The Borderlands: A tale of two countries
Shrouded in myth, steeped in legend and dotted with many a hilltop fort, ruined abbey, grand stately home and fairytale castle, the Borderlands are wild, rugged and beautiful.
Sitting either side of the mighty River Tweed, stretches of which historically marked the eastern side of the formerly formidable border between England and Scotland, the Borderlands encompass the adjoining regions of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. Once the site of conflict, plundering and raids, the Borderlands are now characterised by peace and tranquillity and are best known for their breath-taking stretches of unspoilt countryside, pristine coastline, quiet sandy beaches, rolling hills, magnificent castles and spectacular fishing.
However, their storied pasts are not to be overlooked. From imposing castles and mysterious islands to crumbling abbeys, fortified towns and the Roman remains of Hadrian’s Wall, there’s plenty to explore and oodles of history to discover whether you base yourself on the English side of the border or on the Scottish side. Read on to discover some of our picks for this autumn:
A tiny tidal island with a huge historical significance, The Holy Island of Lindisfarne has played host to medieval monks and Viking raids over the centuries and is now a fascinating place to spend a day delving into its intriguing past and illustrious religious heritage. In the early 8th century, the Lindisfarne Gospels – the most important and breathtakingly beautiful manuscript to come out of Anglo-Saxon England – was created here and has returned to the North East to be displayed in Newcastle this autumn (17th September – 3rd December), offering a rare opportunity to see this almost perfectly-preserved book in its homeland. To celebrate the return of the Gospels to their home county, artist Deepa Mann-Kler has created a flock of illuminated, life-sized sheep, which will be on display at locations including Vindolanda at Hadrian’s Wall (8th – 9th October), after which they will take up residency in a variety of iconic Northumberland spots to create a free art trail across Northumberland.
Built to defend the northern border of the Roman Empire in AD122, this year marks the 1900th anniversary of Hadrian’s Wall, with a wealth of events and exhibits taking place throughout the year along the length of the wall to celebrate such a monumental milestone. Whether you want to immerse yourself in a sound sculpture made of 1900 copper chimes, admire a colourful interpretation of the gatehouse at Housesteads Roman Fort, or discover the history of the Edwardian excavation of Corbridge, the most northerly town in Roman Britain, you’ll find something to fascinate you along this ancient frontier.
The northernmost town in England, Berwick-upon-Tweed boasts a tumultuous past thanks to centuries of conflict between Scotland and England, with both sides laying claim to this delightful coastal town. As each attack brought new improvements to its defences, Berwick’s fortifications are still impressive to this day, its magnificent Elizabethan walls completely encircling the town. Now firmly on the southern side of the border, Berwick’s more recent history is also captivating; the Berwick Barracks is home to part of the famed Burrell Collection, while The Lowry Trail follows in the footsteps of L.S. Lowry and the artwork he created while on holiday in the town.
Known today for its starring role in numerous films and TV shows, from Harry Potter to Downton Abbey, Alnwick Castle dates back to the 11th century and its iconic silhouette has dominated this corner of Northumberland ever since. Step inside and behind the impressive exterior you’ll discover magnificent, gilded state rooms, lavished in Italian Renaissance style and adorned with an incredible collection of Old Master paintings. Home to the Percy family for over 700 years, the current Duke and Duchess of Northumberland have been instrumental in transforming the castle, which is still their family home, and creating the celebrated Alnwick Gardens.
Just outside Kelso is the unapologetically grand Floors Castle, the seat of the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe and the largest inhabited house in Scotland. This palatial house overlooking the River Tweed was constructed in the 18th century, with additions made a hundred years later by William Henry Playfair, giving Floors Castle its distinctive fairytale turrets. Today, the state rooms are home to marvellous tapestries, artwork and period furniture, while outside the incredible gardens are a delight to explore. During autumn and winter the castle and some of the gardens are closed, but it is well worth a visit just to wander round the spectacular four-acre walled garden - you even have the option to stay inside the gardens themselves at the exquisite Head Gardener’s House.
Striking yet whimsical, the truly unique Abbotsford was the beloved home of Sir Walter Scott. His own creation, the house was built in the 19th century with no end plan and the final result is certainly one-of-a-kind, inspiring the movement of Scottish Baronial architecture which followed. After immersing yourself in the bright colours and heady scents of the formal Regency garden, which contains a glass house designed by Scott himself, step inside to discover the extensive library, Sir Walter Scott’s study and his eclectic collection of arms and armour.
Dotted across the Scottish Borders are the crumbling ruins of four impressive medieval abbeys – Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh – where you can find some of the best examples of Norman architecture in Scotland. Dating back to the 12th century, each of the abbeys has its own unique history and style, but all bear the mark of hundreds of years of conflict between Scotland and England, thanks to their close proximity to the much fought-over border. Follow the Four Abbeys cycle route to admire and soak up the history of each of these incredible structures (which currently offer varying levels of access due to important ongoing conservation work) and their towns, and enjoy a scenic tour of the Borders.
Tucked away in the hills of the Borders, stunning Thirlestane Castle is one of the oldest inhabited castles in Scotland. Originally constructed in the late 16th century, this magnificent castle has been home to the Maitland family ever since. Behind the rich sandstone exterior, the exquisite state rooms boast sublime 17th century plasterwork ceilings, stunning artworks and a vast collection of family portraits, as well as a rich history, hosting both Bonnie Prince Charlie and James VI of Scotland. This year, the School Room has also opened to the public, showcasing a fascinating exhibition of Georgian, Edwardian and Victorian toys. Throughout the autumn and winter, you can explore the beautiful castle with a fascinating private tour, which must be booked in advance by enquiring through the Thirlestane Castle website.
Visiting over half term?
If you’re travelling to ‘The Borderlands’ over the school holidays with little ones in tow, we know how important it is to keep the fun flowing. From traversing the Pumpkin Trail through the enchanting gardens and woodland of Floors Castle to Halloween potion making at Paxton House and learning about magical medieval alchemy at Alnwick Castle, there’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained this October, on both sides of the border. Discover our fantastic family-friendly holiday homes over on our October half term availability page.