I made a pact with myself a few years ago that I would explore more of this country I call home. So this October holidays, my little family went on our first self-catering holiday. As well as spending some quality time away together, we wanted to explore the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway – undiscovered territory for us. With a one year old, we were also keen to make it as easy as possible. How to holiday with a toddler? For me the answer is to go self-catering. Our short break consisted of two nights in the Borders and three in Dumfries and Galloway, involved a working farm, stunning coastal views, wildlife watching, lovely walks, two fantastic EmbraceScotland properties and the best bookshop I’ve been to. This is Part 1 of my southern Scotland self-catering holiday experience – the beautiful Borders.
We left Speyside on a Sunday morning, travelling through some spectacular autumnal scenery around Aviemore (stopping for coffee at the lovely Ralia Cafe, just off the A9) and into Perthshire (stretching our legs at the beautiful Atholl Estates and Blair Castle). After a third stop outside of Edinburgh, we crossed into Border-land in the early evening. The skies put on a welcoming display, throwing light in arrows upon the fields around us as we wound our way down towards Kelso. As my son slept, I kept my nose to the window pane like an impatient child.
The accommodation for our Borders experience was one of the very lovely Hendersyde Holiday Cottages, situated on a working farm in a tranquil area of the countryside outside of Kelso. (We couldn’t have stayed in a better place for my son who already has a deep love of tractors and all things farm-related). We were in Southsyde, the middle of three cottages enfolded in fields. The setting is ideal for those seeking somewhere quiet to unwind (yet still within easy reach of Kelso, one of a number of charming Border towns). On arrival, we were greeted by home-made rock-buns, a set laid out for a much-needed cup of tea and a vase of fresh flowers – and like these thoughtful touches, the cottage was homely and welcoming.
I could imagine in warmer weather sitting out in the garden, cradling a cup of tea and soaking up the view. I had to make do with standing at the sitting room window, watching a drowsy sunrise seep colour into a grey/blue sky as my son happily investigated a box of toys and books. We walked a little around the farmland before setting off for the day, enjoying the peacefulness of the country lanes in the early morning. And I thought how lovely it is to have country walks right on your doorstep (I only wish we’d had more time to explore the farmland).
We asked Sue Beck, owner of Hendersyde, for her recommendations of how to spend our ‘day in the Borders’ and she gave me not one, but five different itinerary suggestions. (Sue very helpfully gathers tourist brochures into sample itineraries). I wanted to get a taste of what the Borders has to offer during our brief visit and Sue’s suggestions gave us exactly that.
Thankfully the weather gods were smiling kindly on us – instead of the heavy rain that was forecast, we had a day that was mostly dry with the occasional shower. And it made the scenery even more atmospheric, with sheets of light rolled out in layers to our left as we headed out of Kelso towards Melrose. We detoured onto the B6404 and enjoyed views of Smailholm Tower, a rather stern looking watch-guard left to scour the surrounding countryside, and its neighbouring hills entangled in clouds.
I loved the pretty town of Melrose and enjoyed wandering around the town centre, admiring the immaculate shop fronts and white walls splashed with the bright red of hanging baskets. While my husband helped our son get in some walking practice, I explored the magnificent ruins of Melrose Abbey with an audio guide pressed to my ear (there is an admission fee but audio guides are free). The abbey was founded in 1136 and the grounds are said to contain the heart of Robert the Bruce. As a bit of a history geek, I love to add a historic attraction or two to a day’s sightseeing, and I was not disappointed by Melrose Abbey. Alone in the Abbey Church, I basked in what one information board described as the ‘architecture of solitude‘, the huge windows in front of me lit with shades of yellow, like autumnal stained glass.
For lunch we drove towards Ancrum on the A68 and stopped at the Birdhouse Tearoom, part of the Woodside Nursery and Walled Garden. Bird feeders are attached to two of the windows in the tearoom (if you want one of the tables beside these windows it is advised that you make a reservation), which delighted my son, the avid-birdwatcher, no end. As well as the lovely cafe, there is an RSPB wildlife garden tucked behind the nursery. We were thankful to have had Sue’s recommendation as we might not have found it otherwise – and this local knowledge is one of the things I love about self-catering.
Sue also suggested we visit nearby Harestanes Countryside Visitor Centre (open March to October), which is ideal for families with a fantastic outdoor play-park, cafe and games room. The arts centre is wonderful, with a huge array of different crafts from pottery to carpentry (take a peek at the quirky work area outside).
Completing our loop back to Kelso on the A698 we made a quick stop at the Teviot Water Gardens to explore its pretty hillside garden (brief only because the heavens opened just as we arrived). The trees and shrubbery of the garden protected us slightly from the rain as we walked down to meet the River Teviot rushing by (look out for a little Japanese-style pond half way down, with its sculptured heron and red bridge).
Kelso is another inviting Border town with an abbey to explore. Kelso Abbey, completed in 1212, is free to enter and has a beautiful renovated section, added in the 1930s. From the abbey, we walked towards the River Tweed and crossed the bridge for a view back towards the town centre and over to the spectacular Floors Castle. As a leisurely end to the day, we strolled around the centre, browsing the shops in the impressive town square.
The next day we said goodbye to our countryside retreat and headed to St Boswells (via a photo stop at Scott’s View) to visit The Mainstreet Trading Company. To travel onto Dumfries and Galloway we opted for the scenic route via Selkirk, winding along with the Yarrow Water and following the A708 past St Mary’s Loch. Even in showery weather it was a beautiful journey, with autumnal shades brightening the greyness of the day. To find out what stunning sight awaited us as we crossed over into Dumfries and Galloway, take a look at Part 2…
EmbraceScotland/ASSC Marketing Administrator Emma Gibb loves being a tourist at home and now, as a mother of one, is enjoying discovering more of ‘family friendly’ Scotland.