The Essential Guide to the Scottish Borders and Southwest
Although not a particularly popular region for travelers, the verdant Scottish Borders and its neighboring districts of Dumfries and Galloway have their own sublime appeal. There’s no shortage of history here, with several stately castles, mansions, and abbeys that date back to the 12th century when Catholicism was the state religion.
Abbotsford House, Melrose TD6 9BQ, UK
The former home of Scottish historical novelist Sir Walter Scott, Abbotsford contains a treasure trove of objects that the great 19th-century author collected during his eventful life. Having popularized tartan, saved the Scottish banknote, and rediscovered his country’s crown jewels, Scott ended up with a variety of unique mementos—from Mary Queen of Scot’s crucifix to Rob Roy’s hunting knife—that inspired his greatest poems and novels. Tour the house where he spent some of his most productive writing years, and take note of the arched entrance copied from Linlithgow Palace and the door from Edinburgh’s Old Tolbooth building incorporated into a side wall. Then walk through the Regency-style gardens, where you’ll find a greenhouse based on a medieval jousting tent. Also on-site is a visitor center that hosts rotating exhibitions as well as a permanent display on Sir Walter Scott, a gift shop, and a café serving tea, cakes, and snacks.
Abbey St, Melrose TD6 9LG, UK
The heart of Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots, is buried somewhere here, amid the magnificent ruins of Scotland’s first Cistercian monastery. Scholars believe Melrose Abbey dates back to the 7th century, though most of what remains today is about 500 to 600 years old. Being close to the border, it suffered at English hands during the Middle Ages. It was rebuilt in the 1380s, however, and used as an abbey until the Protestant Reformation of 1590. Today, visitors can admire the graceful architecture, take in the charming sculptures (look out for the famous bagpipe-playing Melrose pig); step inside the chapter house, where Robert the Bruce’s heart is supposedly buried; and tour the Commendator’s House Museum in the abbey cloister, which houses a rich collection of medieval objects.
Port Logan, Nr. Stranraer DG9 9ND, UK
Home to exotic plants from places as far-flung as South and Central America, Africa, and Australasia, Logan Botanic Garden is a beautiful place to wander and relax amid spectacular flora. Located on the southwestern tip of Scotland, the garden enjoys an almost subtropical climate, allowing plants like the towering, purple-flowered giant viper’s-bugloss—native to the Portuguese island of Madeira—to thrive. Plant lovers will be startled by the range of species that gardeners here coax into full-blossomed life, from palm trees and ferns to eucalyptus and the rhubarb-like gunnera. Stroll through the walled garden to see the fish pond adorned with water lilies, then head to the Logan Conservatory, an elegant, Victorian-style building that houses a variety of tender plants from South Africa.
Caerlaverock, Dumfries DG1 4RU, UK
Unique in its triangular shape, this red-sandstone castle is something of an unknown treasure. First attacked by England’s Edward I in 1300, Caerlaverock (pronounced kah-liver-ick) was repeatedly placed under siege and rebuilt over the centuries. Miraculously, the massive double tower, moat, ramparts, and interior palace all remain today, though in various states of ruination. On the grounds, a massive siege engine called a trebuchet indicates the awesome weapons that were once used to bombard the castle.
1 South Cres, Portpatrick, Stranraer DG9 8JR, UK
Located in the charming harbor town of Portpatrick, Campbell’s is the perfect combination of welcoming informality and smart professionalism—with views of pleasure crafts and fishing boats, to boot. The best dishes highlight the fruits of the sea, whether it’s grilled langoustines or poached halibut, but also worth trying are the Thai green curry, the surf-and-turf with Galloway beef, and desserts like chocolate marquise and crème brûlée. Most ingredients come from the nearby coastline and surrounding farms, and bread is made daily on the premises. There’s also a decent wine list for pairing with your meal. Designed to mimic the seaside, the dining room is done up in shades of green, blue, and gold, with fresh flowers, candles, elegant glassware, and rustic cutlery lending the restaurant a homey yet elegant feel.