With outstanding galleries, top-quality theatre and a range of local artists and makers working in every imaginable medium, it’s little wonder that the Tweed Valley has a growing reputation as an arts destination
Arrive early and base yourself at the Tontine Hotel in the centre of Peebles. A glance at the walls inside will tell you this is a hotel that champions the work of local artists. After freshening up in one of the Tontine’s extremely comfortable rooms – many of them recently refurbished – take a stroll through town and explore some of the many excellent galleries on and around the High Street.
Tucked away on Peebles’ Northgate, the delightful Moy Mackay Gallery displays a consistently high standard of work from around 30 contemporary fine and applied artists, many of whom are Borders based. The gallery also showcases owner Moy Mackay’s renowned creations – vibrantly colourful works that at first look like traditional landscape painting, but which on closer inspection reveal themselves as having been created using merino felt fibres rather than paint.
Back on the High Street, be sure to check out Jim Macdonald’s bold and busy Three Fishes Gallery & Framing; Breeze Art Gallery, which combines a wide range of contemporary art with hand-crafted, bespoke furniture; the wonderfully eclectic craft makers’ area that sits alongside an ever-changing gallery at Tweed Art; and a quartet of artists who work in the atmospheric setting of the cells of the old police station (opposite the Bridge pub).
Elsewhere, many of the town’s acclaimed range of independent shops are treasure troves of artistic finds, while you’ll even find art in unusual places: Ross Dougal Fishmongers on the High Street, for example, features work from local artist Lesley Johnson on its walls.
Believe it or not, you’ve only begun to scratch the surface of this arty area. Just a short stroll from the Tontine, the Tweeddale Museum & Gallery at the Chambers Institution always has a range of fascinating exhibits. Have a wander through the Chambers Room (home to some extraordinary friezes commissioned by William Chambers), Museum Room and main gallery for a host of fascinating exhibits. And don’t miss the excellent John Buchan Story (also at the Chambers Institution) which explores the life and work of one of the area’s most famous literary figures.
It’s now time to venture further afield. Head east towards Melrose, but don’t forget to stop at the beautifully-located St Ronan’s Wells Visitor Centre in Innerleithen (seasonal opening). Housed in an historic spa, the exhibitions inside tell the story of Innerleithen and St Ronan’s Wells, describing their connections with the great Scottish writers, Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg. Outside, the gardens provide a lovely area to relax in with sculptures, picnic areas and tremendous views.
Continuing east, your next stop is the magnificent Abbotsford on the banks of the River Tweed near Melrose. Home of Sir Walter Scott, the house is an Aladdin’s cave of intriguing objects and unusual finds, while the surrounding gardens are a delight. With a permanent exhibition detailing Scott’s life and work in a striking new visitor centre, plus a variety of other exhibitions and special events, there’s always something of interest (seasonal opening).
Once you’ve had your fill of all things Scott, head back to your accommodation for a well-earned breather. However, if you do have any energy left, take in a show at the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles – an established platform for national and international companies, as well as a key venue for emerging talent and local voluntary arts groups.
The theatre’s summer programme sees some real highlights. How about live music from the likes of legendary trad musicians Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, Virginia livewires The Hot Seats, or Quebecois superstars De Temps Antan? And then there’s a season of live screenings from the National Theatre and Royal Opera House, top drama productions, a trio of films every other Sunday, world-class chamber music, exhibitions, festivals and more.
This could be another busy one. Start with a visit to Traquair House, although you’ll have to decide whether to begin with the house itself – dating back to 1107, the oldest continuously inhabited dwelling in Scotland – or the beautiful grounds (which includes a huge maze for those who dare step inside). A fascinating living museum, the house has so many stories to tell, but that’s not all. Look out for a host of top-quality exhibitions throughout the year, while the craft workshops in the grounds are also well worth a look.
All this artistic exploration is bound to make you hungry, so stop off at the excellent 1745 cottage restaurant at Traquair House. Other options include the Whistlestop Café and No1 Peebles Road Coffee House – two excellent pit stops in nearby Innerleithen.
Then, if you’ve still got any energy left, take a detour towards Stobo for a nosey round the Old School Studio, where Colin Semple makes handcrafted furniture to a standard that is rarely found (workshop tours by arrangement, see website for contact details), or the lovely Dancing Light Gallery – a hub of creative (not to mention foodie) activity at Whitmuir Farm. It’s a perfect way to end your arty visit to the Tweed Valley.