The Scottish Borders

Berwickshire coast. Creative Commons photo by Neal Fowler.

Berwickshire coast. Creative Commons photo by Neal Fowler.

There’s a strange phenomenon among many Scotland travel guides, and by unfortunate extension, most tourists to this beautiful country. If a reader perused a few of these guides, and then were asked to draw a rough map of Scotland, I’d be willing to bet at least half would put Edinburgh and Glasgow right above the border with England. Scotland, according to far too many otherwise reliable sources, seems to begin at the two big cities and continue northward into the Highlands and islands. This is a shame, and it has to stop.

The truth is, a big and important chunk of Scotland lies south of the cities. Edinburgh and Glasgow are barely in the southern third of the country, and the country below them is every bit as Scottish as those above. Two council areas (the major political districts of Scotland) touch the border with England. Dumfries and Galloway runs along the western side of the border, but the majority of it lies against the council area known simply and appropriately as the Scottish Borders.

Getting to (and around) the Borders

Unlike most regions of Scotland, this one is pretty much only accessible by road. There are no airports and no rail stations inside the Borders council area. The East Coast Main rail line runs through, but the closest stops are Berwick in northern England and Dunbar, neither of which is technically in the Borders. There are buses between all the towns and the bigger cities to the north and south, but most visitors will want a car here.

The closest English cities are Carlisle and Newcastle, and if you’re visiting either of these, you have no good excuse not to pop up and get a taste of Scotland as well. The coastal drive north from Newcastle is especially pretty.

Things to See and Do

There are some great sights in the Borders, and many of them go relatively unseen by foreign tourists. Melrose Abbey is a magnificent 12th century monastery in the heart of the region, about halfway between Edinburgh and the English border. St. Abb’s Head Nature Reserve and really the entire Borders coast is beautiful, best known for its abundant seabird colonies. Another monastery built around the same time as Melrose, Jedburgh Abbey is best known as the gravesite of the poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott. The seaside town of Eyemouth is especially worth a visit, and boasts one of Scotland’s most picturesque coastal golf courses.

Melrose Abbey. Creative Commons photo by Magnus Hagdorn.

Melrose Abbey. Creative Commons photo by Magnus Hagdorn.

Places to Stay

There really isn’t a central capital or big city in the Borders, but the area is dotted with charming small towns, each of which usually has one or two hotels and a variety of bed and breakfasts. Here are a few highlights in the region:

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Duncan House (Kelso)

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Dryburgh Abbey
Hotel (Melrose)

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The Glen Hotel (Selkirk)