Border Break 2: abbeys and towns
The county of Scottish Borders is famed for its bustling towns and beautiful abbey ruins. We didn’t explore any of these as much as we might usually have done for two reasons. First, when we were in the towns we were usually with Mum and therefore limited by how far a nonagenarian could walk and, second, the abbeys were closed when we were there. This wasn’t because of Covid – Historic Scotland, which looks after them, was checking all the masonry. I’m more than happy not to have lumps of stone falling on my head, so I class this as a good thing.
Melrose is a bustling little town (see its main street above) clustered around the pink sandstone ruins of its abbey, which was founded in 1136 by Cistercian monks. I was pleased to find a women’s history plaque on our brief stroll.
Selkirk is another typical Borders town, which we explored a bit more thoroughly than the others. Its built around its market place, where you can see it proudly proclaims itself to be the home of the original Selkirk Bannock. We were lucky enough to be provided with one of these in the welcome pack in our cottage – it’s a rich and buttery leavened tea bread.
The nearby Pant Well was originally constructed in 1706 to improve the quality of the town’s water supply: in 1715 a trough (pant) was added to catch the overflow and in 1728 a dial, statue and town coat of arms were incorporated. The structure was rebuilt in 1898 with an image of Queen Victoria displayed above the fountain and included the coat of arms from the original one. On the left side of the well are the names of the local men who fought in the Boer War.
Next to the well stands a memorial to Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), a Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright and historian. Scott was also Sheriff (judge) of Selkirk and dispensed justice from 1799 for over thirty years from the courtroom in the old Town Hall behind his statue.
A contemporary of Scott’s was the explorer Mungo Park (1771-1806) who was born near Selkirk. A monument to him is further along the street.
A couple of other small memorials caught our eye. The bronze bust marks the birthplace of the artist Tom Scott RSA (1854 – 1927), the son of a local tailor. The County Hotel, an early 19th century coaching inn, has a life size statue of Red Dog Souter, a successful greyhound owned in the 19th century by the proprietor, above the door.
Jedburgh is another abbey town, but we only stopped here briefly for coffee, so just the one picture – however, as a bonus, here I am at the abbey a few 😉 years ago when I was aged about 11.
Kelso was a brief stop too. It also has an abbey, and an octagonal Old Parish Church. The white building is Spread Eagle House, another early 19th century coaching inn but, unlike Selkirk’s County Hotel, it has been converted into flats. We had a holiday rental here some years ago, which wasn’t an unalloyed success – however, checking online, I find it has been much upgraded since.
After that brief jaunt around some Borders town, next time we’ll move out to the countryside – with more about Sir Walter Scott.