Things to do in the Borders
There are so many great days out to be had from your self-catering holiday cottage at Burnbrae, near the busy Borders town of Kelso. To help you decide what to do, here are some of our favourite days out. Who knows, they might become your favourites too.
Our top five days out
Blow away the cobwebs with a bracing coastal walk from Eyemouth with its working harbour to the picturesque fishing village of St Abbs, on part of the Berwickshire Coastal Path. At around 4 miles, it takes a couple of hours to complete, and there are two cafes at St Abbs, plus toilets. Great for cliff top views and wheeling seabirds. For a description and photos of walk from Eyemouth to St-Abbs in summer. Buses run to both Eyemouth and St Abbs, see www.bordersbuses.co.uk. For the more energetic, the walk can be continued to around St Abbs Head with its dramatic cliffs. There is a visitorcentre here at Northfield Farm, with car parking, a seasonal cafe and toilets. St Abbs Head is a superb spot for seeing guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, fulmars, shags, and puffins, and sometimes even shearwaters and skuas. Keep an eye out for basking sharks too - we have seen them here in the past.
Visiting the famous four Border Abbeys one or two in a day (or all four in one go for the energetic!). The abbey at Kelso - once the largest but now probably the smallest is just down the road from Burnbrae. Around 15 minutes' drive away is Dryburgh Abbey, with its tranquil parkland setting beside the River Tweed and rose-coloured ruins, making it perhaps the romantic of the abbeys. Dryburgh is also the burial place of Sir Walter Scott and Field Marshal Earl Haig. Scottish king Robert the Bruce's heart is buried at Melrose Abbey, which is another 20 or so minutes' drive away. Last, but not least, majestic Jedburgh Abbey -remarkably complete despite the fact it was a frequent target for invading armies - is the most southerly of the four at about half an hour's drive from Melrose or Burnbrae.
If you're visiting between September and May, spend a day at Kelso Races , 'Britain's Friendliest Course', just to soak up the buzzy atmosphere if you're not the betting type. The action is fast and furious, whether you're at the track side or up in the grandstand. If it's a special occasion, there a hospitality packages with bubbly and lunch included.
Go 'foodie shopping' - take a wee tour to buy great-tasting local produce. Start with the Kelso Famer's Market in the town's square on the 4th Saturday of every month, then head towards Jedburgh to the Teviot Smokery just past Heiton village, where you can buy smoked cheese, chicken and trout as well as the more usual smoked salmon. Then head over towards Hume on the way home to visit Hardiesmill Place Farm's butchery where you can buy their delicious Aberdeen Angus beef, and a range of charcuterie and smoked meats. Hardiesmill is just one of the businesses which features on the Scottish Borders Food and Drink website, Border food Network, which also has downloadable Food Trail maps.
The Borders is traditionally Scotland's strongest rugby region, and there are rugby clubs in each town where you can see the usual games with 15 players (August to May), but between April and May the fast-paced game of Rugby 7s - invented by a Melrose butcher to raise funds for the local rugby club - is played. Each town has its tournament, with the overall winner being crowned King of the Sevens. Kelso's rugby ground is Poynder Park, at the end of Poynder Place, just beside the bowling green and tennis courts.
On a wet a day
Tucked away in Kelso on Bridge Street, is the Tony Huggins-Haig Gallery an inspiring place to experience art. The gallery has 5 distinct galleries beautifully laid out over 3 floors where Tony sells his own art and that of fellow artists. There are quiz sheets for the children.
Beer connoisseurs can now make a real-ale 'tour' of Kelso, which now boasts Scotland's first micro-pub. Rutherford's is in the square and not only serves beer by the keg but has a gin tap, and serves bar snacks. No jukebox, no TV and no slot machines - bliss. Round the corner is The Cobbles, a freehouse which has an AA Rossette for food, three CAMRA awards and its own craft beer brewery, The Tempest Brewery . And if you want to take some beer home with you, visit Beercraft, a few doors down from Rutherfords, which sells craft beers by the bottle. Cheers!
Our top five days out with children
A great adventure playground and an indoor loft with wooden games for those not-so-sunny days are great for pre-teens at Harestanes Visitor Centre just off the A68 near Ancrum village. There's a healthy eating cafe for wraps, toasties and yes, even scones and luscious cakes. The craft courtyard has workshops and shops run by local craftspeopleand there's a programme of nature-themed events whilst the centre is open (April to end October). There are a number of walks around the centre, accessible all year round. At Woodside Walled Garden and Plant Centre just across from the Harestanes entrance, the owner is very pro-bird, and you can sit in the cafe and eat as you watch the birds at the window feeders eat too. The emphasis here is on healthy eating with locally-sourced ingredients, and they host occasional evening dining too. Kids can let off steam outside in the grassy area behind the cafe, and there is a pond for nature and an information hut run by RSPB volunteers to explore. Look out for the resident newts from the viewing platform.
For a proper family day out on the beach, you can't beat Coldingham Bay, just past the picturesque village of Coldingham. There are life guards in season, with safe swimming areas marked by flags. A beach cafe supplies snacks, ice-creams and hot drinks, plus anything you might have forgotten for the kids - sun cream, buckets and spades, body boards and wetsuits. There is a free car park at the top of the bay, and toilets. And if damming the stream, body-boarding or making sandcastles isn't enough fun, nearby St Veda's Hotel offers surf lessons, and hires out wetsuits and kayaks.
The twin villages of Ford and Etal just at the Border on the River Till in Northumberland are in fact two estates forming one big visitor attraction which boasts 20 separate attractions. You can take home corn ground at Heatherslaw Mill, a working water mill, then pop over the bridge to the Heatherslaw Light Railway, a narrow gauge railway with a steam locomotive (round trips take 50 minutes), then round it all off with a treat in the Heatherslaw tearoom. Close to the mill is Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre, where you can explore farming's heyday and meet its working Clydesdale heavy horses. From here it's a short stroll to Ford village with its tearoom, antique shop and rare bookshop. Nearby at Etal village, explore the ruins of the 14th Century castle, with its award-winning exhibition. And if that's not enough history for you, close by is Flodden Field, site of the famous battle 500 years ago in which 14,000 English and Scots died within a few hours, and King James IV of Scotland became the last monarch to die in battle in the British Isles.
Watch the comings and goings at Eyemouth , a working fishing town with a harbour that's always bustling. Learn all about the town's shady smuggling past at Gunsgreen House , an imposing house bulit in 1753 by John Adam - for a real-life smuggler! Learn all about its secret hiding places and cellars which lead directlty down to the sea. The town's Eyemouth Musuem documents the fishing history of the town, and tells the story of the Great East Coast Fishing Disaster of 1881 when 129 Eyemouth fishermen lost their lives on one day during a fierce storm. Swim with a sea view at the leisure centre which overlooks the beach, and then have fish and chips and award-winning home-made ice-cream at Giacopazzi's - which my family say are the best fish and chips in the Borders, enough said!
Last but not least, no visit to Scotland would be complete without a day up in the Capital, Edinburgh , which has UNESCO World Heritage status for its elegant Georgian New Town which contrasts perfectly with its Medieval Old Town. At one end of the Royal Mile is the Edinburgh Castle - home to the world-famous Military Tattoo, the Stone of Destiny and Scotland's crown jewels - and at the other is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, with its links to the doomed Mary, Queen of Scots. The museums (Chambers Street) are free to visit. At Dynamic Earth, just opposite the Scottish Parliament Building on Holyrood Road, you can journey through time and watch the formation of planet Earth. Or you can take a tour and be guided round the capital - choose from walking tours, historic tours, film tours, bus tours, literary tours and even running tours! It's a 45-minute drive to the park and ride at Shawfair from your holiday cottage at Burnbrae, or drive to the recently-opened Borders Railway terminus at Tweedbank and catch the train. If we drive up, we like to stop of the Lodge at Carfraemill just beside the A68 for supper on the way home.