Scotland may be renowned for its ruggedness but you don’t have to go off the grid to explore – a decent pair of walking shoes and a sense of adventure are all you need. If you’re new to this wonderful country, the Scottish Borders can provide the perfect introduction. With everything from rolling hills and sandy beaches to stately homes and historic abbeys, this beautiful area is guaranteed to get the thumbs-up – from both dogs and humans.
WHAT ARE 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.
History buffs will enjoy visiting the statue of William Wallace, one of Scotland’s most famous sons, on the Bemersyde Estate, near Melrose. Wallace, who led the Scottish rebellion against Edward I in the 13th Century, was immortalised in the 1995 film Braveheart starring Mel Gibson. It’s free to pay homage to him at this sandstone statue – you just need to walk through a wooded area to find it.
Floors Castle – Scotland’s largest inhabited castle – is also well worth a visit. Dogs are permitted in the gardens of this country 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.
There are plenty of woodland trails and riverside walks you can do here – and it’s the same story at Paxton House, by the River Tweed, which has a great tea room with a separate section for dogs. An annual grounds pass will set you back just £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, make sure you check out some of 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 Centry walled gardens on lead and soak up the sights and smells of the many colourful flowers. Tickets start from £3.50 for adults.
WHERE’S GOOD FOR WALKIES? 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, which runs from Cockburnspath in the north down to Berwick-upon-Tweed, just across the English border.
Whatever section you choose to walk, 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 the sandy beach of Coldingham Bay and St Abbs Head National Nature Reserve, where there’s a lovely circular walk out to the lighthouse.
And, although it’s technically not in the Scottish Borders, Northumberland’s enormous Kielder Water & Forest Park is very close by and makes for a great day out for both dogs and humans. There are miles of woodland trails to explore or you can take a stroll around the biggest man-made lake in Northern Europe – it’s quite a sight. Head to one of the park’s three visitor centres for more information about walks.
BEST PLACE TO GRAB A BITE? Dogs are warmly welcomed at the Hemelvaart Bier Cafe in Ayton – once they’ve been vetted by pub pet Rocky, of course. The name is a bit of a giveaway but if you’re expecting a quiet country pub, you’ll be disappointed – the bar specialises in beer from around the world, particularly strong Belgian ones. It also serves a range of locally-sourced food (the Jarvis Pickle pies are a must!) and hosts regular live music, comedy and cinema nights.
Another place that’s well worth checking out is The Red Lion in Earlston, a former coaching inn that’s halfway between Edinburgh and Jedburgh. Dogs are welcome in the bar, where they can hang out with pub dog Dave while you tuck in to locally-sourced haggis and the suchlike.
The Red Lion also has several rooms where you can stay with your four-legged friend at no extra cost. Overnight doggy guests receive a welcome pack with dog bowl and treats, which can also be purchased to take home. All proceeds from the treats go to ASD Singapore – the charity that rescued Dave – which is a nice touch.
In Coldingham, check out the charming New Inn, where huge portions of comfort food are served up. On quiet nights, dogs are allowed to curl up in front of the roaring log fire in the main bar but at all other times, they’re allowed in the lounge bar.
I can also recommend the Old School Café in St Abbs. As the name suggests, this eatery-cum-community centre was once the village school but now serves up a fantastic range of soups, sandwiches, cakes and hearty lunches. Dogs are allowed inside the café and get a lot of fuss from the staff, making it the perfect place to warm up with a cuppa after a long walk along the Berwickshire Coastal Path.
WHERE SHOULD I 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.
GET ME THERE: The Scottish Borders have 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.
When we travelled up from Essex, we decided to let the train take the strain and headed to Berwick-upon-Tweed from London Kings Cross with Virgin Trains East Coast. Virgin is a very pet-friendly company and dogs – who travel for free – always get lots of fuss from the train staff.
In case you’re thinking that Berwick is in Northumberland, you’re right – although it’s just a 15-minute drive from the Borders so is very convenient. The 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 by the time we arrived at the station, someone was there to meet us with our vehicle and all the paperwork – nice and easy.