A walk on the Borders Abbeys Way
Paul Boobyer takes a fascinating tour of Scotland’s ruined Borders abbeys: four ravaged Gothic masterpieces that sat on the front line in a series of devastating wars that lasted nearly 400 years.
Introducing the Borders Abbeys Way
The Borders Abbeys Way links four of Britain’s grandest ruined medieval abbeys in the enchanting landscape of the central Scottish Borders. The route is a well waymarked, 68-mile (109km) circuit and is one of Scotland’s Great Trails. The variety of terrain and views along the Way will delight even the most seasoned walkers.
The route is normally completed in six days, during which the average distance walked per day is 11.3 miles. This allows ample time to explore the abbeys and other historic sites studded along the way, and to enjoy the pleasant towns of Melrose, Kelso, Jedburgh and Hawick and the villages of Denholm and Newtown Saint Boswells. Most of the route is on footpaths and tracks. Road walking, when required, is along quiet roads.
The abbeys and other historical sites encountered along the route tell the tale of a series of conflicts between the kingdoms of England and Scotland that took place between the mid 12th and early 17th centuries; a time when the Borders region was a dangerous and lawless frontier. The repeated vandalism and eventual destruction of the abbeys, the construction of fortified tower houses and the marauding militias known as reivers, were a product of this turbulent socio-political milieu. A walk on the Borders Abbeys Way will connect you with this fascinating period of history; indeed, some of the paths on the Way are the very same routes that monks and abbey staff used to travel between the Borders abbeys, and no doubt were also used by the notorious reivers.
The Way comprises paths alongside the Tweed and Teviot rivers, forest tracks, historic drove roads and disused railway lines, and traverses farmland and open hills. Most of the route is off-road, although there are some stretches walking on quiet, minor roads. The gradients are mostly gentle, and the altitude is never more than 338 metres, yet the views are frequently impressive.
The route can be undertaken at any time of year and can be reached within an hour by rail from the centre of Edinburgh. By bus it is just over an hour from Berwick-upon-Tweed, an hour and a half from Carlisle, and three hours from Newcastle. Frequent local buses connect each town along the Way.
Getting to and from the Borders Abbeys Way
Tweedbank railway station is 600 metres from the official Borders Abbeys Way route. Galashiels Transport Interchange is the main transport hub for the area and is one stop from Tweedbank on the railway line. The Interchange is well served by long-distance and local buses and the Borders Railway.
Are there decent facilities and luggage transfer services available on the Way?
Yes, in each town and village along the route there is a choice of good-quality accommodation, restaurants and cafés. Each stage begins and ends at a town or village and luggage transfer services are available. There are regular bus links between the settlements on each stage of the route so it’s easy to plan stand-alone day walks, returning to the point of departure, as an alternative to a complete circuit.
STAGE 1 - Tweedbank to Newtown St Boswells via Melrose
The first stage of the Borders Abbeys Way starts near Tweedbank railway terminus and continues to Newtown St Boswells via the popular and scenic town of Melrose. Melrose Abbey is undoubtedly the main attraction at Melrose, but there is also an interesting museum containing artefacts excavated from Trimontium Roman fort at nearby Newstead. The route is relatively flat and there are some pleasant views of the River Tweed. The section from Newstead to Newtown St Boswells is ,mostly on a road closed to public traffic. Alternative options to overnighting in Newtown St Boswells are either Melrose on Stage 1, Dryburgh Abbey Hotel or a B&B near Clintmains (Clint Lodge), both on Stage 2; or St Boswells (0.9 miles (1.5km)) off the Borders Abbeys Way.
STAGE 2 - Newtown St Boswells to Kelso
After leaving Newtown St Boswells, Stage 2 passes through a wooded glen adjacent to the River Tweed, which has been identified as an ancient semi-natural woodland site by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). The Way then crosses a footbridge to Dryburgh Abbey and continues to Kelso via the hamlet of Clintmains (B&B available) on minor roads, farm tracks and riverside paths. This is the longest stage of the Way, but it is relatively flat. Most of the road walking occurs after Clintmains. A bus can be caught to Kelso (service 67, Borders Buses) from a bus stop at the junction of Clintmains road end and the B6404 if you’d rather avoid the Clintmains to Kelso section. Buses are approximately every two hours.
STAGE 3 - Kelso to Jedburgh
This stage of the route follows the course of the River Teviot and then Jed Water to Jedburgh. The route passes the remains of Roxburgh Castle, once one of the most important fortifications in southern Scotland, and through the hamlet of Roxburgh (no facilities available). This stage is relatively flat and includes a pleasant mix of riverside paths, a section of former railway and a short section of Dere Street, a Roman road that once connected York with Scotland. There are some impressive views of the undulating central Borders countryside and the approach into Jedburgh passes below some picturesque sandstone cliffs.
STAGE 4 - Jedburgh to Hawick
The route climbs steeply after leaving Jedburgh, then climbs at a gentler gradient before another steeper climb to the southern flank of Black Law (338m). On a clear day the panoramic views from the summit of Black Law – a short distance uphill from the Way – are a just reward for the short diversion. Although it is waymarked, the path on Black Law is indistinct in places and may be difficult to follow in fog. From Black Law the Way leads to the picturesque village of Denholm, ideally placed for lunch halfway between Jedburgh and Hawick. There are also B&Bs available. From Denholm the Way follows the northern bank of the River Teviot upriver to Hawick, the largest town on the Borders Abbey Way. The section from Denholm to Hawick is flat.
STAGE 5 - Hawick to Selkirk
Leaving Hawick, the Way ascends steeply out of the town on a minor road before levelling to more gently undulating terrain grazed by livestock, with impressive views to the east. The route then skirts the edge of Drinkstone Hill and passes through a relatively large conifer plantation (Ashkirk Forest) and Woll Golf Course, before joining a minor road and ascending to Bishop’s Stone (337m), the highest point on the Borders Abbeys Way, and through a landscape of rushes, sedges and moor grass redolent of the Southern Uplands further west. The route then descends through Hartwoodmyres Forest and traverses farmland before entering The Haining, a neglected country estate on the edge of Selkirk. This stage ends at Market Place in the village centre. Selkirk has a remote feel and is a gateway to the bleak but enchanting Southern Uplands, accessed by the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys to the west.
STAGE 6 - Selkirk to Tweedbank
This beginning of this stage of the route provides some striking views to the north. The Way ascends gently from Selkirk town to Selkirk Hill, a haven for a variety of birds and plants, then continues through farmland, making use of an old drove road, before descending at a gentle gradient to skirt Cauldshiels Loch and pass Abbotsford House, the grand former residence of Sir Walter Scott. If time allows, a visit to the house and grounds is recommended. The house contains a unique array of Scottish artefacts collected by Scott. The Way then follows the banks of the Tweed downriver to Tweedbank. This final stage of the Way finishes 600 metres from Tweedbank railway terminus.
The Borders Abbeys Way
The abbeys of Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders
Guidebook to the Borders Abbeys Way, a 68 mile circuit in the Scottish Borders, taking in 4 of Britain's grandest ruined medieval abbeys. Beginning and ending in Tweedbank, the route, which is described over 6 stages, is as rich in history as it is in pastoral charm. Relatively flat, it is suitable for people with a moderate level of fitness.More information
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