In Live Local with… Midlothian and Scottish Borders locals share their favourite places, from restaurants and shops to walks, views and more. The series is about all the things – big and small – that make living and working in the area so special. Read on and join in with our communities. It may lead you to incredible hidden gems to explore on your next day out.
Gethin Chamberlain has been running The Five Turrets with partner Carolynn Shaw since 2018 when the couple completed a year-long renovation of the historic townhouse in the centre of Selkirk.
It had been four years since they had returned to Scotland from India, where Gethin worked as a foreign correspondent, when they spotted a For Sale sign on the miniature castle across the road. For Gethin and Carolynn, it was love at first sight: “The moment we walked through the door it took our breath away. It’s an amazing building from the outside – all turrets and crow steps. We’d joked that living opposite was a bit like living in Narnia or Ruritania. And then we got inside, and there was this enormous great hall to work with, and I thought: This is perfect.” A plan quickly took shape. Instead of stags heads and tartan, a riot of colour took over the building, marrying the modern and the historic. The bright and contemporary feel has enchanted many, including Cosmopolitan, The Times and The Sunday Times.
The owners are not putting their feet up though: They also run an online shop selling Carolynn’s weaving and some of Gethin’s photography. And they’re working on the launch of Go Wild Scotland, a new wildlife and nature tourism venture getting guests out into the heart of the southern Scottish countryside.
Let’s get going, Gethin! What are your favourite places to head to in the Scottish Borders?
We love pointing our guests in the direction of some of the fantastic places on our doorstep. And we’re grateful for all the help and advice we’ve had from other local businesses over the years. So, we especially enjoy repaying that kindness by promoting the Borders as a destination.
The Three Brethren
Where better to start than the hills of the Southern Uplands? From the windows of The Five Turrets, you look out over the Ettrick valley to a vista of hills as far as the eye can see. But for a view to die for you can’t beat the walk up to the Three Brethren from our doorstep. It takes you up through the forest at Corbie Linn (don’t miss the waterfall hidden among the trees on the left) and then out onto the open heather-clad hillside up to The Brethren themselves, three huge cairns dating back to the 16th century. From there you can enjoy a 360 panorama, with lovely views of the Eildon Hills to the east.
The Three Brethren cairns mark the boundaries of the estates of Buccleuch, Yair and Selkirk Burgh at a height of 465m
The Eildon Hills and Trimontium
The Eildons make a splendid walk in their own right, with some walking routes also taking in the banks of the nearby Tweed. Legend has it they mark the entrance to the land of the elves, and it was there that Thomas the Rhymer, the 13th-century seer, is said to have met the Queen of the Fairies. Today, the Rhymer’s Stone marks that spot. Thomas is credited with a number of successful predictions, among them Scottish victory at Bannockburn, though like many he doesn’t appear to have seen Covid-19 on the horizon.
The Romans had a signalling station on the top of Eildon Hill North, which still comes as a surprise to those who recall being taught at school that the legions never made it into Scotland. They did, of course, and established a fort at the foot of the hill at Trimontium – ‘the place of the three hills’ – with infantry and cavalry garrisons. You can’t see much of it these days, but it is said to be the largest Roman complex in Scotland. And it remains an atmospheric site with information boards and vantage points to help you imagine it as it was in its heyday.
The absolutely best bit of Trimontium though is the little museum run by the Trimontium Museum in Melrose. There are some impressive artefacts from the excavations on show. It’s just one of those small museums that you can’t help loving for the enthusiasm and quiet expertise of the people involved. They’re currently camped out at Abbey House in the town while the regular museum in the Ormiston building gets a makeover.
These distinctive hills have well marked routes for walking as part of longer routes or just as a day out in themselves
One of the joys of living at the heart of the Borders is the ability to strike out into the surrounding countryside and be fairly certain of coming across some of Scotland’s iconic wildlife. Red squirrels have been having a tough time in recent years, but there are encouraging signs that they are making inroads again in the area. They’re quite elusive, but I’ve been lucky with sightings recently on walks through Bowhill Estate. You really can’t beat seeing a red squirrel: the moment you spot one bouncing through the trees or along the track in front of you I challenge you not to smile. You can also see roe deer there and in the surrounding countryside, along with woodpeckers, buzzards and – if you are really lucky – an otter in one of the lochs.
We’re hoping to get our Go Wild Scotland tours up and running later in the year to showcase some of this wonderful wildlife.
Deep in the heart of the Scottish Borders an enchanting country estate awaits you with an adventure playground, exhibition & world renowned art collection.
Borders Textile Towerhouse
I mentioned Carolynn’s weaving earlier: For those who share her passion for the ways of the warp and the weft – and the former owner of The Five Turrets certainly did, founding the Brydone and Brown spinning company and building the Yarrow Mill – then it is hard to beat the Borders Textile Towerhouse in Hawick. It’s another of those small museums packed with things you didn’t know you wanted to know and it brings to life 200 years of textile history, which is a lot more interesting than I’m making it sound. I’ll try again. It’s in a 500-year-old tower! It dates back to the time of the infamous Border Reivers! It also happens to be very close to the excellent new Borders Distillery, and it would be rude not to stop by the first whisky distillery in the Borders since 1837 to say hello.
At Borders Textile Towerhouse visitors can discover the story of the region’s knitwear and tweed industries.
Back in Selkirk, I find myself torn between the claims of two of Scotland’s most famous historical figures – William Wallace and Sir Walter Scott.
Scott sat as sheriff in the town for the best part of 30 years, and his courtroom is a great little attraction, particularly when staging recreations of some of his cases. The great writer’s influence on the town is profound: his statue dominates the market place. At the same time, the Scottish Baronial style of his home a few miles downriver at Abbotsford had an unmistakable impact on the architecture of some of the key buildings in Selkirk, including the County Buildings, Ettrick Lodge and – of course – The Five Turrets.
Wallace, meanwhile, doesn’t feature anywhere near as prominently, yet Selkirk has a strong case as the location of the Kirk of the Forest, the place where he was made Guardian of Scotland. I like to wander into the ruins of the Auld Kirk from time to time to stand on the spot where the great man probably stood all those centuries ago. Halliwell’s House Museum in the cobbled close off the Market Place is a lovely little place to round off a walk – it’s another of those small and quirky museums where you can learn about the casting of the colours, the annual ceremony commemorating the Battle of Flodden. Elsewhere in Scotland it’s seen as something of a disaster yet is a score-draw to Selkirk after the one man to make it back alive brought with him a captured English flag.
Selkirk is one of the oldest Royal Burghs in Scotland and also one of the earliest settlements in what is now the Scottish Borders.
The Fleece Bar and Kitchen
Personally, I’d round the day off with a stop at the Fleece Bar and Kitchen. They’re one of the great local businesses we work with – they provide the personal chef service for The Five Turrets. The food’s great, the hosts are welcoming the drinks are very fine, particularly the magnificent Bannock Gin from Selkirk Distillers. It’s gin! And fruit bread! Together at last!
You’ll leave happy, and that’s all you can really ask for.
Award winning Restaurant and Bar in the centre of Selkirk. Best Eatery in the Borders 2018. Featured in Lonely Planet’s Great Britain travel guide 2019/2020
Do you have any favourite spots or personal highlights in Midlothian and the Borders? Let us know the places that make the area feel like home for you!