If you are looking for a historical escape within an hours drive of Glasgow or Edinburgh, Biggar might just be the ideal place for you. Add in a large dose of lush, green hills and a higher than average ratio of award-winning local businesses and a short break in this characterful South Lanarkshire town will easily satisfy most needs.
The area in and around Biggar occupies an important strategic position between the rivers Tweed and Clyde, which has resulted in people settling here since prehistoric times. In the 14th Century, the Fleming family were given lands in the area by Robert the Bruce, whose cause they had supported. The Flemings later built Boghall Castle, one of the largest and most imposing castles in the south of Scotland and a few remains from the building can still be seen today. The Flemings found themselves on the wrong side in the 16th Century, when they supported Mary, Queen of Scots, and their lands were given over to the Elphinstone family.
Biggar was also a principal stopping off point on the old Pedlars' Way from Edinburgh to the South West of Scotland which attracted everyone from royalty to hawkers and some famous names in Scottish history including the usual suspects, William Wallace, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Robert Burns, have all been associated with the town.
Sitting on the Northern edge of the Southern Uplands and surrounded by rolling hills, a visit here also offers the promise of a rural escape with a variety of countryside walks starting nearby and the many independent stores will also cater to those in need of a shopping fix!
To help make the most of your stay I've devised a suggested a 2 day itinerary to help you discover the best of Biggar.
MORNING - VISIT THE EXCELLENT BIGGAR MUSEUM
Definitely not stuffy and boring, The Biggar and Upper Clydesdale Museum is a recent addition to the town and what a fabulous addition it is! The light, bright and imaginative displays span 14,000 years of Biggar's rich archaeological, social and historical heritage. I particularly loved exploring Gladstone Court at the back of the museum, where old shops, businesses and even a working telephone exchange have been recreated. Great value at £5 entry and a fantastic introduction to the history of the town, a must do during your visit!
Biggar High Street is not particularly long, yet it is bursting with awards and pride. Reflecting its history as a busy and significant market town, most of the businesses remain independent. It seems that every other window proudly displays at least one certificate (often several) for a recently won accolade. From ice-cream to books, the range of honoured businesses are as diverse as their awards,
I popped in to Biggar Flavour, the local bakery which as you might now have guessed, has won several awards. I was in a cake heaven dilemma with over 50 types of freshly baked goodies to choose from with so many flavours I'd never seen before. Gooseberry and Hazelnut and Carrot and Courgette cakes are just some of the more unusual creations on offer! I opted for a lemon coconut bar which went down a treat with a cup of tea in my hotel room later :-)
GRAB SOME LUNCH AT A LOCAL CAFE
When you're all shopped out head for lunch at one of the local cafes. I managed to get a seat at The Olive Tree, a local deli with a few tables. I opted for whisky and marmalade pate on toast which was served with sun dried tomatoes, a light and tasty combination. This is also a good place to pick up a bottle or two of Broughton Ale which is brewed in the neighbouring village.
If you can't get a table here then there are plenty other choices for lunch along the High Street.
AFTERNOON - EXPLORE THE HERITAGE TRAIL
I really believe that the best way to get to know a place is on foot, wandering along the streets, taking your time to look up at the buildings and probing all the dark nooks and crannies. The Biggar Heritage Trail is a great resource that encourages you to explore and learn about the history, characters and legends that are interwoven in the fabric of this picturesque market town. The trail is easy to follow in an afternoon and a few of the interesting places to look out for include
THE OLDEST HOUSE IN BIGGAR
Locally regarded as the oldest house in Biggar, look out for the tiny front door! It was once an Inn and officers from the retreating Jacobite army were billeted here in 1746.
The first stone church was built here in 1164, although it is believed that an even earlier timber church stood on the site. The current building dates from 1546 and was erected by Lord Fleming, the uncle of Mary, Queen of Scots. Inside there are beautiful stained glass windows and look out for a stone basin and stone lamp, survivors from the 12th Century building. There are also lots of interesting gravestones to explore in the surrounding grounds.
Legend tells how one night William Wallace dressed up as a pedlar and crossed Cadger's Brig to spy on the enemy English camp.
THE REMAINS OF BOGHALL CASTLE
Biggar Museum has a model showing how Boghall Castle would once have looked. Sadly very little remains today of what would have been an impressive structure, however you can still visit the site and imagine what it must have looked like. If you are interested in finding out more about the history of the castle, I recommend taking a look at this excellent article by Stravaiging Around Scotland.
Some medieval closes can still be seen in Biggar and although not as atmospheric as Edinburgh, I still loved discovering some cute houses on the other side.
In fact I highly recommend wandering around all the back streets as you will find some pretty surprises.
EVENING - DINE AND STAY AT THE ELPHINSTONE HOTEL
Situated in the middle of the High Street, The Elphinstone Hotel is centrally located, making it the perfect base for exploring the town. A traditional Coaching Inn, with a history dating back over 400 years and run by the same family for over 25 years, The 'Elph' possesses a combination that ensures traditional hospitality.
The hotel is neither boutique nor bland, expect squeaky floorboards, a roaring fire in the lounge, wooden beams and walls thick with stories from the many travellers who have frequented the premises over the centuries. The eleven bedrooms are all individually designed, with some situated in the original part of the building and others in the new extension. Although a few of the rooms are in a part of the building that is hundreds of years old, you will be pleased to know they all have many of the conveniences a 21st Century traveller has come to expect including flat screen digital TVs and free WiFi!
Single rooms start from £56.00 and doubles from £79.00. Family rooms are also available.
During my stay, dinner was a busy affair and I ate by the fire in the lounge which seemed to be a hub for locals and regulars (a good sign!). The recently refurbished dining room catered for even more hungry guests and despite the constant stream of arrivals, service was impressively quick, friendly and efficient.
The menu is BIG with an added list of daily specials, both full of dishes that make the most of local produce, earning them VisitScotland 'Taste our Best' Accreditation. Don't expect fancy flourishes on your plate, instead prepare for generous portions of warm comfort food and service. Although I enjoyed all my food, the highlight for me was my 'Rob Roy' dessert, a heavenly Scottish combo of crushed shortbread, layered with local vanilla ice-cream and smothered in warm Drambuie sauce and fresh cream. Very sweet, very boozy and so good that I forgot to take a photo, blogger fail!
GO FOR A WALK
Don't worry about over-indulging in a Scottish cooked breakfast and several courses of comfort food as there are plenty of scenic ways to walk off some of the calories. Wether you prefer a Sunday stroll or something more strenuous, here are a four suggested walks to get you started.
1. For the energetic, Tinto Hill to the west of Biggar stands at 2334 ft and commands views across a large part of Southern Scotland and on a clear day you can see as far as the peaks of Skiddaw in the English Lake District and Lochnagar in the Cairngorms.
2. The nearby John Buchan Way runs for 13 miles across hills and valleys between Peebles and Broughton although it is possible to walk a more manageable 6.5 miles in either direction to Stobo and catch the bus back to your starting point in either town.
3. For some easier walking routes, head to The Glenholm Centre in Broughton where you will find four way-marked routes ranging from 2km to 10 km in the heart of Holms Water Glen. You may be pleased to know there is also a tearoom where you can reward yourself for the effort.
4, Another nearby easy option with the promise of coffee and cake is the hard to miss Big Red Barn. This converted cowshed provides foods, goods and a walk in the woods, 80 acres of woodland to be precise.
Is there a better way to enjoy a Sunday than getting outdoors, rambling over rolling hills and green countryside before starting on your commute home? Personally, I don't think so!
If you find yourself with some spare time, wet weather or need more inspiration, here are a few other ways to entertain yourself in Biggar.
Biggar RFC - If you enjoy rugby, Biggar RFC is situated on the edge of the town and you can check their website for upcoming fixtures.
Biggar Gasworks Museum - For upwards of 130 years, from 1839 to 1973, Biggar Gasworks made coal-gas for the town and surrounding district. Now a visitor attraction, it is open from June to September, 2pm - 5pm daily.
Biggar Corn Exchange - Situated directly opposite the Elphinstone Hotel, this is the place to go for theatre, film and music. Their website has a handy What's On page.
Biggar Puppet Theatre - Catch a show by the world famous Scottish puppet theatre company, the International Purves Puppets, hailed as one of the best puppet companies in the world!
These are my suggestions for a short break in Bigger, if you know of any 'must dos' that I've missed be sure to leave a comment below!
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I stayed as a guest of The Elphinstone Hotel, however all other activities were arranged and paid for by me.
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