Country houses to visit

If Clapton did decide to live in the Borders he’d be in good company. For country living on a grand scale it seems to be the place, with many a stately mansion in the area.

The largest of these, and in fact in the UK, is Floors Castle near Kelso, which is home to the 10th Duke of Roxburgh and also an impressive fine art collection, worth millions of pounds.

Traquair House, south of Innerleithen, has a more intriguing history, and its visitors have included Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie. If you’re suffering from fact overload, the house has its own brewery, so you can get a quick refresher tasting its home-brewed ale.

Sir Walter Scott

Of all the famous names to have inhabited the region, Sir Walter Scott is most revered by the Scots, largely thanks to his influence in reviving Scottish culture and history.

The writer’s home, Abbotsford, is filled with Scott’s quirky collections, including Napoleon’s notebook, a knife belonging to Rob Roy and a quarter of an oatcake found on a Highlander at a battle site.

But to grasp what it felt like rambling the hills that so inspired Scott, head to Smailholm Tower (main image). Climb the old stone building and between the rocky outcrops and herds of cows, you’ll be rewarded with views stretching north over Scotland and south to England.

Ancient abbeys

During medieval times, the prosperous communities built around the four wealthy abbeys in the Scottish Borders were the main targets of raids by the English, which plagued the area for centuries.

Despite now being empty shells, Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose and Dryburgh Abbeys are still spectacular sights. One way to see them and explore the area is to walk the Borders Abbeys Way – a circular route of 103km, which passes through many picturesque Borders towns.


Home to Rugby Sevens

One of these towns is Melrose, in which Rugby Sevens was founded in the late 19th century by a local butcher’s apprentice.

On a tour of Melrose Rugby Heritage Centre, my guide Pete points out the influence the sport has had around the world. Real fans should visit in mid-April, he says, when the town is taken over by its week-long competition.

When learning I’m South African Pete is quick to add the Johannesburg University team were last year’s victors. Perhaps the battles in Borders are not over yet, but have merely moved from the countryside to the rugby pitch.

Tracing your Scottish ancestors

Many of us may not be in the UK if it weren’t for our British ancestry. If you’d like to find out if your rellies were from the Scottish Borders, pop into the Heritage Hub in Hawick.

The Hub’s archives date back 750 years, and the friendly staff will be happy to help you get started tracing your family tree.


» Janine Jorgensen travelled with Back To The Borders and National Express East Coast.