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The Borders and the Southwest Travel Guide

Plan Your Borders and the Southwest Vacation

In the Borders region, south of Edinburgh, are more stately homes, fortified castles, and medieval abbeys than in any other part of Scotland. This is also Sir Walter Scott territory, including his pseudo-baronial home at Abbotsford. The area embraces the whole 90-mile course of one of Scotland's greatest rivers, the Tweed. Passing woodlands luxuriant with game birds, the river flows in rushing

torrents through this fertile land. To the west of the Borders is Dumfries and Galloway, a low-key area with gentle coastal and upland areas.

For centuries the Borders was a battlefield, where English and Scottish troops remained locked in a struggle for its possession. At different times, parts of the region have been in English hands, just as slices of northern England (Berwick-upon-Tweed, for example) have been in Scottish hands. The castles and fortified houses across the Borders are the surviving witnesses to those times. After the Union of 1707, fortified houses gradually gave way to the luxurious country mansions that pepper the area. And by the 19th century they had become grand country houses built by fashionable architects.

All the main routes between London and Edinburgh traverse the Borders, whose hinterland of undulating pastures, woods, and valleys is enclosed within three lonely groups of hills: the Cheviots, the Moorfoots, and the Lammermuirs. Hamlets and prosperous country towns dot the land, giving valley slopes a lived-in look, yet the total population is still sparse. The sheep that are the basis of the region’s prosperous textile industry outnumber human beings by 14 to 1.

To the west is the region of Dumfries and Galloway, on the shores of the Solway Firth. It might appear to be an extension of the Borders, but the southwest has a history all its own. From these ports ships sailed to the Americas, carrying country dwellers driven from their land to make room for the sheep that still roam the hills across southern Scotland. Inland, the earth rises toward high hills, forest, and bleak but captivating moorland, whereas nearer the coast you can find pretty farmlands, small villages, and unassuming towns. The shoreline is washed by the North Atlantic Drift (Scotland's answer to the Gulf Stream), and first-time visitors are always surprised to see palm trees and exotic plants thriving in gardens and parks along the coast.

At the heart of the region is Dumfries, the "Queen o’ the South." Once a major port and commercial center, its glamour is now slightly faded. But the memory of poet Robert Burns, who spent several years living and working here and who is buried in the town, burns as bright as ever.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Ancient abbeys The great abbeys of the Border regions, and the Whithorn Priory and the wonderful Sweetheart Abbey in the Southwest, are in ruins, but they retain hints of their former grandeur.
  2. Outdoor activities You can walk, bicycle, or even ride horses across Galloway or through the Borders. Abandoned railway tracks make good paths, and there are forests and moorlands if you prefer wilder country. Most towns have bike-rental shops.
  3. Stately homes and castles The landed aristocracy still lives in these grand mansions, and most of the homes are open to visitors. Try Floors Castle or the wonderful Traquair House in the east. Threave, Drumnlarig, and the magical Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries evoke grander times.
  4. Literary Scotland The Borders region has enough monuments dedicated to Sir Walter Scott that you could make him a theme of your visit. Abbotsford House, which he built for himself, is unmissable. The poet Robert Burns spent much of his working life in Dumfries.
  5. Shopping The sheep you see everywhere explain why so many locals became involved in textile production. Mill shops are abundant, and are well worth a visit for their wonderful woolens.

When To Go

When to Go

Because many lodgings and some sights are privately owned and shut down from early autumn until early April, the area is less suited to off...

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