Despite being possibly the easiest part of Scotland to reach the Scottish Borders has been described as “Britain’s best kept secret”. This is a great shame for those who simply rush through, or around, the area on their way north to Edinburgh and the Highlands or south to England. They don’t know what they are missing. However, it does help to preserve the area’s peace and beauty for those of us who live here.
The Borders offer something for everyone with its great community spirit and friendly rivalry. This is possibly best demonstrated in the colourful Common Ridings which are staged each summer to celebrate the Region’s unique identity and remember its tumultuous past. The Common Ridings involve inhabitants of the participating towns riding to their settlements boundaries as well as holding traditional sports, games, and celebratory gatherings. They are great ways of bringing a community together. It is also displayed in the competitive rugby games played out in the Border League. Most Borders towns have a rugby team and victory in local derbies are always particularly sweet.
The Borders cover about 1800 square miles of Scotland and contain rolling hills, rich agricultural land (including the Merse), fast flowing rivers, picturesque towns and villages, stately homes and castles, open countryside, gentle valleys and the rugged Berwickshire coast. The region is bounded by the Lammermuir Hills and the Pentland Hills to its north, the Moffat Hills to its west, the Cheviots to its south and the North Sea to its east.
The Borders climate is generally mild and becomes drier the further east you are.
The Borders has a lively social life with many communal activities and festivals in addition to the annual Common Ridings. These include walking and music festivals as well as the famous Borders Rugby Sevens tournaments – this version of the game having originated in Melrose in the 1880s.
Most house hunters are primarily interested in location and the Borders’ countryside, along with its picturesque towns and villages (none of which have a population of over 20,000), scores high on this count. The area is also within easy reach of major cities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Carlisle. Communication links are good with an excellent network of roads, a regular train service between the Central Borders and Edinburgh and the main east coast railway line running down its eastern edge.
The main towns in the Borders include Peebles (an attractive former mill town on the River Tweed which has in the past been voted the best place to live in Scotland), Galashiels (the commercial hub of the area, with a regular train service to Edinburgh, which was voted the top town in Scotland in a recent “Happy at Home” survey conducted across Britain to establish how contented people are with where they live), Selkirk (scenically located at the north ends of both the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys- two of the most beautiful valleys in Scotland), Hawick (the largest town in the region and the “Queen o’ a’ the Border”), Jedburgh (with its superb ruined Abbey and other historical buildings), Kelso (described by Sir Walter Scot as one of the most beautiful, if not the most romantic village in Scotland, and lying at the confluence of the Rivers Tweed and Teviot), Melrose (one of the most charming of the Borders towns lying between the Eildon Hills and the River Tweed), Duns (an ancient market town sitting amidst delightful Berwickshire countryside) and Eyemouth (an attractive fishing port on the Berwickshire coast).
Health and education are high up on many home owners list of priorities and the popular Borders General Hospital has a good central location in the region, just outside Melrose. The Borders has an excellent collection of primary and secondary schools, many of which have been renewed or upgraded in recent years. St Mary’s Preparatory School in Melrose is highly regarded and there is a good range of private schools in Edinburgh as well as at Longridge Towers near Berwick upon Tweed.
The Scottish Borders is an excellent place to live if you enjoy outdoor pursuits. The region is Scotland’s leading cycling destination with many of its towns having well marked cycling trails along its mainly quiet country roads. Longer trails include the Borderloop (250 miles circular trail around the region), the Tweed Cycle Route (95 mile linear route along the Tweed) and the Four Abbeys Cycle Ride (54 mile circular trail around the Regions 4 superb ruined Abbeys). There is world class mountain biking at Glentress and Innerleithen, along with a 7 Stanes mountain biking centre at Newcastleton and numerous other off road trails around the region.
The Borders is a tremendous walking area with most towns and villages having a selection of sign posted walks, and an annual festival of walking being held in the region. Long distance walks in the area include the Southern Uplands Way, St Cuthberts Way and the Berwickshire Coastal Path.
Most of the main Borders towns has a swimming pool and there are some superb wild swimming spots for those prepared to seek them out and take care! Other sports available include archery, pigeon shooting, canoeing, wind surfing, diving, sailing and surfing.
The Borders has some of the best golf courses in Scotland, including the Championship Roxburghe Golf Course near Kelso, and horse riding is available throughout the region. Fishing (each of sea, river and loch) is widely available.
The rugged Berwickshire coast has some fine beaches, rock pools, old fashioned bathing huts, sea water diving, surfing and kayaking on offer.
There is a national nature reserve administered by the National Trust for Scotland at St Abbs Head.
The Borders has a great range of houses including impressive country houses, former manses, former mill owner’s houses, charming country cottages, modern family homes and generally affordable town/ village houses and flats. Traquair House claims to be the oldest continually inhabited house in Scotland, Bowhill House is the family home of the Duke of Buccleuch, Mellerstain House is a particularly fine Adams mansion which is the home of the Haddington’s, Floors Castle is the home of the Duke of Roxburgh, Manderston House has an impressive silver plated staircase, Thirlestane Castle looks magical,Newstead is reputedly the oldest continually inhabited settlement in Scotland and Newcastleton is a planned village created by the Duke of Buccleuch.
The fact that Sir Walter Scot, one of the great British romantic writers, chose to live and work in the Scottish Borders is a great advertisement for the area. I, myself, chose to move to the Borders 30 years ago and have never regretted the decision.