There’s always something fascinating to discover in the Scottish Borders from your holiday cottage at Burnbrae, whatever period of history appeals to you. From the hill-top ruins of iron age forts to fortified tower houses, it’s all on your doorstep.
And there’s always a warm welcome at your self-catering cottage – in addition to central heating there’s a log-burner, so you can cosy up and mull over the day’s events with a dram in front of the stove, and plan your next trip.
Some of our favourite historical days out
The Scottish Borders has always had a turbulent history, sitting as it does in Southern Scotland, right beside its neighbour and Auld Enemy, England. Roman soldiers marched north on Dere Street, which is followed by the A68 and is accessible from Jedburgh, and Bronze and Iron Age fortresses such as Edin’s Hall Broch near Duns and The Eildon Hills near Melrose gave way to fortified castles and tower houses.
Peel Towers (where the phrase, ‘keep your eyes peeled’ comes from) evolved, as families watched out from their tower houses for the infamous Border Reivers who came to rustle cattle and sheep. Smailholm Tower is a great example of this, and it’s just minutes away from Burnbrae by car.
Smailholm inspired the famous writer Sir Walter Scott as a boy. Take a walk on the ramparts and scan the horizon for reivers. With names like Nebless (noseless) Clem Croser, Archie Fire the Braes, and God’s Curse, you wouldn’t have wanted to meet them on a dark night out raiding on their horses.
Fatlip’s Castle near Minto, about 4 miles west of Jedburgh, was built by the notorious reiver family, the Turnbulls. And who better to build a fortress to protect against raids than one of their own? It’s a steep climb to the tower up Minto Crags, but well worth the views.
The forbidding and sinister Hermitage Castle near Hawick has links to Mary, Queen of Scots. It was the fortress of the Earls of Bothwell, and it was the 4th Earl, James Hepburn – later her husband – whom Mary rode a marathon 25 miles from Jedburgh to see after hearing he had been wounded in a skirmish by reivers.
Greenknowe Castle just outside the village of Gordon, about 7 minutes’ drive form Burnbrae, is a tower house which still had its ‘yett’, or iron gate. In a grassy field just beside the road, Greenknowe is a great place for children to let off steam and be kings of their own castle.
Another fortified tower house is Ferniehirst Castle near Jedburgh, which is open every July and draws visitors from all over the globe as it is the ancestral seat of the Kerr family. Close by, in Jedburgh, is Mary Queen of Scots House, another tower house, was built in the 1500s and the tragic queen stayed here in 1566. The visitor centre here tells the story of her life and death, though artefacts and objects, including an eerie painted death mask.
At the harbour town of Eyemouth, smuggling and not reiving was the main problem. Gunsgreen House, perched overlooking the harbour mouth, tells the story of the town’s shady past.
On a lighter note, the Scottish Borders – like many other places in the UK – are not without their more fanciful historic monuments. Follies include Hundy Mundy and the re-built Hume Castle , once a medieval castle but now surrounded by a very unusual curtain wall. Both are very close to Burnbrae. And if you’re visiting Dryburgh Abbey, don’t miss the impressive Wallace Statue. Standing 31 feet high, it was erected in 1814 to commemorate the great patriot, William Wallace, and is said to be the first public monument erected to him, pre-dating the Wallace Monument at Stirling. Made of red sandstone, the stern-faced, bearded Wallace gazes out over the River Tweed.
Visit the three peaks of the Eildon Walk near Melrose for both great walking and history – from volcanic rock, to Bronze Age fort and Roman Trimontium (or Trium Montium – three hills). Take a picnic and make a day of it. Buses from Kelso to St Boswells, and St Boswells to Melrose.
You can walk to the Gothic folly of Hundy Mundy from your cottage at Burnbrae in just under 3 miles. We’re happy to give you directions.
Drive to Hume village and park in the small car park at Hume Castle to walk up to the castle for superb views. Then – if tyou’re feeling fit – exit the car park on foot and walk either right or left to take a path down the hill, where you can do a circuit round and back up (fairly strenuous) to the castle. Takes about 1-1.5 hours. Ask us for more details.
If you visit the Wallace Statue , combine it with a visit to nearby Dryburgh Abbey and go for coffee or one of the delicious Afternoon Teas at the Dryburgh Abbey Hotel, then stroll it off across the suspension bridge – built in 1817 and claimed to be the first chain bridge in Britain – over the River Tweed and along its banks.
Edin’s Hall Broch is extremely unusual – brochs are structures usually only found in the north of Scotland. You can take a bracing circular 10km walk to the Iron Age fortress and add in a hike up Cockburn Law, with its 325m summit. On a clear day there are great views into the Cheviot Hills.
Museums in the Scottish Borders
The Jim Clark Room has had major extension and refurbishment in the town of Duns is as unassuming as this Borders farmer who was one of the world’s most successful racing drivers – two times Formula 1 World Champion. But inside it houses fascinating memorabilia and a staggering 100 of his trophies. Clark is buried at Chirnside village nearby.
The Coldstream Museum in the eponymous town where the famous regiment was first raised, and on the historical site where this happened, has permanent displays on the history of the regiment as well as the town.
With its turrets and constellation, Jedburgh Castle Jail looks like a castle on the outside, but is a very special building – the only Howard Reform prison in Scotland. You can walk through Georgian prison cells and learn about some of the former inmates, and visit the governor’s house. The museum also tells the story of the historic town of Jedburgh.
Part of the Heart of Hawick, and beside the Heritage Hub on the town’s High Street, the Borders Textile Towerhouse tells the story of the Borders and textiles – past, present and future – including knitwear and tweed, which the region is synonymous with. There are permanent and changing exhibitions displayed in this late 12th Century tower house.
Sir Walter Scotts Court Room in the centre of Selkirk, tells the story of the novelist’s time as a Sheriff, in the very courtroom where he dispensed justice for 33 years.
4 Abbeys in the Scottish Borders
Kelso, Jedburgh, Melrose, Dryburgh are 4 magnificient abbeys all within 40 mins drive of Burnbrae are all managed by Historic Scotland. There is a long distance cycling route and a walking route both well sign posted which link the 4 abbeys.
Only the church remains, was founded in 1100’s (only 3 miles from Burnbrae) is on Bridge street in Kelso, free entry.
A medieval ruin near the River Tweed. Chapter House and cloister surprisingly complete.
the resting place of Robert the Bruce’s heart, he loved the place.
The cloister and some of the domestic buildings remain