Exploring Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders

In our newest post from guest contributor David Wishart, a well-known international travel writer and cruise expert, he takes us on a tour through Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders. Be sure to check back in with us for some more insightful reviews from David’s travel exploits.

Scotland, home of golf and whisky, not to mention loads of craggy castles and dreamy islands, is a popular destination for Americans. They typically fly into Edinburgh, rent a car, locate the driver’s seat on the wrong side, and off they go, usually on the high road amid heather-clad mountains.

However, Edinburgh, as the top attraction in Scotland, is obviously a place to linger as well. The 12th century Edinburgh Castle, visible from all over the city and offers stunning views of the rooftops all the way to Firth of Forth, an estuary Scotland’s River Forth, is amazing. Also noteworthy is the Royal Mile, the winding, medieval road leading from the castle to the Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Scottish home of the British monarch.

Energetic souls should climb the extinct volcano up to Arthur’s Seat, once described by Robert Louis Stevenson as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design. Also worth exploring in the nearby port of Leith is one of Edinburgh’s most popular attractions — the former Royal Yacht Britannia, which served as the Queen’s floating Royal residence for over 40 years.

Next year, I predict, more than a few will take the low road down to the lush countryside of the Borders, a region rich in romantic history, ruined abbeys and literary connections — one of them having strong links to the American Civil War.

At the height of the holiday shopping season of 1860, a bookseller in Richmond, Va., placed an advertisement in the Daily Dispatch promoting a list of two dozen “choice books, suitable for Holiday Gifts”, including five works by the Scottish novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott, who lived in the Borders. Not only did Scott’s works top the gift book lists on the eve of the Civil War but they also dominated Southern literary taste throughout the conflict. His highly idealized depiction of the age of chivalry allowed Southern readers and writers to find positive meaning in war’s horrors.

In 1814 Scott had began his rise to the heights of literary stardom with the publication of the historical romance “Waverley” followed by “Ivanhoe” and “Kidnapped”, all an immediate and immense success in Britain and America.

Scott’s fame in the capital city of Edinburgh is hard to miss. Waverley is the name of Edinburgh’s main railway station, and the Scott Monument on Princes Street at 200 feet tall is the largest for any writer in the world. It has 287 steps and those who climb it get a certificate to prove you made it to the top and back.

This year history was made again when Scotrail opened the Borders Railway, the first railway made in Britain in more than 100 years. The train runs from Waverley Station to Tweedbank, conveniently close to Scott’s home at Melrose on the River Tweed. The journey takes less than an hour and with a wealth of attractions in close proximity, tourists, certainly those on a short trip, might prefer to go by train rather than drive.

Abbotsford House

Abbotsford House

Scott’s home, Abbotsford, is not only open to the public, it has an entire wing (the Hope Scott) available to rent to individuals or groups up to 15, starting from £120 per room, per night. But a mansion it is not — rather a writer’s whimsical creation whose entry is an armory leading into a magnificent library which also tells of Scott’s international popularity and fame.

The Brothers Grimm sent him their first book of fairy tales from Germany; Washington Irving, who had visited Scott at Abbotsford, sent books from America; Lachlan Macquarie, the Governor of New South Wales, sent him the tale of a bushranger, the first book ever to be published in Tasmania. The visitors’ book is signed by former U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant, Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte.

Burt's Hotel (David Wishart)

Burt’s Hotel (David Wishart)

Another celebrated author who lived in the Borders was John Buchan, author of the Thirty-Nine Steps, made into a popular film by Hitchcock.

Book lovers should time their visit for June during the Borders Book Festival (June 16-19, 2016). The festival is held in nearby Melrose and the town is a worthwhile visit for its charm and the lavishly decorated Melrose Abbey. Founded in the 12th century, it is one of the most beautiful monastic ruins in Britain. The heart of King Robert the Bruce is buried on the site, carefully tended by Historic Scotland.

Melrose is a place to linger, with Burts Hotel being a popular choice and has long been a haven for outdoors people. This friendly, family-run hotel has comfortable rooms, a cozy bar and restaurant specializing in local produce. Burts was chosen as “dining pub of the year” in Scotland 2015, and has free parking and Wi-Fi.

Priorwood Garden, a delightfully rustic walled garden, is next door, while not far away is Robert Smail’s Printing Works, a fascinating look at printing in the days before smartphones and tablets — where you can find more information on the caretakers, the National Trust for Scotland.

Nearby is the village of St Boswells, whose Main Street Trading Company has a superb bookshop, cafe and deli.

To keep up with David and his travels, you can find him on Twitter @dcwishart or visit his blog Cruise Plus.

Priorwood Garden (National Trust for Scotland)

Priorwood Garden (National Trust for Scotland)

Fly.com Expert Tips

How To Get There: Edinburgh Airport (EDI) is located about 6 miles west of the city centre, and is served by over 30 domestic and international airlines including British Airways, Lufthansa and United Airlines. Nonstop service is available from Newark, with seasonal service from Chicago and New York City JFK.

The cheapest way to get into the city centre is either by bus or tram. The bus (Airlink 100) costs £7.50 for a roundtrip ticket, departs every 10 minutes and takes approximately 30 minutes. The tram costs £8 roundtrip and takes about 35 minutes, departing every 8 to 12 minutes. Information regarding area transportation is available here.
Best Time To Visit: Scotland can be explored any time of the year, and summer being the most popular time to visit, when temps are in the 50s to mid-60s. This is also when major festivals take place, including the Highland Games and dancing and music competitions. To avoid tourists and find cheaper accommodations, consider visiting in spring, in April and May, before the rush of tourists starting in June. However, there are more chances of rain during this time.

Sample Fares: Calendars display lowest roundtrip fares over the next 90 days to Edinburgh from:

* All fares are roundtrip including all taxes and are accurate at time of publication. For updated pricing, conduct a new search on Fly.com.

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Featured Image: Edinburgh Castle seen from the roof terrace of the National Museum of Scotland (Visit Scotland)

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