Discover the Scottish Borders landscape and food
- Sandy Neil
- 10 May 2011
Travel by foot, two wheels and four hooves to sample the best food in south-east Scotland
Geology is the key to under-standing the diverse terrain and the food it produces, so let’s begin our adventure with the Borders’ story in stone. The Borders rose from the Iapetus Ocean floor 4.5 million years ago as the American and European tectonic plates carrying Scotland and England pushed together, forging the now extinct volcanoes of the triple-peaked Eildons, Minto Hill and Rubers Law, and folding layers of mud into the sedimentary rocks of the Southern Uplands.
The varied topography makes the Borders ideal for walking and watching wildlife, from nesting osprey to leaping salmon. Walkers can hike the Eildon, Cheviot and Lammermuir Hills, yet also roam beaches and coves on the East Berwickshire Coastal Path, halting mid-way by Eyemouth harbour to enjoy homemade ice-cream and fresh fish and chips from Mackay’s or Giacopazzi’s below Oblo seafood restaurant. Venture inland a bit for local surf and turf at the community-owned Fisherman’s Arms pub in Birgham, or at The Wheatsheaf restaurant in Swinton.
The rugged Southern Upland Way binds 212 miles of fell, law, loch, knowe and moor between Scotland’s east and west coasts from Portpatrick to Cockburnspath. Half-way, on a strip of land separating St Mary’s Loch and the Loch o’ the Lowes in the Yarrow Valley, sits Tibbie Shiels Inn where you can rest with a pint of Broughton Brewery’s seasonal Tibbie Shiels cask ale. Broughton also brews Pennine Way Bitter to fortify walkers at the start – or reward them at the end – of the Pennine Way at the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm at the foot of the Cheviot Hills.
Passing by Yetholm’s thatched cottages, the 60-mile St Cuthbert’s Way tracks the patron saint of Northumbria’s life and progress from Holy Island to Melrose Abbey, where the circular 68-mile walking and cycling route the Borders Abbey Way links the Borders’ four historic abbeys in Kelso, Jedburgh, Dryburgh and Melrose. Pause in your pilgrimage for a pub lunch at Burt’s Hotel in Melrose, or at the Cobbles Inn in Kelso, where you can sample crafts beers such as porter, spiced with chipotle and cocoa beans, from the town’s Tempest Brewery. By Dryburgh, travellers can contemplate books over soup, sandwiches and cakes at Main Street Trading Co. Bookshop & Café in St Boswells, and at the Old Melrose Tearoom & Bookshop lying in a loop of the Tweed below Scott’s View.
Road cyclists can discover the Borders’ ranging countryside at their own pace on the quiet lanes of the Tweed Cycleway beginning 650 ft above sea level at Biggar and finishing on the coast at Berwick 90 miles later, while mountain bikers tear up the tracks of 7stanes Glentress Forest near Peebles, and swap tales of the trails over ‘hub grub’ at The Hub In The Forest Café.
The Southern Borders Loop offers recreational cyclists two 50 and 75 mile routes travelling through the quintessential Reiver country from Newcastleton to Hawick, where they tie into the 250-mile Borderloop, linking Tweedsmuir in the west to Eyemouth in the east via most Border towns and villages. In Hawick, the convivial café and bookshop Damascus Drum on Silver Street serves Turkish coffee and mezze.
Horse-riders can canter through the woodland trails of Scotland’s Horse Country, and join the marches of history behind a charging standard bearer in 11 towns’ ‘common ridings’. These traditions trace back hundred of years to when the Borders was the frontier between two warring kingdoms, subject only to the lawless terror of the Border reivers. Townspeople rode the boundaries, or ‘marches’, of their common lands to protect them, and the ridings continue today long after they ceased to be essential.
Reivers sustained their cattle-thieving raids on oats and ewe’s milk cheese called ‘whitemeat’ tenderised under their saddles, but those riding the Border countryside on horseback today can devour classic scotch, steak, macaroni and lasagne pies from any local butcher, and try the creative pie fillings from Millers of Melrose.
Picnickers can pick their own strawberries, raspberries, red and blackcurrants, tayberries and gooseberries at Border Berries at Rutherford Farm near Kelso, and pick up home-grown provisions at Reiver Farm Shop near Eyemouth, Thisselcockrigg Farm Shop near Duns, and Whitmuir Organic Farm Shop near Peebles. Stock your hampers too from the Borders’ many delis: Fish n’ Fine Foods in Duns, The Selkirk Deli, Pharlanne in Kelso, The Country Kitchen in Melrose, Deli Beans in Peebles, Turnbulls in Hawick and The Spotty Dog in Lauder.
Maps showing many paths and routes mentioned are freely downloadable at visitscottishborders.com