Monday, August 30, 2010


The Borders is a fairly large area but has only about 100,000 people. They are very loosely spread becuase the economy is predominantly agriculture, at least 70%, so that the "other business" tends to be agriculturally related, machinery, engineering, wells and water, crops, livestock etc. The next area would be small manufacturers, clothing, weaving and related industries, but many of these are in decline as smart manufacturing moves to China and other Asian markets. Finally are the support services, shops and outlets who provide the infrastructure. These are all concentrated in several small towns, Berwick, Duns, Hawick, Selkirk, Kelso, Galashiels, St Boswells, Jedburgh, Melrose, Earlston, Lauder, none of which really has the momentum to be "the Border town", the nearest is Galashiels. But one finds that its often necessary to go to two or even three places to cover needs.


We arrved in the Borders in 2008 and we were expecting prices to fall in line with the rest of the uk. In fact based on our research UK property were more than 30% over priced. For the first year to our surprise prices went up a bit. Then we began to realise that Scotland markets lag English ones by about 1-2 years and it may be more. This year we start to hear about slowdowns in the property market here. But England still has to faced real pain, I suspect another 10-20% drop during 2010-11, so that means Scotland will get that impact 20012-13. So if you want to move here, and I recommend you do, then 2012 might be a good time.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Burnside Foods

This is a real find, a small local provider of meat and game. They mostly deal with restaurants but they will take anyones orders. They have a wide selection of Scottish game, ducks, pheasants, partridge, roe deer, venison, plus local cheeses and other produce. You really must call though as they don't like drop ins and it takes them a while to assemble your order. Also they can be expensive but the quality is excellent.
Burnside farm

Smailholm Pottery

Visited Smailholm pottery last evening. It was a serendipity affair. I had taken my wifes mother and sister to church in Kelso and on the way back saw this lonely tower on the hill and went up to explore. From the St Boswells to Kelso road it is not obvious that the tower in fact commands extensive views North. I could not visit as the local farmer had the road blocked with a tractor. Decided to visit the eponymous pottery instead and found it a delightful place. Set in an old farm complex and with a well lit and attractive display area this is a real working pottery. The pottery itself with its soft grey blue ground and minimist decoration is very nice. One oddity was a range of quite erotic table ware with naked women. Hmmm not sure I want to drink my tea and see large breasts emerge from the liquid... a bit disquieting. But it points to one of two things, either the country life leads one to excessive sexual frustration which emerges from the clay...or erotic pottery sells? My only caveat is the prices, 65 pounds for a fruit bowl as nice as it is seems pricey to me. Maybe in a London studio ok but in the moors of Scotlands Borders I thought 30 pounds more realistic.

Selkirk to Moffat

This must be one of the best drives in the Borders. Lovely mountain country with plenty sheep, and hills crowned with a nice large Loch (Loch Mary). At the end the best part is Moffat, one of the gems of the Borders. Ranks with Peebles of even above in our books. Try the bread shop, best bread in Borders.

Macdonald Hotel Cardrona

My family stayed here when they visited and were very impressed. Its not the height of luxury, but its clean and fresh and well done. Good food, nice surroundings, friendly staff, what more could you want? It reminded me of a good US Hilton. The hotel is in country, beside the Tweed and has a good gym and pool. Oh yes they stayed there for less than 100 pounds a night for a family of 4. Can't beat that.

Macdonald Hotel, North Berwick

Friendly enough but what a let down. We wanted a nice lunch and all they had on a busy Saturday was bar snacks. Not what one wopuld expect from the supposedly "premier" hotel. Food looked unappetising and when I asked the hotel front desk staff about seafood they commented "well Scotland is not the best place for good fish or seafood, particularly now".....enough said

Sootland like Australia

The more I look at this place the more I think tis another Australia. A country almost as big as England with 5m people and the newspaper tells me a declining population! This has to be the biggest land of opportunity in Europe. Plenty of scope for new business, wonderful scenery and friendly people. I just cannot understand why people are not flocking here from overcrowded England and elsewhere. Scotland probably needs an ad campaign such as Oregon did in the 70's. They put a photograph of Pitsburgh with all the chimney belching smoke and a landscape out of Tolkeins Mordor and said "Move to lovely Oregon". The story I heard was that they did it to discourage immigration but it had the opposite effect as people immediately realised this wasn't Oregon and started to research and apparently eventually moved increasing population by some 30% in 5 years. I am convinced Scotland needs selling and needs incentives to attract people. Increase the population 25% and you increase the opportunity!
They need Crocodile Dundee!

Tontine Peebles

This should be a super restaurant, and it is well written up in many guide books. But we have been three times and constantly disappointed.

I went to dinner this week with a visitor. I won't go again. Staff were not very friendly, particularly senior staff. The food was only passable, I had soup and a steak and my guest had smoked salmon and sea bass. The soup was good but the steak was well overcooked and tough as boot leather. It came with not very good chips and a poor salad. My guest said his bass was good but maybe he was polite, it didn't look good. The exception was the smoked salmon which was really very very good but of course that just means they chose a good supplier. The dining rooms are very nice and maybe people will go there for just that, but not me. Evidence was everywhere of deterioration in infrastructure and the bathrooms were not nice at all.You have to park at the back of the hotel down a narrow rough road and there was only one light so we were stumbling in the dark. Not what one would expect.hotel web site

Wallace Monument

The Wallace Monument is a huge and imposing statue overlooking the Tweed near Dryburgh. Whether by design or accident it faces North when would imagine Wallace would want to look South as he protected Scotland. Another anomaly is that he is seen holding an enormous sword almost as long as he is tall and that is in character I think. But on his hip is the Elisabethan handle of a basket hilted rapier which is totally out of time and character. I wonder a) why this is not mentioned in any guides and b) whether in fact the sculptor had reused a statue, perhaps of Drake or Raleigh that no one bought? Another unfortunate item is that some misguided Scot has half (and badly) painted the shield in blue and white. I realise the SNP provenance, but a) couldn't the painter reach the top? b) why so shoddy a job, and c) whoever did it defaced a lovely local sandstone sad.


As one drives down to Dryburgh Abbey hang a right and the road goes down to a dead end by another monument built by the Earl of Buchan (he also did the statue of Wallace). According to the sign he intended it to have a statue of Diana but it was not completed. Someone has installed a hideous modern sculture which is totally out of character and time what a shame. I am sure they did it out of good heart but what a mistake. Nearby is a lovely suspension bridge for foot travellers and it very nice there. Buchan apparently was not a nice man, or at least so the signs tell us and his family let someone say that so they must agree (if he has any remaining relatives). I would like to know more of the man who built a castleated house for his gardener, he cannot have been all bad and he liked poetry. Unfortunately they charge to visit the Abbey ruins, a crying shame. Next to the ruins is the Dryburgh Arms Hoterl which seems very upmarket. There was a helicopter there when we walked down. Rich people.

Antique Shops

There is not that many around. Innerliethen has several interesting small shops. Melrose has two good but expensive. There is an interesting one in Greenlaw but it is only open weekends. But I am surprised at the lack to be honest as this is a tourist area. There is a lovely old rubbish place as you approach Prestonpans on the right hand side. This is a treasure trove of old junk but with lots of good stuff you wouldn't find anywhere else. For example about 200 old golf clubs I saw. But its all mixed in with bankrupt commercial stock so maybe 50 desks, 100 old sinks. You could spend hours here. There is one just off the traffic island between Melrose and St Boswells, you drive down a small lane, but we didn't find it very useful for us, more furniture than anything. In Berwick there is a second hand furniture shop by the lower bridge that also has some antiques and is inexpensive.

Autumn Days

Although we are only in late August the nights are already getting cold. But we are currently basking in some nice sunchine, while my brothers in England face daily rain. We have found that the Borders seem to get good days right through to Christmas, where although it is cold, it is also clear and sunny. Thisn is our first year to "grow our own" and we have had abundant beans, peas, potato, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes and fruit such as blueberry and raspberry.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Well Got Hay

My neighbour Don has a hay field and recently baled his crop. He tells me that at UKP5 a bale it is selling out fast. Until I spoke to him I had not realised how sensitive hay was to timing, and how important dry weather was to cutting, which is why he can advertise his as "well got" meaning cut at its prime and stored dry.

Monday, August 23, 2010


A very nice little fishing port. Still is the only commercial centre in the Borders for serious fish. When one walks around one can tell this is a business place whose business is fish. But that aside a nice place to visit, quaint houses, good harbour with live seals for entertainment (free!), and a good restaurant in Oblo. Across the harbour is the house of a well known smuggler which has been restored and shows how life was in the days of avoiding "the revenue". Also has a good museum of smuggling and fishing, but they charge £3.50 each.


This is the largest town in the Borders and is basically the commercial and industrial base. if you want a 24 hour Tesco, or go to B&Q this is the place. Main st would make you cry as there are more closed than open shops. Its a bit depressed to say the least. Having said that its got lots of shops from bicycle to bread to barber and its where we go every week to do our main shopping as Kelso does not yet have a supermarket. When the Sainsburies opens next year things will change for a lot of people and Galashiels will get more depressed unfortunately.


Sir Walter Scott was the sheriff here. Nice old town but split up a bit by the main road running through. Statue to Mungo park the great (and forgotten) explorer who lived here. Good deli and pub, not much else. Highlight is probably the Baxters shop on the way out of town towards Galashiels. Awful fish and chips. Well worth a visit as its perhaps one of the few places to see the whole wonderful Baxters range. They sell good bread too, but again (like Kelso) don't cut it for you. Free soup tasting daily, like that. But they have unusual things and we always end up buying stuff.


The first town on the A68 you enter after crossing the Border from England. Its an OK town, there has been some problems with racial violence that worry me (an Indian restauranter attacked). The only good shops are the butcher (good pies), the gent outfitters (people come from a wide area to this excellent shop which carries a wide range of gents and ladies outfits), and the ironmongers. Fish and chips awful (we actually threw it away, both places), not a lot to see other than the Abbey and town goal (the old castle). Has very good tourist oriented woollen and Scottish goods shops on the Northern outskirts that attract a lot of coaches and visitors.


Kelso is one of the nicest towns anywhere and certainly in the Borders. Its big claim to fame is its town square which surrounded by good shops and an inn is in the best of British traditions. kelso has a good sprinkling of local shops and one can buy anything one wants here at reasonable prices. There are three or four good clothes shops led by Orvis, a good health food store and a good ironmongers. Fish from Eyemouth, and now recently opened a decent bread shop, although they cannot slice so have limited value to me. Every now and again (sadly not consistent) they have a market either antiques or farmers in the square. Its the kind of place to spend a day wandering (see the ruined abbey), walk the Tweed, lots of good shops decent restaurants. enjoy, there not many like this left.

North Berwick Fry

This is a large fish and chips on the South side of North Berwick. Its a restaurant as well as a take away. Its OK. Not up to Biggar or Anstruther (the gold standard), but the fish is fresh and the chips are good, poor mushy peas again. We have eaten in and taken away. North Berwick is a stunningly lovely spot.

Alandas Fish and Chips Prestonpans

Just as you enter Prestonpans from the Edinburgh side on your left is Alandas. This is one of the best Fish and Chips around the Borders. Until we found Smiths at Tweedmouth which is closer to us we went here every week although its an hours drive. Good chips big and chunky and tasty, nice fresh fish, batter a bit soft but that my only criticism, oh and not so good mushy peas. Lovely, served in boxes and clean shop.

Bad Fish and Chips in Borders

Rather than write a story on each, you can assume if I don't rate it its not good. Examples of bad fish and chips in the Borders abound.
St Boswells (sometimes ok)
Earlston (sometimes ok)
Duns (both)
Galasheils (Crolla doesn't serve mushy peas but fish looked good)
Berwick (other than Smiths in Tweedmouth, see separate entry)
Coldstream (big portions but greasy) (now closing)
Greenlaw (now closed)
Eyemouth (Giacopazzi)
Melrose (Abbey)

Townhead cafe Fish and chips Biggar

Very highly rated fish and chips. We thought it was good, nice and clean, and talking to the owner they have the right attitude of care in selection of the best fish and potatoes. The shop is quite classy with an upstairs dining room for those who don't want to carry. The fish was good but the chips were not perfect although tasty. When I say perect I expect large chunky square chips to predominate, not a bag of tiny dry ends. Overall well worth a visit.

Norham Castle

Well worth a visit. This free entry ruined castle is situated right on the Tweed but on the English side, just over a small one way bridge from the Borders. Apparently built by the Prince Bishops of Durham the castle is impressive even in ruin, showing walls over 20ft thick and a still standing central tower. The castle overlooked a well known Tweed ford, the first ford from the ocean.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fords the Bakers in Berwick

Fords make the best bread in the Borders. The taste is worth our while driving there once a week to buy loaves. In Coldstream is Trotters who also have a shop in Duns and their bread is OK, if we cannot get to Berwick we buy that. Fords other products are equally good. In Melrose, Selkirk and Galashiels is Dalgetty whose bread is not as good as the others. Its still OK bread, the wholewheat is much better than the white, but the quality is not as good as Fords or Trotters.

Borders Towns

A visitor should note that the towns have a sort of pattern.
1) In the belt of land around Edinburgh that holds coal, a series of towns rose up to support the industry in the 1700-1800's. Typical would be Gorebridge and Pathhead. These are usually quite ugly places typical of British industrial building, small, cramped and not very nice. The mining has gone but the towns remain uninteresting unless you study industrial society...
2) The Borders is a farming community and some towns are typical farming centres. Such as Peebles, Duns and Kelso. these tend to be good solid burghs with adequate but not flashy shops, although Peebles has risen to match Melrose in sophistication and quality of available shopping and restaurants.
3) The Borders only real industry was wool and cloth mills and some towns, Galashiels, Hawick, Jedburgh and Selkirk show their roots and have very mixed backgrounds for the residents. Of course everything is relative and in the Borders a depressed area is still a very nice place with lovely shops.
4) East Lothian is an exception, due to the rail links to Edinburgh, this area encompassing Musselburgh, Gullane and North Berwick has a wealthy up market feel. North Berwick is a stunning little seaside town with the feel of St Andrews about the place.


Melrose is the small but sophisticated town in the shadows of the Eildons. The twon is unlike any other Border town as it was settled during the late 1800's by wealthy retired civil servants and others providing a better class of clientelle for local business. This is reflected in the town having several high class ladies fashion shops plus two good butchers and a baker. The twon also boast several good restaurants and coffee shops and one immediately "feels good" on the streets. It has two good antique shops, both expensive but offering a wide range of choice. Not to be missed.
Melrose link

Fatlips Castle

Fatlips sits on a craggy hill above the B road connecting Ancrum with Hawick. Its a place to capture the imagination and is overgrown and wild. The castle is a bit like Greenknowe (see entry), but less well cared for. However if you park in the small lane below and walk up its a great place to picnic and to visit. The walk up shows that once this was well cared for as Rhodedendrum bushes abound although now wild. The castle sits on a crag of land with a rocky lip surrounding. Someone has broken the barred door so it is accessible but must be dangerous to ascend, although my sons did and gave us a shock by waving from the top. Not adviseable.

Waterloo Monument

This monument is visible from much of the Southern Borders. It stands alone on a hill that is not ideally accessible as its a long walk with little in the way of markings. However if you have the energy to try, it has commanding views and is a lovely spot. It was built by a local landowner to commemorate the eponymous battle.

Wiki Description

Woodside Garden Centre

It may sound like an odd entry for a diary, but the people at Woodside have shown us that they care and go beyond the normal to provide insight into growing as well as examples. They have the normal garden centre stuff, plants for sale etc, but they also have demonstration gardens with their own fruits and herbs. We were very impressed, and its a lovely spot to visit, right near the Harestanes Centre off the A68 near Jedburgh. They have a small cafe which we have not tried but I am sure is pleasant. See entry on Waterloo Monument a short walk from here.
Woodside Garden centre link

Borders Abbeys

The area we live in is the heart of the tourist area known as the Borders Abbeys. This is a group of Abbey ruins in Kelso (free), Jedburgh (free), Melrose (charge), Dryburgh (charge). They are intimately associated with the perambulations of St Cuthbert and early churchman who supposedly had a regular walking route around the Abbeys and from thence to Holy Island some 60 miles away. They are all lovely. Melrose Abbey has the heart of Robert the Bruce in a silver box so has special significance for Scots. Dryburgh has Walter Scott interred. They are all worth a visit, and the link below is to a site which describes them and a good walk around the area.
Borders Abbey Way

Greenknowe Tower

This very pretty example of a Scottish Borders fortified home or tower is not far from us and we think is well worth a visit as its free and gives you a good feel for a family home of several hundred years ago. The basement is the kitchen and store and each floor, reached by a staircase in the wall, is a single room. Well worth a visit.
I find too many places charge admission for ruins, and there are one or two places in the Borders worth a visit without having to pay. I don't begrudge the owners wanting some revenue, but when you have a family its expensive.
Wiki Entry for tower

Terrace Cafe, at Floors Castle

This is a lovely place for a light lunch or afternoon tea. The dining room is light and airy, the food is first class and the service excellent. They do ccountry lunch and teas to perfection with nice china and plating and just right food. Not superb or particularly innovative, but very nicely done and very clean and neat. You will not be disappointed.
Floors Terrace Cafe

Smiths Fish and Chips, Tweedmouth

This is one of the best fish and chips in the Borders. We go there every week and they are consistently fine quality. Good large chips and very fresh cod and haddock. They make their own mushy peas. Service and food is always first class. Not far from the shop is the lovely Spittal beach and a good car park overlooking where you can eat and enjoy!
Robert Smith Fish and Chips

Cobbles Inn, Kelso

Visited cobbles for the first time this week. I can recommend this small friendly pub/restaurant just off Kelso Square. The menu is not extensive but they seem to do the food very well. We had panini's and they came perfectly done with a lovely salad and coleslaw. The dining room is very homelike, plaid carpets, decent chairs and tables and nice little pictures of the area. On the menu the day we went was fish pie, beef curry, soup and a small a la carte.


Two years ago we left Trinidad in the warm Caribbean, and migrated to Scotland to the Border area of Eildon, Walter Scott (of Ivanhoe and rob Roy fame) lived here. There is something very special about the Borders, I think its the light which makes the countryside stand out clear and crisp, but its also a half way house between England and the highlands. Its a beautiful area, varying from soft rolling hills with hidden valleys, to rough moorland high up and bleak, but with lovely views. The area is farming land mostly sheep and cattle. There is little industry other than still some weaving and pollution is zero. When we drive from Eildon to Berwick which is nearly an hour we rarely see more than 4 cars the whole trip. Its quiet and calm here and we love it.
This blog will be my diary of our adventures and our recommendations of places to visit and eat and explore.