UK Destinations 2019 - Scottish Borders

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Drive from Keswick to St. Boswell's

On our drive from the Lake District to the Scottish Borders, from Carlisle, England, we'll drive east for about an hour to see one of the excavated Roman Forts along Hadrian's Wall, near the town of Hexam, England.  

Hadrian's Wall

"The highlanders are great thieves" wrote Roman Historian Cassius Dio in the 200s.  The Romans landed in the (future) UK in 43 AD and by 40 years later they had established control of most of early 'England.  They stayed until 430 or so and went home to a collapsing empire.    

Hadrian's Wall was begun in AD 122, completed 14 years later.  The wall marked the farthest north in Europe that the Romans ever settled.  (there are exploratory Roman forts near places like Inverness but they were short-lived) 

In the previous century Roman Legions had made peace with and done well at trading with early "English" tribes (by many names) and they also found and exported mining commodities, like lead.  They also improved the network for wool trading, extending it to Roman-ruled areas on the Continent, like Gaul (France).  That one really brought the Brits in....suddenly there's a wool market developing.      

The Romans had a habit of bringing trading, general accounting and commerce, and eventually prosperity, on a level never seen before, to the areas they incorporated or conquered. They also brought an admirable tolerance for all religions.  Politically, they preferred to have locally supported leaders, buying into the benefits.  The Romans certainly seeded bureaucracy, wherever they occupied.  

Hadrian's Wall was quite a committment for the Roman Empire, UK Operations & Maintenance Department, to occupy and maintain a 73 mile barrier, from Solway Firth to the North Sea.  Full-time Roman Legionnaires were stationed at closely spaced-out forts, with larger forts at larger distances.  Most forts had a side population of merchants & craftsmen and other hangers-on which evolved into auxiliary villages.  And they all had to be supported by some kind of economy.... 

Hadrian's Wall was constructed under the direction of Hadrian himself, one of the few Emperors ever to venture this far north. He saw the need to do border control, to keep out the Picts, early lowland & highland tribal inhabitants of the territory to the north which we now know as Scotland, who had a LOT of Viking DNA in them, much more than the tribes living south of the Wall.  A DNA wall or filter, for the Romans controlled all access points.   

The Romans considered the Picts to the north to be savages, whose frequent raids were used to justify the cost to build and maintain the wall.    

Further reading shows that some of the Roman Legionnaires stationed here were loyal militia-men from Syria, and other Mediterranean places. You can only imagine how Middle Eastern or sometimes African men suffered through the long & terrible northern latitude winters.    

There are four Roman forts in a cluster near Hexam, England, which are Chester's, Vindolanda, Housestead's, and Corbridge, each nestled in the rich farming valley of the River Tyne. 

Vindolanda has by far the most positive comments on google maps.  Visitors write that they spent more time here than they expected, and, they seemed to connect with the info & atmosphere of the ruins. Others wrote that Vindolanda has a good cafe, with great coffee, and very clean restrooms...that's three cherries !       

Hadrian's Wall & Forts Vindolanda Chester's

In the town of Hexam there's an impressive old Abbey ruin to see.  After that we'll head north to the Melrose-Kelso area, staying for two nights in St. Boswell's. 

Scottish Borders

On both sides of the boundary of England and Scotland, there are 'Borders' where from roughly 1300 to 1700, powerful Families ruthlessly attacked each other, taking everything they could carry away or herd, like cows, goats, and sheep. Innocent lives were often lost.  Of course, then the aggrieved families on the other side of the Border felt the obligation to exact revenge !    

Powerful families could at times muster a small army of supporters on horseback for a mini-invasion.  The most ruthless or lawless Scottish "reivers" or raiders preyed not only on the English across the boundary, but also on their Scottish neighbors.  Hereditary feuds were not uncommon.  'Auld alliances and auld enemies'....created centuries of suffering and misery and starvation for people in the area.        

In 1603, King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England and the Union of the Crowns was formed.  Local 'Marches' or territories were organized with 'March wardens' on either side of the border, sometimes capable of addressing wrongs and recovering stolen loot.

Special Truce Days came into effect which allowed current or former enemies to meet and barter, however, Truce days often descended into drunken mayhem or murder.  Later on, English Kings forced certain families out, under the threat of imprisonment, like the powerful Douglas and Turnbull families.  (all info here is from Border Raids and Reivers, by Robert Borland, 1912)

Scotland and England formed an important economic Union, in 1707, and one generation later, Scotland felt the benefit.  By the mid-1750s, Scottish Border towns were thriving.  Melrose developed a successful wool & textile industry that had global reach.  And, in peacetime, local farms finally began to flourish.  

Sir Walter Scott lived in Melrose in the early 1800s, and said that "Kelso & Melrose are the most attractive & romantic towns in England".  The four most prominent Abbeys here are Jedburgh, Dryburgh, Kelso and Melrose. All are within a few miles of each other.   

We'll stop at scenic Jedburgh on the drive from Hexam, to see the ruined Abbey and the nearby Capon Hanging Tree, on the list of the top 100 most historic trees in England. This is a split in half, thousand year old tree.   

Jedburgh Abbey before it became a ruin Capon Hanging Tree

Here is a look at some probable highlights around Melrose and Kelso. We'll stay at nearby St. Boswell's.  All three towns are on the River Tweed. 

A guidebook to Borders' walks states that "one of the finest walks in the land" which goes to Dryburgh Abbey, starts only minutes from our overnight stay at Dryburgh Arms Pub/Hotel.     

good general map this one shows St. Boswell's Eidon Hills in the fall in winter  
  Kelso Floors Castle at Kelso, see way below the river River Tweed at Melrose
again Melrose Abbey Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford
local walk Kelso
Dryburgh Pub/Hotel breakfast dessert Kelso Abbey

Near Melrose we'll visit Abbotsford House, Sir Walter Scott's baronial style home on the River Tweed.  Scott's amazingly successful Waverly novels created a mythologized Scottish Highlands, where Medieval Knights fought and perished, or became heroes, in an old world sense.  He later wrote Ivanhoe, another tremendously popular novel.  

At his day job, Walter Scott, (1771-1832) an Edinburgh trained lawyer, was deputy Sheriff of Selkirkshire, from 1800 until he died in 1832.  More important, during most of those years he also held a lucrative position as Principal Clerk to the Court of Session, Edinburgh, the Supreme Scottish Civil Court.  Walter Scott lived a lot more in 'Enbru than in the Borders.  

Scott suffered from polio in his youth and retained a pronounced limp, but was "a determined walker and rode horses a lot, for exercise".  (Wikipedia)

A civil service Judge who invents the 'romantic historical novel' literary form, and, in his mythological story-weaving, goes on to greatly improve the self-esteem and reputation of Scotland, at home and abroad? ....this IS an astounding lifetime achievement......but no one reads Scott anymore....

Nonetheless the far-sighted Scott collected an amazing amount of historical 'stuff' and long ago foresaw his home at Abbottsford becoming a much-visited museum of Scottish antiquities.  

Floors Castle

"The Palatial Floors Castle is the largest inhabited Castle in Scotland, an architectural extravagance bristling with pepper-mill turrets.  Not so much a Castle as the ancestral seat of a wealthy and powerful landowning family, the Roxburghes, it stands on the 'floors', or flat terrain, on the banks of the River Tweed." This Castle also manages a tremendous number of farms and acreage. (Fodors Scotland) 

The enormous home was built in 1721 by architect James Adam, younger brother & business partner of the more famous architect Robert Adam.  The guide says the interior rooms contain valuable furniture, paintings, and porcelain. 

When we finally leave the Borders area, on our way to Linlithgow, we'll stop at Traquair House, near the Borders town of Innerleithen. 

Traquair House and Ale  Brewery

Fodor's:  "Said to be the oldest continually occupied home in Scotland, Traquair House has secret stairways and passages, a library with more than 3,000 books, and a bed said to be used by Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1566.  You can walk freely throughout the rooms, and there is an explanatory leaflet in each as well as helpful guides hovering in the corridors.  The top floor is an interesting small museum.  Outside is a reasonably scary maze, and some lovely woodland walks as well as pigs, goats, and chickens.  The 18th-century brew house still makes highly recommended ale. There is a cafe on the grounds near the beautiful walled garden."

From Innerleithen there appear to be suitable country roads heading northwest which allows us to skirt around Edinburgh w/o having to be on a freeway.  We should arrive at Linlithgow around 3 pm, where we'll check in at the Star & Garter Hotel, for a three-night stay.   

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