For a great day of exploring in the Scottish Borders take the train to Tweedbank and join the cycle path right at the station. It only takes 8 miles of cycling to see an abbey, an enormous statue of William Wallace, an outdoor sculpture and one of Scotland's finest views.
The Borders Railway makes it easy to visit the Scottish Borders. The last stop on the line, Tweedbank (around 55 minutes from Edinburgh), has a cycle path at the station. This will take you on a mostly traffic-free journey to the attractions highlighted on this blog.
After 1.75 miles you will arrive in Melrose, one of Scotland's most charming towns. Read my blog about Melrose for ideas of things to see and do in the town.
Just after Melrose the route takes you onto a road that is closed to vehicle traffic. This involves a steep climb, but this is followed by a smile-inducing descent. After passing through Newtown St. Boswells the route requires a crossing of the busy A68, but this is a simple case of pushing the bike over to the large island in the middle of the road and then pushing it over to the other side. This will set you off on a minor road that descends towards the River Tweed.
Dryburgh Suspension Bridge
Here you will find a suspension bridge, built by the Earl of Buchan. In fact, this Earl had a hand in most of the things that you will see on this journey. There is something exciting about crossing a bridge on a bicycle- the river views being seen from an elevated position and the fact that you can easily stop in the middle and watch the water flowing beneath you. This bridge has a walkway of worn planks that shoogle as bicycle tyres pass over them.
Temple of the Muses
On the other side of the bridge you will notice a round Greek-looking structure on top of a hillock, among woods. This is the Temple of the Muses. It can be reached by following the cycle path around the corner where you will find a gate and a short path up to the temple.
The temple was built by the 11th Earl of Buchan to honour the Scottish Borders poet, James Thomson. Thomson lived in the 18th century and famously penned the lyrics to 'Rule, Britannia!' The bust on the top of the temple is Thomson.
Inside the temple there is a sculpture of bronze figures, representing the Four Seasons which was a series of poems by Thomson. The sculpture was installed in 2002- prior to this there had been a statue of Apollo with 9 muses that went missing.
The naked figures are clasping each other in a supportive embrace. All have different facial expressions. I was fascinated by the face with the eyes closed and head looking down, clearly deep in thought. What is she thinking?
This is simply a lovely spot to spend a bit of time. The bridge, the temple, the sound of the river- it is perfect. In the Springtime there are clumps of snowdrops to add a touch of panache to the woods around the temple.
Just a two minute cycle will bring you to the next attraction on this tour. It is a classic ruin in the countryside, like something from one of those romanticised 19th century paintings.
The abbey is renowned as the burial place of Walter Scott, one of Scotland's most famous novelists. Earl Haig, the commander of British forces for part of the First World War, is also buried here.
Although the abbey is a ruin there is a lot that has survived. The immense size of the windows and doorways is awe-inspiring and the quality of the stone carving incredible.
I put my hand on the stone. It felt sturdy and strong and must have taken some effort to destroy. Successive attacks by English armies left Dryburgh in its present state. It was burned down in 1322, then re-built, then smashed up again in 1385, re-built again, and destroyed a final time in 1544.
The same Earl of Buchan who built the Temple of the Muses acquired the ruins in 1786 and took them into his care. He saw himself as a champion of Scotland's heritage and worked to preserve what was left of the building. He is also buried here.
The site is incredibly peaceful and gives a good impression of a canon's life of devotion and tranquility. Visit on a weekday in spring and there will be few other visitors. There will be birdsong and daffodils to brighten your walk.
The Chapter House is one of the best preserved parts of the building as it still has a roof and walls. Inside there was Gregorian chant music on a sound system and I took a seat to listen and imagine the life of a canon. They took a vow of silence and had to pray eight times a day, even in the early hours of the morning. If they looked sleepy an official would shine a lantern in their face. The canons had piss-pots under their robes so that they could relieve themselves without interrupting their duties.
Coffee at Dryburgh Abbey Hotel
Next to the abbey there is a baronial hotel. It must be a fine place to stay with its large bay windows, riverside location and garden walks, but I came for the coffee. There are lounges with sofas and armchairs that make for a relaxing cappuccino destination. The woods next to the hotel are thick with snowdrops in the spring.
Gigantic William Wallace
Do you want the good news or the bad news?
Good news is that the next item on this tour is only 5 minutes away. The bad news is that it is mostly uphill. However, it is worth it to see the incredible William Wallace statue; the very first Wallace statue in Scotland.
On leaving Dryburgh you will pass this pretty ensemble of a red telephone box, red post box and stone cottage:
Wallace is one of the most famous figures in Scotland's history, largely as a result of the 1995 Mel Gibson film. The same Earl of Buchan who built the temple and the bridge was also a big fan of Wallace and he commissioned the statue.
Leave the bike in the car park (there are racks) and take the 5 minute walk through the woods.
I was taken aback by how big this statue is. It looms up from the woods. This Wallace has a kilt and legs with bulging muscles. He carries a shield with a Saint Andrew's cross and his sword is as long as he is tall. I am sure the intention is heroic, but I think the curly beard and piercing eyes make it appear somewhat cartoonish.
1.2 miles of cycling from the Wallace statue will take you to one of Scotland's most beautiful view points. Scott's view is named after literary giant Sir Walter Scott- this was one of his favourite places in the Scottish Borders.
The view encapsulates all that is beautiful about this part of the Scottish Borders. A valley of trees, fields and river that rises to the three peaks of the Eildon Hills.
It is easy to see why Walter Scott loved it here. In fact, he came here so often that his horses knew to stop without being asked to.
The cycle is uphill with the final stretch on a twisty road. The view is already magnificent even before you reach the top, so you will be tempted to stop numerous times to take it all in. Once at the top you will find a lay-by so that cars can stop. There are benches for those who would like to sit for a while.
Every time that I come to this view I have to pinch myself that it really is this easy to reach from Edinburgh, using the train and a bicycle.
Scott's View features in my video about cycling in the Scottish Borders:
For more ideas of places to visit and cycle routes in the Scottish Borders visit my Scottish Borders page
When you're planning your next break in the UK, booking a luxury holiday cottage will ensure that you have the blissful, relaxing holiday you deserve. The UK boasts hundreds of these self catering properties, and from plush renovated cottages to cosy traditional country cottages, there's something for everyone. Whether it's a romantic trip for two or a family holiday with the little ones, a cottage allows you to have your own space away from the hustle and bustle that you might expect with a hotel. So without further ado, here's our list of the most luxurious holiday cottages in the UK:
1. Darley House in Derbyshire
A beautiful Georgian house on the edge of the Peak District National Park, Darley House is a tranquil and comfortable house where you can escape from all your work and home stresses and really relax. You can enjoy the peaceful gardens and surroundings created by former owner Sir Joseph Paxton (designer of the Crystal Palace). Soak up the luxury and history of the recently renovated property which combines all the modern comforts with the beautiful period decor to create a fantastic atmosphere.
2. Tredington Mill in Warwickshire
It's not often you can stay in a historic converted mill on its own island, with a stunning view overlooking the river. There are 2 cottages at Tredington Mill, each offering 4 cosy bedrooms. You'll feel like you've arrived at an idyllic, magical spot away from all the hustle and bustle of daily life. The original features like exposed beams and large mill windows transport you back in time and the garden and courtyard overlooking the mill pond is the perfect spot for al fresco dining. You could even do a spot of fishing!
3. Higher Scholes Cottage in Keighley
With spectacular views over the moors, a luxury hot tub, log fires and four posters, Higher Scholes is the perfect place for a romantic break for two. There's no end to the finishing touches which really make this cottage a paradise to stay in, from heated floors to fresh flowers all around the house and complimentary wine, fruit and biscuits to indulge in when you arrive. Whether you're here for a honeymoon, a holiday to mark an anniversary or just a chance to escape from the world for a few days, you'll have an unforgettable experience at Higher Scholes Cottage.
4. Oak Barn at Old North Chew Farm, Bristol
This beautiful barn conversion boasting traditional oak framing is a great choice for larger groups, sleeping up to 16 guests. You can socialise in the large private country garden, relax around the log fire or chill out in the games room. Set in picturesque countryside, there are plenty of walking routes and great local pubs nearby or you could explore the historic cities of Bristol and Bath, just a short distance away.
5. Tamar in Portmellon, Cornwall
This darling cottage with spectacular sea views is a cosy retreat for a couple or a family. Vintage leather sofas invite you to relax in the open plan living space with views over the Portmellon beach and cove, whilst the quiet reading nook is the perfect place to curl up with a book. The kids will be delighted with the great games room, stocked with PS4, flat screen TV and airplane reclining seats!
Mainstreet Trading, located in the village of St. Boswells in the Scottish Borders, is a magical place to visit. Not only is it one of the best bookshops in the country it also has a cafe, deli shop and homewares shop. This place is so good that it is worth making a special journey just to come here. The Borders Railway makes this a straightforward day trip from Edinburgh.
The Borders Railway, Scotland's newest railway line, makes it easy to visit Mainstreet Trading. The last stop on the line, Tweedbank (around 55 minutes from Edinburgh) is directly opposite a cycle path that takes you 1.75 miles to Melrose and then around 4 miles to St. Boswells. All that you have to do is follow the blue cycle route signs.
Melrose is one of Scotland's best towns with plenty to see and do and a great selection of independent shops. Read my blog about Melrose to find out more.
Cycling on a Closed Road
The sweetest part of the cycle route occurs just after Melrose where you pedal onto a road that is closed to vehicle traffic. At some point in time this road was given over to the cycle network and gates installed at either end. The white lines are faded and the cats eyes have weeds growing out of them. On a autumn day, with leaves blowing around and the verges overgrown with trees and bushes, there is something post-apocalyptic about this road.
The road features a tough uphill, but it is worth it for the fast descent waiting at the other end. There is also a fantastic viewpoint overlooking the countryside and hills.
Lookout for the Shetland ponies in one of the fields alongside the road. I saw a woman taking one for a walk- she had a West Highland Terrier on one lead and the Shetland pony on another lead.
After the closed road the route takes you through Newtown St Boswells and down to the A68. This is the point where you must deviate from the cycle route- it crosses the A68 to access quieter roads in the direction of Dryburgh Abbey, but you need to turn right and travel on the A68 for 1 mile to get to Mainstreet Trading.
The A68 is a busy road, so I used the pavement. I have done this a couple of times and have never met a pedestrian. The road is just far too narrow and fast to risk cycling it.
It will come as no surprise that The Mainstreet Trading Company is located on Main Street in St. Boswells. It is a long building with an archway that leads through to a yard, which is a good place to park the bike.
You will also notice the Mainstreet Trading van, a classic Citroen, that gets used to travel to schools. They have an ambition that every child in the Borders will be able to meet a Scottish children's author when the van comes to visit their school.
The building was originally a general store that pretty much sold everything. Supermarkets killed it in the 1970s and it was then used as an auction house prior to its current life as a bookshop.
I felt so excited about exploring this place because I had heard such good things about it. It exceeded my expectations. For someone who loves books and coffee this is a dream place to spend a few hours. They have over 7000 titles in stock and you can browse them whilst the smell of coffee tickles your nostrils.
I overheard a woman say to her companion, "It's got all the books you heard about and wanted to read." The range of books and the way that they are presented is inspiring.
The stripped wooden floor adds to the joy of walking around and browsing the books. You are encouraged to fill out a card with the name of the book that started your reading habit and post it on a wall where others have done the same.
At the cafe the cakes are displayed enticingly in a glass case with the name of the cake written on the glass. I took a slice of the chocolate vanilla layer cake and ordered the courgette soup with lemon which arrived with basil leaves and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar on the top. It was all delicious, exceptional quality food.
On the other side of the yard at the rear of the bookshop you will find the building that houses the deli and homewares department.
There is an irresistible selection of specialty foods, like olives, meats and cheeses. There is also a good selection of local produce, including beers from the Born in the Borders brewery.
The homeware department focuses on unusual independent suppliers and there is a good selection of quality stationery, cards and notebooks.
Don't just take my word for how good this place is. Mainstreet has won several awards, including Deli of the Year, Independent Bookseller of the Year, Children's Bookseller of the Year and Scottish Independent Bookshop of the Year.
It is worth having a little walk around St. Boswells for the idyllic cottages and well tended gardens. There is also a wonderful old fashioned fishing and hunting store called the Borders Gunroom.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.