Helen Rose Outdoors Diary – Borders Abbeys Way

Kelso Abbey

August 2021

Recently a group of us went for a staycation based in Melrose to walk around the Southern Upland Way and the Borders Abbey Way. Going abroad is not really an option during the Covid Pandemic so we are making the best of our very beautiful country here in Scotland which is full of history, places of interest and wonderful scenery.

We were based in the Waverley Castle Hotel just outside Melrose near the Scottish Border with England. I have written a few years ago about a walking trip to Melrose. However, this time, I am going to concentrate on the Borders Abbeys Way.

Skirmish Hill

The Waverley Castle Hotel was very comfortable although, due to the pandemic,  it had to follow the Government Requirements of mask wearing in public areas. The Hotel nestles within 5 acres of parkland between the Eildon Hills and River Tweed. It may be first major construction in concrete in Scotland as a patented un-reinforced concrete system. The Waverley Hydropathic Institution, as it was known when built in 1871, was listed by Historic Scotland in 1991 and included original lamp standards and a statue of Sir Walter Scott. It is built on Skirmish Hill.

The Battle of Melrose was fought in 1526 on Skirmish Hill where the hotel is located. The Scott family and others who were fighting for the release of King James V were defeated by forces led by Ker of Cessford. Ker led the following pursuit but at the site of a nearby stone Elliot turned and speared Ker to death.

One evening there was a queue of young men all dressed in black with large suitcases and socially distanced. I thought they looked like trainee spooks but the manager advised me they were a film crew!

Borders Abbeys Way

The Borders Abbeys Way is a long-distance footpath in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland. It is a circular walkway and is 68 miles/109 kilometres in length. The theme of the footpath is the ruined Borders abbeys along its way: Kelso Abbey, Jedburgh Abbey, Melrose Abbey and Dryburgh Abbey. I have not visited all of the abbeys and only done sections of the Way. On one of the days we took the bus to Kelso to follow the Way to Jedburgh by way of Roxburgh Abbey.

Kelso Abbey

Near Kelso we passed Floors Castle, the family seat of the Duke of Roxburghe. This is a castle on my list of places still to visit. The Duke of Roxburghe is a title in the peerage of Scotland created in 1707 along with the titles Marquess of Bowmont and Cessford, Earl of Kelso and Viscount Broxmouth. John Ker. 5th Earl of Roxburghe became the first holder of these titles. The title is derived from the royal burgh of Roxburgh in the that in 1460 the Scots captured and destroyed.   The grounds of Floors Castle contain the ruins of Roxburgh Castle on a promontory between the rivers Tweed and Teviot. The traditional burial place of the Dukes of Roxburghe is in the ruins of Kelso Abbey. The Duke of Roxburghe would be the Chief of Clan Innes, but cannot be so recognised as he retains the name Innes-Ker.

Kelso Abbey was founded in the 1100s and was one of Scotland’s largest and wealthiest religious houses. The abbey was founded by monks invited by King David I. of the Tironesian order, from Tiron near Chartres, in France. The community had first entered Scotland, c. 1113, under the patronage of David 1 as Prince of the Cumbrians. Originally settling at Selkirk, the monks relocated to Kelso in 1128, moving close to David’s new castle at Roxburgh. Next to nothing remains of the once-sprawling monastery precinct but what survives of the church is one of the most spectacular architectural achievements in medieval Scotland. It is situated on the edge of the historic burgh of Kelso, one of Scotland’s prettiest towns and has been a favourite subject for artists since the late 1600s. Kelso’s proximity to the English border left it vulnerable to attacks, particularly from the outset of the Wars of Independence in 1296. By the 1500s it had suffered severely from repeated English invasions. A final attack in 1545 saw the buildings all put to ruin, houses and towers and steeples.

Teviot Water

We left Kelso to walk along the Teviot Water, a lovely tranquil river and the main tributary to the River Tweed The Teviot Water is used by the Borders Whisky Distillery at Hawick for cooling water and processed water. The Borders Distillery opened in March 2018, the first Scotch Whisky distillery in the Scottish Borders since 1837 dedicated to capturing the true spirit of the Borders bringing whisky-making back to the region. It is beautiful soft and green countryside and we reached Roxburgh for lunch under the Roxburgh Viaduct before continuing on towards our final destination on this walk to Jedburgh Abbey.

Jedburgh Abbey

The Way is well sign posted and we headed for Nesbit before continuing on the Dere Street which is the Roman Road. The Romans tended to build in a straight line and followed the topography of the ground with many ups and downs. I previously walked this section as part of St Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose to Lindisfarne.  Jedburgh Abbey was founded by David I in around 1138 for Augustinian canons. The church was built in the Romanesque and early Gothic styles and is remarkably complete. Jedburgh Abbey’s close location to the English border meant it was frequently targeted by invading border armies. Remains of the cloister buildings have been uncovered and finds from the excavations, including the 12th century ‘Jedburgh comb’ and an eighth century shrine are on display. The Jedburgh Comb is intricately carved from walrus ivory and is probably a beard comb​. It dates from about 1100 and may have come from England or northern France.

Dryburgh Abbey

Dryburgh Abbey is the only Abbey I have not visited on the Borders Abbeys Way. Dryburgh Abbey is on the banks of the River Tweed It was nominally founded in 1150 in an agreement between Hugh de Morville, Constable of Scotland, and the Premonstratensian canons from Alnwick Abbey in Northumberland. Premonstratensian are members of an order of regular canons founded at Prémontré in France in 1120. There seems to be a strong connection at the Borders Abbeys to France. I have walked various sections of the path along the River Tweed but not this section so I have not had access to Dryburgh Abbey. I will have to put it on the ‘to do’ list for another visit

These Borders Abbeys are great to visit located in the lovely towns although I don’t think I will ever complete the Borders Abbeys Way of 68 miles/109 kilometres. You can read more about the Borders Abbeys Way on the Scotland’s Great Trails website

Coming Attractions;  Eglinton Country Park and Rigging Hill.


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