Tales frae Kelsae

by Sara Barton, 5th July 2022
Kelso | Visit Kelso
Tales frae Kelsae

You may well have visited the town of Kelso in the Scottish Borders and seen some of its famous sites such as Floors Castle and Kelso Abbey.

But have you ever wondered how the Abbey became such a ruin; or why there is a horseshoe in the midst of Roxburgh Street? Did you know Sir Walter Scott has strong associations with the town? Or wonder about the crumbling ruins of Roxburgh Castle above you as you wander along the River Tweed?

Follow narrator Alasdair Hutton as he details some of the town’s less well-known stories. Let Tales frae Kelsae inspire you to pay a visit and find out more – watch the videos, produced by Visit Kelso, and learn more about things to see and do in this lovely Borders town.


Kelso Abbey

Anyone walking the Borders Abbey Way will pass through Kelso and see the west tower that is all that remains of historic Kelso Abbey, once the largest and wealthiest of the Great Borders Abbeys. In the 12th century the Abbey was a powerhouse of the local economy, involved in the lucrative wool trade with 7,000 head of sheep, owners of an orchard, granary, brewery, and even a mill on the River Tweed, not to mention plenty of land donated by wealthy supporters. Within a century Kelso Abbey would fall on hard times and never recover.

Edward I’s invasion of Scotland in 1296 and the Abbot of Kelso refusing allegiance to Edward meant the abbey was taken over and occupied by the English. In 1305 all the title deeds and charters to the Abbey’s holdings were destroyed and with no proof of what the Abbey owned or what was owed to it, the revenue ceased. Further destruction of the building meant that by 1545 all that remained of this once great religious house is the west tower we see today.

Ponder its rise and fall from one of the many cafés, restaurants or pubs nearby.


Horse Town

Kelso could perhaps claim the moniker Horse Town with its many equine associations.  Visitors can search out a famous horseshoe among the cobblestones on Roxburgh Street –  said to be the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s horse cast a shoe as the Jacobite army passed through the town in 1745.

In the summer the annual Civic Week sees the townsfolk mounted on horseback to uphold the traditional ride-out. This takes place in mid-July and is a fabulous spectacle to behold.

With two race courses in town, visitors are spoilt for choice if they wish to experience a day at the races. One of the biggest social events is Ladies Day at Kelso Race Course, usually at the end of May with a fun crowd of stylishly dressed racegoers. In the autumn, plan a day out at the races when the new season starts mid-September.


Roxburgh Castle

There is an excellent walking circuit following the Borders Abbey Way alongside the river and returning to Kelso via the old railway line that passes below the ruins of Roxburgh Castle. This area was once incredibly critical in Scottish history being so close to the English border. As you gaze up at the ruins of Roxburgh Castle you may wonder about what stories these ancient stones could tell you. One tale in particular illustrates the extreme cunning of the Scottish.

Roxburgh Castle had been surrendered to King Edward I of England in 1296 and occupied by English forces. In February 1314, James Douglas, known as the Black Douglas, was sent by Robert the Bruce to retake the castle. Disguising themselves in animal skins and black capes, the soldiers crawled to the base of the fortified castle. Using grappling hooks and rope ladders to scale the walls, they entered the castle, threw open the gates for the rest of the troops and retook Roxburgh Castle.

From Roxburgh ruins there is a fine view across to Floors Castle which is a definite must for any visitor to Kelso.


Sir Walter Scott in Kelso

While his romantic liaison was not a success with young Jessie, Sir Walter Scott had a long association with Kelso. As a child suffering from polio, his parents sent him to the wholesome country air at his grandfather’s house, Sandyknowe Farm near Smailholm Tower. See the landscape of Scott’s childhood today by following the Smailholm to Mellerstain walk.

In addition to his grandfather, Scott’s Aunt Janet and Uncle Robert both lived in Kelso itself and during a stint at the local Grammar School, Scott would meet and befriend the Ballantyne brothers who would go on to be his printer and publisher. There is an excellent Sir Walter Scott Heritage Walk in Kelso for those curious to follow in his footsteps, including the site of the Plane Tree where he discovered Bishop Percy’s Relique that would inspire his love of Ballad Poetry.


Tales frae Kelsae were produced by Visit Kelso with funding provided by the VisitScotland Destination and Sector Marketing Fund.