The borders region in the south of Scotland is somewhere that I have yet to really explore and with the opening of the Borders railway line in 2015 it couldn’t be easier to travel there from Edinburgh. My trip today has a strong Sir Walter Scott influence, he lived and died in the borders and used much of the natural surroundings as inspiration for his novels. I am sure most people will know who Sir Walter Scott is but just in case you don’t he is the author of popular books such as Waverly and Ivanhoe and he is one of the most famous literary figures in Scottish history.
Although you can get a bus I opted for the comfort of the train and from Edinburgh to Tweedbank is relatively quick only taking an hour, on arrival I headed for Abbotsford House the former home of Sir Walter Scott. The house is just over a mile from the station and it is possible to walk it in around 35 minutes but there is a free minibus available from the train station which leaves Tweedbank station at 11am, 12pm and 1pm (same times as arriving Edinburgh trains) which I highly recommend. I think it is staffed by volunteers so it might not run all the time but another non walking option is to get the hop on hop off bus which also stops outside the station during the summer season.
Abbotsford House was built by Sir Walter Scott and although it started as a small villa it was expanded over time into the sizable mansion house that exists today. The property has an impressive frontage and the grounds are fairly extensive with a walled garden and some good walks to enjoy on a sunny day. All the tours start in the entrance hall where you get an audio guide of which there are two versions, one given by an actor playing Sir Walter Scott and the other just a standard descriptive tour. I went for the Sir Walter Scott which was described as “quirky” and the audio tour worked pretty well, you point a small pocket sized mp3 player at numbered sensors in each room and a related audio recording begins. Although the house is massive there are only 8 rooms that you get to explore and if you listen to each part of the audio guide then it should take around 45 minutes to complete the tour and all the rooms are on the same ground level.
The entrance hall is an interesting room in its own right, wood paneled with a clutter of armour, weapons and family crests covering pretty much every part of the walls and even the ceiling. This reflected Scotts keen interest in weapons and armour which was an expensive hobby which he enjoyed and something you can see more of in the Armoury room. The first room on the tour was the study where Sir Walter Scott did much of his writing, he became a prolific writer in his later years as he attempted to sell enough books to repay his sizable debts which accrued due to a banking crisis. I quite like the small room, especially the balcony level bookcases which could be accessed by a small staircase, there was also a nice large desk and comfortable chair which looks like it had been well used!
The Library next door had some similarities to the study which even more books covering every wall but it is a far larger room and it offers some of the best views of the house with views of the River Tweed at the back of the house. This was the main entertainment room due to its size and location and there was a minimal furniture which i quite liked, a simple but elegant room. This room then leads on to a room which was decorated by Scott’s wife, who looked very pretty in her portrait (found in the room) but who had terrible decorating sense unless you enjoy lime green and flowers. I think i probably would have kept the adjoining library door shut at all times rather than gazing upon that room!
Another significant room worth mentioning is the dining room, which had a huge dining table and several portraits surrounding the walls and it was where Sir Walter Scott died in 1832. He had taken ill on a long trip to Europe and when he arrived back at Abbotsford he was in such as weak condition that he was unable to get upstairs to the bedroom and so instead he had a camp bed made up in the dining room and he subsequently passed away that night.
In total I took around 45 minutes to tour the house, I also paid a visit to the chapel which is next door to the house and was built after Sir Walter Scott died in 1853 but is definitely worth a look. It would have been nice if there were other levels opened up as the upstairs is off limits, that now houses self catering accommodation which can sleep up to 15 people for “only” £3,000 per week! If i was a millionaire I might consider staying there, not just for the historical significance of the house but the location is secluded, peaceful and inspirational just as Sir Walter Scott wanted it I would imagine.
After my tour of the house I decided to take a tour of the Borders on the Hop on Hop off sightseeing bus, these red buses are usually seen in major cities around the world and it was a bit strange finding one in the Borders. It is a good option for seeing more of the borders area, the stop at Abbotsford is in the car park outside the visitor centre and then it loops out on a 90 minute tour of the borders. The bus was a bit different from the city ones, it was only a single decker bus with the first half enclosed and the back end open top. There were speakers on the sides and the driver gave a live running commentary of all the main sights and locations as you passed through them. I have to say it is a far more informal affair than the city options and that is something i enjoyed more, the only thing I would say is don’t wear a hat if you are sitting outside! In the city the buses move slowly but in the countryside they get up a bit of speed which makes for quite a bit of wind, perfect for keeping you cool on the hotter days though.
There is an option to get off at a numerous sights but perhaps the highlight of the bus tour was Scott’s view where the bus makes a 10 minute stop and you can leave the bus to take pictures and enjoy the view which was known to be one of Sir Walter Scott’s favourites. There you can see the peak of Black Hill and acres of unspoiled landscape, a few benches are available if you want to sit and take in the surroundings and of course some great photo opportunities. After that break the tour continued as it looped back to the start point of Galashiels passing through Melrose on the way which is where i decided to get off to pay a visit to Melrose Abbey.
Melrose Abbey is one of the many picturesque abbeys in Scotland and it is also the rumoured resting place of Robert the Bruce’s heart, which “might” be buried just outside of the main Abbey building. The property is managed by Historic Scotland which meant i got to use my membership and get in for free (my favourite rate) and your admission ticket includes an audio guide. This was an old mp3 style player with speaker and no headphones, not quite sure why they don’t have headphones but there is a jack on the player which I plugged in my earphones which I thought seemed a better idea than pressing the thing to my ear for an hour!
The audio tour is fairly informative with background on the abbey and loads of information on the monks who formerly lived within the abbey grounds. The audio guide was fairly straight forward but i did get lost a few times, it might be due to my short attention span but when the directions were being given out for parts of the guide I failed to find what they were talking about and i could see others who had given up following the directions and just sat on a bench listing to the guide!
The building is mostly in ruins and it has been built and rebuilt many times over the years as it was often used as a political pawn perhaps due to its proximity to the English border. There is an observation deck which can be accessed through a narrow staircase and at the top there are views of the surrounding region and down into parts of the abbey. It took a good hour to complete the audio guide and walk around the ruins and after that you can visit the Commendator’s House Museum which is home to one of the largest collection of medieval objects in the UK.
After my visit to the abbey i headed back into the town of Melrose and back on the red bus which took me back to Tweedbank station where i could get the train back to Edinburgh. I was lucky that the weather was amazing again today, its incredible that this area is only an hour from Edinburgh and it makes for an excellent day trip.
I got a direct train from Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank Train Station, from there a free shuttle goes to Abbotsford House (but it is walkable also) and then my remaining travel around the borders was on the red hop on hop off sightseeing bus. There are local buses available too which you can make use of in the off season.
Train: Advance day return ticket (Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank) – £11.60, Student hop on hop off ticket: £6, Abbotsford House online ticket: £9 and Melrose Abbey: £0 (£6 for non Historic Scotland members). The train ticket and Abbotsford tickets were both cheaper as I booked them in advance. Total: £26.60