The Borders area of Scotland can be passed over by those heading for the more spectacular west coast and Highlands areas. However, there are treats in store for those who look more closely at what it has to offer.
Our coach journey of discovery started with a visit to Bowhill House, home to the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch. It is also home to a famous art collection that includes paintings by Canaletto and Gainsborough as well as porcelain from Sevres and Meissen. Dating back to 1812, the house was enlarged in the 19th century. It served as a military hospital during WW1 and was occupied by the army during WWII. The terrace gardens to the south of the house offer great views of Ettrick Valley and the upper loch.
Continuing the garden theme we visited Dawyck Gardens, a delightful arboretum. If you are visiting in late spring then the Azalea Terrace is well worth a visit and you can’t help but be impressed with the towering Douglas Firs. We visited later in the year and the garden was a haven of peace and quiet, ideal for a relaxing stroll along the pathways that criss-cross the gardens.
Back on the stately home tack, Dumfries House hit the headlines in 2007 when Prince Charles came to its rescue, used £20million of his own charitable foundation’s money and personally brokered a £45million deal to secure the house and its collection of furniture.
Originally designed by the Adams brothers in 1754, the then Lord Dumfries selected the finest furniture from Thomas Chippendale and today the house contains fifty of the six hundred authenticated items of Chippendale furniture, including one item valued at twenty million pounds.
In addition to saving the house and its contents, Prince Charles’ vision was to create a sustainable environment and today the house and its grounds provide employment for local people as well as training centres such as an outdoor activities residential centre, an engineering training centre and a drawing school. Of course the house and grounds are popular venues for weddings and corporate events and there are guest rooms and self-catering cottages available for those who, like Prince Charles, want to stay for a few days.
Having crossed the Border country from East to West, the next morning found us in Ardrossan on the coast where we boarded a ferry for the fifty-minute crossing to the Isle of Arran. The ferry docks in Brodick, Arran’s main town and close to Brodick Castle, not really a castle in the traditional sense but originally a hunting lodge.
Along the coast, Machrie Moor has six stone circles dating back to around 2000 BC. Some stones are over 5m high, and there is evidence of settlements here dating back a further 2000 years. Along the coast we came across a more modern structure, a row of twelve cottages known as the twelve apostles. There is a single high window in each cottage and they are all designed differently. Home to local sailors, their wives would light candles in the window and the unique design would enable the sailors to know which house was signalling.
Back on the mainland we headed for New Lanark, a cotton spinning village founded in 1785 and an advanced social experiment by David Dale. Around 2,500 people lived in New Lanark and in those days the life for the workers was hard. Dale set about changing the lives of his employees by introducing a series of welfare measures including school for children and an on-site doctor. He opened Britain’s first school for infants way back in 1817 and through his reforms he was able to demonstrate that a well-treated workforce could generate a profitable business.
No longer a cotton mill the village is now restored and a great visitor attraction. You can see how people lived at the time and the village also has a thriving leisure centre and hotel, and is a major venue for weddings and other social events.
Scotland’s scenery provided, yet again, a dramatic backdrop to our visit and showed what a diverse and lovely country it is.