Disgruntled family marches after a Sunday roast are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, as we, the Great British public, are taking to the hills with renewed vigour. Walking holidays in particular are very much on the up as we make the most of the many tracks, bridleways and paths that cover the country. So why not get involved and head up the A1 for some calf–burning adventures?
Hill and mountain walking in the Scottish Highlands is an activity that many of you may have undertaken before. However, the Borders are an area more frequently driven through, rather than driven to. The walking here is not only closer to home for a day’s rambling, but extended breaks pack much more in, in terms of varying landscapes than that of the Highlands. One walk that provides a fascinating trip through history is the Borders Abbey Way, ambling past the 12th century ruins of Jedburgh, Melrose, Dryburgh and Kelso Abbeys. The 64.5 mile walk is circular and needless to say will only be taken on as a whole by a few, but there are many smaller parts that are hugely engaging.
Setting off towards Jedburgh, you will meander your way through the valleys and hills that feed the River Teviot, a tributary of the River Tweed. As is true with most walks, the landscape changes continuously, from dense woodland to open farmland and rolling hills. A good halfway house for refreshment is the Roxburghe Hotel and Golf Course. Owned by the Duke of Roxburghe, the stunning hotel is the perfect place to rest your legs and if you fancy stopping off here for tea, or possibly for longer, then you will be looked after in aristocratic splendour. The hotel’s Head Chef Neville Merrin has created a first class menu from the estate’s own game, vegetables and herbs (www.roxburghe-hotel.com). Close to the hotel is the Teviot viaduct, with its 14 arches, which were originally built to connect St Boswells and Coldstream during the days when the railway was king. The Grade A listed viaduct is an impressive structure to behold whilst embarking on the 12 mile walk between Kelso and Jedburgh; even the footbridge beneath it is Grade B listed.
After a wind–whipped walk, the ancient town of Jedburgh’s shops and pubs will be a welcome sight. The town itself has a colourful history; being only ten miles from England, it has seen a lot of blood spilt throughout the years. Subsequently, the town now thrives on its history, with the imposing Abbey right at its centre. Other buildings of interest are Mary Queen of Scot’s house and Jedburgh Castle Jail, which has been converted into a museum. Only a few hundred paces from the Abbey is the Glenbank House Hotel (www.jedburgh-hotel.com). This family run 19th century sandstone villa entices weary walkers with both a warm welcome and exceptional comfort. Its Auld Alliance restaurant boasts a number of traditional Scottish and French dishes, accompanied by an impressive international wine list.
The next leg, from Jedburgh to Hawick, initially leads up onto exposed ground, before descending through forests towards the village of Denholm. Centred around the Green, this village is a Conservation Area and is listed as planned; a little different to that of the more traditional unplanned or organic village. With only a couple of pubs and a Post Office, it is a good place to rest for lunch or tea, prior to carrying onto Hawick along the banks of the Teviot.
Having made it from Jedburgh to Hawick, there are still a number of Abbeys yet to see. However, hiking to Selkirk raises the challenge of climbing 1,113 feet, the highest point on route, with spectacular views to enjoy. The Borders also provide nature lovers with over 160 different species of birds, world–class salmon and trout fishing, and deer, foxes and badgers. Once in Selkirk, after descending from the hills, the place to stay is the Philipburn Country House Hotel. This fabulous 4 star hotel will allow you to unwind over a classic dinner of locally caught salmon, washed down with a wee drum of whiskey before making your way up to bed in the individually unique rooms (www.bw–philipburnhousehotel.co.uk).
Carrying on to Melrose, the ruins of the 12th century Abbey stand as a relic to the town’s history. Built by David I for the Cistercian order, the Abbey saw extensive damage during the Wars of Independence in 1322 and from the armies of Richard II in 1385. Its most notable part in history came in 1329, when it is thought that Robert the Bruce’s heart was buried here. The place to stay is Fauhope House, a country house B&B nothing short of luxurious where you will be greeted with warm smiles from owners Sheila and Ian, and their friendly labradors. (www.fauhopehouse.com).
The leg back to Kelso is the longest, with 17 miles to tackle before a well earned rest. For some whose legs may not be feeling up to the challenge, it is easy to cut the walk short. Roughly six miles away is Dryburgh Abbey, the final ruin. The Abbey has been known to historians since 622 AD, though sadly there is now nothing left of the ancient Abbey. Today, the ruins that stand are from the 12th century, when white clad Premonstratensian canons established the Abbey in woodlands next to the River Tweed. It had a much quieter existence in comparison to its neighbours in Melrose, Jedburgh and Kelso, and by the end of the 16th century the Protestant Reformation had effectively finished Dryburgh Abbey’s days. From the Abbey a pick–up could easily be arranged, or if the group is feeling strong, simply carry on and finish in Kelso.
Scotland markets itself as the the outdoor adventure capital of Europe; the New Zealand of the northern hemisphere. Boasting breathtaking trails, grand mountains and stunning rolling hills, there’s no better reason to switch off the television and and experience the joy of walking in Scotland for yourself.