On the Kelso Town Trail

by Keith Savage · 4 comments


Kelso Town Trail

The Scottish Borders is home to many pretty, pastoral towns with squares reminiscent of yesteryear, cobblestone streets, and stout buildings centuries old. Quaint shops, atmospheric pubs, and hearty restaurants intermingle with the cool smell of the River Tweed and the pleasant aromas of farm and field. The “heart” of the Borders is a special area, a triangle of land with the towns of Melrose, Kelso, and Jedburgh at the points, that exemplifies all that the Borders have to offer visitors, which is to say — A LOT. To my mind, the heart of the Borders is southern Scotland’s equivalent of that picture-perfect stretch between Aberlour, Craigellachie, and Dufftown in Speyside.

While Melrose receives the lion’s share of attention in the area, Kelso, just 15 miles to the east, deserves a fair shake from visitors. The upside to being off-center of the spotlight is that Kelso has kept its identity despite the increase in tourism over the last century. The fly-fishing shops and outfitters selling shooting suits are here because that’s what the people of Kelso do with their free time. The Tweed is the life’s blood of the region, and its relaxed waters converge with the River Teviot just outside town.

Kelso is quite a small town, and the cobbled center is the part I found most beguiling. I parked my car in a small lot near The Cobbles Inn and ambled down Kelso’s streets, stopping in the wide, central square to admire the pastel facades. I pass the Black Swan and the White Swan pubs, and I wonder what it says about if you choose to drink in one over the other.

Kelso is home to one of the quartet of Border abbeys, and its few remaining ruins stand directly in the center of town much like Jedburgh and Melrose abbeys. Certainly the least compelling of the Border abbeys today, Kelso Abbey used to be the largest of all the local abbeys and it still retains a shadow of its glory with the remaining west tower looming over town. Kelso grew up around the abbey, which was founded in 1128 by Tironensian monks, and the monks of the abbey flourished until the Reformation when the Earl of Hertford systematically destroyed the magnificent structure.

A beautiful war memorial with loads of flowers and manicured gardens stands between the abbey ruins and the River Tweed. I pause here to relax in the sun with a few of Kelso’s older citizens. As I walk out of town I come to a long bridge that spans the Tweed. From here you can see the mighty Floors Castle (more on this later) on the far banks of the Tweed.

There was a little path that led down to a grassy embankment with benches looking over the Tweed. It’s a beautiful day, and fishermen drift down the river as they cast their lines toward the banks. Families picnic in the park behind me. Kelso might be a nice place to settle down.

As the sun passes into the western sky, I find myself back at The Cobbles for dinner and pints. The excellent Tempest Brewery is headquartered in this inn, and if you have no other reason to visit Kelso then you should come just to while away an afternoon at The Cobbles (more on this later).

Kelso is an archetypically beautiful Borders town with a gorgeous cobbled heart. It’s right up there with my favorite towns in Scotland, and it makes a great base for exploring the Scottish Borders.


De'JavNo Gravatar January 15, 2015 at 5:45 AM

Looks like a peaceful place that still has the old feel and look to it. Definitely need to do a tour of the country.

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