I always feel a bit conflicted when people tell me their travel plans for Scotland. More often than not they commence in Edinburgh or Glasgow and involve a journey north, following a predictable although rewarding route. While I don't want to deprive anyone from immersing themselves in the Highland scenery they have been dreaming of for months, years or even a lifetime, a big part of me is still desperate to tell people to abandon their plans and explore many of the underrated but equally as amazing areas of Scotland instead.
The Scottish Borders is a prime example of an often overlooked regional gem. This part of the country is so steeped in history, tradition and legend that i really believe a visit here should be squeezed into every Scottish travel itinerary.
With the opening of the new Borders Railway in September, the area will open up to train travellers who will be able to depart from Edinburgh and arrive in the Borders in less than an hour, so there really is no excuse now to miss this area out on your trip to Scotland!
In anticipation of the new line opening, I recently spent a weekend in the historic town of Melrose as part of a Scotlanders and Visit Scotland collaboration. My remit was to experience the wide variety of activities that will be available to a new wave of passengers arriving at the final stop in Tweedbank, the nearest station to Melrose.
I have always associated the Scottish Borders as an area with a rich tapestry of history, however as I found out it is also a draw for outdoor adrenaline adventurers, food lovers and culture vultures looking to escape the city.
My first real holiday to the region was around 20 years ago and I have periodically returned since, always thankful to see little has changed over the past two decades. In some places progress is welcomed and often much needed in order to survive, however the Scottish Borders is not one of those places. The towns have remained charming, the houses still historic, traditional events thrive, independent shops survive and rule, ruins remain standing, the grass is still vividly green and the hills continue to roll. For me, the draw of the Scottish Borders is it's unchanging and timeless quaintness.
However, on this visit I wanted to find out what else the area has to offer other than historic appeal and found myself with a variety filled weekend, proving there really is something for everyone.
I kicked off my Saturday morning with an adrenaline pumping visit to Glentress Forest near Peebles, a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. I was keen to try out a vertical challenge on the tree top adventure at Go-Ape, which is basically an adult friendly assault course winding through the forest canopy. It presents enough of a challenge to gain a sense of accomplishment while still being achievable, this was one of the most fun challenges I have tried out in ages! Zip wires, Tarzan swings, cargo nets, suspended wooden tunnels and tricky rope crossings are just some of the challenging obstacles you encounter. You can find out more about my experience at Go Ape on my blog post here.
If you would rather keep your feet on terra firma, Glentress Forest offers a number of scenic walks and if you prefer your adventures on two wheels then this mecca for mountain bikers will definitely appeal as it forms part of the world class 7Stanes biking trails.
With my adrenaline levels in need of some respite, I headed for the family friendly Borders Book Festival in Melrose. I have to be honest and say that I hadn't heard of this event before so I was surprised at the number of famous faces making an appearance over the weekend. From heavy weight politicians Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond to comedians Dom Joly and Rory Bremner and entrepreneur Michelle Mone, the lineup was eclectic to say the least. Of course, there were plenty of accomplished authors also making an appearance and I was delighted that two of my own favourite Scottish writers, Alexander McCall Smith and Christopher Brookmyre featured on the impressive programme.
The festival takes place in a series of marquees on a surprisingly small scale within the NTS Harmony Gardens. The atmosphere was buzzing yet intimate and if you have never been before it is well worth keeping an eye out for next years event.
When I travel around Scotland I am always on the look out for restaurants serving local produce. On this trip I was lucky enough to sample 2 excellent eating places which were chosen by Visit Scotland and didn't disappoint in quality or the use of regional ingredients.
On the Friday evening myself and my fellow Scotlanders dined at The Hoebridge Inn situated in the village of Gattonside just outside Melrose. Originally built as a bobbin mill in the late 19th Century, it later served as a cow byre before being converted to a restaurant in the early 1980’s. Under new ownership and re-opened in June this year, we all agreed that the food was excellent and our clean plates testified to that!
On the Saturday evening we enjoyed another great culinary experience at Burt's Hotel in Melrose town centre. The 18th century hotel is situated in the heart of the picturesque market square and has been owned and managed by the Henderson family for almost 40 years. We ate in the award winning restaurant which has been awarded two AA Rosettes every year since 1995! Again our plates were duly emptied and again the consensus was a very positive one.
Going by the rave reviews of fellow Scotlanders Kay and Nicola who highly rated their meals at the Clock Tower Bistro in Jedburgh and the Horseshoe Restaurant in Peebles, there is plenty choice for foodie lovers visiting the Borders.
Simple but tasty food at The Hoebridge Inn - Photos Kim Kjaerside
Award winning menu at Burt's Hotel - Photos Kim Kjaerside
Okay so it is was impossible for me not to be tempted to squeeze a bit of history into my weekend, especially as we had been offered a private tour of the fabulous Abbotsford House on the Sunday morning.
This was the private home of Sir Walter Scott, known best as one of Scotland's finest writers, in many ways he created the romantic image of clans, tartan and landscape that the country has become synonymous with.
Originally a modest farmhouse, Scott spent the money from his writing to gradually redesign the farm into the impressive stately like home that he lived, worked and died in.
I could easily write pages about all the fascinating rooms and collections that are open to the public,, however I really feel that the best advice I can give is to see it for yourself. I absolutely recommend taking a train trip from Edinburgh just to visit here as it is only a 20 minute walk from Tweedbank station.
Myself and my fellow Scotlanders also stayed at the private Hope Scott Wing of Abbotsford House over the weekend and I will be posting my review of this fantastic accommodation shortly.
It would be a crime to visit an area as beautiful as the Borders and not set aside some time in the day to relax and get swept up in the Lowlands scenery and what better spot to grab a seat than the famous Scott's View? Overlooking the River Tweed towards the Eildon Hills, it is reputed to be one of the favourite views of Sir Walter Scott. It is said he stopped here so often that his horses would stop without being commanded and after his death in 1832, his funeral cortege paused here to allow him one last look at his beloved Borders landscape. Truth or legend, there is no dispute that this is one of the finest outlooks in the Scottish Borders and a fitting point for me to bid this bonnie place farewell until I return again, quite possibly by train next time!
The new Borders Railway route between Edinburgh and Tweedbank opens in September, watch out for more blogs about my weekend exploring the area and you can also follow all of the Scotlanders blogs and social media updates on Twitter @Scotlanders or on our website http://www.thescotlanders.com/
My weekend in the Borders was in collaboration with Visit Scotland, however all views are my own as always!
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