Running between Edinburgh Waverley and Tweedbank (a journey time of around 55 minutes), the new Borders Railway has opened up a whole new way of exploring the Borders, including the Tweed Valley. Here are some ideas for a car-free exploration of this wonderful area
Jump on one of the morning trains from Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank and relax as the Borders’ famous scenery rolls into view. Once at Tweedbank, your first port of call is the remarkable Abbotsford House – a 20-minute walk from the station, or else take the Border Weaver hop-on, hop-off bus service, or BorDoor2Door shuttle service to get there even quicker.
The luxurious home of Sir Walter Scott, Abbotsford is one of the finest examples of the Scottish Baronial style, with the building a constant source of inspiration for the prolific novelist. Visitors can explore the elegant rooms where Scott hosted fellow literary luminaries, enjoy a range of walks, plus a walled garden and the atmospheric Morris Garden (house and gardens open 1 March to 30 Nov). There is also much to learn about the life and legacy of Scott at an award-winning visitor centre (open year-round), a fabulous restaurant to enjoy, plus an adventure playground for the kids.
From Tweedbank station, a slightly longer walk (45 minutes) or short bus ride (First Bus, Service 72 or H3) will bring you to the magnificent Melrose Abbey – one of the four Borders Abbeys. Founded by King David in 1136, this still remarkably well-preserved abbey is reputed to be the burial place of Robert the Bruce’s heart.
If cycling – and there is no better way to explore the area – we’d recommend you join the National Cycle Network Route 1 (Coast and Castles South) and head west towards Innerleithen, although be sure to detour to lovely Bowhill House and Country Estate, nestled in the hills near Selkirk. The imposing country home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, Bowhill houses the famous Buccleuch Art Collection. The Estate is open from Easter to the end of September, with the house open in July and special occasions.
Hopefully, your visit will involve much more than just a day trip, with some fabulous places to bed down for a night or two. A rather special conversion of a 19th century threshing mill near Selkirk, The Mill @ Lewinshope offers not just outstanding self-catering accommodation but also a range of special events and tempting extras, from cookery demonstrations and workshops to health and beauty treatments.
There is further top-quality accommodation available at the 16th century Aikwood Tower in the heart of the Ettrick Forest. The tower has been lovingly restored and renovated into five-star boutique accommodation without compromising the integrity of the original building. Enjoy your stay on a self-catered basis, or be spoilt by local caterers. The choice is yours.
Continue by bike or bus (First Bus, Service 62) to Innerleithen and visit another remarkable Borders property, Traquair House (seasonal opening times). Dating back to 1107, and the oldest continuously inhabited dwelling in Scotland, Traquair was originally a royal hunting lodge before later becoming a refuge for Catholic priests. Today, it’s a fascinating living museum with many stories to tell, while the beautiful grounds include a huge maze, a delightful walled garden, restaurant, brewery and a scattering of lovely craft workshops.
Traquair also hosts some of the most popular events in the Tweed Valley calendar, from The Mighty Deerstalker adventure run to Traquair Fair, promenade performances by Shakespeare at Traquair and the Beyond Borders International Festival.
Mountain bikers will almost certainly want to drop in at Glentress to sample the UK’s top trail centre, while the forest also contains plenty of brilliant walking routes – including the challenging Tower Trail that begins from the Buzzard’s Nest car park. Ask at the Glentress Peel Visitor Centre for more details.
Or, if after a rather different cycling experience, swap a regular bike for one of the excellent electric bikes available from Cardrona-Based E-Motion Bikes. The bikes are ‘pedal-assist’, which means that you’ll be able to go further, faster and without having to worry about slogging up the hills. E-Motion Bikes can suggest a range of wonderfully scenic routes, from short rides on quiet cycle paths, to longer outings on meandering backroads.
And when you are done exploring for the day, rest your head at one of the area’s many excellent guest houses. You’ll find a very warm welcome at the likes of Caddon View, Glede Knowe and Craiguart, while there are also a range of outstanding self-catering options, including The Stanes, Cosaig, Innerleithen Holiday Lets, and Pirn Road Apartment.
Continue west, again by bike or bus, to the bustling town of Peebles, a little further up the Tweed Valley. After all your exertions, this could be a day of just pottering ... exploring the town’s award-winning High Street, strolling through the lovely Hay Lodge Park, and generally savouring the gorgeous views all around.
Grab a bite to eat in one of the town’s many excellent restaurants and hotels – try Osso, Coltman’s, the Tontine Hotel, Leaven Deli and others – or maybe indulge your sweet tooth at Cocoa Black. This celebrated chocolatier and patisserie is owned by Ruth Hinks, UK World Champion Master and one of the top five chocolatiers in the world. You can even book a chocolate or pastry-making class with the chocolate master herself.
A real artistic hub, there are also wonderful galleries to explore – don’t miss the Moy Mackay Gallery on the Northgate – plus the excellent Eastgate Theatre, which always has a busy calendar of events, from live music to top-quality drama and buzzing events such as the Peebles Outdoor Film Festival.
And once you’ve finished exploring, simply catch a bus (First Bus, service 62) to Edinburgh, or retrace your steps back to Galashiels or Tweedbank for the return journey home on the new Borders Railway. It couldn’t be simpler!
The new Borders Railway sees passenger trains run from Edinburgh, through Midlothian and into the Scottish Borders for the first time in almost half a century. For full details on train timetables and fares, click HERE
And for a fascinating driver’s eye view of the new railway, click HERE