A Tour of the Scottish Borders - Borders Towns
Just as the Border region is distinct in its landscape, history and character, so too is each of the charming towns which are scattered across the Tweed valley. Melrose offers the ideal base in order to tour around the vicinity to visit Abbotsford, enjoy some healthy hill walking or delve into the Roman archeology of the past. The triple peaks of the Eildon Hills are an impressive landmark, the foothills stretching down to the Tweed. The hills, one named the Magic Mountain, were a sacred place by the Celtic priests who performed fire festivals to ward off evil spirits and human sacrifice to the vengeful sky gods. The Eildons are believed to have been created by an alchemist wizard Michael Scott and it was here that Thomas the Rhymer was given the gift of prophecy by the Faerie Queen. Magic and mysterious legends aside, the hills are perfect for an energetic walk, easily reached from the town centre.
Melrose is also the starting point for the St. Cuthbert's Way, a 62 mile trek to Lindisfarne, the Holy Isle. The fully signposted route opened in 1996, the following year winning a national tourism award for such an attractive and innovative venture that encourages people to walk in the countryside as well as recognises this ancient pilgrimage. Maps, guides and accommodation leaflets are available to assist you on this journey.
If you are keen on finding out more about the Roman settlements in the Borders, there is the Trimontium heritage centre in Melrose with an exhibition of fascinating tools, coins and pottery. A guided walk to the Trimontium fort at Newstead and other Roman sites takes place on selected days.
And of course there are the majestic ruins of Melrose Abbey, with Robert the Bruce's heart buried in the grounds.
Even if you have never read a word of Sir Walter Scott, (and you are not alone), this should not preclude a visit to his grand mansion, three miles from Melrose. Browse around his library of 9,000 books and see his collection of armoury - including Rob Roy's gun - Bonnie Prince Charlie's drinking cup, portraits and beautiful antique furniture. The gardens too are delightful with peacocks strutting around, just as they did in Scott's time. His great-great-great grand-daughter still lives here and it is a mecca for international students, academics and general readers of his work. Everything is preserved just as it was when he died in 1832 aged just 61.
The Royal Burgh of Serkirk six miles south of Melrose is also worth a visit to see other historical sites including the Courthouse where Walter Scott served as Sheriff for 30 years. There's also a statue to Mungo Park the famous 18th century explorer who was born near here. Visit the town in June to witness one of the most traditional pageantry events. The Selkirk Gathering, or Common Riding is the largest of the Border Ridings, and this festival dates back to the Battle of Flodden in 1513.
From Selkirk enjoy a relaxing drive along the meandering A707 beside the Yarrow Water to St. Mary's Loch, a beautiful, restful spot in this rather remote and unspoilt part of the Borders. There is a spectacular waterfall, the Grey Mare's tail which plunges 200 feet from an overhanging cliff-face and if you don't mind a precipitous drop beneath, you can climb up to the foot of the falls.
This area is closely linked with the life and work of James Hogg, The Ettrick Shepherd, another notable Borders writer and a good friend of Scott. His famous work is The Confessions of the Justified Sinner and he spent his entire life around the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys.
"Having been born amongst mountains I am always unhappy when in a flat country. Whenever the skirts of a horizon come on a level with myself, I feel myself quite uneasy".
James Hogg, a letter to Sir Walter Scott, 1801.
The Yarrow valley and St. Mary's loch is a perfect place to explore by car or foot and there are several hotels, restaurants and bars for a welcome refreshment. Most notable due to its cultural connections is Tibbie Shiels Inn right at the far end of the loch where Hogg and Scott would sit and chat for hours over a dram or two. This is well worth a stop for a drink or meal - even stay over. The walls are covered with a fascinating display of photographs and pictures depicting the area over the years. If you enjoy walking, from the Inn you can also pick up the Southern Upland way to Ettrick and Moffat.
In the Ettrick Valley near Selkirk is the 16th century Aikwood Tower, now beautifully renovated and preserved by Lord and Lady Steel. The museum here is dedicated to James Hogg with an exhibition that gives an insight into his life and work.
Just ten miles north of the Scottish border this is a very charming little town to wander around. The red sandstone Abbey on the banks of Jed Water was founded in 1138 by David I but during the Border battles it was ransacked and rebuilt many times. Jedburgh was strategically an important town and received the full brunt of the invading English armies. Mary Queen of Scots stayed in Jedburgh in 1566 when recovering from an illness after a journey to meet her lover, The Earl of Bothwell. You can visit her former house which has a well presented exhibition about her tragic life. There's also the impressive Jedburgh Castle at the top of the Castlegate hill. You can sample the local mint sweet, the Jethart Snails which were said to be made in the town by the Napoleonic prisoners of war being held in the Castle Jail. The cell blocks today depict what life was like behind bars in the 19th century.
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