Great Places to Stay
- Cloister House, Melrose, The Scottish Borders
"If thou wouldst view fair Melrose aright,
Go visit it by the pale moonlight,
For the fair beams of lightsome day
Gild, but to flout, the ruins grey."
The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Sir Walter Scott (1805)
Many visitors - and Scots too - head north to the Highlands and Islands to get away from it all and enjoy the natural landscape, lochs and mountain scenery. But you needn't travel to the far north to enjoy scenic and tranquil countryside. The Scottish Border country offers miles of gentle rolling hills, woodland, wild forested glens and fast flowing rivers, not least the majestic Tweed. It's a land rich in history and literary culture, dotted with quaint villages, mill towns and the ruins of ancient castles, towers and abbeys.
Surrounded by the triple peaks of the Eildon hills in the heart of the River Tweed valley is the charming old market town of Melrose. Its most famous site is the dramatic towering Gothic ruin of Melrose Abbey, created for the Cistercian monks and dating back to 1136. It is the burial place for a casket believed to contain the heart of Robert the Bruce.
Within the grounds of the Abbey, near a small graveyard, is the Cloister House, built in 1815, which been restored to its original Georgian grandeur. It is now a comfortable family holiday home, which you may rent for a week or a few days. There is, I am sure, no finer place to stay in Melrose that will give such a rich sense of Scottish heritage.
The Cloister House, formerly the Manse, was built for the Minister of the "new" Melrose Parish church, which had been built in 1810. Its designer John Smith was also asked to design the Minister's house - a modest yet a superior and spacious, two storey mansion. Smith and his younger brother were also the architects behind the design of Abbotsford, a couple of miles away, adapting a former farmhouse into a magnificent country house for Sir Walter Scott.
For the Cloister House, expert craftsmen John Gray and William Clark used local pink rubble stone for the walls complemented with cream stone which could be carved for the window and door surrounds. The ministers of Melrose lived in the manse until 1902 when a new house was built nearer the church. Previously used as Ordnance Survey offices, in 1994 Historic Scotland decided the house - a Grade C listed building - should revert to residential use. The Vivat Trust then took over the complete renovation and restoration to preserve its Georgian architectural design and important social history.
Today original features include a neo-classical fanlight, window "lying panes", window shutters, ceiling cornicing and fireplaces. The entire house is beautifully furnished with antiques and period furniture, paintings, lamps, ornaments, quality fabrics, upholstery and drapes, as well as a gorgeous freestanding Victorian-style roll top bath all provide a most comfortable and elegant place to stay.
Indeed it's an absolute privilege to be able to experience this property - not just to visit for an hour or two, like most historic properties, but also to live in it for a few days!
There are two double bedrooms and two twin bedded rooms all on the first floor with two bathrooms. The house therefore sleeps eight people and (well behaved!) children are certainly welcome as there is a games room in the attic with a pool table and selection of board games. All bed linen, towels and basic toiletries are supplied - even a hairdryer - so that you don't have to pack everything except the kitchen sink when you stay here. For those staying a week or two, (especially with children) a washing machine and tumble dryer will give you a home from home.
A delightful drawing room, with large sofa and numerous armchairs, is a cosy place to relax in front of the log fire, (logs and coal supplied), sit and read for hours - or simply look out of the bay window to the Abbey right next door.
On our first night, a full moon was shining in the clear frosty winter sky. Through the wide window of the master bedroom, the moonlight tinted the ancient Abbey walls a golden glow. What a romantic and utterly breathtaking view.
Wining and Dining - Self-catering
The large and practical kitchen is extremely well equipped with every possible utensil and cooking aid from coffee machine and corkscrew to all crockery and cutlery. And a dishwasher - such that catering for family or friends here is actually rather fun. The kitchen has a large table where everyone can gather for breakfast or lunch. But the real charm of the house is the exquisite dining room - right next door to the kitchen - featuring a real fire and candlesticks on the table. This is the perfect setting for a lavish dinner party. The ambience of this classic room oozes with the grace and formal style of its original period that you almost want to dress up in black tie and evening dress. Well, why not?
We loved this dining room so much it was a shame not to use it. So we set the grand dining table for Sunday breakfast and enjoyed orange juice, porridge, scrambled egg, smoked salmon, toast and coffee as we perused the Sunday papers. This was high living indeed.
If you wish to have all or some meals prepared for you, then this can be arranged with local catering staff.
Local grocery and speciality food shops are just a short walk away so it is easy to stock up without having to drive any distance. Alternatively there are some superb restaurants, pubs and bistros also within walking distance if you wish a night off from cooking. Highly recommended are Burts Hotel (with bar food and fine dining restaurant), Gary Moore - a busy, buzzing bistro for excellent modern Scottish cuisine, and Marmions Brasserie, for quality food in a casual atmosphere.
Melrose also has several coffee houses and cafes for a light snack.
Sports and Leisure
The Scottish Borders is a natural playground for all outdoor enthusiasts and sporty people. Fishing, golf, walking, hill climbing around the Eildon Hills, cycling and horse-riding can all be enjoyed. Melrose is in fact the starting point of the St. Cuthbert Way, a fantastic 62-mile signposted walking route that stretches all the way to Lindisfarne, Holy Isle, off the Berwickshire coast. For the less energetic, there are numerous gardens, castles, museums, woollen mills and visitor attractions to visit.
Cloister House guests have free access during opening hours through a private gate to the grounds of Melrose Abbey. Although it is a ruin, there's plenty of preserved architecture and stone carvings around the roofless cloisters and nave including fine sculptures, gargoyles and a pig playing the bagpipes. The abbey is run by Historic Scotland, with a separate museum and gift shop.
Abbotsford should be at the top of your list of places to visit. Located overlooking the River Tweed, just a couple of miles from Melrose, this was Sir Walter Scott's home from 1812 to 1832. Scott spent a small fortune on its creation but tragically he suffered financial loss when his publishers ceased business. He was forced to become a prolific writer to his final days in order to pay off his debts. A very popular and admired novelist and poet throughout his life, Scott did a huge amount to promote Scotland to visitors, highlighting the romantic history of the Borders, Edinburgh and the Highlands, and is now seen as the founder of modern Scottish tourism. He is regarded worldwide as one of Scotland's greatest literary figures.
His beloved home is preserved exactly as it was when he lived here. The library and study still contain his outstanding collection of 9,000 antiquarian books as well as valuable artefacts and possessions including Bonnie Prince Charlie's drinking cup and Flora Macdonald's pocketbook. The house has superb gardens with a teashop.
Visitors are welcome from early March to the end of October and also by appointment between November and March.
And when you are exploring this area, do make time to stop off at Scott's View, Sir Walter's favourite landscape view of the Eildon Hills on the B6356 between Earlston and St. Boswells. In addition to the view, there is a giant statue of Sir William Wallace, staring across to the hills.
The Vivat Trust "Holidays in Historic Buildings"
The Vivat Trust is a national preservation company, having charitable status with the aim of renovating neglected buildings of architectural and historical importance. The properties are sensitively refurbished for holiday accommodation, the rent then used to preserve the buildings. By staying in a Vivat property you are actively helping to maintain remarkable examples of Britain's rich architectural heritage, thereby safeguarding their survival for future generations. There are three historic homes in Scotland run by the Vivat Trust where you can stay for a few days or a week: The Tower of Hallbar near Lanark, The Cloister House, near Melrose Abbey, and Barns Tower near Peebles also in the Scottish Borders.
For more information, or to make a reservation, see the Vivat Trust Web site.
For other information and points of interest, see:
- Visit Scottish Borders - Local tourist information
- Tour of the Scottish Borders - History, Borders Towns, Country Mansions, Great Outdoors
- Abbotsford Sir Walter Scott's baronial mansion and garden near Melrose.
- Dryburgh Abbey> - Its tranquil, serene setting makes it most attractive.
- Floors Castle, Kelso> - The largest inhabited castle in Scotland.
- Jedburgh Abbey> - King David I founded the Augustinian priory in 1138.
- Kelso Abbey> - Sir Walter Scott described the abbey at Kelso as the most beautiful in Scotland.
- Mary Queen of Scots' House> - The link with Mary makes this 16th century house in Jedburgh interesting.
- Melrose Abbey> - Soaring arches, vaulted ceilings, elegant tracery - and Robert the Bruce's heart.
- Smailholm Tower> - Sir Walter Scott described it as "standing stark and upright like a warden".
- Thirlstane Castle> - Owned by the Earl of Lauderdale when he was Secretary of State for Scotland.
Return to the Index of Great Places to Stay in Scotland>.
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