8 things to do in the Borders

by Robin McKelvie, 14th March 2022
Coldingham Bay | Scottish Borders
8 things to do in the Borders

Think that the Borders are just somewhere that you just bash through on the way to Edinburgh or in search of the Highlands? Or live in Scotland’s Central Belt and presume all the best adventures lie to the north? If that’s you it’s time to think again. Seriously think again. Scotland starts right here in the glorious Borders and in dozens of trips around this spectacular region as a travel writer over the past two decades I’ve become a huge fan of this ideal holiday oasis. I’d like to share my 8 great things to do in the Scottish Borders with you.

Head out hiking

Borders is serious walking country; seriously varied too. We’re talking a gentle stroll along the Tweed in Peebles, right through to a trio of fantastic long distance waymarked walking trails. The Southern Upland Way sweeps 212 miles from coast to coast as it traverses both Dumfries and Galloway, and the Borders. It’s an adventure you can cut into bite-sized pieces. The Borders Abbeys Way is a circular trail that follows the Tweed east from Melrose Abbey to take in Dryburgh Abbey and then continues on to Kelso Abbey. It then surges south to take in Jedburgh Abbey, before circling back up to Melrose. St Cuthbert’s Way meanwhile kicks off at Melrose Abbey and pushes on through the Borders in search of Lindisfarne in England.

Robin McKelvie discovers things to do in the Borders as he walks the Borders Abbey Way.
There are multiple walking routes to choose from, all set in the stunning scenery of the Borders

Trim market towns

I love the trim Borders markets towns. I’ve long been a fan of Melrose and Peebles, but on my most recent Borders trip I also explored Kelso and Selkirk more too. There really is such strength in depth. Kelso has that abbey, but it’s old market square is lovely to stroll around, as its riverside walk. Cross the old stone bridge across the Teviot, which dates back to 1805, and you can see where the mighty Tweed meets the Teviot at the spot where one of Scotland’s biggest settlements used to be. Selkirk is going great guns, coming out of Covid with more independent shops than it started with.  There is a gin distillery, an old souter (shoemaker, Selkirk’s citizens are nicknamed ‘Souters’) and the brilliant General Store, a community venture that recycles everything and anything. Then there is The Haining, a gloriously grand old house from the 1790s. A community-minded charitable trust is currently revamping it to bring it back to life for community events and weddings. Already they’ve built an accessible track around the loch.

Selkirk, The Five Turrets
Selkirk, thriving after Covid and one of several Border market towns not to be missed.

Lose yourself in history

The Borders are alive with history. We’re talking Robert the Bruce’s heart at Melrose Abbey, William Wallace’s struggles here and the Romans. Lots of Roman history, with a window into that rich legacy offered at the impressively revamped Trimontium Museum in Melrose, which reopened this year after a £1.4 million revamp. Just along the road in Galashiels also new is the Great Tapestry of Scotland. This remarkable community created tapestry tells the story of the Scottish nation from prehistory through to the modern day, and has really come home in this purpose-built centre, which comes complete with a well-stocked shop, great café and workshop space.

Looking for things to do in the Borders? How about a visit to the newly revamped Trimontium Museum in Melrose?
Trimontium Museum in Melrose offers a glimpse at our Roman past – but there is history all around in the Borders

Bash out on two wheels

The Borders really are a paradise for cyclists. Many of the country roads are blissfully quite for road cycling, with the old railway lines perfect for off-road meanders too. For proper mountain biking the Borders has an embarrassment of riches. Three of the 7Stanes mountain bike centre are located in the Borders. I’m a massive fan of Glentress, which is the best equipped for all levels with a bike shop and café. It has a web of easier blue and green runs dotted through its thick forests. Gliding along you half expect to see an ewok! There are tougher challenges too, including some of the toughest red trails I’ve tackled in Scotland. There are also highly skilled black runs for very experienced riders.

Tackle trails of all levels as you explore 7stanes Glentress near Peebles

Savour great local produce

The Borders offer up a rich culinary larder. We’re talking tender lamb reared on its green pastures, and world-class beef too. There is plenty of game like pheasants and venison. The Tweed, of course, is famous for salmon and trout, while pushing on to the coast it’s more about white fish and shellfish. There is beer too – I love the brews from the Tempest Brewery in Tweedbank. And then, of course, the ace gin from Selkirk Distillers.

Excellent local shellfish enable chefs to create simple elegant meals, like these delicious scallops at the restaurant at SCHLOSS Roxburghe Hotel

Snare a quality bargain

Forget Harris, Tweed was actually invented right here in Hawick. I was back down recently and was really impressed by the Famously Hawick initiative. A quintet of local businesses have come together to offer first-class visitor experiences. I was really impressed by the sheer quality of the garments on offer – clothes to last a lifetime and then be passed on. I snared a proper camel hair coat at Johnstons of Elgin, which I’ve always wanted. I got it for a fifth of the original price in a sale. I also picked up a cashmere zipped sweater that is just brilliant: warm and cosy when you need it, then breathable when the sun comes out.

Of of the things to do in the Borders is a visit to one of the textile factories such as Johnstons of Elgin that are part of the Famously Hawick Initiative.
Johnstons of Elgin is part of the Famously Hawick Initiative offering first-class visitor experiences

Country Houses that trump Downton Abbey

Sue Beck
Floors Castle, the largest grand house in Scotland will host rock royalty this summer – Michael Bublé, Bryan Adams, Tears for Fears with Alison Moyet

The forgotten coast

Many people I know don’t really think of the Borders as having a coastline and in some ways it is a little forgotten. That’s unfair as it’s got huge appeal from fantastic scenery, to rich history and wildlife. Beaches too. I love enjoying local lobster and chips on the waterfront in Eyemouth before a stroll along the sands watching the local fishing fleet busy in and out of the harbour. Just to the north St Abbs is picture postcard pretty: think Cornwall with a Scottish accent. It also boasts a world-class nature reserve alive with epic cliffs, myriad seabirds and bountiful marine mammals.

St Abbs Harbour, Visit Berwickshire Coast
St Abbs Harbour and stunning coastline just waiting to be discovered.