A day in…Melrose

By | Category: Travel destinations
daffodils in Melrose

the daffodil display in 2016 that stretched further than the eye could see

Although many would say that the beautiful abbey in Melrose is the main tourist attraction I am prepared to stick my neck out and say that, at a certain time of the year, there is a much more attractive sight.

Depending on weather conditions, the most appealing sight is the swathe of yellow that runs from the old railway station, along the byepass and continues nearly to Tweedbank. Much of the ground is where the old railway line was. Today the line is used as a cycle path, jogging lane and walkway. It is protected from the road by a highway of daffodils and there must be thousands of them that cover the old line that accompanies the byepass. After the yellow lawn season is over, then I am prepared to say that the abbey is the main tourist attraction.

Between now and April, the daffodils will come into bloom so now is the time to consider a day-trip or a run-up to see them at their best.  Catch it when the gorse is fully out on the surrounding hillsides and you could believe that yellow was the Scottish colour! But the roadway of yellow daffodils might not have come about if the railway linking Melrose with Edinburgh in the north and Carlisle in the south hadn’t closed down.

With the success of the line linking Tweedbank with Edinburgh, supporters are closely examining the likelihood of re-opening the line and the daffs might have to go.

Without a railway, a car or bus is the main way that people get to the borders town. I took a train to Tweedbank and walked the last couple of kilometres. It was last year that I did it –when the daffodils were in full bloom. That’s how I know how attractive they are and that is why I have waited so long to write this story; so that it coincides with when they will start blooming again.

Melrose Abbey

Melrose Abbey

It is impossible to write a story about Melrose without mentioning the abbey. Built about 880 years ago, for about 400 of them, it was the premier Cistercian monastery in Scotland. Today the ruined remains still give an idea of how important and how significant in size it must have been at its zenith when it is supposed to have housed a hundred monks. Some Scottish kings were buried here as was the heart of one of the most famous – Robert the Bruce. In those days it was not uncommon for a heart to be buried somewhere different from the rest of the body. Richard the Lionheart, Eleanor of Castile and Henry I are examples as, perhaps surprisingly, is the novelist Thomas Hardy, the composer Chopin and the explorer David Livingstone.

The architecture is like many other abbeys of the time. What makes this interesting are some of the carvings of saints and gargoyles, dragons, plants and marks placed there by visitors and restorers over the centuries. Where else will you find a bagpipe-playing pig?

One of these restorers was a person living locally but a person who had an immense influence on Scotland – Sir Walter Scott. Usually only considered a novelist, poet and collector of all things Scottish, he was, for a time, responsible for the restoration of the abbey in the 1820’s.

Harmony Garden

But before you leave the abbey area,  cross the road and nearby you will find a small garden run by the National Trust for Scotland. Harmony Garden is just a very pleasant place to sit awhile. It costs nothing to enter  the garden but this three acre space with a Regency town house is not only the site of the Borders Book Festival each June, it can also be rented by visitors who want to base themselves in Melrose.

It isn’t the only National Trust property in the town. There is also Priorwood Garden. The attraction here is not just the setting since it is overlooked by the abbey ruins but because of the apple orchard and the fact that this location specialises in dried flowers.  You can visit the drying room and even pick the flowers that you would like to have dried. The other claim that Priorwood has for fame is that three of the foremost archaeologists in Scotland lived there and they are commemorated on a plaque attached to one of the walls. Without them  and Sir Walter Scott – how much of Scotland’s heritage would be less well known?

Scott’s house – Abbotsford – which he started building in 1812 and which cost him almost £2 million in today’s money isn’t far from the middle of Melrose. It only takes a twenty minute walk from the rail terminus at Tweedbank to get there. Calling it a house seems prosaic – it is a mansion but a mansion crammed with the things Scott collected. Built in the Scottish baronial style, it has turrets, grand carvings and wood panelling that makes it appear grander than some of the more historic houses in Scotland. The house seems as boisterous as Scott’s stories with everything being “over the top.”

the Kings Arms – where the rugby seven were first conceived

Being Borders country, the land has been much fought over during the centuries. In the town there is a small, red museum called the “Three Hills” Roman Heritage Centre where you will see some of the artefacts from those times. But being a small town everything is close by and there are coffee shops, pubs and restaurants around the main square so you don’t have to travel too far for anything.

If you go the King’s Arms for a pie and a pint, then you are entering a hallowed place. This, in 1883, was where rugby officials devised the seven aside game, that fast moving form of rugby that has spread throughout the world so the Hong Kong Sevens are as well-known as the Middlesex Sevens. The local tournament is called the Kings of the Sevens and takes place at ten events starting in early April in Gala – the Melrose Sevens on the 9th of April – and finishing in Jed-forest in mid-May.

the old station is still around awaiting the day the trains return?

Surrounding the town are hills, ideal for walking as there are paths for the not so enthusiastic as well as for the hardened walker. Cycling has become increasingly more popular and Melrose is part of the 4 Abbeys cycle route a mere 55miles for those cycling fanatics. Me, I prefer a more restful holiday and this, being a tourist area, means that not only will you find a range of hotels but there is a nearby caravan site and plenty of places for camper vans to stay overnight.

How could I write a story about the Borders without mentioning the greatest holiday draw?  Fishing on the Tweed. Despite the fewer catches over the last few years, anglers still come to try their luck and you’ll still here their stories in the pubs and hotels and the size of fish, the scarcity and what it was like in the good old days!

Melrose can get very busy as the holiday seasons approach. When (and I think it will be when rather than if) the railway returns, it will be a lot busier. But where will the daffodil road go to then?


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