Impressions from the Road: The Scottish Borders

by Keith Savage · 3 comments


Open Medieval Culverts at Melrose Abbey

After another week and several hundred more miles on the rental Hyundai, I write to you from East Lothian, where the clouds and rain have finally caught up with me after a solid week of sunshine and fair weather. In that time I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the Scottish Borders, primarily in that sweet spot from Melrose to Kelso, from the comfort and luxury of the Whitehouse Country House and Roxburghe Hotel. The experience of the Scottish Borders has exceeded my memory of the place in every respect, and on my way up to East Lothian I found myself pondering all the area has to offer and choking on the injustice of its invisibility to many foreign visitors.

There’s much to say about the Scottish Borders, and in the comings months I’ll share loads of articles here and elsewhere. Today’s post is simply meant to catch those ideas bubbling to the surface and provide a passenger-seat view into my travels. So what impressed me about the Scottish Borders?

Impressions

This is a vibrant area on par with Speyside. There’s a lot to see and do in the Borders, especially that triangle between Melrose, Jedburgh, and Kelso. When I think about ideal places to visit in Scotland, I think about areas that offer interesting activities for varied sensibilities coupled with outstanding scenery and subtle tourism infrastructure like walking paths and cycling routes. The Borders has it all, and more than once I found myself comparing it to Speyside, which is something of hallowed ground to me. I can’t give higher marks than that, and clearly vacationing Scottish, English, and European families are well aware of this fact based on the people I met during my stint there. Perhaps the Borders see more tourism than Dumfries & Galloway, but it’s still in that no-man’s land between the Scottish cities and England’s Lake District. Circle this part of the map.

Walkers and armchair historians rejoice. The Borders are littered with scads of interesting ancient structures, ruins, and monuments – places like Melrose Abbey, Dryburgh Abbey, Jedburgh Abbey, Kelso Abbey, Smailholm Tower, the Wallace Monument, Abbotsford, and the list goes on and on. This is a historically rich part of Scotland that will keep you busy for days, and it makes exploring a lot of fun because you won’t need to scour the countryside to find sites of interest. There are also loads of excellent walking paths, like the Border Abbeys Way, that criss-cross the countryside and give you a good excuse to pop into pubs like the Buccleuch Arms and Burts Hotel for a pint at the end of a tiring day. Not that you need an excuse, of course. I speak from experience.

The Eildon Hills are magnificent. Southeast Scotland, geologically speaking, is pretty funny. The area is largely rolling hills of oilseed rape and pasture, but then, seemingly out of nowhere, rise massive hills that you can see from many miles around. Plop these hills in the highlands and you’d probably lose them in among the crowd, but down here they are awesome, imposing sights. The Eildon Hills are a trio of rough peaks that loom over Melrose having borne witness to much history. The Romans built a fort near here that they called Trimontium after the Eildon Hills, and Thomas the Rhymer claimed they were hollow hills of sorcery.

Melrose and Kelso are treasures. I keep a short list of towns in Scotland that resonate with me and embody everything I love about this country. Dunkeld, Aberlour, and Portree make the list. Now Melrose and Kelso do, too. These are pretty towns in pretty places along the River Tweed with great pubs, good shopping, and positive energy. Go to them and see what I mean.

I’ll be back next week with my last post of impressions from the road. In the meantime, check out Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for extra photos, updates, and thoughts from the road!


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