In May 1787 a 28-year-old Robert Burns (1759-1796) took a tour of the Borders. He had just published the Edinburgh Edition of his poems and his likeness, or ‘phiz’ as he termed it, adorned the copies. The tour was his celebrity debut and his first foray to the Borders. Together with Robert Ainslie, a young apprentice lawyer from Edinburgh, he visited friends, the gentry, estates, humble kirks and, on one memorable day, set foot in England for the first time.

This was Burns coming to terms with his new found fame and establishing himself in celebrity terms – just a year previously he had left an unwed Jean Armour with two twins — her father was reluctant to allow her to marry Burns the wannabe poet, whom he regarded a failed farmer.

And so here is a young man, dressed in gentleman’s garb gallivanting and flirting his way around the Borders. Perhaps it helps to think of him in modern terms  – a rising celebrity, a feted author whose Insta/Twitter/Snapchat feeds would have been pinging and he would have been welcomed at tables as a guest to entertain and amuse.

Such was this early recognition that stories abound – this is but a taster of his journey, the people he met, the words he wrote.

Following his journeying he made peace with Armour’s father, married her and moved his family to Dumfries and Galloway. He started life in the region as a farmer at Ellisland, north of Dumfries, moving into the town a few years later and travelling extensively as an Exciseman throughout the area. And all this while composing some of his best known works. More than 225 years after he died, his words endure and it is for this he is known as Scotland’s Bard. From the Bard’s Border tour to his homestead days in Dumfries & Galloway, we hope you enjoy following the footsteps of Burns across the South of Scotland.

Day 1

Coastal wanderings for young travellers

Burns and Ainslie used the home of Ainslie’s parents as a base for their Borders tour. They forayed forth and returned when weary of the road. From being feted in Eyemouth to the contemplation of priory ruins, from his first foray onto English soil to his escape from a determined young woman, besotted with Burns and his fame, there were adventures to be had for these young travellers.







Travel Time

1h 30min

Eyemouth, Berwickshire Coast, Scottish Borders.

Stop 1 - Eyemouth

Burns and Ainslie arrived here in the May of 1787 to much fanfare. He and Ainslie were made Royal Arch Masons of St Ebbs Lodge. But while Ainslie had to fork out the one guinea admission fee, Burns’s celebrity status insured no such fee was charged of him. Indeed such was his fame even then, that the cutlery and utensils he used at the ‘repast’ have been kept to this day by the Eyemouth Lodge.

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Stop 2 - Coldingham Priory

Burns stopped off to visit Coldingham Priory, with its north and east walls of the choir having withstood a siege in the time of Oliver Cromwell. These remaining walls were subsequently incorporated into the present day church. The Luckenbooth is a community owned venture situated near the entrance to the Priory, which houses an ‘interpretation centre’ that has interactive displays to further explain the working of the Priory and history of the village.

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Stop 3 - Pease Bridge

While this stop is early in our tour, Burns had done most of his Borders tour with Robert Ainslie by the time the following incident occurred. Indeed Ainslie had returned to his Edinburgh law practice after a fortnight’s holiday travelling with Burns.

In Peasebridge, Burns had been invited to dine with one George Sherriff – a crashing bore, talkative and conceited – who had a sister, Nancy. George was called away during the evening, leaving Burns and Nancy together alone. Nancy had set herself the task of ‘claiming Burns’ for herself. Her brother returned home in time that evening but Nancy merely renewed her efforts the next morning, appearing as Burns was saddling his horse, dressed in her finery and ready to accompany him along the road to Dunbar.
Burns recounted his horror to Ainslie in a letter:

“In the words of the Highlandman when he saw the Devil on Shanter (hill in the shape of five swine) – ‘My hair stood and my pintle stood and I swat and trembled’.  Nothing could prevail with her, no distant insinuation, no broad hint would make her give over her purpose (to make a parade of me as a sweetheart of hers among her relations); at last, vexed, disgusted and enraged, I pretended a fire-haste and rode so hard she was almost shaken to pieces on old Jolly, and, to my great joy, she found it convenient to stop at an uncle’s house by the way. I refused to call with her, and so we quarreled and parted.”

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Stop 4 - Duns

Duns was the location of Berrywell, family home of Robert Ainslie’s family, used as a base by Burns and Ainslie for their tour. On arrival at Duns, Burns was impressed by the character of Ainslie’s parents and charmed by his sister, Rachel.

Accompanying the family to church on the Sunday Burns sat next to Rachel. During the service she became quite upset at the sermon delivered by the minister on sinners and she could not find the referred text in her Bible. Burns took it from her and on the flyleaf wrote the following:

“Fair maid, you needna take the hint
Nor idle texts pursue;
‘Twas guilty sinners that he meant
Not angels such as you!”

Word of Burns’s whereabouts in the Borders spread and once on returning to Berrywell, Burns found a selection of original poetry sent to him by Symon Gray, a Londoner, who had retired to Duns. Gray wanted to know Burns’s honest opinion of his verses. Burns duly replied to the first package “Symon Gray, you’re dull today!“.  Gray was undaunted however and sent a second packet. Burns replied: “Dullness, wit redoubted sway, has seized the wits of Symon Gray.

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Stop 5 - Coldstream

The Coldstream Bridge over the River Tweed delineates Scotland from England today as it did in Burns’ time.

And it was over this bridge that Burns first set foot on English soil. It did not warrant much mention in his diary of the day comprising of just four words ‘went over into England’. Far better a story is the one Ainslie told James Hogg more than fifty years later in which Burns had knelt down and invoked a blessing on Scotland, quoting his own work!

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Duns Castle
location_on Duns

Duns Castle is an award-winning, exclusive-use venue, available all year round for weddings, family gatherings, corporate meetings, film shoots and events.

Paxton House
location_on Berwick upon Tweed

Paxton House is a Georgian mansion overlooking the River Tweed set in 80 acres of grounds on the border of England and Scotland 4 miles from Berwick upon Tweed.

Day 2

Abbeys and ardour

From fine Abbey ruins to damsels who caught his eye, Burns was busy in the thriving market towns of Kelso and Jedburgh. He remarked upon bridges, visited castle ruins to see where James II accidently died and flirted outrageously with a young lady, much to the dismay of her guardians.







Travel Time


Kelso on the River Tweed. Credit: Visit Kelso

Stop 1 - Kelso

As you gaze upon the fine five-arch bridge finished by Rennie in 1803, you would be forgiven for thinking it looks familiar. It is the first bridge with an elliptic arch and marked a new era in bridge building, serving as the model for Waterloo Bridge in London. But it is the predecessor of Rennie’s triumph that was gazed upon by Robert Burns on his Borders tour.

Following an evening out, he wrote on 9 May 1787 ‘Breakfast at Kelso; charming situation; fine bridge over the Tweed; enchanting views and prospects on both sides of the river, particularly the Scotch side.’ Indeed it is reported Burns was so taken with the scene he uncovered his head and prayed to God.  Alas that bridge would be carried away in a storm ten years later, making way for the one you see today.

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Stop 2 - Roxburghe & Floors Castle

In Roxburgh, Burns visits the ruins of the castle and notes he has seen the bush said to mark the spot where James II of Scotland was accidently killed. From the remains of Roxburgh Castle you have an excellent view of Floors Castle.  Here you can occupy half a day exploring the stunning interiors and learning its fascinating history. And within that history is Burns himself. An unpublished letter and an unpublished draft copy of ‘On Seeing a Wounded Hare‘ were discovered in the archives at Floors in 2008 and acknowledged as authentic four years later.

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Stop 3 - Jedburgh

In Jedburgh, Burns was to receive the Freedom of the Burgh from the magistrates. But his daily journal recording his thoughts was far more occupied with his annoyance at the wife and sister-in-law of a fellow writer, Mr Fair, whom he had sought out to visit. “Mrs Fair is a crazy, talkative slattern and her sister (Miss Lookup) an old maid“. Being a young man with a capacity for seeing an attractive girl, Burns’ was rather more taken with a Miss Rutherford, – “a beautiful girl, but too far gone woman to expose so much of a fine, swelling bosom.…” who was in the company of the Fair family. The elder women repeatedly manage to interrupt Burns’ flirtations with the younger woman,  much to his annoyance. He perseveres and manages to hold on to Miss Rutherford’s arm; “my heart thawed into melting pleasure after being so long frozen up in the Greenland Bay of Indifference amid the noise and nonsense of Edinburgh… The Poet is a point and a half of being damnably in love.”

Indeed it would seem Miss Rutherford was equally flattered by his attentions as: “after some little chit-chat of the tender kind, I presented her with a proof-print of my Nob which she accepted with something more tender than gratitude. She told me many little stories with prolonging pleasure – God bless her.”  However Miss Rutherford’s brush with celebrity would only bring her 15 minutes of fame, and three weeks later she was married to an Adam Armstrong.

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Stop 4 - Dryburgh Abbey

Burns gave Dryburgh Abbey a ringing endorsement, commenting in his journal it was “a fine, old ruined Abbey by the way. . .

The abbey is a remarkably complete medieval ruin by the River Tweed, clearly demonstrating the monastic life it once housed. You can still see plaster and paintwork inside the chapter house dating from when it was built. On a fine day, great for a picnic or a tour before lunch at St Boswell’s.

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Mary Queen of Scots’ Visitor Centre is set in the centre of historic Jedburgh and this 16th century tower house tells the story of Scotland’s tragic queen.

Smailholm Tower
location_on Kelso

Smailholm’s 20m-tall tower house, its walls 2.5m deep, dominates a rocky craig.

Day 3

Border towns and spurned Burns

Today these Border towns brim with cafés and shops, galleries and places of interest to entice the modern visitor. Burns was not so lucky. Bad weather plagued his visit to Melrose and he was slighted in Selkirk by a man who did not recognise him engulfed in his sodden road-weary clothes. He passed through Galashiels and stayed at Innerleithen, visiting the famous Traquair House, whose Earl was known to be sympathetic to the Jacobite cause.







Travel Time


Selkirk, Scottish Borders.

Stop 1 - Melrose Abbey

Today Melrose in a visitor’s dream with history and culture galore. However as is so often the case, one’s perception of a place can be made, or indeed dampened by the weather. So it was for Burns and Melrose. The weather had taken a turn and was wet and cold for May and his remarks reflected this: “the whole country hereabout, both on Tweed and Ettrick remarkably Melrose Abbey stony

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Stop 2 - Galashiels

This popular market town is world renowned for its textile industry which began its flourish in the 19th century. Robert Burns wrote the poems ‘Sae Fair Her Hair’ and ‘Braw Lads’ which is sung at the annual Braw Lads Gathering, but the town was but a mere waypoint on the travels of Ainslie and Burns. However today you could stop and see his Phiz, embroidered in his very own panel at the Great Tapestry of Scotland.

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Stop 3 - Selkirk

Selkirk is one of the oldest Royal Burghs in Scotland and it is also the setting for one of the more amusing anecdotes of Burns’ Border tour. The poor weather from Melrose clearly followed Burns and Ainslie and they arrived at Veitch’s Forest Inn in Selkirk with rain running off them. The inn was crowded and Ainslie inquired if they could join a table with two spaces available. However the host of the table, Dr Clarkson was decidedly unimpressed at the two muddied, drenched travellers before him. He remarked that “one sounded nearly like a gentleman’ but the other was ‘a drover-looking chap'”.

It was the next day before he learned that his drover was Burns himself. Mortified, as a genuine admirer of Burns’s work, Dr Clarkson hurried off to make amends at the inn where the pair had eventually found lodgings. But Burns was “in bed, drying out, feeling jaded to death”. While Burns did not have modern day paparazzi to contend with, it has been suggested that he was perhaps realising his own fears of being on constant display. He refused to see Dr Clarkson, who spent the rest of his life regretting his high-handed attitude and the failure to dine with one of Scotland’s most famous men. Today a plaque on West Port lays claim to the site of the old Veitch inn and of Clarkson’s humiliation, but it is also said the inn could have lain where the newly refurbished Hammermen’s Hall now sits.

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Stop 4 - Innerleithen

Innerleithen was no more than a few thatched cottages in Burns’s time, but it is now a small town, thriving on the visits from keen mountain bikers keen to test their abilities at the nearby Glentress Forest. Burns stayed at the single inn, called the Piccadilly during his time here. It is curious that Burns, with his proven and often stated Jacobite sympathies, was not accommodated at the nearby Traquair House, but perhaps it was merely a case of not having the right connections to gain entry. Burns did visit Traquair to see the Bear Gates, padlocked shut in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The Bonnie Prince had visited Charles, fifth Earl of Traquair during his March to London in 1745. On his departure, the Jacobite supporting Earl of Traquair closed and locked the Bear Gates at the entrance, swearing they would not be reopened until a Stuart Monarch sat on the Throne. As you will see, they remain locked today.

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The Great Tapestry of Scotland
location_on Galashiels

The Great Tapestry of Scotland gallery & visitor centre is where the people's story of Scotland begins. It is home to exhibits, workshops, a shop & a cafe.

Traquair House
location_on Peebles

Traquair is Scotland's Oldest Continually Inhabited House dating back over 900 years and still lived in as a family home today.

Day 4

Farmer and exciseman

On more than one occasion Burns passed through Moffat, including on his triumphant return to see Jean Armour following his Borders tour in 1787. Here we enter Dumfries and Galloway, which was Burns’s home county through the later years of his life. He would write some of his most famous works here and this was his base as he travelled through the county in his role as Exciseman – a job he held towards the end of his life.

See where he became the Ploughman Poet and attempted a cure for what ailed him just three days before he died.







Travel Time


Ellisland Museum and Farm, Auldgirth, Dumfries.

Stop 1 - Moffat

We know Burns passed through Moffat, on more than one occasion and he stayed at the Black Bull Inn, where today his favourite area is called The Burns Room or Poets Corner. As was his want, Burns etched a window pane with a verse inspired by a lady love who was passing by the window as he revelled inside with his companions.

Unfortunately the pane of glass is no longer to be seen at the Black Bull, having been presented many years ago to visiting Russian dignitaries. However the words of the poet are not lost, displayed on the exterior wall for all to see.

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Stop 2 - Lochmaben

Burns referred to Lochmaben in ‘The Five Carlins’ where Robert the Bruce’s daughter, Marjorie Bruce once lived in its castle. “Marjorie of the many Lochs, A Carlin auld and teugh”.

‘The Five Carlins’ refer to the five burghs of Dumfriesshire, the others being Dumfries itself, Kirkcudbright, Annan and Sanquhar. Burns claimed he had been given the freedom of Lochmaben after leaving Dalswinton but there is no trace of this in the official records.

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Stop 3 - Brow Well

Brow Well was renowned for the healing properties of its water throughout Dumfriesshire. Burns duly came to visit in 1796 as his health began to deteriorate and he stayed at the long since demolished Brow Inn. Burns’ illness was diagnosed as ‘flying gout’ but was in fact rheumatic fever, and three days after his visit to Brow Well, he died at home.

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Stop 4 - Ellisland

Robert Burns and his family lived at Ellisland Farm, just a few miles north of Dumfries, for three years and it was here he wrote ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Today’s visitors can see the farmhouse he built and gain insight into what living in the late 1700s would have been like for his family. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the countryside, Burns was inspired while walking along a path on the farm and wrote ‘Tam o Shanter’ in just one day.

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Annandale Distillery
location_on Annan

Annandale Distillery. Established 1836 | Reborn 2014

The Devil's Porridge Museum
location_on Eastriggs

The Devil’s Porridge Museum is a 5 star rated attraction which regularly tops the list of things to do in Dumfries and Galloway on Trip Advisor.

Day 5

A poet in Dumfries

Following his time as a farmer, Burns moved his family into Dumfries. You can see where he lived, entertained, drank and then died at the early age of 37.  Originally buried in a modest grave, Burns’ remains were moved to what was deemed a more fitting location in 1815 and you can now visit where he now lies with his widow Jean Armour and five of their family.







Travel Time


Robert Burns Statue, Dumfries.

Stop 1 - Dumfries

In Dumfries there is an informative town trail map In the Footsteps of Burns with downloadable information giving you insights into the poet’s life in Dumfries. It starts from the Tourist Information point.

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Stop 2 - Robert Burns Statue & Robert Burns Centre

The Robert Burns Statue in Burns Statue Square was set up by public subscription in 1882, and carved by ‘Carrara craftsmen’ in Italy. See if you can spot Luath, Burns’ Scots collie dog… we wonder whether the craftsmen had ever seen one before!

Next up you’ll get a great overview of Rabbie Burns’ life in and around Dumfries at the Robert Burns Centre which offers free admission and is an ideal place to explore Burns’ last years. You can see an excellent 3D mock up of what Dumfries would have looked like in his time. There’s a variety of artefacts displayed and you can listen to contemporary recordings of his works in an audio booth. Children will enjoy learning about Scotland’s bard with colouring sheets, a gallery trail and puzzles.

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Stop 3 - The Globe Inn

For a bon viveur like Burns a wee dram was essential, and in the centre of Dumfries at the Globe Inn, you can see where Rabbie Burns ate and drank. Affectionately referred to by Burns as his Howff, the Globe Inn still offers food and drink and also private tours into the spaces used by Burns. You can even sit in the great man’s chair – but be sure to have one of his poems lined up to recite or you’ll be obliged to buy the pub a full round of drinks.

But like so many celebrities constantly called upon and expected to be ‘famous’ the continuous drinking took its toll on Burns.
There are gentlemen here in Dumfries, five bottle a night men, who would not give me their company if I did not drink with them – so I give to each, a slice of my constitution….

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Stop 4 - Theatre Royal

Burns was heavily involved in the construction of the Theatre Royal while he lived in Dumfries and continued to patronise the theatre during his years in the town. The Bard wrote several pieces for the stage, including ‘A Scots Prologue’ which was performed as a fundraiser at the new theatre and ‘The Rights of Women’ for Louise Fontanelle when she performed in the newly opened theatre in 1792.

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Stop 5 - Robert Burns House & Mausoleum

Robert Burns House is the simple sandstone home Burns occupied with his family from 1791. Just three years later he died here. He is now buried in St Michael’s Kirkyard next door in the Robert Burns Mausoleum. A statue of his wife, Jean Armour, was erected by the Burns Howff Club opposite St Michael’s Kirk, in 2004.

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Peter Pan Moat Brae
location_on Dumfries

Moat Brae, Birthplace of Peter Pan and National Centre for Children's Literature and Storytelling

Old Bridge House Museum
location_on Dumfries

Built in 1660 into the sandstone of the fifteenth century Devorgilla Bridge, Dumfries’ oldest house is now a museum of everyday life in the town.

Day 6

Burns around Wigtownshire

Burns worked as an Exciseman to support his family and in this capacity he journeyed west through the Machars and Rhins peninsulas and many stops were noted in his journals.  On this last day of the tour, we touch on some highlights with notable stories.

Though Burns spent his later life in Dumfries and Galloway, he is strongly linked with Ayrshire. You can continue your exploration of Burns by following the SWC300 route along the coastline and head to Alloway to explore the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, including Burns Cottage where he was born and spent the first seven years of his life.







Travel Time


Kirkcudbright Harbour, Dumfries & Galloway.

Stop 1 - Castle Douglas

Burns spent a lonely night in Castle Douglas having been left by Syme, his travelling companion.  Left to his own devices he spent the evening writing a wistful letter to Agnes Maclehose (known as Nancy to her friends and Clarinda to followers of Burns).  “Clarinda? What a host of Memory’s tenderest offspring crowd on my fancy at that sound!”

The Carlingwark Inn no longer stands but would have once been found at the top of the hill to the South of the town.

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Stop 2 - Kirkcudbright

The tidal River Dee at Kirkcudbright provides one of the best natural harbours on the Galloway coast. In Burns time the Earls of Selkirk were a major influence in Kirkcudbright’s affairs. Burns arrived with his travelling companion Syme, who described Burns as being in ‘a most epigrammatic mood‘ on the journey to St Mary’s Isle where they were to be the guests of the current Earl of Selkirk.

Burns was suffering from headache and stomachache and his boots had gone missing. Burns’s mood wasn’t much better when they eventually reached Selkirk’s seat that night, but when he was called upon to say words prior to the meal he said:

“Some hae meat and canna eat
And some wad eat that want it
But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thankit.”

These famous lines are now termed the Selkirk Grace but neither Syme nor Burns mention it in their daily journals and it is likely Burns delivered a grace extempore on that occasion as it was his custom to do so when a guest. And he might also have done so next evening at the Old Heid Inn, now called the Selkirk Arms, where a plaque on the wall boasts the fact that he did. Burns was definitely a lodger at the inn so it is quite possible it was delivered here at some point.

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Stop 3 - Gatehouse of Fleet

Gatehouse, once the tollbooth for Stage coaches, has entrepreneur James Murray to thank for its relative growth in the late 18th century. In 1763 he built his summer home, Cally House, here leading to the town becoming a thriving industrial centre with cotton mills, shipbuilding, a brewery and its own port.

Robert Burns paid two well documented visits to Gatehouse of Fleet. During the first in 1793 he and his travelling companion Syme got drunk during an evening at The Murray Arms where Burns penned the first draft of ‘Scots Wha Hae’, otherwise known as Bruce’s Address to his Army at Bannockburn.

During his second visit he would pen the Heron Ballads, including ‘John Bushby’s Lamentation’ – John Bushby was the Sheriff’s clerk in Dumfries.

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Stop 4 - Wigtown

As you journey towards Wigtown you’ll travel past the turning to the former Kirroughtree Hotel. Here Burns met Jean Lorimer and her family to “drink tea”.  Although there is nothing to mark their meeting, Jean Lorimer was a friend of the poet and his wife and was the inspiration for over 20 songs.  Jean, referred to as the “Lassie we’ the lint-white locks” or “Chloris”, was a neighbour and frequent visitor to Jean Amour and Burns when they lived at Ellisland Farm.

Today Wigtown is known for being Scotland’s National Book Town. In the late 1700s, it was an important, busy, market town. In his time as Exciseman Burns would surely have passed through Wigtown on more than one occasion and quite possibly stayed the night. With no journal notes it is pure speculation where this might have been, but the buildings surrounding the current Galloway Inn had been constructed as a private house in the mid-1700s and became a public house known as the King’s Arms at a later date. It is known the property was considerably larger than the present day inn and it is quite likely the adjacent Southfield House was part of the original inn.

Today’s Wigtown would surely have fascinated Burns, with its status as Scotland’s National Book Town and more than a dozen bookshops plying their trade and his works.

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Broughton House and Garden
location_on Kirkcudbright

House and Garden - The home of ‘Glasgow Boy’ Hornel sits in a Japanese-inspired garden and hosts an impressive collection of art.

Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere is internationally recognised as a world class environment for people and nature.

Where to Stay

Privately owned 3 star Hotel in Dumfries Town centre

Dryburgh Abbey Hotel
location_on Melrose

A magnificent Scottish Country House Hotel and Bistro by the River Tweed in the Scottish Borders.

The Selkirk Arms Hotel
location_on Kirkcudbright

Quality 4* Hotel & Restaurant in the heart of Kirkcudbright

Coldstream Holiday Park
location_on Coldstream

A new holiday destination within the historic Borders town of Coldstream, Private Holiday Homes, Self Catering Breaks, Touring, Camping & Glamping.