The Borders Ballads

Driving Route

The Borders Ballads


In the period 1300 to 1603, the Borderland was in almost constant turmoil with wars and feuding between families on both sides of the border; this led to 'the reiver' who made plunder and pillage a way of life.

It was not for enrichment or gain but simply a struggle to survive and Borderers are great survivors. The reiver lived in the marginal hilly lands along the border. He did not conform to nationalist or class stereotype for the reiver could be shepherd, labourer; bonnet laird or belted Earl and were neither Scots nor English but rather viewed themselves as Borderers. This three hundred year conflict produced a race of wild men and strong determined women.

Despite such an unlikely setting, there was an oral tradition of ballads/storytelling that produced what many scholars reckon to be the finest folk-lore from any place or time in the world's history. These are known collectively as The Border Ballads, they are earth poetry, conveying the deeds, feelings and people who lived in the Borders during that troubled time. There are no known authors of the ballads. The travelling minstrels would make song/stones to commemorate notable battle/raids, tales of tragic loves or the supernatural. As early as 1578,

Bishop John Leslie would note that the Borderers
'delyt mekle in thair awne musick and Harmonie in singing,
quhilke of the actes of thair foirbearis thay have leired.’

This tradition had survived in folk memory until the 17th/early 19th centuries when they were collected, sometimes improved and printed.

Sir Walter Scott was one of many noted collectors and spent his spare time riding through the Border hills in search of such fragmentary treasures. His ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border' is the main source of the following trail. James Hogg was another who used ballad sources and some of his tale locations are included.

127.5mi / 205km
Total climb:
12,694ft / 3,870m
Total descent:
12,923ft / 3,940m
Towns along route:
Newcastleton, Bonchester Bridge, Jedburgh
Our best efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of data, however the data and geographic information contained along route lines and on maps should be used for informational purposes only.

What you'll see

Rhymer's Stone - Melrose

History & Heritage

Rhymer’s Stone is large stone inscribed with the legend of Thomas the Rhymer, who was said to have the gift of prophecy. Park at the…

Abbotsford - Melrose

Visitor Attractions

The extraordinary home of Scottish legend Sir Walter Scott, poet, novelist and ballad collector a Borderer whose influence on the literary world of his and…

County Hotel - Selkirk

Buildings, Historic Buildings, Monuments & Statues

Nearly opposite the Courtroom is the County Hotel, a coaching inn much frequented by Scott on social occasions.

Sir Walter Scott's Courtroom - Selkirk

Museums & Exhibitions

As Depute-Sheriff of Selkirkshire for 32 years, Scott dispensed justice from this room. The Courtroom contains many relics of Scott and his contemporaries.

Philiphaugh Battle Memorial - Selkirk

Historic Buildings, Monuments & Statues, Monuments & Statues

Outside the town, the Rugby and Cricket Fields are on the site of the Battle of Philiphaugh.

Generals Bridge - Selkirk


Possibly 18th century. Broad single segmentally-arched bridge over Yarrow Water.

Bowhill House & Grounds - Selkirk

Visitor Attractions

Deep in the heart of the Scottish Borders an enchanting country estate awaits you with an adventure playground, exhibition & world renowned art collection.

Tamlane's Well - Selkirk

History & Heritage

The well can be found at Carterhaugh Farm on the right hand side of the road. This is the location of the ballad of Young…

Aikwood Tower - Selkirk

Exclusive Use, Self-catering

Aikwood Tower, a grade A-listed traditional Reiver Tower, is steeped with 500 years of history and medieval charm. It has been sensitively restored in a…

Kirkhope Tower - Selkirk


Kirkhope Tower was originally built in the sixteenth century by the Douglas owners of the Ettrick Valley.

Yarrow Kirk - Yarrow

Religious Buildings

Built in 1640 when St Mary’s of the Lowes (sometimes called St Mary’s of the Forest) was abandoned by its minister and congregation, they moved…

Yarrow Stone - Yarrow


A standing stone, it is highly unusual and has a Latin inscription commemorating two princes of the British kingdom of Strathclyde.

Craig Douglas & Blackhouse Farm - Yarrow

History & Heritage

This is a very ruinous structure of the late 16th century, once belonging to the Stewarts of Traquair.

St Mary's Kirkyard - Yarrow

History & Heritage

he St Mary's Kirkyard can be found by looking for the signs at St Mary's Loch and climbing the few hundred yards up the slope.…

Henderland Tower - Yarrow

History & Heritage

The ruined mound of Henderland Tower sits beside the Dow Linn.

Tushielaw Inn - Selkirk


Once a toll house for Drovers

Harden - Hawick

Castles & Stately Homes

Home of he notorious Border Reiver known as Auld Wat, Walter Scott of Harden

Drumlanrig’s Tower - Hawick

Buildings, Historic Buildings, Monuments & Statues

A recently restored 16th-century building

Goldielands Tower - Hawick

Reivers, Ruins

A watch-tower – many a night its beacon would blaze warning Branxholme of danger

Branxholme Castle - Hawick

Castles & Stately Homes

The ancient stronghold of the Scotts of Buccleuch which stands on a high bank above the Teviot begun its life as a Border pele-tower.

Johnnie Armstrong Memorial - Hawick

Historic Buildings, Monuments & Statues, Monuments & Statues, Reivers

Teviothead is the site where Johnie Armstrong, a noted reiver, met James V under an assurance of safe conduct

Hermitage Castle - Newcastleton

Ancestry, Castles & Stately Homes, Reivers, Ruins

Turn left at Fiddleton Toll where the sign indicates Hermitage Castle. You are now in the Elliot family country


Towns & Villages

You are in Armstrong family country. The ballads of Jock o the Syde' (a greater theif did never ryde). "Hobbie Noble' and 'Dick o the…

Bonchester Bridge

Towns & Villages

Passing through the family lands of the Armstrongs, Elliots, Turnbulls Kerrs and Rutherfords

Jedburgh Castle Jail & Museum - Jedburgh

Visitor Attractions

A Howard Reform Prison built on a medieval castle


Towns & Villages

Jedburgh, a town of ancient lineage and modern interest.

Mary Queen of Scots' Visitor Centre - Jedburgh

Museums & Exhibitions

A 16th century bastle house

Jedburgh Abbey - Jedburgh

Visitor Attractions

The Abbey was founded by David I on the site of an earlier religious establishment