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Issue 89 - Exploring the Borders

Scotland Magazine Issue 89
October 2016

 

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Exploring the Borders

Charles Douglas sets off into the land of Peebles, Selkirk and Roxburgh

The Scottish Borders officially begin as and when you enter Scotland at Coldstream on the A698 in Berwickshire, or travel across the moors from Carter Bar on the A68. However, it is the River Tweed, snaking 97 miles from the Tweedsmuir Hills through Drumelzier and journeying west to spill into the North Sea at Berwick-upon- Tweed, which, for the final twenty miles of its length, creates the natural Anglo- Scottish border.

Along its banks, from a source high in the hills of Tweeddale, lie the principal towns of the central Scottish borders – Broughton, Peebles, Galashiels, Melrose, Kelso, Jedburgh, Hawick, Selkirk and St Boswells. Between the 13th and 17th Centuries, English armies invaded Scotland nine times, and Scotland reciprocated three times. Cross-border skirmishes and cattle reiving were an everyday occurrence. It was an unpredictable life, but one that took place among glorious scenery.

In the early centuries of the second millennium, great abbeys were built at Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh to house Augustinian, Cistercian and Tironensian canons and monks. Their primary purpose was to operate as instruments of observation, governance and protection in an age in which the pre-Reformation church paid homage to Rome, but allied itself to the patronage of the Scottish monarchy.

Under that same patronage, influential Borders families presided over vast swathes of land – the Douglas, Kerr, Armstrong, Elliot, Pringle, Scott and the Home, to name a few. Many of their descendants still live in the region, all of them sharing the indelible imprint of Scotland's unsettled past.

Entrenched in lush, undulating hills that appear to roll into the horizon, the Tweed Valley remains dramatically unspoiled and breathtakingly beautiful throughout the seasons. According to legend, it was at Drumelzier that Merlin – the wizard of Scottish Arthurian legend – was imprisoned by Morgan La Fay before being stoned to death by a group of renegade shepherds. A subsequent verse by Thomas the Rhymer – ‘When Tweed and Powsail meet at Merlin's Grave, Scotland and England shall one monarch have’ – is said to have come true in 1603 when the there was a flood and James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England. From Broughton, the B7016 forks west towards Biggar in Lanarkshire as the A701 heads north to join the A721 and A72 traveling east toward Peebles. Broughton, on the Biggar Water as it flows into the River Tweed, is a picturesque, small village where the writer John Buchan lived. Until 2012, the Biggar Museum Trust ran a small museum dedicated to his memory, but this has relocated to the High Street in Peebles.

There are six listed buildings in the vicinity. Of particular note is Broughton Place, an elegant private house built for the Elliott Family by Sir Basil Spence in 1938. Five miles away are the beautiful gardens of Dawyck. The gardens here were originally planted by the Veitch family in the 17th Century. The Balfour family bought the estate in 1897 and, in 1978, the gardens were gifted to the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh.

Nearby is the Stobo Castle Health Spa, housed in the magnificent early-Victorian former seat of the Graham-Montgomery baronets. Acquired in 1905 by the English cricketer Hylton Philipson, the estate was later sold to the Countess of Dysart and purchased in 1975 by the Wynyard Family, who established it as a health resort. A large extension incorporating a hotel was opened in 2003.

From Blyth Bridge, the A72 follows the path of the River Tweed through Lyne to pass beneath Neidpath Castle (See: Scotland Magazine #60) perched loftily above the flow of water as it enters Peebles. Dating from the 12th Century, the original keep was erected for Sir Gilbert Fraser, whose grandson Sir Simon was executed alongside William Wallace in 1307. The barony then passed to the Hay family who ultimately became Marquises of Tweeddale. Visited by Mary, Queen of Scots in 1563, her son James VI in 1587, and the 1st Marquis of Montrose in 1645, Neidpath Castle was inherited by the 6th Earl of Wemyss, whose descendants maintain it to this day. Only open to the public by prior arrangement with Wemyss Estates, the interiors are well preserved and have become a popular backdrop for weddings.

The slogan ‘Peebles for Pleasure’ was attached to the market town that played an important role in the Scottish woolen industry during the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

It was also popular as a health spa, but the imposing Peebles Hydro is the only remaining establishment from that era. The heraldic arms of the Royal Burgh of Peebles feature three salmon on a red field, relating it to the River Tweed. The explorer Mungo Park lived in a house on the north of the Cuddy, and the aforementioned John Buchan Story Museum is located in the Chambers Institution, once the headquarters of the Chambers publishing family.

Following the A72 southeast, parallel to the River Tweed, the road bypasses Cardrona and approaches Innerleithen, past the picturesque ruins of Horsburgh Castle – the pile was famously sketched by J. M. W. Turner on his 1834 tour of Scotland. At Glentress, off the A72, is one of the 7stanes mountain biking centres that boasts award-winning trails into the wilderness landscape. The estate of Cardrona, off the A72, has been transformed with a golf course and the Macdonald Cardrona Hotel, Golf & Country Club. From Peebles, there is also the B7062, a back road that leads to Traquair, passing Kailzie Gardens, lovingly maintained by their owner Angela, Lady Buchan Hepburn, and home to the Tweed Valley Ospreys.

Traquair House (See: Scotland Magazine #27) is acknowledged as being the oldest continually inhabited house in Scotland, and is the home of Catherine Muller Stuart, the lady laird, and her family. Built in the style of a fortified mansion, it was once a Royal hunting lodge occupied by Scottish kings and passed to the earls of Traquair. Visited by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, the magnificent Bear Gate of the entrance drive – known as The Steekit Yetts – was closed on his departure. They are not to be re-opened until a Stuart once more sits on the throne of Scotland. In 1965, Catherine's father, Peter Maxwell Stuart, opened a brewery in the forecourt using 18th Century domestic brewery equipment.

From Traquair, the B709 plunges deeply into the landscape approaching Yarrow, Ettrickbridge, and Cappercleuch. In 1296, the Glen estate was occupied by a lady styling herself Sarra of the Glen. In 1852, it was purchased by the Glasgow bleach industrialist Sir Charles Tennant, whose forebear had been a boyhood friend of the young Robert Burns while growing up in Ayrshire.

Designed in the Scottish Baronial style in 1854 by David Bryce, Glen House was remodeled by Robert Lorimer after a fire in 1905. The interiors were later restyled by Syrie Maugham, the interior decorator and wife of novelist Somerset Maugham. The house is still owned and lived in by the Tennant family and is occasionally leased out for filming and small conferences.

The small town of Innerleithen on the A72 has an Iron-Age hill fort on top of Caerlee Hill, and aerial images indicate the long ago existence of a Roman marching camp. The village claims to have been created by St Ronan, a pilgrim monk, who arrived in a coracle on the River Tweed circa AD737. Innerleithen prospered during the Industrial Revolution and at one time was home to five important woolen mills. Similarly, Walkerburn, the next village on the A72, also had a strong weaving industry. On a hill above the settlement can just be seen the ruins of 16th Century Elibank Castle, home of the unfortunate Muckle Mou'ed Meg, celebrated as the ugliest woman in the Scottish Borders.

Clovenfords, on the A72, and the Clovenfords Hotel, formerly known as the Whytebank Inn, was a regular haunt of Sir Walter Scott when he was appointed Sheriff- Depute of Selkirk in 1799. The poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy also stayed here.

As you enter Selkirkshire from the west, Galashiels – having prospered through the woolen industry in the Victorian era and into the 20th Century – has today become the location of the Heriot Watt University School of Textiles and Design. Since 2015, Galashiels has been designated the official capital of the Scottish Borders. On the northwest edge of the town there are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort at Torwoodlee. The town's motto of ‘Sour Plums’ (Scots: Soor Plooms) originates from a skirmish involving a raiding party of English soldiers who were surprised while picking wild plums.

The lands of Gattonside, on the north side of the River Tweed, were granted to the Monks of Melrose Abbey by King David I in 1143. More recently, the architect Peter Womersley (1823 – 1993) chose the village for his home, The Rigg, which is now a Catagory B listed building. Abbotsford House (See: Scotland Magazine #35), on the south bank of the River Tweed is the 19th Century home built for the author Sir Walter Scott, and paid for by a grateful nation. Managed by the National Trust for Scotland, it is open to the public.

In September 2015, the Borders Railway passenger train services were reinstated, having been closed since 1969. Today, you can travel by train from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, less than a mile from Abbotsford, in under one hour. The nearby town of Melrose was historically situated in Roxburghshire. Melrose Abbey was founded for the Cistercian order by David I in the early 12th Century, and it is here that the heart of Scotland's hero King Robert I is buried. The week-long Melrose Festival takes place in the town in June, accompanied by the immensely popular Borders Book Festival. Southwest of Galashiels, on the A7, is the Royal Burgh of Selkirk, which overlooks the Yarrow Valley. Situated on the Ettrick Water, a tributary of the River Tweed, local folk here are known as ‘Souters’ after the number of shoemakers who once lived locally. In this landscape it is also 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. Roosevelt are interred at Kirk o' Forest. In close proximity is Bowhill House, one of four spectacular homes belonging to Richard Scott, 10th Duke of Buccleuch and 12th Duke of Queensberry (See: Scotland Magazine #23). 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.

It was at Newark Castle, in the grounds of Bowhill House, that the early fortunes of the Scotts of Buccleuch originated. At one stage owned by Queen Margaret, wife of James III, it passed to the Scott family. In 1645, during the wars of the Three Kingdoms, a group of 100 Royalist supporters of the Marquis of Montrose were brutally executed here after the battle of Philiphaugh.

Built in the 1540s, Aikwood Tower (See: Scotland Magazine #64) was renovated in the 1990s by the Liberal politician Lord Steel. It is available for functions and private letting.

North of Kelso, off the A6089, is Mellerstain House (See Scotland Magazine #28), that was built in the 18th Century by the iconic architects William and Robert Adam for George Baillie and his wife Lady Grisel, daughter of Patrick Hume, Earl of Marchmont. Their descendants became earls of Haddington and continue to live there, opening Mellerstain to the public.

The market town of Kelso is also worth a visit; its main visitor attraction is the ruined Kelso Abbey, founded by Alexander I in the 12th Century to accommodate a community of Tironensian monks. Henry, Earl of Huntingdon, son of David I – who predeceased him – was interred in the abbey in 1152.

Across the River Tweed once stood Roxburgh Castle (also ruined). Dominating the attractive town, however, is Floors Castle (See: Scotland Magazine #11), ancestral home of the dukes of Roxburghe. Some four hundred yards from the present castle, James II of Scotland was killed by an exploding cannon in 1460 while laying siege to Roxburgh Castle, held at the time by the English. In retaliation, James' widow, Mary of Guelders, raised the fortification to the ground.

From Lauder in the north, the A68 drops down to Newton St Boswells. On the B6356 is Bemersyde, a former peel tower, bought by the British Government in 1921 and presented by a grateful nation to Field Marshall Earl Haig, the British Commander during the First World War. It remains the seat of Clan Haig, a position currently occupied by the 3rd Earl Haig. A 13th century poem by Thomas the Rhymer carries the prescient words: ‘Tyde what may betyde, Haig shall be Haig of Bemersyde.’ Nearby Dryburgh Abbey was built for Premonstratensian canons from Alnwick Abbey in 1159, but largely destroyed by English soldiers in 1322. It was restored, but then burned again by Richard II of England in 1385. Thereafter, it somehow survived to some extent until finally ravaged in 1544. Sir Walter Scott and Field Marshall Earl Haig are both buried in the cemetery.

In 1814, Dryburgh was the first Scottish town to erect a monument in honour of Scotland's Guardian, William Wallace. It stands within the grounds of Bemersyde House. Dryburgh is also celebrated for its picturesque ruined abbey. A circular Temple of the Muses, a gazebo featuring nine columns, was erected in 1817 on Bass Hill, a monument to the Ednam-born James Thomson – who, rather eccentrically, wrote the lyrics to Rule Britannia.

One mile east of Newton St Boswells on the A68 is St Boswells, named after a medieval Abbot of Melrose and situated on St Cuthbert's Way, a long distance footpath linking Melrose Abbey to the Holy Isle at Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland. Fair Day, held annually on 18th July, commemorates an age when gypsies would gather here from across the land.

From St Boswells, the A68 travels south to Jedburgh. At Ancrum, which sits on a loop of the Ale Water, is a Waterloo Monument erected in 1824, and the ruined 15th Century Timpendean Tower, once a stronghold of the Douglas family. The tower was burned by the Earl of Hertford in 1545, during the period of the Rough Wooing. Just north of the village is the site of the Battle of Ancrum Moor, fought in 1545. Close by is Monteviot House, home of the marquesses of Lothian from the 18th Century. In the last century, the 12th Marquess of Lothian repurchased and restored the old Clan Kerr family seat of Ferniehurst Castle, on the eastern bank of the Jed Water. Jedburgh sits on the Jed Water, a tributary of the River Teviot, and 10 miles from the border
with England. Its most prominent feature is the ruins of Jedburgh Abbey, founded as a church in the 9th Century, becoming an abbey for Augustinian monks in 1147 . David I built a castle at Jedburgh in 1147, but it was captured so often by English invaders that it was subsequently demolished in 1408. However, Jedburgh Castle Jail, built on the site and restored in 1964, serves as a museum and features displays Lof local history. The Mary, Queen of Scots Visitor Centre in Queen Street is housed in a 16th Century tower A house, where she is alleged to have stayed overnight in 1566.

Selkirk to Tweedsmuir

Following the: A708

Distance: 29.5 miles Approximate time by car without stops or delays: 1 hour 4 minutes.

This is a journey through some of Scotland’s most thickly wooded and dramatically beautiful scenery. The Ettrick and Yarrow valleys are two of Scotland’s best-kept secrets, despite being celebrated by great writers such as Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg, also known as the Ettrick Shepherd (1770-1835).

Selkirk (A707): A Royal Burgh on the Ettrick Water, a tributary of the River Tweed. Townsfolk are known as ‘Souters,’ from a time when the majority of them earned their livings from shoe making and repairs. The first Border Abbey was built here for Tironensian monks during the reign of David I. At the now ruined Auld Kirk, William Wallace was declared Guardian of Scotland in 1298. Halliwell’s House, the town’s oldest building, is now the local museum. Over 400 riders take part in the annual Common Riding to commemorate the aftermath of the Battle of Flodden in 1513 – only one of the men who set out to fight for James IV of Scotland returned. On the outskirts of the town is The Haining, a country house formerly belonging to the Pringle family. It dates from the 1790s and is available for events and private functions.

Philiphaugh (A708): The location of a significant battle during the Civil War when the Royalist army of the Marquis of Montrose was defeated by a Covenanter army led by Sir David Leslie, thus restoring the powers of the G Committee of Estates. In the grounds of the Philiphaugh estate there is a Salmon Viewing Centre on the Yarrow Water.

Bowhill (A708): A member of the Historic Houses Association, Bowhill House is open to the public. One of the four magnificent historic homes of the dukes of Buccleuch, it was begun by Lord Bowhill in 1708 but acquired in 1747 by the 2nd Duke of Buccleuch. Within can be found one of the finest private collections of art in the UK.

Broadmeadows (A708): A picturesque village where the first youth hostel in Scotland was opened in 1931.

Yarrow (A708): Rich in folklore, this village takes its name from the Celtic word ‘Garw.’ There is a church, a manse, and a former school building.

Mountbenger (A708): A hamlet which is celebrated for its association with James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd who wrote: ‘But what for didna he come out-by this time to Mount benger? I weel remember George Tamson bringin him out in the hairst o’ 1817, and me readin till them pairt o’ The manuscripp.’ St

Mary’s Loch (A708): The largest natural loch in the Scottish Borders, it was created by glacial action during the last ice age. A church once stood here dedicated to St Mary and local legend has it that the loch is the coldest in Scotland and has no bottom. Immediately upstream is the smaller Loch of the Lowes. During the 18th Century, Tibbie Shiels Inn (named after its hospitable landlady) was a celebrated coaching stop frequented by James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, and Sir Walter Scott. There is a statue of Hogg by the sculptor Andrew Currie overlooking the loch.

Cappercleuch (A708): This is a picturesque small settlement situated at the northwest corner of St Mary’s Loch.

Meggat Reservoir (A708): A remarkable man- made body, created by flooding the Meggat Valley in 1983, to fill the pipelines of Edinburgh via the Manor Valley and Glencorse Reservoir in the Pentland Hills. Collecting water from the Tweedsmuir Hills, the reservoir is held in place by the largest earth dam in Scotland Talla Reservoir (A708): Opened in 1899, a railway line was built to enable the building of a reservoir and dam to provide water for the growing demands of the City of Edinburgh. Stone and aggregate was quarried in North Queensferry and Craigleith. Up to thirty workmen, mostly from Ireland, died during the construction.

Tweedsmuir (A708): Set in a valley within the Cheviot Hills, Tweedsmuir is situated eight miles from the source of the River Tweed. Oliver Castle was, at first, a seat of Clan Fraser, then the Tweedie family. The original peel tower and a subsequent castle were replaced by the current 18th Century house. The Crook Inn on the A701 is a claimant to being one of the oldest hostelries in Scotland and is where Robert Burns, while passing through, penned Willie Wastle’s Wife.