The Scottish Borders are often neglected by tourists, maybe partly because they’re a secret the Scots try to keep for themselves. This charming oasis of gently rolling hills, salmon rich rivers and rugged coastline is dotted with trim market towns and charming villages. It is easy to get to from both Edinburgh and Glasgow too, so if you prefer a shorter drive, this is the relaxed corner of Scotland for you.
We start by heading south out of Edinburgh and the city’s Pentland Hills are soon replaced by views of the Moorfoot Hills, which separate the Lothians from the Borders. These former border badlands were once alive with constant struggle as local rivals battled with each other and the might of the English nation just to the south. The legacy are myriad castles and forts, so look out for them as you go.
First stop is in the picturesque Borders town of Peebles where the River Tweed snakes dreamily through the town. Peebles High Street is awash with delightful traditional shops and cafés. Time now to swap four tyres for two wheels at Scotland’s most renowned mountain biking centre just east of Peebles at Glentress. Scotland has been ranked the world’s number one mountain biking destination and here it is easy to see why with trails for all abilities.
Keep following the Tweed east before heading south at Innerleithen for a few miles where Traquair House awaits. Reputed to be Scotland’s oldest continuously inhabited country house, this is a lovely place to visit and has a café and brewery on site, as well as a maze. Back east on the main road through the Tweed Valley to the south of Galashiels is Abbotsford. The most outlandish house in the Borders was built on the whims and fancies of Scotland’s seminal novelist and man of letters Sir Walter Scott.
As the river heads inexorably for the North Sea you come across what is perhaps the most charming of all the Border towns, Melrose. Its neat houses, well preserved architecture and characterful shops make it a stand out. And then there is its incomparable abbey, the best preserved of all the famous Borders abbeys that were built a millennia ago during the reign of David I at Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh. You can visit Kelso Abbey as you pass through heading east or you can visit Floors Castle, Kelso’s number-one attraction. This impressive castle and estate is still run by one of the most powerful Borders families, the legendary Dukes of Roxburghe.
The rolling hills continue as the Tweed starts to widen on its approach to the English border. Making a beeline for the North Sea now you leave the river and break north to reach the busy fishing port of Eyemouth. There is a sandy beach for bracing strolls to watch the trawlers venture from the harbour.
Just a short drive north is a much prettier old port in the form of St Abbs. The coastal scenery here is some of the most spectacular in the UK, voluminous cliffs rearing up like giant leviathans from the tumultuous waters of the North Sea. The village itself is a delightful, photogenic affair, while there is also the birdlife rich National Trust for Scotland St Abbs Head National Nature Reserve at St Abbs Head. From here you can set out on a number of walks that open up the best of the coastal scenery.
Journey’s end is drawing near now as the Borders give way to the Lothians around Dunbar, leaving a clear run east to Edinburgh. Alternatively you could laze through East Lothian or even head back into the Borders for a more circuitous route back to the capital. Either way you will probably feel desperate to get back to the Borders for another curl around its bewitching scenery and its beguiling imprints of man.
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