For my 25th birthday (25th of November) I decided to rent a car (in Scotland you can rent a car without paying “Young driver tax” – pretty expensive – when you turn 25 and it really stopped me from travelling as much as I wanted) to visit one forgotten area of Scotland : the Scottish Borders. It’s quite a rural area but it have a glorious past full of abbeys, nature is everywhere and you can easily find delicious craft products.
Day one : I’m 25, let’s go…oh wait!
I made this trip with my best friend here in Scotland, who’s not driving, so the rental was at my name, and when we arrived at the rental agency we’ve been told that we couldn’t take the car. Okay that’s started pretty badly! After almost an hour negotiating we finally had to rent another car from another rental company if we wanted to leave Edinburgh at some point. That’s what we did and at the end we left more than two hours later than expected. Never mind lets the trip begins!!
Our first destination was St Abb’s Head, a National Nature Reserve, part of the National Trust for Scotland. In the village of St Abbs we grabbed a lunch at Ebba’s bistro before walking along the cliffs. If you can procure yourself the “Pocket Mountains – The Scottish Borders, 40 favourite walks”, this is a good collection to discover hidden places in Scotland, I have plenty of them and buy the corresponding one depending of the area I travel in. In the guide they advise a circular walk, which we did. The walk is really pretty and the place in general is great for bird watching and wildlife enthusiasts. As we left Edinburgh later than expected we finished our walk with the sunset – end of November it’s quite early – it was really breathtaking. St Abbs is less than two hours drive from Edinburgh so it’s a great place to visit in a day if you’re staying in the Scottish capital and if you don’t have enough time to go in the Highlands.
After this really nice walk we decided to take a coffee at “Rialto Coffee co.” in Eyemouth, the next village, but it was already closed when we arrived. At the end we were pretty tired and decided to go to the BnB before going to supper.
For diner we went to “The Cobbles” in Kelso, it’s a pub with a really nice menu. Before diner we took a beer at the bar – they’re kind of the official Tempest’s bar, they have all there beers freshly brewed few miles away – then we had diner. It was delicious but just a bit too salty for me.
Day 2 : In the heart of the Borders
We started the day by a walk in Duns. It took us almost all morning and it was a really peaceful place. We walked in Duns castle estate which is composed by Duns Law, a small hill (summit at 218m), a nature reserve, woodland, a pond, etc. everyone can find his happiness.
After that we went back to Kelso to visit the Abbey. In the Scottish Borders there are plenty of abbeys in ruins. They’re all have been built by David I – the same Scottish king who built Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh – during the XIIth century. At that time the Abbeys in the area were rich and thriving but all the time attacked by the English, so at some point they just abandoned the places. The Abbey in Kelso is the only one free of charges. It doesn’t stay a big part of the construction but it’s still an interesting place to visit when you’re in the Borders.
It was already lunch time so we drove to “Born in the Borders” who brings together the best products made in the Borders. On the site there is a brewery (which I recommend their beers) a gin distillery, a gift shop and a café/restaurant. The place is unique and the idea is really great. Basically you can find all the best products made in the Borders in one place. It’s a great place to promote the region. The brewery is open to everyone; you just go inside and have a look on your own. In the gin distillery they offer some gin making classes, unfortunately they didn’t host one when we were there but we had the opportunity to discuss with one of the distiller who took time to chat with us and explain how they make the gin here. We ate a lunch in the restaurant, it was Sunday and it’s a children’s friendly place with outdoors activities so the place was a bit noisy because of that, but the food was good. Before leaving we obviously bought some food in the gift shop, like beers and honey.
Jedburgh and his Abbey were just at the corner, so we tried our luck to visit it…it was closed! So we just snooped around and visited the village.
We had planned to spent the night in Hawick, our mistake, we ended at the local Wetherspoon because of the lack of pubs and restaurants in this city on the decline, we can feel the economic past of the city with the different buildings but the only point of interest left for me is the “Hawick Honeycomb Blanket Co.” they make great quality blankets, if you can put your hands in one, don’t hesitate, they’re amazing!
Day 3 : Scotland is freezin’ in November…
That morning was particularly cold, I mean freezing cold, everything was frozen but so beautiful. We started the day by visiting the Melrose Abbey, it’s stunning, it’s the best preserved of all in the area, nobody else was around – too cold – so we had the place just for ourselves, it was peaceful and quiet and breathtaking, the audio guide is well made and sometimes you have some monastic songs for you to feel the ancient atmosphere of the place, really nice. We even spotted a gargoyle in the shape of a hog playing a bagpipe, in the XIIth century they knew how to have fun!
We had a bit of time before starting our way back north to Edinburgh so we went to the Tempest brewery, unfortunately they don’t have a guided tour of the brewery yet but the shop is open. It’s nice to go anyway because the shop is in the back of the brewery so you still go in there and see the making place.
Next stop : Nashy’s Coffee house in Cardrona for lunch, the coffee house is situated inside an old train station, this is really comfy, everyone is friendly and the food is really good, we had the chance to had the sofa next to the fire place =)
We still had two places to visit before returning the car, the first one was Dawyck Botanic Garden, one of the fours “official” botanic gardens in Scotland (another one of them is the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh). With the autumn colours it was really beautiful, we were a bit in a rush because we arrived quite late and the closing time was soon after our arrival, we have had maybe 1h-1h30 to visit the garden but as it was November there was no flowers so less time lost (at least for me – I am obsessed by taking photos of flowers).
After a wee coffee in the surprisingly “N.1 Peebles Road” coffee shop in Innerleithen – it’s a bit in the middle of nowhere but the quality and atmosphere of the place are perfect – we went to see the Great Polish Map of Scotland, unexpected and impressive. The map was our last stop during this trip that I will remember for the rest of my life.