01 July 2022
Find inspiration for days out with a history theme, with our guide to ten of the top historic attractions in the Borders.
A historic country house which has recently undergone major refurbishment. Abbotsford was once the home of Sir Walter Scott and visitors can explore an exhibition devoted to Scott’s life and work, and see the mansion he created, with rooms including a library, Chinese drawing room, chapel and study.
Abbotsford, Melrose TD6 9BQ; tel: 01896 752043; website.
2 BOWHILL HOUSE
A historic house and country estate which stands on the site of former royal hunting grounds given to the ancestors of the Buccleuch family by Robert the Bruce. The house is the home of the Duke of Buccleuch and contains the Buccleuch Collection, a collection of paintings amassed over five centuries which includes portraits of family members and portrait miniatures of historic figures including Oliver Cromwell and the Marchioness of Queensberry.
Bowhill House, Bowhill, Selkirk TD7 5ET; tel: 01750 22204; website.
3 HERMITAGE CASTLE
A medieval castle which has a grim history, linked to its location at the heart of the once hotly disputed Scottish Middle March. The castle was built by Sir Hugh de Dacre in 1360, and transformed by his successor the 1st Earl of Douglas. Visitors can explore the castle ruins and discover tales of those who have lived and stayed here, including Mary Queen of Scots, who made a secret visit to her lover the Earl of Bothwell in 1566.
Hermitage Castle, near Langholm TD9 0LU; tel: 01387 376222; website.
4 JEDBURGH ABBEY
One of the famous Borders Abbeys of the medieval era, Jedburgh Abbey is a ruined abbey founded in 1138. Despite the fact that the abbey was a frequent target for raiders in the medieval era, there are substantial remains to enjoy, including a huge nave, magnificent west front, a cloister and the remains of an eighth-century shrine.
Jedburgh Abbey, Jedburgh TD8 6JQ; tel: 01835 863925; website.
5 KELSO ABBEY
Founded in the early twelfth century as a Tironensian community, at the invitation of King David I, Kelso Abbey was one of Scotland’s largest and wealthiest monastic communities, enjoying royal and noble patronage in the Middle Ages. The remains of the church are substantial; the building is one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Britain. Visitors can also see the Roxburghe Memorial Cloister, created to commemorate the 8th Duke of Roxburghe, who gifted Kelso Abbey to the nation in 1919.
Kelso Abbey, Kelso, Scottish Borders; website.
6 MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS HOUSE
A sixteenth-century tower house in Jedburgh, where Mary Queen of Scots may once have stayed. The property is now a museum devoted to the life of Scotland’s tragic queen and has Mary’s death mask, some of her jewellery and documents. The property also features an unusual ‘left-handed’ spiral staircase, built for the Kerr family in the sixteenth century.
Mary Queen of Scots House, Queen Street, Jedburgh; tel: 01835 863331; website.
7 MELROSE ABBEY
Melrose Abbey is one of the famous Borders abbeys and is said to be the place where the heart of Robert the Bruce was buried. The Abbey was a monastery of the Cistercian Abbey and is famed for its lavishly decorated masonry, which includes a pig playing the bagpipes!
Melrose Abbey, Melrose TD6 9LG; tel: 01896 822562; website.
8 ST ABBS VILLAGE
A traditional fishing village on Scotland’s south east coast, named after a seventh-century Northumbrian princess who founded a nunnery here. The village is spectacularly located, with traditional fishing cottages reaching down to the harbour, and there is also a nature reserve which offers spectacular views of the Berwickshire coastline, and a visitor centre which tells the story of the village in days gone by.
9 THIRLESTANE CASTLE
A sixteenth-century castle set in acres of countryside, Thirlestane is the home of Maitland family, who have been part of Scotland’s history for over 800 years. Visitors to the restored castle can see a historic toy collection, and collections of historic paintings, porcelain and furniture.
Thirlestane Castle, Lauder TD2 6RU; tel: 01578 722430; website.
10 TRAQUAIR HOUSE
Traquair is believed to be Scotland’s oldest continually inhabited house, dating back to 1107, when it was a royal hunting lodge. In 1491, the House came into the ownership of the Traquair family, beginning a turbulent period in its history with its support for the Catholic cause. The Bear Gates at Traquair were closed in 1745, when the 5th Earl of Traquair declared they would never open again until the Stuarts returned to the throne.
Visitors can explore three floors of the house, including historic bedrooms, the High Drawing Room and library.
Traquair House, Innerleithen EH44 6PW; tel: 01896 830323; website.
(Image copyright – Abbotsford, Christian Bickel)
Originally published September 2019. Reviewed July 2022.