Explore the grounds of an epic estate
Bowhill is a meticulously preserved 18th-century historic house in the heart of the Scottish Borders. A pedestrian path takes you through an oversized iron gate, acting as a preamble to the grandeur of the house itself. The property is so atmospheric, my mind conjured a classical soundtrack in time with my steps. When I entered the Victorian Kitchen, restored in the 1970s, I was astounded by the size of the hearth and the soft color palette of the all-copper cookware. Bowhill facilitates a step into the past, and now managed by the Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust, the stunningly preserved house stands as a monument to conserving the Scottish countryside for future generations to enjoy.
A celebrated writer’s vision of utopia
Despite its size, Abbotsford looks as if it is tucked away into the countryside, a mysterious and miniature castle waiting to be discovered. The house is the former residence of famed writer Sir Walter Scott, author of the historical novel Ivanhoe. An arcade of gothic arches separates the entranceway of the house from the luscious walled gardens. I walked the paths that meander to-and-fro, coaxing visitors to spend a good amount of time appreciating the landscape. From afar, you can see the house sits on a 120-acre estate that Scott developed with future generations in mind.
Dive into Scott’s treasure chest
Walking through the entrance of Abbotsford can overwhelm your senses in a delightful way. Scott was an enthusiastic collector of both natural and human artifacts. The light in the house changes quickly depending on the weather outside, with many of the small windows pouring just enough light to keep a feeling of mystery. At the back of the house, it brightens up, as Scott loved his view of the River Tweed and the many trees he planted to sustain the health of the elegant landscape. On this side of the house, you’ll find a massive library and intricate areas like this drawing room featuring hand-painted Chinese wallpaper.
Gaze upon the Eildon Hills
I could feel my legs burn as I cycled up to the grand overlook of Scott's View. This was one of Sir Walter Scott's favorite places to visit and sit for reflection. I welcomed the well-placed bench to catch my breath and take in the sweeping landscape, featuring the Eildon Hills, an impressive formation made up of volcanic rock. Visitors can walk, cycle, or drive to this point to see the many geological features of the area. In late summer, you might even find a selection of fresh blackberries ready to be picked from the bushes at the top.
Visit a viaduct with a view
As I ambled along the River Tweed, a looming structure began to take shape in the distance. The Leaderfoot Viaduct is an iconic structure not far from the town of Melrose. The viaduct stands around 126 feet above the water and, due to its scenic placement, is a popular stop for travelers on the Four Abbeys Cycling Route. There are walking paths all around that allow visitors to take in the architecture from various angles. Though it is no longer in use, the viaduct was operated as part of the Berwickshire Railway from 1865 to 1948. On this clear day, I could easily imagine a steam train humming along the horizon.
The river flows slowly
The River Tweed is an iconic, 97-mile stretch of water that attracts fishermen from all over. It is a gentle waterway, encouraging serenity for anyone along its shores. Deep in its waters live a healthy population of salmon and trout, and you'll see many locals fly-fishing, dressed in everything from waders to the more classic outfits seen here. The river passes through many towns including Peebles, and even serves as the border between England and Scotland in parts. At Abbotsford, the river passes through, stirring Sir Walter Scott to be one of the early advocates for protecting and preserving the health of the river and the wildlife it supports.
Take a journey to the past
The ruins of Melrose Abbey rise around me, projecting a monumental ambiance even if there is but a fraction of the original structure still intact. Walking through the small and picturesque town of Melrose, I find myself transported back to the 1100s when visiting this Cistercian abbey. What's left is impeccably preserved and is said to enshrine the remains of a few famous Scotsmen—including the heart of Robert the Bruce, a former King of Scots. The fate of Melrose was sealed back in 1544 when King Henry VIII ordered the abbey to be burned. Even so, what is left of the exterior that once showcased 50 windows and more than 50 buttresses is a spectacular sight to behold.
These relics will inspire imagination
Strolling through Kelso you can enjoy the quiet streets, a walk along the River Tweed, or find yourself here at Kelso Abbey. The abbey is part of the Four Abbeys Cycling Route, a circular loop that runs a total of 55 miles through Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso, and Jedburgh. The bright colors of the Kelso War Memorial garden contrast pleasantly with the warm tones of the abbey ruins. Not far away you'll find Kelso's famous town square, host to markets, fairs, and other events that bring craftsmen to the center of town to display their wares.
Soak in the sunrise at Smailholm
Smailholm Tower can be seen for miles, standing strong on the horizon with a powerful presence. A short hike brought me up to the outer walls, an ideal place to watch the sunrise or sunset. Smailholm is a Scottish peel tower, a type of structure that served as a watchtower and also a fortified keep where people and livestock could seek shelter during times of danger. Raiding was historically a big issue in the Borders from the 13th to 17th centuries. These days, the fields around the tower are filled with spotted cows and fluffy sheep, happy to gaze curiously as I wandered the grounds.
Rest and reflect on your travels
Cycling the ups and downs of the Scottish Borders is as tranquil as it is tiring. Luckily, the area is filled with quiet moments to slow down, take a walk, and embrace the scenery. One such place is Bowden Loch, just outside of the town of Melrose. The loch has a calm energy, with the Eildon Hills reflecting in its still waters. Fishermen will often stop here, while hikers can do a short loop around its shores. The loch is surrounded on either side by farmland and makes for a nice stopping point for those traveling along the Four Abbeys Cycling Route.
Witness tens of thousands of seabirds
The harried modern world slips away as soon as you cross over to the breathtaking coastline of St. Abb's Head National Nature Reserve. Its landscape is visual poetry as the cliffs themselves are the result of volcanic activity from tectonic plates crashing into one another. Throughout the year, wildlife ranging from grey seals to kittiwakes call this area home and utilize these natural features to raise their young. I walked to an outlook, with the sea many feet below, and imagined these hillsides in spring when it is said they are covered in an assortment of colorful native wildflowers. While hiking along the soaring heights of the bluffs, you might even spot a dolphin or a whale. Just be sure to bring your binoculars!
Learn the woven history of Scotland
Walking among the Great Tapestry of Scotland, I realized I could spend a whole day there and still miss many of the intricate details. The tapestry is a massive community-focused artwork, located in Galashiels, and made up of 160 panels that illustrate the history of Scotland with topics ranging from wars and battles to Dolly, the famously cloned sheep. Each panel took more than 400 hours of stitching and, in total, 1,000 people contributed their talents to bring it to life. I appreciated how the designers created panels to celebrate not just kings and saints, but ordinary people as well.