Our pocket guide to the Scottish Borders

Carmen McCormack Profile Image

Carmen McCormack

Guest Expert

5 min read

The Borders, all 1,800 square miles of its green-hued hills and lush countryside interspersed by the flowing river Tweed, are often journeyed through to arrive at more far-flung Scottish destinations. But we’d like to make the case for stopping awhile. The region can lay claim to a heady mix of magnificent abbey ruins and ancient castles, superb walking and cycling trails, grand country houses and bountiful gardens, so we think it’s worth scratching the surface and taking some time to get to know the rather refined Borders. In our guide you’ll discover genteel towns and villages, a thriving textile industry, fine eateries, arts, crafts and culture galore.

Featured in this article

Dawyck Botanic Garden, The Pennine Way walk, Sir Walter Scott's Courtroom, The Borders Distillery, Provender Restaurant & Bar, Three Hills Coffee Roastery, Hardiesmill, River Tweed, Abbotsford The Home Of Sir Walter Scott

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Dawyck Botanic Garden, Peebles. Open daily 10am-5pm. Recommended by Lulu, owner of Barns Tower.  This handsome 65-acre garden near Peebles is home to one of Scotland's finest tree collections, including some of Britain's oldest and tallest trees. Its continental climate creates the perfect conditions for a bevy of plants and trees to thrive, many from as far away as Nepal, Chile, Korea and China. Stroll woodland and burnside walks (the fast-flowing burn powers the garden’s hydroelectricity), visit in spring for snowdrops and bluebells, or in summer for Himalayan poppies, rhododendrons and azaleas in a riot of colour. Wander a trail of rare Scottish plants and discover hundreds of species of fungi nestled among mosses and lichens. There’s a light-flooded cafe serving hearty soups, salads and savoury pastries for lunch, and homemade cakes for afternoon pick-me-ups. 

The Pennine Way walk

The UK’s oldest trail, The Pennine Way, wends 268 miles from the hills of Derbyshire and the Yorkshire Dales, through the Swaledale valley, across the North Pennines, over Hadrian’s Wall and into the Cheviot Hills. Its endpoint in Kirk Yetholm is your start point for this superb 8.5 mile circular walk, which also forms part of St Cuthbert’s Way. Cross over the burn and go steeply up onto the Border Ridge, where you’ll glimpse an Iron Age hill fort before spectacular views open up. Follow the ridge for about 2.4 miles, with glorious vistas looking out to Curr hill, before descending through deep valleys, then up again until you see the Cheviots. The Pennine Way continues along the ridge but you follow the route back to Kirk Yetholm with the option to climb to an eye-catching outcrop, Corbie Craig, for a picnic before heading back over the burn and into town. 

Explore six of the best walks in the Scottish Borders >


Sir Walter Scott’s Courtroom Museum

Although born in Edinburgh, a bout of polio as a child meant Sir Walter Scott was sent away to recuperate with family in the Borders. Ever afterwards he maintained close links with the region, and drew on its landscapes and history as inspiration for his poetry and novels. For the last 30 years of his life, Scott was Selkirk’s sheriff, dispensing justice to the independently-minded townsfolk from this very courtroom. The 1804 building, replete with iconic 100-foot spire, stands proudly in the square next to an imposing statue of the man himself. Drop in to browse displays of the renowned writer’s personal objects, an exhibition of his life and writings, and discover the fascinating story of Scott’s relationship with the town. 



In the 1800s, Peebles Hydro Hotel was a popular retreat for those wishing to ‘take the restorative waters’, play tennis and recuperate in gentle surroundings. The hotel still operates today but now includes a distillery, microbrewery and bar. You might be imagining they brew that most famous of Scottish tipples – whisky – but in fact this Borders distillery creates some of the finest and most fragrant gins, using mineral-rich water from their private spring, Shieldgreen, and botanicals nurtured within the grounds. Built on what was a Victorian swimming pool, you can come for a tour, take a masterclass and make your own bespoke blend, or simply prop up the bar in the Gin Palace and choose from a smorgasbord of varieties. 



Provender, Melrose. Open Wednesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. 

Provender is an easy-going, Michelin-recommended restaurant in lovely Melrose. Head chef Christian Edwardson, a local who left for London and cooked under Pierre Koffmann before returning home, creates well-executed, classic dishes which deliver a punch when it comes to flavours. Expect modern Scottish meals with a French twist using superb local produce. You could start with Tweed Valley wild game terrine with prune and pear chutney, pickles and sourdough toast or a crispy coated soft egg with Jerusalem artichoke velouté, mushrooms and truffle oil followed by a celeriac burger with house kimchi and katsu curry mayo or a bouillabaisse with market fish, clams, mussels, prawns, croutons and rouille. Chips are triple cooked and doused in Parmesan and truffle, there’s a kids menu, the feel is friendly, and the prices are very much on the reasonable side. 


Three Hills Coffee Roastery, Selkirk. Open 9-4 Tuesday to Friday and 9.30-4 on Saturdays.

Recommended by Louisa, owner of Riverside Cabin. 

High above the rolling Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys, in the beating heart of the Borders, you’ll happen upon Selkirk. Its rich history dates from Roman times, there’s a hill fort nearby, and William Wallace was proclaimed Overlord of Scotland here in 1297. Today the town is a bustling place where you can find a rather excellent cup of coffee after a blowy walk through the valleys. The Three Hills Coffee Roastery team are what you’d call aficionados, dedicated to educating us mere coffee slurpers, and proudly going about their mission to spread the word about good coffee. Inside it’s a cosy, welcoming space with expert baristas making your artisan flat white, a selection of light bites, coffee beans to take home, and good dogs are always welcome. 


Hardiesmill Farm Shop, Gordon

Family-run farm Hardiesmill dates back to at least 1560 and today is home to a jolly herd of Pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle who happily munch their way around 200 hectares of organically grown grassland. Experimenting with different grass species, the farm encourages bee-friendly clover and wildflowers, while completely avoiding pesticides. This rich grass diet gives the beef a deep flavour and consistent quality, so if you fancy something special to cook at your cottage then drop by the shop. Located next door to the butchers where they process their meat the traditional way, in the small village of Gordon, you can pick up choice cuts and other locally produced goods like Burnside game, free-range eggs, organic veg, homemade cakes and divine puddings.


The Border Abbeys

Fought over by the Scots and English in centuries-old skirmishes, the Borders have a fine quartet of ruined abbeys to visit. Start with the elegant Melrose Abbey, founded in 1136 but largely destroyed by the English in 1385, what you see today dates from the early 15th century. Decorated by unusual sculptures – look out for the bagpipe-playing pig – it’s also said that Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried here. Kelso Abbey’s grand Romanesque architecture dates back to the 12th century and was one of the largest and richest holy houses in the land. Hop to Jedburgh Abbey next. Built in the Romanesque and early Gothic styles, it’s remarkably well-preserved, with an 8th century shrine on display and a pretty herb garden to wander. Finally, finish up at the imposing Dryburgh Abbey, a fine example of Gothic architecture set in peaceful grounds and the burial place of Sir Walter Scott.  


River Tweed

The salmon-jewelled River Tweed springs from its source at Tweed’s Well and runs through the Borders before tumbling into the North Sea at Berwick-upon-Tweed. This rich life-source is home to thriving schools of wild salmon, more of which are fished here than anywhere else in Scotland, or even the rest of the UK. There are beats on almost every bend and plenty of businesses who can arrange days out or tours if you’d like to try your hand at fly-fishing. There’s even a salmon viewing centre in Selkirk where, in season, you can gaze at these wild creatures leaping into Ettrick Water. There’s more to the Tweed though, with paddle boarding, canoeing, and wild swimming all easy ways to soak up the delights of this majestic river. 


The Border Castles

The Borders is as jam-packed with ancient castles as it is with abbeys. Many of these are ethereal ruins, others are museums or homes open to visitors. The brooding remains of Hermitage Castle has a bloody history steeped into its bones, having witnessed many a bloodthirsty battle over the years from its wild and lonely perch beside Loch Awe. Whereas turreted Floors Castle, the largest inhabited house in Scotland, has had a quieter time of it as the home to eleven generations of the Dukes of Roxburghe. Wander around grand rooms and savour the magnificent collection of fine art, porcelain and tapestries, or head out into the extensive grounds, which are open year-round and include a superb Victorian walled garden, riverside trails, children’s adventure playground and two cafés. An 1820s prison was built on the original site of Jedburgh Castle, now a fascinating museum at which you can take a tour through the original cell blocks and get a taste of a prisoner’s life in Victorian Scotland.


Abbotsford House, Melrose

Recommended by Sukie & Bill, owners of Fiddle Hill.

Melrose’s landscape is certainly a soul-stirring sight, and set on the south bank of the river Tweed is Sir Walter Scott’s grand manor house. Built in the early 19th century with the proceeds from an unparalleled literary career, it’s a hugely popular visitor attraction, with a selection of rooms virtually unchanged since his death, and extensive grounds to stroll. Wander through Scott’s study, be awed by his magnificent library, and marvel at his eclectic collection of artefacts, including an assortment of arms, 18th century Chinese wallpaper and a painting of Scott with Robert Burns – his literary hero. The Regency walled garden, a sheltered trio of outdoor rooms, are fragrant, colourful spaces while the grounds are freely open year-round for riverside, meadow and woodland ambles. Scott embarked on an impressive tree-planting spree which helped the land become home to an amazing array of birds, red squirrels, badgers and bats. Dogs are welcome in the cafe, garden and grounds. 

Explore the prettiest towns to visit in the Scottish Borders >


Clothes: Hawick textiles 

Recommended by Louisa, owner of Riverside Cabin.

Hawick, known as ‘the home of tweed’, is one of the largest Border towns. Four bridges span the river and at one time there were almost 20 mills producing the eponymous cloth. Scotland’s hard-wearing textile, invented near the banks of the Tweed, was commonly worn for outdoor pursuits – hunting, shooting, fishing – but today has a worldwide reputation for quality, and is still mostly produced in Scotland. The town’s one remaining mill, Lovat, spins knitwear and cashmere for Gucci, Chanel and other high-end brands. Don’t miss a visit to one of the many unpretentious and down-to-earth textile shops that dot the town to pick up a cashmere scarf or jumper, or a full blown Tweed suit if that’s more your thing. Visit the Borders Textile Towerhouse and discover the fascinating 200-year-old story of Border knitwear and tweed.  


Books: Mainstreet Trading Co bookshop. Closed on Mondays. 

Recommended by Pete & Posy, owners of Mulberry Cottage.

In the heart of the Borders village of St Boswells, Mainstreet Trading Company is an award-winning independent bookshop, but it’s much more than that too, with a café, deli and homewares shop which make it a vibrant and much-loved hub of the community. There are no fewer than 10,000 books on the shelves with dedicated dens for children to burrow in and read, plus they host author events and a regular book club. Reviving cups of coffee and homemade cakes are available all day, then simple lunches of soups, salads and sandwiches between 12-3pm. The tempting deli is stocked with a delicious array of fresh bread, cheese, charcuterie, wine and sweet treats to takeaway. 


Art: The Gallery Melrose. Open 10am-4pm Tuesday-Sunday.  

The Gallery Melrose was a hit as soon as it opened in 2018, its sky-blue facade tempting art-lovers off the street in the market square into a trove of goodies. Inside you can browse a fine display of art from local and regional artists, as well as those from further afield, plus hand-crafted items made from wood and glass, interesting sculptures, contemporary ceramics and fine jewellery. Artworks come ready-framed or you can choose a print and the framers at the back can help you make the most of your piece. An event hub during The Melrose Book Festival, this small but mighty emporium is a boon to the town. 


Riverside Cabin

A vibrant, open-plan space with a wild garden, river for swimming, splashing or fishing and the chance to spot kingfishers and red squirrels. The dining/sitting room has a big table and benches, games, books, an open fire with logs and a drinks sideboard. A very comfortable place to be on a chilly day or, in summer, with the french doors open to the loggia overlooking the water. 

Owner Louisa: Grab a proper artisan roast coffee in the Three Hills in Selkirk and if you’re keen, book a session to learn about the art of the true roast. Take a little bit of Scottish Borders heritage home with you from our local towns of Selkirk and Hawick, fulfilling your tweed and cashmere delights.


Barns Tower

An historic hideaway of exceptional interest, a 14th-century defence tower, now a romantic bolthole for two with original features and every modern comfort – sleigh bed, open fires, well-equipped kitchen. High above the banks of the Tweed, the tower has small windows for green views to woods and down to the river where brave souls can dip into the safe ‘swimming hole’ when the weather is kind. A bonus of staying here is you get a private tour of the castle. 

Owner Lulu: Dawyck Gardens with its famous arboretum is 10-minutes drive and Traquair House, with its maze and brewery nearby. The River Tweed runs through the Barns Estate and you are welcome to try your luck with a fishing rod whilst here.

Our featured places to stay in the Scottish Borders

Barns Tower

Peebles, Scottish Borders

  • From £150 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 1 room for 3

Riverside Cabin

Selkirk, Scottish Borders

  • From £82 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 2 rooms for 4

Fiddle Hill Cottage

By Hawick, Scottish Borders

  • From £110 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 2 rooms for 4

Browse all our special places to stay near the Scottish Borders >

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Carmen McCormack

Guest Expert

Carmen is a freelance writer specialising in travel. She once lived in a bus in north Wales, skipped off to study in Barcelona, and now calls Bristol home. When she’s not tapping away on her laptop, she can be found reading (a lot), lake swimming (a little), and pottering on the allotment with husband and two kiddos. She’s currently dreaming about cold cerveza and torta in Mexico.

View more articles by this author

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