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Issue 73 - Borders, Dumfries and Galloway

Scotland Magazine Issue 73
February 2014


This article is 4 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Borders, Dumfries and Galloway

Local History, Where to go, What do do

Two distinct regions cushion Scotland's divide from the north of England – the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway. Two distinct Scottish regions which are often as not bypassed as tourists arrive by car or train or flight to explore the Highlands and Islands.

Since neither the English nor the Scots were particularly competent at policing this buffer zone of 1,800 square miles of moorland, wilderness forest and agricultural hinterland, nor capable of taking control of the hidden landings of the Solway Firth, large swathes of this secretive landscape became a law unto whoever chose to take charge.

Known in medieval times as the Debatable Land, lawless cattle rustlers, known as “reivers”, largely did as they pleased.

In England, south of Coldstream on the north bank of the River Tweed, and Carter Bar on the A68, great landowners such as the Dacres, Herons and Percys dominated the Marches here.

On the Scottish side were the turbulent riding clans: the Armstrongs, the Elliots, the Kerrs, the Turnbulls, the Maxwells, the Homes, the Johnstones and the Douglases.

No wonder that it was here that Robert the Bruce, whose de Brus family lands included Annandale and Carrick, chose to launch his guerrilla campaign after his brief disappearance over the winter of 1306-07.

No wonder that James VI, prior to inheriting the English throne in 1603, made it his personal business to bring his subjects of the “Middle Shires” to heel.

The folklore of the Scottish Borders was shaped by invasion. First came the Romans, then Saxons and Northumbrians, then the Normans, although after conquering England the allpowerful King William chose not to press home his advantage. Conquest, he realised, could better be achieved peacefully through marriage, which is exactly what occurred when his son Henry wed Matilda of Scotland in 1100.

Thereafter, it was largely Royal sibling rivalries, one-upmanship, and family squabbles which led to the bitter conflicts that followed.

From Tweedsmuir in the Peeblesshire hills, the River Tweed flows west to east into the North Sea at Berwick-upon-Tweed, forming a natural Anglo-Scottish border for the final 20 miles of its length. Between 1147 and 1482, Berwick - upon-Tweed changed hands between the Scots and English on no less than 13 occasions. However, today it officially sits in England.

From Berwick -upon-Tweed, the A1 and the railway line travel north along the east coast, skirting the hinterland Lammermuirs, a range of desolate hills extending from St Abb's Head to Gala Water. For centuries, only a single track (now the A68) led across them to the town of Duns, Berwickshire's County Town and the birthplace of the thirteenth century philosopher Duns Scotus who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1993. In a room housed in Newtown Street is a museum commemorating the life and achievements of the racing driver Jim Clark who died in a car crash in 1968.

Three other significant visitor attractions stand out in the locality. First of all there is Paxton House, considered to be the finest example of an eighteenth century Palladian country house in Britain. Built between 1758 and 1763 by architect John Adam and his brother James for the young aesthete Patrick Home, it today serves as a cultural out-station of the National Galleries of Scotland.

Duns Castle, a Norman Pele Tower, was acquired by the Hays of Drumelzier family in the seventeenth century and transformed into a Gothic masterpiece in the early nineteenth century by the architect James Gillespie Graham.

Although not generally open to the public, it is available for weddings and small conferences.

Open to the public between May and September is the magnificent Manderston House, the classic creation of an Edwardian tycoon who married into the British aristocracy and wanted something to show off to his father-in-law. There are marble floors and colonades throughout, not to mention a staircase fabricated in silver.

From east to west along the 97 mile length of the River Tweed, lie the principal towns of the central borders – Kelso, Jedburgh, Hawick, St Boswells, Selkirk, Galashiels, Lauder, Melrose and Peebles.

Being largely agricultural and market places in origin, all of these towns have their traditions deeply rooted in the Common Ridings, reenacted annually to commemorate their long ago participation in triumphs against a common enemy, an era that culminated in the disasterous and bloody Battle of Flodden in 1413.

To monitor what was going on, early Scottish monarchs built great abbeys to keep themselves informed. The abbey at Kelso, an attractive town with an elegant square, was built for Tironesian monks under the patronage of David I in 1128 and to all intents and purposes served as his southern capital.

Dominating the town, however, is Floors Castle, ancestral home of the dukes of Roxburghe. Some four hundred yards from the present building, James II of Scotland was killed by an exploding cannon in 1460 while laying siege to Roxburgh Castle, then held by the English. In retaliation, his widow, Mary of Guelders, raised the fortification to the ground.

The red sandstone abbey of Jedburgh was again created by David I in the twelfth century, this time for Augustinian monks. Repeatedly attacked by invaders, it went into terminal decline during the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.

Situated eight miles to the north of Kelso is Mellerstain, family home of the earls of Haddington and one of the finest works of the architect father and son, William and Robert Adam. Close by, at Lauder, is Thirlestane Castle, which for centuries has been occupied by scions of the powerful Maitland family, who became earls and duke of Lauderdale. All three of these great houses, with their lavish collections, are seasonally open to the public and available for weddings and conference events.

From the time of the industrial revolution, textiles were a major facet of the local economy, and among the surviving brand names set up in Hawick during the nineteenth century are Pringles of Scotland and Lyle & Scott.

Selkirk is another Royal Burgh which overlooks the Yarrow Valley. In this landscape it is impossible to escape the long shadow of the writer Sir Walter Scott whose statue stands in the Market Place outside the Court House which he attended as Sheriff of Selkirkshire from 1800 to 1832. Maternal ancestors of the American President Franklin D.Roosvelt are interred at Kirk o' Forest. In close proximity is Bowhill, one of four spectacular homes belonging to the 10th Duke of Buccleuch & 12th Duke of Queensberry (the others being Boughton in England, Drumlanrig in Dumfriesshire, and Dalkeith Palace in Midlothian).

Open to the public, it features a large number of visitor activities throughout the year and reflects upon the Duke's lineage from the heiress Anne Scott's marriage to Duke of Monmouth, natural son of Charles II.

Today, Galashiels is a bustling commerical centre and reflecting its past, houses the Heriot-Watt University School of Textiles and Design. Nearby Melrose, in contrast, is a dominated by its Abbey, again founded by David I, in this event for Cistercian monks. The heart of Robert the Bruce, taken on a Crusade by his knight's to Teba in Spain, is buried here at his request.

Nevertheless, much of Melrose's fame can be attributed to Sir Walter Scott who built his spectacularly gothic masterpiece at Abbotsford. An architectural mix of grandeur and indulgent eccentricity, it has now been superbly refurbished and restored by the National Trust for Scotland. Open to the public, it displays Scott's passion for the romance of bygone days: collections of armour, a silver urn presented to him by Lord Byron, his writing desk and collection of Jacobite memorablia. Entirely appropriate, Melrose now hosts an annual Borders Book Festival, taking place this year from 12th to 15th June in Harmony Garden.

From Selkirk, the A707 runs along the banks of the River Tweed towards the former mill towns of Clovenfords, Walkerburn and Innerleithen, dwarfed by the undulating hills on all sides. Between Innerleith and Peebles is Traquair House, which claims to be the oldest inhabited house in Scotland and which boasts of having hosted no less than twenty seven Scottish and English monarchs since its creation as a hunting lodge in 1107.

An avenue of sycamores leads from the celebrated Bear Gates which were locked after a visit from Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 and are not to opened until a Stuart once again sits of the throne of Scotland.

Traquair also boasts a series of local events: a Medieval Fayre on 24th and 25th May and a Books, Borders and Bikes Festival on 23rd and 24th August.

Further along the B7062, before reaching Royal Burgh of Peebles is Kailzie Gardens, home of Angela, Lady Buchan Hepburn, and which, in its delightful position on the banks of the River Tweed, features a splendid restaurant and wildlife reserve. On the outskirts of Peebles is Neidpath Castle, a dramatic fortification built by Simon Fraser, High Sheriff of Tweeddale, in the fourteenth century. Through marriage it passed to the Hays of Yester, then to the Douglases, and is currently held by the Charteris Earls of Wemyss.

Where Border Region meets Dumfries & Galloway, the scenery is at its most dramatic, spilling south towards the source of the River Tweed, the Devil's Beef Tub, a deep hollow which was used by reivers for hiding stolen cattle, and the small town of Moffat. Running almost parallel to the west is the A74(M) from Glasgow in the north and leading over Scotland's western border with England to Carlisle in the south.

At Thornhill stands Drumlanrig Castle, the second of the Duke of Buccleuch's sumptuous homes built by his ducal Queensberry ancestor in the seventeenth century. This Duke of Queensberry was not so impressed when it came to the cost and it is said he spent only one night there after it was completed. Among the superb collection of paintings on display are Rembrandt's An Old Woman Reading, and Leonardo da Vinci's Madonna of the Yarnwinder, which was stolen in 2003 and returned in 2007, having been retrieved in Glasgow.

Dumfries sits on the Rover Nith which flows into the Solway Firth. Sometimes called “Queen of the South”, it was created a Royal Burgh by David I and has since become a bustling town of industry and commerce. It was at the Kirk of the Greyfriars in 1306 that Robert the Bruce allegedly stabbed to death the Red Comyn, his cousin and rival.

In 1791, the poet Robert Burns, having unsuccessfully attempted to farm at nearby Ellisland, came to live in Dumfries where he became an exciseman on the Solway Coast. A Burns Museum contains his memorabilia and manuscripts, and a fine statue stands outside the modern Greyfriars Church.

Seven miles to the south at New Abbey are the ruins of Sweetheart Abbey, built in the thirteenth century by the Lady Devorguilla.

She was the wife of John Balliol after whom the college in Oxford is named, and whose son was crowned King of Scots in 1292 until displaced by Edward I of England four years later. Certainly worth a detour is the John Paul Jones Cottage Museum at Arbigland, Jones, the founder of the American Navy, was born here in 1747.

West from Dumfries, the A75 leads through Castle Douglas to Newton Stewart and to Stranraer on the west coast.

Follow the A712, and you will find yourself passing through the spectacular Galloway Forest Park, a wilderness of high hills and dense woodland passing alongside Clatteringshaws Loch.

Coupled with the scenic beauty, the mild Solway climate at the end of the nineteenth century attracted a school of artists from Glasgow to the small harbour town of Kirkcudbright, notably Edward Hornel and Jessie M. King.

Hornel's home, Broughton House, is today in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

On Wigtown Bay is the former fishing town of the same name which with 20 or so book related businesses has evolved into Scotland's National Book Town, hosting a popular annual Book Festival. Across the bay is Gatehouse of Fleet which in the past operated cotton mills, a brewery and a tannery, but has since become a popular tourist destination.

Close to the small port of Garlieston are the ruins of Cruggelton Castle which in the twelfth century was the headquarters of Fergus, Lord of Galloway.

Such were the rumours surrounding its strength that Elizabeth I of England sent spies north to report on its invincibility.

From Newton Stewart, the A714 travels the ancient pilgrim route to Whithorn, one of the oldest Christian centres on the Scottish mainland. It was here that St Ninian arrived circa 650 to build his Candida Casa, which claims to have been the first stone built church in Scotland.

The existing priory ruins date from the twelfth century and a museum is housed in the nearby Whisthorn Story Visitor Centre.

From Glenluce, the A74 travels towards the ferry port of Stranraer on Loch Ryan which once served to connect mainland Scotland with Belfast in Northern Ireland. In 2011, the Stenna Line relocated its service to Old House Point, north of Cairnryan, and an ambitious Stranraer and Waterfront Project funded by the European Union is currently underway.

At Logan Botanic Gardens, run by the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh, plants from temperate climates thrive with the passing offshore Gulf Stream.

To the east, on the Earl of Stair's Lochinch estate, are the sumptuous gardens of Castle Kennedy.

Where to stay
Best Western Philipburn Country House
Luxury four-star hotel in the beautiful Scottish Border town of Selkirk. Some rooms have a balcony and spa bath.
Tel : +44 (0)844 387 64 70

Old Bank House B&B
Four star B&B in the heart of the town. Great reputation for its welcome, and the breakfasts are good too.
Tel: +44 (0)1896 823 712

The Old Manse Bed & Breakfast
Period house with character, charm and extremely welcoming hosts.
Tel: +44 (0)1776 702 135

Bobbin Guest House
Gatehouse of Fleet
Spacious yet cosy guest accommodation sleeping up to 12 people in ensuite rooms.
Tel : +44 (0)1557 814 229

Boutique guesthouse beautifully decorated in an arts & crafts style.
Double rooms from £95.
Tel: +44 (0)1896 754 050

Fairydean Mill
Eddleston, nr Peebles
Stunning peaceful location. Great base for exploring the borders, and free tea and cupcakes on request!
Tel: +44 (0)1721 730 647

Station Hotel
Nice little hotel in a good location.
Rooms are clean and food in the restaurant is lovely.
Tel: +44 (0)1896 823 147

Linthorpe B&B
Two ensuite rooms, offering home cooked food, comfort and cleanliness. Linthorpe also runs fly fishing and wool spinning workshops throughout the year.
Tel: +44 (0)1557 860 662

The Gables Hotel
Grade II listed property in its own sumptuous grounds. This makes an ideal venue for a wedding or a base for exploring the region.
Tel: +44 (0)1461 338 300

Blackaddie Country House Hotel
Lovely country house hotel offering award winning food, great ambiance and relaxed friendly service.
Tel: +44 (0)1659 432 007

Rickwood House Hotel
Family run four-star guesthouse and 2013 Scottish Hotel Awards Winner.
Lovely home cooked food and a great position overlooking the Irish Sea.
Tel: +44 (0)1776 810 270

Where to visit
Castle Kennedy Gardens
One of Scotland’s most impressive and important gardens, with 75 acres to explore, and interest throughout the year.
Tel: +44 (0)1776 702 024

Ellisland Farm
The farmhouse home of Robert Burns from 1788 to 1791. Much here to delight fans, including artifacts, a riverside walk, farming exhibits and heritage trail.
Tel: +44 (0)1387 740 426

Dawyck Botanic Garden
World famous arboreta with some magnificent and important specimen trees, and fantastic seasonal displays. New visitor centre now open.
Tel: +44 (0)1721 760 254

Melrose Abbey
Spectacular ruins of an 12th century abbey, destroyed in 1385 by Richard II’s English army. The Abbey is also thought to be the burial place of Robert the Bruce’s heart, and is marked by a commemorative plaque.
Tel: +44 (0)1896 822 562

Paxton House, Gallery and Country Park
Technically in England, this exquisite country house is one of the UK’s finest architectural gems and houses an impressive display of furniture and art.
Tel: +44 (0)1289 386 291

Sweetheart Abbey
Nr Dumfries
The splendid remains of a late 13th Century and early 14th Century Cistercian abbey founded by Devorgilla, Lady of Galloway, in memory of her husband John Balliol.
Tel: + 44 (0)1387 850 397

Caerlaverock Castle
With its moat, battlements, and a turbulent history, Caerlaverock is all that you might expect from a medieval castle. This five-star attraction also offers nature trails, visitor centre, shop and tea room.
Tel: +44 (0)1387 770 244

Threave Castle
Atmospheric island tower built in the 14th century by the aptly named Archibald the Grim. To reach the castle, visitors must ring the brass bell and wait to be ferried over by the boatman.
Tel: +44 (0)7711 223 101

Drumlanrig Castle
A splendid stately home and enormous country estate, residence of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch. The house contains some magnificent collections of silver, porcelain, furniture and art; and the estate offers all kinds of fresh air activities.
Tel: +44 (0)1848 331 555

Traquair House
Innerleithen Country manor with a long and impressive history dating back some 900 years. Visitors are invited to enjoy the house, extensive grounds, maze, craft workshops and famous Traquair House Brewery.
Tel: +44 (0)1896 830 323

Floors Castle
This magnificent 18th century building is home to the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe.
Visitors can tour the house, take tea in the coffee shop, and explore the beautiful walled garden and extensive parkland.
Tel: +44 (0)1573 223 333

Where to eat
Craigadam Kirkpatrick
Four star farmhouse offering fabulous accommodation and a restaurant open to guests and all.
The oak-panelled dining room and magnificent 15-seater table offers up excellent food from the family’s own organic farm. Booking essential.
Tel: +44 (0)1556 650 233

Gallie Craig
Nr Drummore
Eco-friendly coffee house and restaurant, set into the dramatic cliff face on the Mull of Galloway.
Fantastic views from the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the expansive sea. Also operates as a visitors’ centre and gift shop.
Tel: + 44 (0)1776 840 558

The Green Tea House
Organic café serving a range of delicious home made snacks and hot drinks, heated by a delightful wood-burning stove.
Tel: +44 (0)1848 200 099

Kirkpatricks Restaurant
Very popular restaurant serving locally sourced ingredients with a traditional Scottish menu.
Unpretentious and great value.
Tel: +44 (0)1557 330 888

The Limetree Restaurant at Hartfell House
Chef Matt Seddon combines traditional homecooking with a global influence. Holds an AA rosette award and open for dinner Tues-Sat, and Sundays for lunch.
Tel: +44 (0)1683 220 153

The Horseshoe Inn
Classic French cuisine with a touch of Scotland. Has two AA rosettes and eight luxury
ensuite rooms for guests to enjoy.
Tel: +44 (0)1721 730 225

Burt’s Hotel Melrose
This 18th century hotel, in the heart of Melrose, has been run by the same family for 40 years. Its award winning restaurant holds an impressive selection of malt and fine wine.
Tel: +44 (0)1896 822 285

The Cobbles Inn
High quality pub food freshly prepared in-house using the best local produce. Choose from classics such as The Cobbles smoked fish pie or the delicious steak, mushroom and porter ale pie.
Tel: +44 (0)1573 223 548

The Old Bakehouse West
Charming restaurant full of trinkets relating to the history of the building. Organic meat, fish, seafood, cheese and a range of desserts to tempt you.
Tel: +44 (0)1968 660 830

Dryburgh Abbey Hotel
Warm and contemporary restaurant at the Dryburgh Abbey Hotel.
Patrons can choose from the Abbey Bistro for all-day dining, or the exciting eight course dinner menu in the more formal Tweed Restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0)1835 822 261