Borders Historic Route
|Borders Historic Route|
|To:||border nr Carlisle (NY386732)|
|Distance:||95 miles (152.9 km)|
|Meets:||border (M6), A720|
|Old route now:||A7|
The Borders Historic Route runs exclusively along the A7 in Scotland, from the capital city of Edinburgh south through some stunning scenery and interesting Borders towns to the border near Canonbie. The scenery changes from the urban fringe of Edinburgh to the open moorlands of the hills at Teviothead, with the route crossing the mighty Tweed and Teviot along the way.
Edinburgh - Selkirk
The historic capital city of Scotland is an eclectic mix of history and culture; Architecture challenging the topography and often winning; rowdy festivals and quiet places. The Royal mile stretches out from the Castle to Holyrood, with the Georgian New Town to the north and the older Grass Market to the south. The suburbs are a mixture of historic cores and new build sites which have overcome long-forgotten farms. The port of Leith has long been the trading centre, clustered around the historic docks and river mouth. In short, it is a place to explore and discover in, and a great starting point for any tourist route.
The route actually starts on the far side of the A720 city bypass, although the A7 itself starts at the very heart of the city, on Princes Street, and heads south over Waverley Station and winds its way south east out of the city to the Sheriffhall Junction. This, then, is the start of the route, looping to the west of Eskbank on the bypass and passing through a series of roundabouts before reaching Newtongrange. At one, the A6094 heads south west through Bonnyrigg to give access to the famous Roslin Chapel, a detour worth taking, whilst in Newtongrange, the A7 passes the National Mining Museum.
A couple of miles later, the A7 avoids Gorebridge - the town lies to the east - and strikes out into the countryside. The road mostly follows the historic route, meaning a reasonable width road snaking through between hedges and dry stone walls, interspersed with occasional wide fast sections allowing overtaking opportunities. However, whilst never spectacular, the sweeping landscape of fields and woodland gives a pleasant view as traffic heads south. The newly re-opened Borders Railway is soon found, and together road and rail drop into the valley of the Gala Water. Villages skitter past, some on the roadside, others on the other side of the valley, and all too soon Galashiels is reached.
Galashiels is the modern commerical centre for the Borders region. The largest urban area in this corner of Scotland is home to Supermarkets and retail parks. It is through these that the A7 snakes, avoiding the town centre, and it is all too easy to miss the attractions as you wind past a series of modern super-sheds. Find a car park and take a while to explore on foot, and you will be rewarded however. High Street Chains jostle with local businesses in the long High Street, and there are some fine buildings to admire, as well as parks and squares to relax in. A short detour east to Melrose finds the first of the famed Borders Abbeys as well.
If Melrose Abbey appeals, then continuing east and then south west leads to Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh Abbeys, all picturesquely ruined in their own way, and all worth a visit. However, be sure to return to the route at Selkirk, a pleasant hilltop market town and former county town which climbs high above the Etterick Water. It is reached from Galashiels, along the A7 which first follows the Tweed and then the Etterick Water south. The A7 still passes through the square in the centre of town, zig-zagging between ancient buildings, and it can be a nervous time watching the 44-Tonne Artics inching past with skill and precision.
Despite the traffic, Selkirk is a fine place to wander around and explore. The old church at the top of the hill, shops and fine buildings around the square and the park way down on the riverbank next to the bridge are just some of the delights of the place. For a lengthy detour through some stunning scenery, the A708 south west to Moffat is an unmissable drive for those with time to spare. The steep valleys, Grey Mares Waterfall and scenic St Marys Loch alone make it worthwhile, but spend a little longer and meander down the side roads to find your own adventure.
Selkirk - Border
Back to the route, which leaves Selkirk heading south on the A7. The road climbs, steeply at times, up and over the hills to find Hawick on the Teviot. The town is larger than Selkirk, but offers a similar range of attractions, albeit with the traffic of the A7 routed away from the main shopping area. The surrounding hills are dotted with hillforts and earthworks, suggestive of millenia of human occupation, and much of it featuring disputes with neighbours. Of course this reached a head with the Border Reivers of the later medieval period.
After pausing a while in Hawick, the last of the Border towns, the route turns south west and starts the long climb up onto the moors. The Teviot is followed all the way to Teviot head, with a series of fine bridges to find along the way. As the river winds off into the hills to the west, the road continues to climb across an increasingly bleak moorland to the watershed and county boundary at Mosspaul Inn. If the weather is right, a quick leg stretch into the surrounding hills and fells is a must, but if the mist has descended, then perhaps best to continue south, dropping now, following the headwaters of the Ewes Water.
The road sweeps down effortlessly through fast bends with occasional sharper turns. It can be a glorious run down into Langholm, another historic town worth exploring, and home to the Edinburgh Woolen Mill - although curiously there is no store here. Again, the A7 winds through the town centre, before the final blast for the border. A few miles to the south, the village of Canonbie is now bypassed, although for centuries the main road wound along the riverbank and through the village. The old road is now closed up, thanks to a landslip, but the village is worth a stop if you have time.
It will, however, be the last Scottish stop, as just a couple of miles further south the A7 crosses the border into England. This is techincally the end of the route, but it is worth detouring west at Longtown to Gretna, the famous border town which is also the start of the Galloway Tourist Route. If that is not for you, then a final stop to explore Carlisle with its castle and truncated Cathedral is a must. While, as noted, the route is officially only in Scotland, it is signed as Tourist Route to Edinburgh at the M6 / A7 junction north of Carlisle.