I don’t know whether you get to a certain age and you begin to get nostalgic or perhaps you just want to relive your youth. It might be the good old school reunion that pulls you back to your home town and you realise what a great place it was to grow up. One or all of those made me recently organise a mini tour of the Scottish Borders. With no family now living in the area, I hadn’t explored this part of the world for over 20 years so I was excited to see the beautiful countryside that I no doubt took for granted as a teenager all those years ago!
The first stop had to be my old home town of Hawick! Known as ‘ The Queen of the Borders’, Hawick is one of the largest towns in the Scottish Borders. Set in the heart of the stunning Teviotdale countryside, Hawick is not only famed for its rugby stars but also for the woollen industry with household names such as Pringle, Lyle and Scott and Hawick Cashmere. With The Horse statue at the east end of the High Street and the Scots Baronial style Town Hall at the centre, this pretty town has a variety of shops and eateries such as the historic Turnbulls (also a great deli) to keep you happy. You can spend time exploring all the hills and lanes off the High Street and even take advantage of the knitwear outlet stores. For entertainment, the fantastic Heart of Hawick, consisting of the Borders Textile Towerhouse, the Heritage Hub and Tower Mill is a new addition to the town since my departure and offers wide range of activities from theatre, cinema, to a gallery and exhibition space as well as a place to eat. A fantastic entertainment venue with a blend of history and culture where you can even explore your family history if you hail from the toon!
If you venture to the West of the town you will discover the award winning Willton Lodge Park. Always a favourite of mine as a teen, this stunning park offers 100 acres of tree-lined and riverside walks as well as formal and walled gardens. A visit in autumn is particularly colourful and don’t forget to seek out the pretty waterfall and brilliant local museum which commemorates the life of local motorcycling champion Steve Hislop amongst its exhibitions. A wee gem, this park is really worth a visit.
So next on the itinerary was Selkirk, one of the oldest Royal Burghs in Scotland, set above the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys. Also built on the strength of the woollen trade though no longer a local industry, the town is now known for it a delicious fruit cake called the Selkirk Bannock. A pretty little town famous for its ‘braes and wynds’ you can spend a few hours exploring and I’d recommend a visit to Haliwell’s House Museum which is a 400 year old building located just off the main square. It’s free to get in and you will find out everything you need to know about the town’s history including the Common Riding and the Battle of Flodden, the textile industry and Sir William Wallace with a replica of an old ironmongers shop. Also why not explore Sir Walter Scott’s Courtroom and learn more about his life, his writing and his time as a sheriff of Selkirkshire.
With all that local knowledge under my belt, I wanted to get some fresh air and experience the stunning countryside surrounding the town and found myself five miles away at Braidwood Shooting Ground, part of the Bisley Shooting Group, overlooking the Eildon Hills on the edge of the tiny village of Midlem. Having never shot clay before, I thought what better way to learn and take in the stunning views than have a lesson at Scotland’s largest clay shooting venue. With a world renowned instructor to put me at my ease, I had a fantastic time and even managed to hit a few! I recovered my energies afterwards enjoying a cool drink in the clubhouse along with a nice home cooked meal.
With so much to do in the area, I really had to limit my activities but I didn’t want to by-pass the largest town in the Scottish Borders, Galashiels. Set in the valley of the Gala Water, Gala, as it’s called by the locals is home to the lovely Bank Street Gardens where the fabulous cherry trees blossom in the spring, perfect for a stroll or a picnic. If you have time, I’d recommend a visit to Old Gala House and the Scott Gallery. A historic building with five centuries worth of history, you can learn about the house and other notable moments in the development of Galashiels. There is also a varied programme of exhibitions in the gallery to suit all tastes.
From Gala, I headed off to Melrose with a view to visiting Abbotsford House and the Abbey. If you are in the mood for more history then stop off at Abbotsford House, a stunning, historic mansion, home to Sir Walter Scott. Built nearly 200 years ago, set on the banks of the river Tweed between Gala and Melrose. It is simply stunning, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. A guided tour is recommended as is a walk around the gardens. There’s a lovely shop for some retail therapy and a café where I enjoyed a delicious lunch.
If spectacular ruins are your thing then you’ll like Melrose Abbey. The first Cistercian monastery in Scotland, founded by Kind David I in 1136, the abbey is the burial place of Robert the Bruce’s heart. The small museum within the Abbey is also worth a visit.
My next stop was the small market town of Kelso. Such a pretty little town, perfect for a stroll, however the main attractions are Kelso Abbey and Floors Castle. Time was short so I head off to the beautiful Floors Castle.
Floors Castle is home to the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe and sits at the heart of the stunning Roxburghe Estate. This breath-taking castle was designed by renowned Edinburgh architect William Adam for the first Duke of Roxburghe in 1721 and was originally a plain Georgian country house. It was remodelled over a century later by William Playfair creating the romantic castle we see today. You can go on an organised tour or discover the delights yourself. There are also garden tours for plant lovers and arts and tapestry tours where you can learn more about their magnificent collection of porcelain, art and restored tapestries.
As with all these stunning stately homes and estates, you simply can’t do it all on one visit but it is a must, at least once! It was the perfect end to my nostalgic trip back to my homeland. A lot had changed but for the better. The countryside of course is still stunning (and always will be), the towns are still quaint but the services have improved. There are more places to eat and a greater choice of food too than there used to be. The people are welcoming and there is so much to do so one thing is for certain, I will go back!
For more information visit the official Scotland Tourism site: www.visitscotland.com