Often overlooked by tourists when they travel from England to Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Scottish Highlands & Islands, the Scottish Borders are well worth a look with their rolling rural landscapes and quiet lanes and pretty coastal towns and beaches.
Situated between Edinburgh in the north and Newcastle in the south east and Carlisle in the south west, they can be reached by road via the A1 up the east coast, or the M6 and A7 from the west. The A7 passes through some scenic hills between the small towns of Langholm and Hawick and is probably the more enjoyable route to drive if you have a bit more time.
The Scottish border slants up from the west near Gretna Green – famous for eloping English couples, to the North Sea above Berwick-upon-Tweed. This article will talk more about the eastern Borders, the western side bordering Dumfries and Galloway.
If you come to the Borders from the east by train, you may well get off the train at Berwick-upon-Tweed, or from the north at Dunbar.
Berwick has some good coastal walks and you can walk along the city walls and out onto the pier if you have time. You know you are arriving as the train comes in across a quite impressive bridge over the Tweed and you can see the town and river down to the right. Berwick is currently part of England and not part of the Scottish Borders, but at times in its history was part of Scotland, the disputes being largely settled with the joining of Scotland and England into the union. Dunbar also has coastal walks, harbour and a pretty main street with a good swimming pool on the cliff top.
You may not tick anything off on your bucket list in the Borders but it is a pleasant place to relax, do some healthy activities such as walking, cycling, swimming in the rivers and sea in summer. Or maybe canoeing in the rivers or sea canoeing, or sailing on the sea. There are several small towns to visit: Selkirk, Galashiels, Jedburgh, Peebles, Kelso and Duns, each has its own Scottish history and attractions and you can learn about rural Scotland away from the pressures of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Kelso is one of the prettiest towns, has a cobbled main square, Floors Castle nearby to visit and Kelso Abbey. It sits on the river Tweed and there are panoramic views across the river from the main bridge and river walks. There are a few hotels to stay in or smaller places and pubs and it is near enough to the east coast as well as the more inland parts of the Borders.
If you want to do some walking in the Borders a good place to start is with the Eildon’s near Melrose. These are three small hills close together which you walk in a circuit. The walk time is three to four hours and is about 6 miles.
If you want to go to the coast there is St Abbs Head, Coldingham and Eyemouth near each other. St Abbs has good walks, sea birds and scuba diving. Coldingham has a good beach, fine yellow sand and beach huts. The waves can sometimes be big enough for surfing and there is a surf shop at the top of the beach. Eyemouth has a harbour for yachts and fishing boats. There is a fish market and a visitor centre which explains the types of fishing used there.
Traquair House, near Peebles, is a beautiful not quite castle but still impressive. It has a maze and some good gardens. You can look round the house which has 50 rooms and artifacts back to the 1500’s. Traquair Fair is held in the grounds, and is one of the best Scottish festivals in this region, with everything you would expect from a good festival. If you have children they will love it.
Near to Selkirk are some small inland lochs. St Mary’s Loch is the largest and is very pretty. It’s a bit like Coniston in the English Lakes, a bit smaller and much fewer tourists. There are good walks at loch level – you can walk right round the loch in a few hours passing through some beautiful countryside. There are also walks up onto the surrounding hills that give great views across the loch. At the southern end of it there is a campsite and a sailing club with camping for members, and a bikers cafe for a quick bite to eat. Motorcyclists love the ride up the side of the loch and there will be many bikes on a good day.
Duns has a good motocross track which anyone with any interest in motorcycling will enjoy. The bikes are amazing to watch and a round of the national motocross championship is held here. If you want a go, they run training sessions and there is a childrens and beginners track.
If you have time to explore the regions around the Borders there is good walking in the Northumberland National Park, Cheviots and Kielder Forest. Bamburgh on the Northumberland coast has fantastic views and is a good castle to look round. There is Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve where you can walk out to Lindisfarne at low tide to the priory and castle. Also North Berwick – not to be confused with Berwick-upon-Tweed (they are 30 miles apart), is a good sea side town not too far from Edinburgh. Edinburgh itself is only an hours drive away, so you can head in for some city time, or to catch a festival act.