Discover Scotlands Borderlands

Discover Scotland’s Borderlands… Something most US tourists miss

Do you like many tourists think of Edinburgh when you think of Scotland?

Scotland borderlands
Welcome to Scotland

Maybe a quick stop on a multi-city tour.  But there is so much more to see, experience and explore in Scotland.  Like discovering the borderlands. Head south an hour outside Edinburgh, and discover castles, abbeys, and quaint towns.  Rich in history, beauty, adventure, and opportunities.

This is a tour you can easily do in five days with no rush.  If you like biking, hiking, and the outdoor life, be sure to add extra days in the Tweed Valley. For “high-octane”  adventure, you’ll need more time.

It’s only 21.9 miles between Peebles and Selkirk so you have lots of choices of a place to stay.  You’ll find accommodations that range from castles, hotels, guest inns, bed-and-breakfast, to bunkhouses, camping, and self-catering.

There is a lot to see in a small area. Pick a town as a home base. Or tour and stay over in multiple spots to get a sense of life in the very different communities.

As in all of Scotland, the weather can change quickly.  It’s always good to have a raincoat and good walking shoes.

Venues generally close before dark for guest safety.  Since they depend on natural light, winter hours are shorter.  In very inclement weather, there can be surprise closures.  It’s good to do a last minute check.

Edinburgh – Tweed Valley

Scottish borderlands
Tweed Valley Scottish borderlands

From Edinburgh take the A703 to its junction with the A72 and head toward Peebles.  You are driving through the stunning Tweed Valley. It’s one of the most popular places in the borderlands. Prized for its natural beauty and outdoor activities of every imaginable type.

An hour 15 minutes down the road you come to the little town of Galashiels.

Just outside of town is Abbotsford, the home of writer Sir Walter Scott.  The

Abbotsford in Scottish borderlands
Abbotsford photo courtesy

striking hills, valleys, and history of the area were a great inspiration to him. Tours of the house and gardens are available March to November, but the gift shop and restaurant are open year round.

Galashiels was a textile town. It has a more modern post-industrial feel to it. There is still a textile making school here. Famous for its sheep, wool was readily available and the fast-flowing Tweed River powered the mills.

Selkirk is less than 7 minutes down the road.  Here you can visit Bowhill House and Country Estate, and two glass studios.  Lindean Mill Glass and Twist Glass Studio will both amaze and tempt you to buy.

From this area of the lowlands came a grace that Robert Burns popularized as the Selkirk Grace.  A two-line prayer often recited before eating.

Melrose, about 5 miles from Galashiels, offers the historic charm of a border market town.  It’s full of history well worth exploring. Melrose is 14.6 miles, about 27 minutes west of Kelso.

Explore Melrose – Kelso

You could easily spend two days in this area of the borderlands.  There is a lot to see and do.  Be sure to take your camera as there are lots of photo opportunities.

Melrose Abbey

This is a must-see.  One of the most famous ruins in Scotland. Founded by

Melrose Abbey in borderlands
Melrose Abbey

David I, in 1136 for the order of the Cistercian.  Melrose suffered damage at the hands of the English during the middle ages. In the 1380s, rebuilding took place. After the last monk passed away in 1590 it fell into disuse.

The abbey is open year round, but October through March the hours are shortened. The Commendator’s House Museum has a diverse collection of medieval objects.

Three Hills Roman Heritage Center

The Romans arrived in the Melrose area in 79-80AD.  They built a major fort called Trimontium, ‘Place of the Three Hills’. The Three Hills Roman Heritage Center houses a museum dedicated to Roman life in Scotland.

The name Three Hills refers to the distinctive three-peaked hill, also called Elidon, just south of the town of Melrose.   One of the highest and most distinctive geographical features in the borderlands, it was a natural location for an outlook or signal station. The military base would have been along the Roman army road that ran through the valley near the Tweed River.

Dryburgh Abbey

This abbey is nearby in St. Boswells.  Established in 1150 you’ll find well-

Dryburgh Abbey borderlands
Dryburgh Abbey

preserved ruins.  They rank among the most beautiful in Scotland.  It survived three fires and is the final resting place for both David Eskrine, 11th Earl of Buchan in 1829, and three years later his friend Sir Walter Scott.  The abbey is open to visitors year around.  It’s easy to access… flat with no steps.

Kelso Abbey

Located in Kelso you’ll find the remains of the abbey founded in the twelfth

Kelso Abbey borderlands scotland
Kelso Abbey

century.   The ruins are a testimony to one of the greatest architectural achievements in historic Scotland. It was one of the largest and most affluent of the abbeys in Scotland. The area is so pretty, it has attracted artists since the 1600s.

Scott’s View

This high point was an inspiration to Sir Walter Scott. Located off the

Scotts View borderlands of Scotland
Scotts View Elidon Hills in the distance

narrow B6404 that runs between Kelso and St. Boswells it offers commanding views of the Three Hills and the Tweed Valley.  A bench and marker commemorate where Scott liked to contemplate.  On our tour, we stopped past Scott’s View on our way to find Smailholm Tower.

Smailholm Tower

This is a classical borderland tower house.  Four stories tall  (65 feet), and

Smailholm in Scottish borderlands
Smailholm Castle

built on a rocky crag called Lady Hill its address is Sandyknowe Farm. This reflects its location adjacent to a local farm on the narrow B-road.

It’s a gem of a find.  To get there park in the small carpark and hike up the hill.  The ground is rocky and uneven. Not recommended for those with physical challenges.

Amazing views reward your hike.  Inside the hall, there is a model of the Pringle residence and a collection of garments and tapestries from Sir Walter Scott’s time.  Scott’s grandparents brought him to the area when they stayed at Sandyknowe Farm.

Floors Castle

Located just outside of Kelso, the 1st Duke of Roxburghe built Floors in 1721.

Floors Castle in Scottish borderlands
Floors Castle

It is more a country estate than a defensive fortification.  Offering tours for over 40 years, this huge castle is still an inhabited family home.  There have been many modifications over the years as families suited it to their needs.

If you have the family names of Ker, Kerr, Car, or Carr in your ancestry, you’ll enjoy researching in this area.  Both lines of the family were in high power positions as lords of the middle marshes and favorites of King James VI.

Cessford Castle

You’ll find Cessford just over 11 miles south and slightly east of Floors.  It

Cessford Castle Scottish Borderlands
Cessford Castle

was the stronghold of the Ker family during the 16th and 17th century.  The area was in constant turmoil for 200 years. But the Kers exercised considerable power and extended their prosperity.

Built in about 1450 this is a tower house fortification.  It sits high on a hill with commanding views that made it very defensible.  Cessford is located just outside of the town of Cessford.  Last inhabited in 1650 it fell into ruin.  Standing on this windswept hillside, it’s a cold lonely place that triggers the imagination of life in times gone by.

Roxburgh Castle

Also near Kelso, you can find the ruins of Roxburgh Castle.  Sitting next to

Roxburgh Castle Scottish Borderlands
Roxburgh Castle rendering courtesy Pinterest

the A699 it’s easy to find.  There is a pull off where you can park and hike to the ruins.  Wear good footwear, the ground is uneven.  Little stonework remains but the site is impressive.

Built by King David I in 1125, it stood guard protecting the burg of Roxburgh.  The location overlooked the river Tweed, a valuable method of transporting goods.

In its day, it was as important as Edinburgh or Sterling are today.  The rivers Tweed and Teviot ran closer to it than they do today, protecting the castle with water-filled defenses on all sides.

Besieged numerous times for its powerful vantage point, it shifted back and forth between English and Scottish ownership for nearly 300 years. Finally,  abandoned, 1551 saw it demolished to prevent further military use.

Look northwest across the Tweed and you can see Floors Castle in the distance.


Jedburgh sits 12 miles southwest of Kelso, about a twenty-minute drive.  It makes a great day-trip or a quaint place to stay.  This market town was home to the Kerr Clan. The family castle, Fernihurst, is located just outside of town.  The village name comes from its location on the river Jed. Only about 10 miles from the English border, it is the heart of the borderlands.

Jedburgh Castle

King David I built the original castle before 1174.  In the late 12th century,

Jedburgh Castle Jail Scottish borderlands
Jedburgh Castle Jail & Museum courtesy Trip Advisor

Jedburgh along with four other castles was ceded to the English.  An occasional royal residence for Scots, the English recaptured it many times. Finally, Scots demolished it in 1409.  In the 19th century, rebuilding occurred. It opened as a prison in 1823.  Today it is a museum. It gives you insights into being a resident in the jail… as well as a glimpse of the area history.  Free admission.

Jedburgh Abbey

The abbey founded in the 12th century was home to Augustinian monks.  It is

Jedburgh Abbey Scottish borderlands
Jedburgh Abbey

one of four great abbeys built at this time.  You’ll find it exceptionally preserved. Good access to the abbey, its cloister, and domestic buildings.  The blend of Romanesque and early Gothic is intriguing.  The abbey is open year round, but the hours are shorter in the winter.

Mary Queen of Scotts Center

The Kerr family rented this home to Mary when she toured the area on

Mary Queen of Scotts borderlands
Mary Queen of Scotts Center

business.  She stayed a month in the autumn of 1566 and as queen, dispensed justice.  Today, a visitor’s center, the home gives you insights of her life and times.  It is one of the largest collections of pictures and objects about the queen.

Many Kerr were left-handed. When they built this home, they included a left-handed stairway. It’s on the second floor. The stairway offered left-handed defenders a decided advantage over right-handers trying to attack them.

You can also walk in the enclosed garden and wander in the town.  Free

Jedburgh borderlands Scotland
Left-handed stairs, Mary Queen of Scotts Center

admission.  It is open to the public March 1st through the end of November.

Fernihurst Castle

Tucked on a hill two miles south of Jedburgh is Fernihurst Castle, the seat of

Fernihurst Scottish borderlands
Fernihurst Castle

Clan Kerr.  Privately owned, it allows the public access during the month of July.  This coincides with the Jedburgh Summer Festival.

During this two-week-long festival, there are lots of activities to celebrate and commemorate the taking back of Fernihurst from the English in 1549.  The festival tops off with a 200 man mounted cavalcade. They ride from Jedburgh to Fernihurst castle. There a commemorative service is performed.

Nestled among trees, Fernihurst has commanding views of the surrounding countryside and village.

Fernihurst represents one of the best-preserved castles of its period. Originally a tower fortification built in 1476. James VI mostly demolished it in 1593 as punishment for helping the English.

Sir Andrew Kerr rebuilt it in 1598. The family occupied the home for 200 years.  Starting in the 1980s the Laird hired local craftsmen, using local materials. to undertake restoration.

Occasionally, a private tour is available. The amazing curator Bob Larson is extremely knowledgeable.  He also responds to family and genealogy inquiries from Kerrs/Carrs worldwide.

Waterloo Monument

From Jedburgh, you are only 6.2 miles, about 15 minutes to the Waterloo

Waterloo Monument Scottish borders
Waterloo Monument courtesy Explore the Borders

Monument. It’s accessible via a car park at the Harestanes Visitor Centre.  It’s accessible from the B6400 or A68.  The marked path sits on private land. The hike is steep in places. It’s best on a good weather day.

The views are fabulous.  The monument soars 150 feet tall.  Constructed in 1817-1824 it commemorates the battle of Waterloo.

They keep the tower locked. For a small fee, you rent a key that allows you access inside. You’ll find a circular stair that takes you clear to the top.  I didn’t do this hike but there heard of key issues. Key access is not available daily. Some reviewers reported faulty keys.

If you like a good hike and want spectacular views, this is a must do.

Return to Edinburgh

From Jedburgh, you are less than two hours to Edinburgh.  From the Waterloo Monument about 75 minutes. Both routes travel the A68.   Easy access to return to the city.

Create your own tour?

If you need help creating your own custom tour, please contact me:  My husband is English and knows all the insider places.  We both love exploring the British Isles and help you create your memorable experience.

Wales Coastal Tour explore beauty and history

Wales… Rugged Beauty Oozing withCastles on Wales coastal tour


Wales Coastal Tour day by day…


A coastal tour of Wales gives you a good sense of the beauty of the place and its people. The Welsh are fiercely independent.  Their rugged mountainous landscape helped isolate and protect them from English rulers for hundreds of years.  Today, though long a part of the United Kingdom, they maintain their unique culture.

Every signpost is written both in English and in Welsh. Welsh are bi-lingual with both languages taught in school.  You’ll have no trouble chatting with shopkeepers or mingling with the natives.  But you’re likely to hear this Celtic language spoken by the locals.

Do keep in mind… YOU are the one with an accent. Take your time and slow down just a little so they have a chance to understand you.  I have found this trick works well over all the UK.

At every turn, you know this place is Wales coastline


The coastline is spectacular.  There are over 100 castles still standing. You can also visit some of the many standing stones/ burial sites. There are 29 listed on the national heritage website.  Some are easily accessible.  Others take a bit more work to get to.

If you’ve got a week… or two or three, it’s a great country to explore.  I recommend starting with the coastline as it’s more easily accessible.  There are lots of great B&B’s, Inns… even castles where you can stay.

You could probably do a coastal tour in five/six days if you are pinched for time.  Having toured these roads I recommend at least 8, plus a travel day to get from the US to Cardiff and then an additional travel day from Manchester back home.  You could easily extend it to two weeks or more and explore the in-lands more extensively.

Or, if you want to make a loop, that too is possible and I’ll show you how.  You could also reverse the trip and fly into Manchester and finish in Cardiff.  Fly home from Cardiff, or train to London.

To Wales Day 1:  Depart US for Cardiff

British Airways flies from numerous US cities into Cardiff.  If you choose another airline and fly to London, you can take the train from there to Cardiff.  This will avoid driving in London traffic… something even the locals avoid.

Wales Day 2: Explore Cardiff

Cardiff Castle Wales coast tour
Cardiff Castle

Since you’ll probably be jet-lagged, take the day and relax. Explore Cardiff.  You’ll find multiple museums,  gothic Cardiff Castle and a revitalized, and thriving waterfront.  Fabulous shopping, restaurants, and entertainment will keep you more than busy.  Here’s a great link for 24 hours in Cardiff:

Wales Coastal Tour Day 3: Cardiff to St. Davids

Round up your car and time to head west.  Today you’ll drive 111 miles from Cardiff to St. Davids. The trip only takes about 2-1/2 hours so you have time to detour and explore if you wish.  St Davids is the final resting place for Wales Patron Saint.  It is Britain’s smallest city.  Nestled in picturesque Pembrokeshire, next to the River Alun it is compact and easily walkable.  St David’s is rich in history. The cathedral and monastery… old and new are fascinating.  The area is blessed with stunning coastlines and opportunities for hiking and camping.

wales coastal tour st davids
Bishops palace with cathedral in background

You’ll find numerous Inns and diverse properties to choose from. Want budget friendly? You can find hostels. But as I’ve gotten older, those have less appeal. I want memorable experiences.

castle escape

If you want a quiet escape, consider the exquisite  10th Century Roch Castle. Castle on the outside. Totally renovated inside. It’s rated the best luxury hotel in Wales.

Roch Castle Wales Coastal Tour
Roch Castle

It’s in a tiny hamlet on the way from Cardiff to St. Davids.  But it’s an experience of a lifetime: Built on a hill the views from the upper levels extend for miles and are mind-boggling. You can even see to the sea on the south.

Roch Castle has two sister properties located in St. Davids, Twr Y Fellin, and Penrhiw.  Twr Y Fellin has a lovely restaurant and should you wish, they will transport you from Roch Castle into town and back home again.  Just make the arrangements in advance.

Wales Coastal Tour Day 4: St. Davids to Pentre Ifan

Pentre Ifan Wales Coastal Tour
Pentre Ifan

and then Barmouth.

It’s about a 3.25-hour drive from St. Davids to Barmouth.  With lots of quaint towns and stunning coastal views, it’s an easy way to spend the day.

But if you want to see standing stones, there is an amazing one called Pentre Ifan a short detour off the main road.  Traveling up the A487 and then taking the shortest side road it’s about 26 miles from St. Davids.  (Google map it so you have an idea where you’re headed.)

Pentre Ifan

It’s located up on the hills off a narrow road.  There is a place at the side of the road to pull off then follow the path adjacent to the cow pastures to the site. It’s from the Neolithic age. You can see for miles across the hills of Wales.  You can feel the power in the place. Lofty, commanding. In the distance, you can see the deep blue of the sea. As with many of these more isolated sites, it’s you and the stones with their history and stories.


From Pentre Ifan, it’s 2-1/2 hours via the A487 to Barmouth.  You still have plenty of time to stop and explore on your day.  Barmouth is small but situated for exploring.  Located in county Gwynedd are more ancient sites and standing stones than any other area in Wales.

There are lots of cute little beach-town shops, restaurants, pubs and places

Wales coastal tour tyr Graig
Tyr Graig Castle

to stay.  OR….just half a mile north is T’yr Graig Castle on the beach side of the main road on a rocky rise about 200 feet above Barmouth.  The name in Welsh means house on the rock.

Needless to say, the views are stunning.  Built by gun-manufacturer WW Greener as a holiday home for his wife it has kept its historic Victorian nature. Many aspects of the home,  including woodwork, tiles, stained, glass, even the house design were completely custom.  If you check out a copy of the floor plan in the main entry, you see that the house, viewed from above, resembles the shape of a double-barreled shotgun.  A nod to the builder’s craft.  Contact T’yr Graig Castle directly for the best rates:

Depending on what you might want to explore in this Snowdonia region of Wales you can decide to stay in the Barmouth area or shift northward.

Wales Coastal Tour Days 5-7: Caernarfon and

wales coastal tour caernafron
Caernafron Castle


Caernarfon 39 miles (about an hour) north is a good choice as is Bangor, about 90 minutes away.  Both cities offer access to the interior mountains and more historic sites.  They also are fun to explore on their own.  You’ll find well-preserved castles in both cities that are open to the public.


The Isle of Anglesey is just across the iconic bridges from Bangor.  You’ll

discover lots of history tucked away on this land associated with legends.

wales coastal tour anglesey hotel tre-ysgawen
Tre-Ysgawen Hall

Built on some of the oldest rocks in the region, it is home to nearly 150 historic sites ranging from prehistoric burial tombs to castle fortifications.   You’ll find miles of stunning beaches, cliffs to hike along and lots of tranquility.  Tucked away you can find deluxe resorts. One lovely manor, Tre Ysgawen exemplifies relaxation, health wellness year around. If you want a quiet escape positioned well to explore Anglesey, this just might be your spot.

Make the drive to Anglesey and discover the rich history and legacy of the Druids. On the more isolated west coast, you can find tombs and markers of their past dating to 3000 BC.  It may take a little “Google” detective work before you go, or talk with the locals as you explore the area.

If you Google Anglesey and bring up the map of the area you will find over

wales coastal tour caernafron
Caernafron Castle

14 historic sites including castles, Roman and other ancient sites within a short drive on the mainland and on the island.  Spend your first night in Caernarfon, you could work your way north and spend another near Bangor or on Anglesey as you explore.


There are a string of historic sites along the east side of Anglesey just across

wales coastal tour beaumaris
Beaumaris Castle

the bay from the mainland. Edward I built Beaumaris castle as a state of the art fortress.  The last of his “iron ring” of castles, it’s goal…subduing the Welsh. Today, CADAW manages its remains as a tourist attraction. The second castle on Anglesey is Castell Aberlleiniog, but there are many more historic sites near here to explore.

One note: weather on the island can be changeable. I recommend packing a raincoat.

Wales Coastal Tour Day 8 Colwyn Bay & Ruthin

This lovely bay with its seaside town is less than an hour from Bangor. On

wales coastal tour conwy
Conwy Castle

your way be sure to stop at Conwy Castle. It is massive, towering and looms over the bay.  Allow yourself plenty of time to visit and explore before heading inland.

I enjoyed Ruthin, the county town in Derbyshire built around the hill and topped with its castle, town square and the oldest part of the city. It’s about 26 miles (45 minutes) from Colwyn Bay.  If you want to skip it and head north to Manchester and your flight home… we’ll leave you here. It’s just over an hour and a half from Colwyn Bay to Manchester.


At the very top of the hill in Ruthin sits Ruthin Castle.  Narrow arched

Wales coastal tour ruthin castle
Ruthin Castle

entrance passes you through the castle walls into its protected grounds. Ancient red brick towers above you.  This was a fortress, not someone’s Folly.  Explore the grounds.  Note where brick colors change.  It’s a clue to building additions. When you are centuries old… owners needs change.

Inside you will find every creature comfort, fabulous food and attention to detail.   Contact the hotel directly for the best rates:

If you opt to stay in the city, be sure to venture up and walk the grounds.  They are exquisite.

If you stay in the castle… take time to walk down and explore the city.  It is charming and you get an interesting sense of how people lived in the castle at the top, supported by tradespeople below.


It’s just over an hour and a half from Ruthin to Manchester.

If you’re flying home from Manchester you need somewhere not far from the airport.  As a large city, traffic is something you must allow for.  I’ve stayed in several different places.  My favorite is Wilmslow Lodge @ Coach & Four. This traditional pub great food and the adjacent lodge is in the suburb of Wilmslow.  A coaching inn it has provided respite for travelers for over a century. It offers easy access to Manchester airport and the local train system.  If you’re in a shopping mood you’ll find great options a short walk from the property.  As always, contact the hotel directly for the best rates:


Extend your Wales coastal tour and loop back to Cardiff:

If you’ve got a few more days and want to make a loop so you can fly in and out of the same airport that is easily possible.  (If you’re using Manchester as your gateway, simply make your loop in reverse.)

The quickest route is using the A5 to the A49 freeway.  You can cover the 154 miles in about three and a half hours.  But there is a lot to see here so I recommend taking at least a couple of days to explore the “Midlands”.   Oswestry, Shrewsbury, Telford, and Ludlow are all worthwhile visits.  Known for their history as market towns they beckon you to wander their narrow streets.


You’ll still find markets daily in Ludlow. Every kind of thing imaginable.  Food, baked goods, jams, honey, crafts. We even met a falconer with his hawk.

Ludlow on Wales tour
Feathers Inn

When you visit Ludlow, be sure to visit the Feathers Inn.  Built in 1619 over an existing core, it’s known for its Tudor architecture and Jacobean furnishings. You’ll find it friendly and accommodating, with good local foods in the restaurant/pub. Whether you stay there or not, Feathers is a “must see”. They’ll even let you see the rooms directly above the lobby where Jacobean leaders used to meet.

It’s a great location just a short walk from the marketplace and castle.  Reports say the Feathers is haunted.  Be on the lookout, just in case.  Be sure to contact the hotel directly to get the best rates: