Pat Byrne, July, 2007.
A couple of weeks back we had a great week-end in the Scottish Borders. We had arranged to drop my brother Danny and his wife Ann at Prestwick Airport as they were off to Dublin to celebrate Ann's 60th birthday and this put us in the mood for a break.
Initially we planned to stay in Ayrshire but having left it to the last minute to book up we could not find accommodation and decided to go elsewhere.
Recently Jim had mentioned that he would like to visit Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott. He is a big fan of the writer and has read many of his novels and also about his life and home in the Borders so we decided to head further south and investigate. Actually we headed South East from Prestwick and it was a pretty long drive through torrential rain. It would have been quicker to drive back to Glasgow and then via Edinburgh by motorway - but the idea of turning tail never appeals to me - so we went the long route.
We had booked into a hotel in Jedburgh, the Spreadeagle Inn. This sounded very romantic as it is the oldest hotel in Scotland, however, whilst comfortable enough and very reasonably priced, it was a bit short on atmosphere. Not a ghost in sight, although, I'm told there is such a resident.
The hotel was fine as a base for visiting Abbotsford and the various historic monuments, abbeys and castles that seem to be around every corner in this part of Scotland - we were spoiled for choice.
On the first evening we took a stroll through Jedburgh and wandered round the grounds of Mary Queen of Scots House, where she stayed in 1566. We also had a look at Jedburgh Abbey and the Castle with its jail. The small town is steeped in history and placards on buildings paint a picture of places frequented by famous people such as Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott.
In the morning there was a festive air about the town as this was the day of the the Callant, one of the Borders' traditional common riding festivals. Each Border town has its own festival and this custom can be traced back to the 13th and 14th century when territorial battles were rife. For riders at that time this was a way of marking territory in order to protect common lands.
After watching the riders we headed for Hawick, a very pleasant Borders town where a settlement was founded by the Angles in the 600s. There was a busy Saturday morning bustle about the place and I enjoyed investigating the local market, which was a combination of a car boot sale, local produce and stuff for the garden - with some fabulous plants at rock bottom prices. Lots of Charity Shops with plenty of quality knitwear, including cashmeres, for which the area is well known.
Abbotsford, near Melrose, where Sir Walter Scott's lovely old house is situated on a perfect spot beside the River Tweed. He purchased the property in 1811 and it took the architect, William Atkinson, six years to build Abbotsford with the help of local craftsmen.
Scott's former home is steeped in history; he was an avid collector so there is much to see including: a vast collection of art, armour(including Rob Roys's gun) and a library with over 9,000 rare books. There are many historic relics including a clock, claimed to have been gifted by Marie Antoinette, and enormous locks from the jailhouse depicted in his novel 'Heart of Midlothian'.
The gardens are absolutely beautiful with lots of weather-worn old statues, walled gardens with rambling roses and beds of colourful flowers. There is also a lovely, peaceful, little Chapel, this was not built by Scott but added in 1855 by his granddaughter Charlotte, and her husband, James Hope-Scott. Hope-Scott was a Catholic and close friend of Cardinal Newman, who celebrated mass at the Abbotsford Chapel on several occasions.
Sir Walter Scott was a best selling author in his time and a wealthy man who was able to indulge himself; filling his home with valuables of every description. We were only at Abbotsford for a couple of hours but you could easily spend a whole day there as there is so much to see.
Nearby, is Melrose - a town brimming over with tourist attractions. This includes Melrose Abbey, which was founded by David I in 1136. It is a wonderful place both atmospheric and beautiful. We had a great time climbing high up into the belfry to survey the ruins, grounds of the abbey and the surrounding countryside.
We were intrigued by a wedding, which was taking place. We watched the American bride cross the muddy grass on her way to be married in the ruins of the Abbey - closely passing the burial spot where lies the heart of Robert the Bruce. The ruin is pretty exposed so this was a risky scheme but fortunately the rain stayed off.
The area around Melrose is of tremendous historical interest and many relics of the past, including Roman remains, can be seen in the Museum, just across from the Abbey. The Roman Fort, Trimontium, an important military garrison, housing 1500 Roman infantry and cavalary until the late second century, was situated near Melrose.
Also nearby in the grounds of Bemersyde House you can find the giant Wallace Statue. This impressive monument to the great Scottish hero William Wallace was commissioned by David Stuart Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan and it was unveiled on 22nd September, 1814. Standing 31 feet high it looks over the lands around Melrose and the River Tweed. It bears the inscription: "Wallace, great patriot hero ill requited chief MDCCCXIV”
Whilst in this neck of the woods Jim and I popped into the Dryburgh Abbey Hotel, where we hoped to have dinner, but there was a very posh wedding going on and we only managed to get a pot of tea. We had intended visiting Dryburgh Abbey but had to set off to find some nourishment elsewhere and we were lucky enough to spot The Buccleuch Arms Hotel in St Boswells. It was very busy with Saturday evening diners and we only just managed to get a table. We both chose from 'the Specials', which included a lot of fish dishes so I went for the Monkfish and Jim had Sea Bass. The food was ample and delicious and I would recommend dining there if ever you are in the area.
On Sunday morning we headed for another Borders' Town, Kelso, as we wanted to visit Floors Castle, home of the 10th Duke of Roxburghe and his family. It is much prettier than most Scottish castles and seems built for pleasure rather than battle. There have been many alterations and additions to the castle since it was built for the 1st Duke of Roxburghe by William Adam in 1721. The substantial interior modifications were mainly carried out by the 8th Duchess, the American lady staff refer to as 'Duchess May'. Many of the wonderful tapestries, carpets and valuable paintings and French furniture on display throughout the castle were shipped over by the Duchess from her family home in Rhode Island.
Floors Castle is one of the most interesting historic buildings I have ever visited and I will certainly return. There is a highly informed guide in each room and their detailed knowledge is truly amazing. In particular Dawn Steele, an English lady from Gloucestershire, held us in thrall with all her interesting anecdotes about the family, the castle and the history of its contents.
We were lucky to have chosen this week-end to visit Floors Castle as there was a Garden Festival on and I spent a very lazy afternoon in the grounds and Castle Garden Centre, browsing round the craft stalls and listening to the Jazz Band. I even had a little snooze but glad I found the energy to look around the stalls as Some of them were amazing. I was particularly impressed by Skoczena, Accessories and Textile Design by Michelle Skotzen. However, I resisted temptation as I was set on going home with some plants for our balcony - I bought a lovely rambling rose and some geraniums at a knock down price.
We spent the last few hours of our trip around Peebles, where we popped into Stobo Castle - another fine old building in a beautiful setting overlooking the River Tweed. Stobo operates as a Health Spa and seems to be the perfect spot for pampering. Although,it looks like only women pamper - Jim was not at all disconcerted by the fact that he appeared to be the only male in a building populated by ladies in fluffy white robes.
We enjoyed some delicious detoxing, invigorating and energising drinks and then I had a great time looking at the wide range of beauty products and cosmetics in the shop.
Afterwards we headed off for a brief look at Traquair, Scotland's oldest inhabited house, at Innerleithen. Dating back to 1107 it wa originally a hunting lodge for the kings and queens of Scotland it later became a refuge for Catholtic priests, when the Stuarts of Traquair supported Mary Queen of Scots and the Jacobite cause.
Nowadays, Traquair is one of the area's main attractions and crowds flock to the Medieval Fayre in August and other events which take place at the house throughout the year. We will definitely visit this lovely place again when we have more time - it was almost closing time when we got there.
Before heading back to Glasgow we popped in to see Jean Aitken, my sister's mother-in-law, who lives in Peebles. We have visited her and her husband Tom often but this was the first time that we had taken the opportunity of finding out more about the Scottish Borders so we had lots to chat about and as usual we were made very welcome.
The area really has a tremendous amount to offer visitors especially those with an interest in history. The scenery is pleasant and calm if unspectacular with the area around Peebles, with its rolling hills, probably the most attractive. The scenery is not the main attraction and whilst there are some super hotels and restaurants but the main draw of the Borders is the numerous reminders of days gone by when the area seethed with battles and pageantry.
We hope to go back and spend a day at Traquair, visit the abbeys and castles that we missed and perhaps drive to the coast to sample the day's catch from the sea at Eyemouth.
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