10 of the Best Historic Sites in the Scottish Borders | Historical Landmarks | History Hit

10 of the Best Historic Sites in the Scottish Borders

Discover the Scottish Borders' rich heritage at these unmissable sites, experiences and attractions.

Harry Sherrin

29 Jun 2022

The Scottish Borders, encompassing the historic counties of Berwickshire, Peeblesshire, Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire, is a region home to centuries of fascinating history.

Once the site of skirmishes between English and Scottish clans, the Scottish Borders boasts an array of fascinating castles and strongholds. The region is also renowned for its Iron Age hillforts, glorious 16th-century manor houses and the relics of its industrial heritage.

Here are 10 unmissable historic sites in the Scottish Borders.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

1. Melrose Abbey

Founded in 1136 by David I, Melrose Abbey was the first Cistercian abbey in Scotland. Situated along the River Tweed in the Scottish Borders, the abbey was home to 450 years of monastic life until falling into ruin after the 16th century.

Today, a large portion of Melrose Abbey’s 14th century church remains, although you will have to use some imagination to see the rest of the abbey, guided by the outlines on the ground. Looking up, visitors can see icons nestled in niches on top of the church roof alongside gargoyles and weather-beaten stone.

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2. Traquair House

Traquair House is a fortified mansion style house in the Scottish Borders and is believed to be the oldest continually inhabited house in Scotland. Traquair House has been lived in for over 900 years and was originally built as a hunting lodge for Scottish monarchs.

Today the house is lived in by the 21st Lady of Traquair and her family, but the historic house and vast Traquair estate are open to the public. On a guided tour, see the cradle, bed and room within which Mary, Queen of Scots stayed with her son and future king, James VI and I. Visitors can also wander through the estate’s vast parkland, exploring the maze or ambling down to the River Tweed.

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3. Abbotsford

Abbotsford is a large country mansion in the Scottish Borders best known as the home of historical novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott. Scott massively extended the house and grounds, hosting writers, politicians, noblemen and many of Scott’s readers during his lifetime and later becoming a place of literary pilgrimage.

Open 7 days a week between 10am and 5 pm, today you can step back into the historic house and chapel before wandering the beautiful gardens. Inside the house, walk the halls lined with medieval battlements and enter rooms with grand fireplaces and wallpapered in the rich colours and textures of East Asia, reflecting the period’s colonial fervour.

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Image Credit: CC / Dave souza

4. Robert Smail’s Printing Works

Robert Smail’s Printing Works is an operational letterpress printers in the Scottish Borders town of Innerleithen. The press at Robert Smail’s dates back to the Victorian era and has been in continual use until the present day.

Today, visitors can easily find the print works along Innerleithen’s high street, the brown shopfront and beautiful stained glass door leading you into the National Trust entrance and gift shop – open Monday to Friday. From the office, you can go on an hour long guided tour, wandering through to the large office full of stationary, writing slates, pencils, sealing wax and bottles of ink.

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Image Credit: John Watson / NW towards Pennymuir Roman camp and Dere Street going into the distance from Woden Law / CC BY-SA 2.0

5. Pennymuir Roman Camps

The Pennymuir Roman Camps, also known as the Towford Camps, are formed of the remains of three Roman temporary camps in Scotland. The camps were temporary, and were probably used as training bases, providing tented accommodation for troops on exercise. The largest of the camps spreads some 17 hectares which would have easily accommodated two legions of men or more. It may also have simply been a temporary marching camp.

All four of the camps are recorded as earthworks in rough moorland, with camps I and II amongst the best preserved in Scotland. The site is open and is a popular and scenic walking spot. For those with a trained eye, the remains of the camps are still visible among the earthworks and provide a fascinating insight into the movements of Roman army groups.

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Image Credit: Thomas Bresenhuber / Shutterstock.com

6. Jedburgh Abbey

Situated in the Scottish Borders town of Jedburgh, this Augustinian abbey was built in the 12 century. The site was founded by David I and constructed in early Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles. The building has seen its fair share of conflict over the centuries, given its location near the border with England.

Today, the abbey is in a state of ruin and has undergone extensive conservation work to keep the site open to the public. Visitors can walk the grounds, peruse the visitor’s centre and also access the on-site shop.

The recorded story of Scotland begins with the arrival of the Roman Empire in the 1st century, when the province of Britannia reached as far north as the Antonine Wall. But how much further back can the history of Scotland be traced? Who were the Picts and the Gaels? And how did the Viking invasion unite them? Rob Weinberg asks the big how and why questions about the birth of Scotland to Dr. Alex Woolf, senior lecturer at the University of St Andrews.

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Image Credit: Craig Duncanson / Shutterstock.com

7. Floors Castle

Found in the historic county of Roxburghshire, in the Scottish Borders, Floors Castle is a stately home and the seat of the Duke of Roxburghe. Despite its name, the structure never served as a military fortress; it’s a 17th-century estate, to which the castle-like towers and turrets were added in the 19th century.

Floors Castle, as well as still being the home of the Duke of Roxburghe and his family, is a public attraction. Making for a great family day out, the site is home to grand room, beautiful gardens, well-stocked galleries and a cafe.

Image Credit: Heartland Arts / Shutterstock.com

8. Hermitage Castle

This historic stronghold near Liddesdale in the Scottish Borders was home to vicious battles and disputes in the middle ages. Built in c. 1360, the castle was of strategic importance given its location on the Scottish Middle March. It was reinforced in the 16th century to stand up to guns and artillery.

Now in a state of partial ruin, Hermitage Castle is under the jurisdiction of Historic Environment Scotland. The site is open to the public in the summer months. Some say the stronghold is home to the ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Image Credit: Craig Duncanson / Shutterstock.com

9. Leaderfoot Viaduct

The Leaderfoot Viaduct is a 19th-century railway viaduct that crosses Scotland’s River Tweed. Construction was completed in 1863, granting the Berwickshire Railway access over the river. It was damaged by floods in the 1940s, and was nearly demolished in the 1980s due to its poor condition.

Today, the Leaderfoot Viaduct, also known as the Drygrange Viaduct, is a category A monument. Visit the surrounding greenery or the nearby Old Bridge for stunning views of the historic feat of engineering.

Image Credit: Heartland Arts / Shutterstock.com

10. Smailholm Tower

Near Kelso in the Scottish Borders, Smailholm Tower is a peel tower built in the 15th or 16th centuries to provide shelter from English raiders. It is perhaps most famous as the site that inspired Sir Walter Scott to enjoy border ballads when he visited as a child.

Smailholm Tower is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument overseen by Historic Environment Scotland. VisitScotland listed it as a 5-star tourist attraction in 2007, a very rare accolade. The tower is open to the public and remains in a remarkable state of preservation. Visitors can get up close to the structure and explore an on-site exhibition.