Ruff Guide to… the Scottish Borders

Scotland may be renowned for its ruggedness but all you need to explore is a decent pair of walking boots. If you’re new to this wonderful country, the Scottish Borders can provide the perfect introduction. With everything from sandy beaches to stately homes, it is sure to get the thumbs-up from both dogs and humans.

William Wallace statue in the grounds of the Bemersyde estate, near Melrose
The William Wallace Statue in the grounds of the Bemersyde estate, near Melrose  © VisitScotland / Ian Rutherford, all rights reserved

Dog-friendly Scottish Borders: the must-sees

The Borders certainly have plenty to keep visitors busy. Your first stop should be the picturesque town of Melrose – the birthplace of Rugby Sevens. It also has another claim to fame: it’s thought to be the place where the heart of Robert the Bruce is buried.

Dogs are welcome to explore the partly-ruined Melrose Abbey on lead and sniff out the commemorative plaque marking the historic spot in the grounds. Entry to the Abbey costs £6 for adults. There are also lots of lovely walks in and around Melrose, many of which start from the Abbey. Click here for more information about the routes you can take.

Ruins of Melrose Abbey
Melrose Abbey was founded by King David I in 1136, as the first Cistercian monastery in Scotland.

History buffs will enjoy visiting the statue of William Wallace, one of Scotland’s most famous sons. It lies on the Bemersyde Estate, near Melrose, and is free to visit. Wallace, who led the Scottish rebellion against Edward I in the 13th Century, was immortalised in the 1995 film Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson.

Floors Castle – Scotland’s largest inhabited castle – is also well worth a visit. Dogs are permitted in the gardens of the estate, near Kelso, which was built for the 1st Duke of Roxburghe in 1721. Tickets to the grounds cost £6.50 for adults, and it’s an extra £5 to see the castle, too.

Exterior of Paxton House, with daffodils growing in front
Paxton House in the springtime

Paxton House, by the River Tweed, is also great for dogs. Its tea room even has a separate pet-friendly section. An annual grounds pass costs £6, while it’s £8.10 for a one-off ticket to explore the historic house and estate.

If you’re staying near the coast, check out the many quaint towns and villages. There’s always plenty to see and do in the bustling town of Eyemouth, while Coldingham and St Abbs are picture-perfect. Kailzie Gardens, just outside Peebles, makes for another great day out. Dogs are allowed to roam the 19th-Century walled garden on lead. Tickets start from £3.50 for adults.

View of Gunsgreen House from Eyemouth harbour
Gunsgreen House – a visitor attraction telling the story of smuggling in Eyemouth and also offering self catering accommodation, Eyemouth, Scottish Borders Picture Credit: Paul Tomkins / VisitScotland

Dog-friendly Scottish Borders: the best walks

Thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, dogs have the right to walk almost anywhere in Scotland – as long as they adhere to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. That’s easy to do on the 28.5-mile Berwickshire Coastal Path. It runs from Cockburnspath in the north down to Berwick-upon-Tweed, just across the English border.

The dramatic clifftop trail has fantastic views out over the water and is a haven for birdwatchers. A particularly scenic part of the trail takes in sandy Coldingham Bay and St Abbs Head National Nature Reserve, where you can walk out to the lighthouse.

Ernie at Coldingham Bay
Ernie at Coldingham Bay

Dog-friendly Scottish Borders: the best pubs and cafes

In Coldingham, check out the charming New Inn, where huge portions of comfort food are served up. On quiet nights, dogs can curl up in front of the roaring fire in the main bar but they’re usually only allowed in the lounge bar.

Dogs are warmly welcomed at the Hemelvaart Bier Cafe in Ayton – once they’ve been vetted by pub pet Rocky. The bar specialises in beer from around the world, particularly strong Belgian ones. It also serves a range of locally-sourced food (try the Jarvis Pickle pies) and hosts regular live music and comedy nights.

Beer mats and signs at Hemelvaart Bier Cafe in Ayton
Beer mats and signs at the Hemelvaart Bier Cafe in Ayton

I can also recommend the Old School Café in St Abbs. As the name suggests, this eatery-cum-community centre was once a school but now serves up a range of hearty fayre. Dogs are allowed inside and get a lot of fuss from the staff. It’s a great place to warm up with a cuppa after a long walk along the Berwickshire Coastal Path.

Another place that’s worth checking out is The Red Lion in Earlston, a former coaching inn between Edinburgh and Jedburgh. Pets are welcome in the bar, where they can hang out with pub dog Dave while you tuck in to haggis and the suchlike. All proceeds from the dog treats behind the bar go to ASD Singapore – the charity that rescued Dave.

Exterior of The Red Lion, Earlston
The Red Lion, Earlston

Dog-friendly Scottish Borders: where to stay

Press Mains Farm Cottages, near Coldingham, is perfectly located for exploring the Borders – and dog-friendly to boot. The cosy, self-catering properties sleep between two and six people, and are located on a working farm. Read my review here.

How do I get to the Scottish Borders?

There are good road connections to other areas in Scotland – and to England. London to the Borders by car via the A1(M), A1 and A606 takes approximately six-and-a-half hours. Edinburgh is around 50 miles away via the A7. Other major roads in the area include the A68, A697, A73 and A703.

We decided to let the train take the strain and headed to Berwick-upon-Tweed from London Kings Cross. Virgin Trains East Coast is a very pet-friendly company and dogs always get lots of fuss from the train staff. They also travel for free.

Dog drinks from a Virgin Trains water station
A thirsty dog drinks from a Virgin Trains water station

In case you’re thinking that Berwick is in Northumberland, you’re right – although it’s just a 15-minute drive from the Borders. Our train journey took just under four hours and we then hired a car from East Coast Rental. We had told the company what train we were on so someone was there to meet us with our vehicle when we arrived. Nice and easy.

Where can I find out more?

Log on to the official Scottish tourism website. It also has plenty of ideas to help you plan a trip to Scotland with your dog.

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