and extended their prosperity.
Built in about 1450 this is a tower house fortification. It sits high on a hill with commanding views that made it very defensible. Cessford is located just outside of the town of Cessford. Last inhabited in 1650 it fell into ruin. Standing on this windswept hillside, it’s a cold lonely place that triggers the imagination of life in times gone by.
Also near Kelso, you can find the ruins of Roxburgh Castle. Sitting next to
the A699 it’s easy to find. There is a pull off where you can park and hike to the ruins. Wear good footwear, the ground is uneven. Little stonework remains but the site is impressive.
Built by King David I in 1125, it stood guard protecting the burg of Roxburgh. The location overlooked the river Tweed, a valuable method of transporting goods.
In its day, it was as important as Edinburgh or Sterling are today. The rivers Tweed and Teviot ran closer to it than they do today, protecting the castle with water-filled defenses on all sides.
Besieged numerous times for its powerful vantage point, it shifted back and forth between English and Scottish ownership for nearly 300 years. Finally, abandoned, 1551 saw it demolished to prevent further military use.
Look northwest across the Tweed and you can see Floors Castle in the distance.
Jedburgh sits 12 miles southwest of Kelso, about a twenty-minute drive. It makes a great day-trip or a quaint place to stay. This market town was home to the Kerr Clan. The family castle, Fernihurst, is located just outside of town. The village name comes from its location on the river Jed. Only about 10 miles from the English border, it is the heart of the borderlands.
King David I built the original castle before 1174. In the late 12th century,
Jedburgh along with four other castles was ceded to the English. An occasional royal residence for Scots, the English recaptured it many times. Finally, Scots demolished it in 1409. In the 19th century, rebuilding occurred. It opened as a prison in 1823. Today it is a museum. It gives you insights into being a resident in the jail… as well as a glimpse of the area history. Free admission.
The abbey founded in the 12th century was home to Augustinian monks. It is
one of four great abbeys built at this time. You’ll find it exceptionally preserved. Good access to the abbey, its cloister, and domestic buildings. The blend of Romanesque and early Gothic is intriguing. The abbey is open year round, but the hours are shorter in the winter.
Mary Queen of Scotts Center
The Kerr family rented this home to Mary when she toured the area on
business. She stayed a month in the autumn of 1566 and as queen, dispensed justice. Today, a visitor’s center, the home gives you insights of her life and times. It is one of the largest collections of pictures and objects about the queen.
Many Kerr were left-handed. When they built this home, they included a left-handed stairway. It’s on the second floor. The stairway offered left-handed defenders a decided advantage over right-handers trying to attack them.
You can also walk in the enclosed garden and wander in the town. Free
admission. It is open to the public March 1st through the end of November.
Tucked on a hill two miles south of Jedburgh is Fernihurst Castle, the seat of
Clan Kerr. Privately owned, it allows the public access during the month of July. This coincides with the Jedburgh Summer Festival.
During this two-week-long festival, there are lots of activities to celebrate and commemorate the taking back of Fernihurst from the English in 1549. The festival tops off with a 200 man mounted cavalcade. They ride from Jedburgh to Fernihurst castle. There a commemorative service is performed.
Nestled among trees, Fernihurst has commanding views of the surrounding countryside and village.
Fernihurst represents one of the best-preserved castles of its period. Originally a tower fortification built in 1476. James VI mostly demolished it in 1593 as punishment for helping the English.
Sir Andrew Kerr rebuilt it in 1598. The family occupied the home for 200 years. Starting in the 1980s the Laird hired local craftsmen, using local materials. to undertake restoration.
Occasionally, a private tour is available. The amazing curator Bob Larson is extremely knowledgeable. He also responds to family and genealogy inquiries from Kerrs/Carrs worldwide.
From Jedburgh, you are only 6.2 miles, about 15 minutes to the Waterloo
Monument. It’s accessible via a car park at the Harestanes Visitor Centre. It’s accessible from the B6400 or A68. The marked path sits on private land. The hike is steep in places. It’s best on a good weather day.
The views are fabulous. The monument soars 150 feet tall. Constructed in 1817-1824 it commemorates the battle of Waterloo.
They keep the tower locked. For a small fee, you rent a key that allows you access inside. You’ll find a circular stair that takes you clear to the top. I didn’t do this hike but there heard of key issues. Key access is not available daily. Some reviewers reported faulty keys.
If you like a good hike and want spectacular views, this is a must do.
Return to Edinburgh
From Jedburgh, you are less than two hours to Edinburgh. From the Waterloo Monument about 75 minutes. Both routes travel the A68. Easy access to return to the city.
Create your own tour?
If you need help creating your own custom tour, please contact me: Judith@spatravelinsider.com. My husband is English and knows all the insider places. We both love exploring the British Isles and help you create your memorable experience.