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Showing posts from August, 2016

Hume Castle

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There's no doubt about it: Hume Castle is a real oddity, its almost comical simplicity looming over Hume village. The shape just doesn't look right for a proper castle - almost like a child drew it - the battlements are far too large for any defensive purpose, and the corners are... just plain weird. So what's going on? Well, it turns out that most of the exterior is a folly built by a rich owner in the 1700's on top of the original thirteenth century curtain wall. The folly encloses little more than a grassy, empty shell, although there are a few medieval fragments of stonework scattered around inside. Back when it had a serious purpose, the castle switched hands between the English and the Scots several times. Later on it was responsible for the Great Alarm, during its use as one of a chain of warning beacons in the Napoleonic Wars. A lookout mistook nearby charcoal burner fires for another warning beacon, lit the castle's own, and in doing so triggered the chai…

Greenknowe Tower

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"Greenknowe Tower? There's not much there," remarked the custodian at nearby Smailholm Tower after he asked us where we were heading next. True - Greenknowe doesn't stand up well when compared to it's rivals in the history-rich Borders. In fact some parts aren't standing at all: this tower is now a roofless ruin which more birds probably call home than humans ever did. Despite all this, there are still plenty of interesting architectural details, and a spiral staircase is still fully intact to access the floors above - all for free, by the way. Neighbouring Gordon village takes its name from the clan who probably first built a castle here, although most of the surviving parts were constructed for the Seton family in 1581.


Name: Greenknowe Tower★☆☆☆
Location: A6105 just west of Gordon, G.R.: NT 640428 / guards deliver thinnest
Open (2017): Usually always, but closed middle part of February for maintenance
Cost: Free
Anything else? Space for just a few cars in roug…

Smailholm Tower

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Smailholm Tower is one of Historic Scotland's smallest but most characterful staffed properties, standing proud atop an interestingly rocky outcrop surrounded by otherwise gentle Borders scenery. The tower was built for the Pringle family in the fifteenth century with defence obviously in mind: the walls are nearly three metres thick in places. Inside, four storeys survive intact, although the rooms are given over to a slightly incongruous exhibition about Sir Walter Scott's ballads (though his family did have links to the castle). A better reason to explore all the way to the top is the perfect panorama from the exposed battlements. The Eildon Hills, Cheviots and (apparently) Bamburgh Castle are all visible on a clear day - the latter 33 miles away across the English border.


Name: Smailholm Tower★★☆☆
Location: Minor road end a mile south of Smailholm, G.R.: NT 638347 / launcher brighter army
Open (2017): Daily, April to September
Cost (2017): £4.50 (adults), £2.70 (children), fr…

Scott's View

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The road around Bemersyde Hill to the east of Melrose leads to what was supposedly Sir Walter Scott's favourite view. It's been referred to as southern Scotland's most inspiring panorama: if you take that as gospel you'll be disappointed, but it's certainly one of the region's better roadside viewpoints - especially in morning sunshine. The "true" view is from further down the hillside, with a large meander in the River Tweed complementing the striking profile of the Eildon Hills in the background, but in late summer gorse bushes barred our progress.


Name: Scott's View ★☆☆☆
Location: B6356 a mile north of Bemersyde, G.R.: NT 593343 / sourcing fancy coast

Leaderfoot Viaduct

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Leaderfoot Viaduct's nineteen sandstone arches span the River Tweed a few miles downstream from Melrose. Its opening in 1863 fulfilled a prediction made several centuries earlier by local prophet Thomas Rhymer. By 1981 the structure was in a poor state of repair and on the brink of being demolished, with trains having ceased to cross it 16 years before. Campaigning and subsequent funding for repairs saved the day, and it's now looked after by Historic Environment Scotland. The best viewpoint is probably on the old road bridge over the Tweed immediately east of the viaduct, signposted from the A68.


Name: Leaderfoot Viaduct ★☆☆☆
Location: A mile east of Newstead, G.R.: NT 574347 / wriggled pave rewarding
Open: Always
Cost: Free
Anything else? Parking signposted off the A68 just north of the A6091 junction.

Harmony Garden

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Harmony is probably the best of the trio of gardens strung around the north side of Melrose. The garden centres on Harmony House, an elegant Georgian mansion - sadly not open to the public although available for rent. Flowerbeds, rhododendrons, kitchen gardens and an immaculate croquet lawn surround the building, all overlooked by the ruins of Melrose Abbey to the east. Being (slightly) further away from the town centre than the rest of Melrose's attractions makes the garden a reliable escape from the crowds on a busy weekend.


Name: Harmony Garden★★☆☆
Location: St Mary's Road, Melrose centre, G.R.: NT 547343 / starts greeting unicorns
Open (2017): Daily, April to October; Monday to Saturday, November to late December
Cost: Free

Priorwood Garden

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Priorwood is one of two gardens in Melrose owned by the National Trust for Scotland: a slightly disorganised riot of colour immediately south of Melrose Abbey. Flowers grown here are chosen specifically for flower drying and preservation, with a room dedicated to the art next to the garden shop. A large orchard possibly used to be part of the abbey kitchen garden, and today contains over seventy varieties of apple; there's also a fairly new woodland area, though this felt a bit untidy when we visited. The entry fee from previous years was dropped for 2016, although (as ever) donations are welcome.


Name: Priorwood Garden★☆☆☆
Location: Abbey Street, Melrose centre, G.R.: NT 548341 / soil structure wage
Open (2017): Daily, April to October; Monday to Saturday, November to late December
Cost: Free

Melrose Abbey Gardens

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As well as Melrose Abbey and the Commendator's House Museum, Historic Environment Scotland look after a beautiful garden across the road. Colourful flowerbeds enjoy a splendid backdrop of the abbey on the other side of Abbey Street and seem to be free to enter (though you have to pay to look around the abbey). There's strict competition for flower power here in Melrose - nearby Harmony and Priorwood Gardens are bigger - but it's still worth dropping by this third place finisher on a sunny summer day.


Name: Melrose Abbey Gardens ★☆☆☆
Location: Abbey Street, Melrose centre, G.R.: NT 548342 / other reach spinners
Open: Daily, but best in summer
Cost: Free

Melrose Abbey

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At the heart of Melrose is Melrose Abbey, a Cistercian monastery dating to 1146 and the decades immediately after. If you only have time to visit one of the town's attractions this should be it. Although the nave only survives to foundation level, this and the huge transepts, choir and crossing are more than enough to communicate the building's former size. Ornately carved gargoyles and statues add to the grandeur (look out for the bagpipe-playing pig...), while large sections of the surrounding lay ranges are still visible on the north side, giving you a feel for abbey life beyond the central building. Many visitors are likely unaware that their tickets also cover the Commendator's House Museum immediately to the north.


Name: Melrose Abbey★★★☆
Location: Abbey Street, Melrose centre, G.R.: NT 549342 / myth resembles tweed
Open (2017): Daily
Cost (2017): £5.50 (adults), £3.30 (children), free for Historic Environment Scotland members

Name: Commendator's House Museum ★☆☆☆
Des…

Melrose

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Melrose is one of those places where history and scenery converge spectacularly to create an enchanting destination. This is one of Scotland's most charming settlements and more proof that the country's best parts certainly aren't all in the Highlands. The town boasts a list of tourist sites unsurpassed in the Scottish Borders, ranging from a magnificent ruined abbey and Roman heritage to exquisite gardens and excellent local walks. And the locals seem to know how lucky they are: twice during our last wander up the short High Street we were stopped by people extolling the virtues of their home town. The wealth of attractions gives Melrose a capacity to absorb huge numbers of visitors, but the town centre has a pleasantly bustling feel in high season.


Name: Melrose ★★☆☆
Location: G.R.: NT 548340 / visa places dignify


Within walking distance

Name: Trimontium Museum★☆☆☆
Description: Old-fashioned treasure trove of a museum describing the area's Roman heritage, with dozens of …

Walk: An eroding Eildon trio

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The three pointy summits making up the Eildon Hills contrast sharply with the gentle, rolling nature of the rest of the Scottish Borders. The trio of peaks are the remains of an ancient volcano, the hard rock at its core resisting erosion while softer parts have worn away. Each peak is worth the effort: Wester Hill has the best views south over lush farmland, Mid Hill is the highest with the most distinctive profile, while Eildon Hill North was once the site of both a huge Bronze Age fort and Roman Signal Station. Views throughout are superb, though not really seen to best effect on the overcast day the photos here were taken. And at the start, the historic town of Melrose has an extensive list of sights of its own.


Name: Walk: An eroding Eildon trio ★★★☆
Length: 9 km / 6 miles
Ascent: 480 metres
Main summits: Eildon Mid Hill (422 metres, sub-2000'); Eildon Wester Hill (371 metres); Eildon Hill North (404 metres)
Points of interest: Melrose & town sights; Rhymer's Stone
Start /…

Abbotsford

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Abbotsford is the former home of Sir Walter Scott, a magnificent country house just across the River Tweed from Galashiels. The writer lived here from 1811 until his death in 1832, and the author's international fame makes the mansion one of the Border region's most popular tourist attractions. The polished visitor setup whisks you through a modern exhibition area (with stylish restaurant), preparing you for the house tour that follows. Amazingly some of the rooms have been open to the public for nearly two centuries, despite Scott's descendants continuing to live elsewhere in the house until 2004. The drawing room, library and study are among the highlights - explored with the help of a detailed audio guide - as well as the smallish but beautiful formal gardens. All parts combined, it's excellent value for money too.


Name: Abbotsford★★★☆
Location: B6360 just south of Tweedbank, G.R.: NT 508343 / shipyards cities dare
Open (2017): Daily, March to November
Cost (2017): £9.…

Galashiels

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For most visitors, Galashiels is probably quite far down the shortlist when exploring the Scottish Borders. No cavernous abbey ruin, few twee gift shops, and a distinct lack of fussy tearooms. But don't write it off: just because this former mill town town has moved into the twenty-first century doesn't mean it's lost its charm. The busy centre has interesting architecture mixed in amongst the ordinary: an elaborate fountain and mercat cross, the striking Burgh Chambers and several impressive individual buildings providing evidence for its past importance. Old Gala House is up a side street and easily missed, with varied displays detailing the town history and showcasing the work of local artists; Abbotsford, former home of Sir Walter Scott, is a short drive away. Back in town, all the modern industry that's sprung up overlying traditional roots makes a quirky but refreshing change from the rather staid image you can get from other Borders towns. Quirky is also how yo…

Kirkmadrine Stones

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The most interesting parts of the Rhins of Galloway are around its 50 mile coastline, but it's worth turning inland for a quick look at the Kirkmadrine Stones: one of Historic Scotland's more minor sites, housed in the annexe of a remote nineteenth century church. The eight sculptured Christian stones date to various periods between the 6th and 12th centuries, with carvings making reference to bible passages, priests and burials. The three earliest stones (imaginatively known as Kirkmadrine 1, 2 and 3) are amongst the oldest Christian sculptured stones ever found in Scotland. The protective glass in front of the stones reflects sunlight, making it difficult to take photos... so go and visit for yourself.


Name: Kirkmadrine Stones★☆☆☆
Location: Off minor road 2 miles south-west of Sandhead, G.R.: NX 080484 / shirt hero costumed
Open: Always (church: exterior only)
Cost: Free
Anything else? Space for a few cars at NX 080481 / buzzards motion liked - the stones are a 5-min walk north …

Walk: Mull of Galloway with a sting in the tail

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A walk of contrasting halves explores the wonderful cliffs, beaches and bays on and near the Mull of Galloway. The route forms a rough figure-of-eight shape, with outward and return legs nearly converging on the isthmus between West and East Tarbet beaches (Tarbet means "neck of land" in Gaelic). East of this point is easy clifftop walking on short turf with excellent views to Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, England and the rest of Galloway. The western section is a mixed bag and it's important to pick your time of year carefully: stinging nettles and overgrown gorse bushes complicated things for us around West Tarbet in late summer. The inland section isn't so visually arresting as the coastal part, but pockets of interesting scenery at Mull Glen, Kirk Burn and from Portankill onwards offer recompense; overall, this is still a decent half-day walk. Start by visiting the lighthouse - you can see most of the route from the top of the tower.


Name: Walk: Mull of Gall…

Mull of Galloway

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The Mull of Galloway is Scotland's most southerly headland. Sixty metre cliffs falling away into the Irish Sea on all sides allow a coastal panorama unrivaled in this part of Scotland; where else can you clearly see Scotland, Northern Ireland, the English Lake District and the Isle of Man all from the same spot? The 26 metre lighthouse at the headland's high point was built by Robert Stevenson in 1830. Like all Scottish lighthouses it's now automated, but the tower opens for tours to the top (via 115 stairs) on summer weekends. There's also an interesting exhibition area, although in clear weather there's much more to enjoy outside than in. Take a hike around the wider headland to sample the views more fully.


Name: Mull of Galloway ★★☆☆
Location: Minor road end 6 miles south of Drummore, G.R.: NX 160306 / meatball banana thread

Name: Mull of Galloway Lighthouse★★☆☆
Description: 1830's lighthouse and exhibition at Scotland's most southerly point.
Location: Mull …

Stranraer

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Stranraer is the largest town in Galloway, the far south-western corner of Scotland, and an excellent base for exploring the beautiful Rhins of Galloway peninsula. Until recently an important port for crossings to Ireland, the ferry terminals have moved further down Loch Ryan, leaving the railway station stranded at the far tip of a largely disused town pier. Losing much of its sea trade can't have been good for Stranraer, with quite a few derelict shops and a curiously high number of boy racers zooming around the one-way system in the evenings. Nevertheless you could still easily spend a few hours here exploring the excellent museum, central castle and short high street.


Name: Stranraer ★☆☆☆
Location (George Street): G.R.: NX 060609 / gathering velocity pity


Within walking distance

Name: Stranraer Museum★★☆☆
Description: Well-presented and varied regional museum housed in the old Town Hall.
Location: George Street, town centre, G.R.: NX 059608 / merge windows store
Open (2017): Monday …