The Scottish Borders
The best way to get off the beaten track this year is to pick up a motor through economy car rentals and head off for the Scottish Borders.
This region, which covers about 1800 square miles in the north of England, was fought over for centuries by the Scots and English and was often a virtual no-man’s land, with the indigenous ‘Border Reiver’ clans being a law unto themselves for long periods and often playing one side off against the other.
The Borders have a unique and highly romantic history, and with a car it’s possible to get a good feel for the region and appreciate the wild and rugged landscape up close. There are plenty of quaint inns and hotels to stay the night, and a couple of days up here will certainly blow any cobwebs away and open up a world of beauty, intrigue and derring-do that has few rivals.
There have apparently been more ballads written about the Borders than about anywhere else on the planet, ancient Greece and Arthur’s Camelot included. It’s easy to see why when you consider all the battlefields, ancient fortifications, ruined abbeys and prehistoric standing stones that form the backdrop to the region, and the epic characters like Mary Queen of Scots, Robert the Bruce and William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace who were involved in its tumultuous history.
Sir Walter Scott’s Abbottsford, a Gothic-style folly, can be visited here. It’s where he wrote most of his books, including the Waverley Novels, at a frantic rate to repay the crippling debts incurred over a bad business venture. Sir Walter was a keen collector of assorted memorabilia, and on display is a small armoury festooning the walls, Napoleon’s cloak-clasp of golden bees picked up from his abandoned carriage after Waterloo and the castle keys used to lock up Mary Queen of Scots.
Castles and abbeys are especially prominent in the Scottish Borders, and even in a state of ruin the stunning abbeys of Melrose, Kelso, Dryburgh and Jedburgh are simply breathtaking. The heart of Robert the Bruce is interred at Melrose, and the small town which clusters around it is extremely picturesque and charming.
Floors Castle not far from Kelso contains grand state rooms packed with European artwork, furnishings and tapestries, and on the exterior is everything you’d expect an English castle to be: castellated, awesome and extravagantly fairytale.
The oldest inhabited house here is Traquair, which has impeccable romantic credentials, having witnessed the Jacobite Rebellions and been visited by no less than 27 different monarchs, which included Mary Queen of Scots herself.
In a car it’s easy to stop off briefly at all these places before heading farther out to the likes of brooding Hermitage Castle, a rather eerie old ruin that was built by David I of Scotland and occupies an especially beautiful location, and Neidpath Castle overlooking the Tweed.
The Scottish Borders packs in so much history, romance and stunning scenery that it makes the perfect destination for a car journey, especially in fine weather and with a fresh wind blowing off the gorse.
David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.