Scottish Borders: A Hidden Gem of Scotland

Scotland is an amazing place to visit, and you can’t go wrong anywhere you decide to travel in this small, but mighty country. I want to share with you an area in Scotland that is really special to me.  In the Eastern part of the Scottish Uplands is a region called the Scottish Borders. Many travelers overlook this gem on their trip to Scotland. This area is well worth a couple night’s stay, or even a leisurely day trip from Edinburgh. 

This gorgeous area of Scotland is famous for gently rolling green hills, wide open countryside, the beautiful Berwickshire coastline, several ancient Abbeys, and the incomparable stone masonry of Rosslyn Chapel. 

If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, you will also find opulent stately homes and castles, along with activities for the adrenaline junkie and nature lover. You simply can’t go wrong spending a day or two in the Borders during your visit to Scotland. 

The most outstanding things for me are undoubtedly the quaint towns with their history, Jedburgh Abbey and saving the best for last, Rosslyn Chapel. Each Town is its own unique gem waiting for travelers to discover at a leisurely pace. You can marvel at the history and architecture in these places, quite happily for hours. 

Melrose Abbey, Scotland

Melrose Abbey

A visit to the Borders would be incomplete without a stop to at least one of the Abbey’s that this area is so well known for. A stop in the historic town of Melrose will not disappoint with a visit to the Melrose Abbey, a magnificent ruin on the grandest scale. Founded in 1136 by Cistercian monks per request of King David I, Melrose Abbey was so dear to Robert the Bruce, it is the final resting place for his Heart. Melrose Abbey was badly damaged by the English Army of Richard the II in 1385, and the remains are from the 15th century and the elegance of this ruin is unsurpassed in Scotland. Some historians and tour guides refer to this as the “sweetheart” of the Abbey’s. Melrose Abbey is breathtaking, but in my opinion, the best Abbey to visit is Jedburgh Abbey, in the town of Jedburgh. Either Abbey is an excellent choice that will not disappoint. Both can be seen in a day. 

Robert the Bruce Heart

Robert the Bruce Heart

Jedburgh is a mere 10 miles from the English border. Jedburgh is a charming, quaint town, especially beautiful in autumn, and easy to navigate on foot. Parking is not an issue, which is a bonus, and there are great options for places to stay, and places to dine. Mary Queen of Scots stayed in a home in Jedburgh in 1556 and the home has been a museum since the 1930s and is known as Queen Mary’s House. The star attraction in this lovely town is undoubtedly the Jedburgh Abbey. If I could only see one abbey, this would be the one. 

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Scottish Borders & Rosslyn Chapel in a Day

This abbey took some 70 years to construct beginning in the 1100’s. The blend of early Gothic and Romanesque architecture truly makes Jedburgh Abbey a standout. Marvel at three tiers of Romanesque arches, wonder about the lives of the people who are buried in the ancient cemetery, and be sure to spend time in the visitor center. It is full of useful and interesting information about life in the Abbey millennia ago. 

Abbottsford House, Scotland

Abbottsford House

I would be remiss not to mention one of Scotland’s most famous poets; Sir Robert Scott and a visit to his home; Abbotsford House and a location that was a favorite vantage point for Scott; Scott’s View. This magnificent home built 200 years ago, is only a short ride from Edinburgh. During your visit, you can take in the house with its beautiful Baronial architecture, imaginative and creative gardens, the estate, where Scott and an affinity for planting trees along (a herculean effort of 1400 acres at its largest), and the visitor centre for the estate, which can help you make the most of your day at the estate.  View the stunning rooms, artefacts, art collections and beautiful views over the river Tweed. 

Scott's View

Scott’s View

There is also Ochiltree Café where you will be able to enjoy a delicious lunch, or afternoon tea. Keeping in line with the Scott theme, it is absolutely worth a quick stop at Scott’s View, said to be a favourite place for quiet reflection for Scott. This location overlooks the River Tweed and is rumoured to be one of the favourite views of Poet Sir Walter Scott. The town of  Melrose is a mere 3 miles away. This gorgeous view overlooking the River Tweed and Eildon Hills is easily located off the B6404 on the road from St. Boswell’s to Kelso then turning off toward Dryburgh Abbey. 

Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland

Rosslyn Chapel

After a night or 2 in the Scottish Borders, and only 7 miles from Edinburgh, the climax of this short road trip is certainly Rosslyn Chapel. Spellbinding, enchanting, beguiling, mesmerizing, alluring, captivating, fascinating and swirling with mystery……. are only a few ways to describe this utterly magnificent ancient architectural wonder.

Though only 62 feet long and 42 feet high, every surface is covered with a master display of stonemasonry at its finest, with hundreds of scenes and figures carved all over the chapel. “The Greenman” is my absolute favorite. There are over 100 Green Man carvings all over the chapel….if you can find them. The Green man is a Pagan symbol representing the cycle of new birth and regrowth every spring. These carvings are usually male faces made entirely of, or surrounded by leaves.  

A carving I find particularly fascinating is the window along the arch of the South aisle that has carvings of maize also known as Indian Corn. This maize, thought to have been discovered in 1492 by Columbus, was 50 years after Rosslyn Chapel was constructed. Just think about that for a minute… How did they know about the native Americans if America had yet to be discovered? 

The construction of Rosslyn Chapel began in 1484 by Sir William St. Clair. Sir William St. Clair died before the construction on the Chapel was complete. The chapel fell into a state of complete disrepair, and in 1650, Cromwell’s troops attacked the Chapel and Cromwell’s troops used the chapel as a stable for his horses. For centuries, the chapel has suffered terribly, from neglect, attacks, high humidity and a botched conservation effort. 

During the Victorian era, the chapel was repaired by the St. Clair Family, and resumed services in 1862. A major conservation project began in 1995. The real saving grace for Rosslyn Chapel came in 2003 when Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” was published and sold over 81 million copies. Part of the movie based on the book was filmed inside Rosslyn Chapel. The movie had a huge effect on the chapel, bringing in hordes of visitors and allowed for the Trust to complete the renovation on the Chapel. 

It is a true marvel of stone masonry that leaves one with more questions than answers. Virtually every surface of this beautiful chapel is intricately carved by unknown master stone masons centuries ago, in an awe-inspiring display of stone masonry second to none. Be sure to look for Biblical stories, the fallen angel Lucifer, bound by rope and hanging upside down, angels playing bagpipes, over 100 Green man carvings (if you can find them), the apprentice pillar, the Dance with Death, the Musical Cubes, Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Virtues, to name a few. 

Don’t forget to give William the Cat a good pet. William is often found sleeping in the pews, and Sir. William is most likely the real boss of the Chapel. Rosslyn Church is still a working church that provides services on Sunday mornings. There are plenty of guides around to answer questions and indoor photography is prohibited. The Visitor Center has a great assortment of refreshments, educational experiences related to the Chapel and a lovely gift shop. Any day spent in the Scottish Borders is a day well spent. 

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Scottish Borders & Rosslyn Chapel in a Day