Edinburgh to Tweedbank rail line: Scotland's new literary pilgrimage

There's a lovely story about Scottish author Sir Walter Scott and the beguiling vista that bears his name near Melrose in the Scottish Borders. It's said he would stop so often to gaze at this sweeping panorama on his way home that his horses would pause without command. After he died his funeral procession passed the same spot and reputedly his trusty steeds stopped instinctively to let their master admire it one last time.

Standing at Scott's View today, it's easy to see why he was so enamoured. Dense swaths of dark green forest rush down towards the meandering River Tweed, while the horizon is dominated by the imposing gorse-covered peaks of the Eildon Hills. It's enough to drive a man to poetry.

Until recently this quietly picturesque region wedged between Edinburgh and the border with England was largely overlooked by international tourists. But on September 6 last year, a new 48-kilometre rail link opened from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, heralding a new era of access.

For Scott fans, the 55-minute journey is a literary pilgrimage, starting at a station named after one of his books – Edinburgh's Waverley – and ending close to his beloved home of Abbotsford. Along the way there's an engaging montage of steepled villages, gently rolling hills and bridges, viaducts and tunnels.

From Tweedbank it's only a 25-minute stroll (or a five-minute bus ride) to Abbotsford House, an impressive Scottish Baronial-style home on the banks of the River Tweed. Construction of the property plus a failed business venture almost sent Scott bankrupt and he spent the latter part of his life writing feverishly to pay off his debts. 

The house has been lovingly preserved and a tour reveals Scott was a voracious reader and an avid collector. The library has more than 7500 books and a display case full of curiosities that includes a lock of Napoleon's hair. Next door in the armoury, among a glinting wall of pistols and sabres, is a traditional Maori fighting club.

The visitor centre is equally engaging, using multimedia displays to provide a detailed insight into the man and his work. Scott was often criticised for his romanticised portrayal of Scotland in historical novels such as Rob Roy and Waverley and the centre tackles this via an entertaining digital debate. 

For the full Scott immersion, you can even stay in a wing of the house. The self-contained Hope Scott Wing has seven well appointed bedrooms plus a communal kitchen, lounge, library and dining room. Accommodation is on a self-catering basis but a generous breakfast hamper is provided and there are plenty of dining options nearby.

From Abbotsford, it's a 20-minute drive to Scott's final resting place of Dryburgh​ Abbey. The 12th-century abbey is in ruins after being ravaged by fire, but nevertheless provides a peaceful and appropriately sombre setting for his grave.

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Scott's legacy is sprinkled all over the Scottish Borders and avid fans will want to check out the Walter Scott Trail, a brochure that lists 19 Scott-related landmarks. Highlights include the courtroom in Selkirk where he worked as sheriff for 35 years and Smailholm Tower where he played as a boy while recovering from polio. 

While Scott is a major drawcard for the area, he's by no means the only one. The region is peppered with charming towns and villages, each of which has its own history and attractions.

Melrose is one of the prettiest – and the most popular – thanks to the impressive rose-coloured Melrose Abbey, the delightful Harmony Gardens and a wide range of boutiques and eateries. The gothic abbey is allegedly home to the heart of Robert the Bruce but is just as famous for its curious stone sculptures, which includes a bagpipe-playing pig.

For an authentic keepsake, check out The Crafters, a shop that sells handmade jewellery, glassware and clothing from a co-operative of 12 local artists. There's no shortage of dining options, with everything from casual cafes to elegant fine dining. I can personally vouch for the upmarket pub grub at Burt's Hotel – I was so impressed I ate there two nights in a row.

Drive 30 minutes east and you'll hit Kelso, an attractive market town on the banks of the River Tweed. Its star attraction is Floors Castle, a romantic riot of turrets, cupolas and battlements that Scott described as "a kingdom for Oberon and Titania to dwell in". Home to the Duke of Roxburghe​ and his family, the castle's lavish interior features 17th-century Belgian tapestries and opulent Louis XV Savonnerie carpets.

Completing the tourist triangle is Jedburgh, whose drawcards include an imposing 12th-century Augustinian abbey, Scotland's last remaining 19th-century reform prison and a museum devoted to Mary, Queen of Scots. 

On the outskirts of Jedburgh is Born in the Borders, an innovative new complex that showcases the region's impressive range of produce. A well-stocked food store carries everything from artisanal oatcakes to handmade sausages while a gift shop features clothing and artwork from local craftspeople. There is a restaurant serving regional produce and even an onsite brewery that grows its own barley. Little ones will love the "beast safari" that takes them foraging for creepy crawlies in the surrounding fields. 

Before leaving the area, I decide to pay my final respects to the man whose poetry and novels put this region on the map. I follow a route that would have been familiar to Scott, crossing the River Tweed and climbing up Bemersyde​ Hill, until I reach the view that inspired so much of his work. Like him, I can't resist stopping for one last look.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

visitbritain.com

GETTING THERE

British Airways flies from Sydney and Melbourne to London via Singapore. Phone 1300 767 177, britishairways.com. Trains on the Borders Railway run every half hour Monday-Saturday and hourly on Sunday. Returns from Edinburgh to Tweedbank start at $23.  See scotrail.co.uk

STAYING THERE

Rooms at Abbotsford House start from $250  and include a well stocked breakfast hamper. Abbotsford Melrose, Roxburghshire, UK. See scottsabbotsford.com   

Rob McFarland travelled as a guest of British Airways and Visit Britain.

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