Guide to the Scottish Borders
The borderlands of Scotland were fought over for hundreds of years with the boundaries pushed back and forth as farmsteads and towns were won and lost over and over again. Invading forces dating back to Roman times have marched across these lands and been fought back time after time. The Vikings, Saxons, Normans and the English (the Wars of Scottish Independence of the 13th and 14th centuries) all tried to battle their way in past the occupying Celts. Today, you can visit the ruins of many Roman outposts, castles and manor houses that have seen the conflict flare and eddy across the millennia. It’s an untapped holiday destination full of beauty spots and rolling countryside.
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About the Scottish Borderlands
The Scottish Borders is way more than a former political flashpoint, it’s also a beautiful area of the country with so many places to visit and things to do. Bordering Cumbria and Northumberland in England, there are fantastic locations like the city of Edinburgh, Dumfries and Galloway, the Lothians, and South Lanarkshire to explore. The main towns are Melrose, Galashiels, Kelso, Newtown St Boswells, Peebles, Jedburgh, Eyemouth, and Dunblane. The River Tweed snakes through the region and forms a natural boundary between England and Scotland for its last 20 miles before it flows into the North Sea at Berwick-upon-Tweed. While there are plenty of towns and villages to explore, each with their own unique appeal, the Borders also make an excellent base from which to visit Edinburgh. The Borders Railway will make it even easier to explore Scotland's capital from your holiday cottage.
Two of Scotland’s national scenic areas: Eildon and Leaderfoot, and the area of Upper Tweedale are in the Scottish Borderlands. The former is home to the Eildon Hills and Melrose, and Leaderfoot Viaduct; the latter is where you’ll find the upper stretches of the River Tweed.
Celebrated poet and author Sir Walter Scott, famous for Ivanhoe, is associated with the Scottish Borders – particularly Melrose. If you are a fan, head to Abbotsford, his hometown, or to Scott’s View, a lovely beauty spot favoured by the poet, situated near Bemersyde and Melrose, and overlooking the Tweed Valley landscape. Other famous people who lived in the Scottish Borders include poets Robert Davidson, Thomas Davidson, writer Robert Kerr, writer John Buchan, mathematician Mary Somerville, kaleidoscope inventor David Brewster, astronomer James Veitch, actor Jack Lowden (Dunkirk, Calibre, England is Mine) and poet William Wright.
The towns and villages of the Scottish Borders
Galashiels is the largest town in the Scottish Borders, nestling in a narrow valley called Gala Water, a few miles northwest of its confluence with the River Tweed. It can be reached by train since the Borders Railway was reinstated in 2015. It is the centre of the action for a local calendar event known as the Braw Lads Gathering, a historic commemoration of an affray with the English back in 1337. It’s an elaborate affair with pomp where you can see massed pipes and drums, and re-enactments of key historic events. Galashiels is a great place to practice your swing if you like golf because the town has two courses: Galashiels and Torwoodlee.
National Cycle Network Route 1 passes close to the centre of Galashiels so you could hire a bike so as to travel out to Peebles or Melrose. Another superb option for holiday cyclists is the ‘4 Abbeys’ cycle route which threads its way around the astonishing ruins of the various religious edifices of the Scottish Borders.
Melrose is famed for its associations with Ancient Rome and Robert the Bruce. It’s perhaps even better known as the birthplace of Rugby Sevens too. The Eildon Hills are arguably the most eye-catching and distinct natural landmarks in the Scottish Borders. The three peaks of the hills even gave the Romans the idea for the name of their fort when they establish themselves close to where Melrose sits today – Trimontium. The Three Hills Roman Heritage Centre is a splendid historical experience if you are interested in ancient history. The gorgeous ruins of Melrose Abbey are worth a visit; it’s thought to be the burial site of Robert the Bruce’s heart – marked with an elaborate stone plaque. Also, look out for its unusual sculptures, namely a bagpipe-playing pig. The Melrose Sevens is a great international sporting event that draws in teams from all around the world such as New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and France.
The Royal Burgh of Peebles sits prettily on the banks of the River Tweed, 22.5 miles south of Edinburgh. The town's motto is inspired by the salmon that swim upstream, ‘Against the stream they multiply’. If you are a fisher, apply for a permit and get ready to enjoy one of Scotland’s most famous spots for salmon fishing. A respected destination for those in search of art and culture, Peebles is home to lots of galleries that showcase and sell both traditional and contemporary examples. The town is also a superb destination for those that love shopping; it is ranked as the top independent retailing town in Scotland and second-best in the UK. Its event programme is full to the brim with action – there’s a Rugby Sevens tournament, and festivals to showcase local and international art and jazz music. Best of all is the week-long celebration – the Beltane Festival which is a celebration of legend, dance, tradition, and history. Literary fans might already know that Peebles’ most famous son is the novelist, John Buchan who is most known for his mysterious story, The Thirty-Nine Steps.
Eyemouth is the first town on the east coast of Scotland – 8 miles north of Berwick-upon-Tweed at the border with England. A former smugglers’ town, it has also relied heavily on the fishing industry for hundreds of years. To this day it has supported a thriving fishing port around its natural harbour, Eye Water. There is a pretty beach with a few seaside attractions, making it a pleasing diversion for those of you that love a bag of fish and chips, and some penny arcades. Head to the Eyemouth Museum where you can see a tapestry that illustrates the story of the town’s fishing disaster of 1881 when 189 local fishermen lost their lives in a horrific storm.
Top visitor attractions in the Scottish Borders
Go Ape in Peebles is your best bet for a fun and active day out swinging through the trees and getting your adrenaline flowing. It’s also a safe choice as you are supervised in family-friendly environs. There’s more to Go Ape than treetop adventure, elsewhere in the woodland park is a choice of walking and cycling trails, a children’s play area and a refreshing café. Book ahead to avoid disappointment during the summer season and school holiday breaks.
Why not try out some fishing? They say it’s the world’s most peaceful competitive sport, but why even compete? Contact Fishpal, or an equivalent, if you’d like to learn how to salmon fish like you were born to it. Pull on your deep-water wellies and get some advice on the latest rod technology, local river levels and more.
Historic houses, parks and gardens
The Scottish Borders is a very special destination if you love to spend time walking around landscaped gardens at historic stately homes. Put the following on your ‘to-see’ list: Mellerstain House and Gardens, Paxton House, Abbotsford Garden, Manderston House and Gardens, Thirlestane Castle, Priorwood Garden, Harmony Garden, Kailzie Gardens, and Dawyck Botanic Garden.
The attractions for rainy days
Hurly Burly is a great place to head to if your kids love to bounce and tumble. It offers colourful, fun and safe times for your youngsters while you can get involved or watch from the café and breakout areas. At Hurly Burly, there is an under-5s area and a four-storey zone for older kids which is made up of slides, cargo nets, rollers, swings, mouse holes, and a climbing zone. Book ahead to avoid disappointment because it can get busy during the summer and other school holiday periods.
The largest choice of films in the Scottish Borders is at the Pavilion Cinema in Galashiels, a good bet for cool entertainment if the weather closes in. Throughout the summer and school holidays, there are afternoon performances of the latest family-friendly films.
Make your own chocolate and pastry at Cocoa Black with some amazingly accomplished wizard-type chefs. Book yourself and the family places in a class without delay and master the light arts of dessert alchemy. A fun life skill to dazzle your friends with. Reserve places to avoid missing out!
If the kids are misbehaving, sling them into a cell at Jedburgh for a few hours! Jedburgh Castle and Jail Museum is a brilliant visitor attraction for guests of all ages, not just naughty children. Built in the early 1800s, closed in 1868 – the museum is based in the former gaoler’s house; you learn about Jedburgh’s most famous former residents: mathematician Mary Somerville, kaleidoscope inventor David Brewster, and the astronomer James Veitch. Kids can play dress up and get involved with the interactive activities too. Find out about more museums and galleries in the borderlands here.
Found in the middle of Jedburgh, Mary Queen of Scots is so-called because she stayed there for one month during 1566. You can learn her life story, which is told through a series of engaging displays. The Last Letter Room reveals her final thoughts before her execution too. Grisly!
Try life in the slow lane with a trip to this lovely spa. Treat yourself to some spa treatments like massages, body waxes, holistic remedies and so much more. Go for a relaxing swim and sweat out those toxins in the sauna. Get treatment advice before you book to decide what’s best for you. Book ahead to avoid being left out.
Walks and cycle routes
The Scottish Borders Textile Trail is a ‘tailormade’ way to travel through a region well known for its textile industry from the tweed of Peebles to tartan in Selkirk and cashmere in Hawick. Look out for birdlife and wild animals on your trek – the scenery is astonishingly pretty.
For the more energetic amongst you, try the 55-mile long ‘4 Abbeys’ cycle route that will take you around the abbeys at Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso, and Jedburgh as well as some other points of interest including Jedburgh Castle and Jail, Smailholm Tower and Floors Castle.
The food and drink
This upmarket urban-style boutique combines informal cosiness with style. Chefs have compiled a mouthwatering parade of dishes for you to choose from that combines local fare with ingredients from all around the world. Traditional Scottish meals with a European twist is the best way to describe the food at The Capon Tree.
Basing their philosophy on ‘ground to plate’, the chefs place an emphasis on taste, providence, and sustainability. The cuisine reflects their choice to source local food to create some divine dishes. If you like affordable fine dining, head to Windlestraw. Book ahead.
Gastropub lovers rejoice – The Buccleuch Arms is a five-time winner of Scottish Inn of Year and the dedication to top-notch service and quality food and drink are evident. Serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper – it’s a superb choice if you are after a delicious, hearty meal to set you in good stead.
Take a look at our collection of cosy holiday escapes for families, boltholes for couples, and large stylish houses for big groups, and find your perfect holiday cottage in the Scottish Borders. If you’d like to peruse more options, you could view our full collection of holiday homes, lodges and cottages throughout.