Review: The Borders Abbeys Way

FIFTY years ago this summer Roger Purvis from Menston, a fellow sixth form student from Prince Henry’s Grammar School, accompanied me on a cycling holiday in the Scottish borders stopping at various Youth Hostels. During our visit we called to see a number of historical and literary sites (including Sir Walter Scott’s house, Abbotsford), some of which were the various Abbeys in the area.

When this new walking guidebook landed on my doorstep recently it brought back many memories of that holiday in 1969. The guide written by Paul Boobyer takes the reader on a 68 mile circuit in the Scottish Borders, taking in four of Britain’s grandest ruined medieval abbeys. Beginning and ending at Tweedbank station just outside Galashiels, the route, which is described over six stages, is as rich in history as it is in pastoral charm. It is mainly low level and easy walking on the first three stages and then the following three stages involve some inclines, but none that are demanding for people with a moderate level of fitness. Most of the route is off-road, but there are some stretches along quiet, minor roads. The route descriptions look very clear and there are regular sketch maps to help the reader plus numerous photographs taken along the route to accompany the description.

The four abbeys visited en-route are Dryburgh, Jedburgh, Kelso and Melrose all of which were established in the 12th century. Melrose Abbey is particularly well known for its many carved decorative details, including likenesses of saints, dragons, gargoyles and plants. On one of the abbey’s stairways is an inscription by John Morow, a master mason, which says, Be halde to ye hende “Keep in mind, the end, your salvation”. This has subsequently become the motto of the town of Melrose.

As is usual with Cicerone books, there are a number of useful appendices at the end of the route description. These include facilities available on each stage of the Borders Abbeys Way, accommodation, public transport information, useful contacts and further reading about the locality.

This is a walk that I am sure many people would enjoy in a particularly beautiful part of Southern Scotland. But don’t do it between June and August when the Scottish midge is particularly prevalent.

Published by Cicerone, £11.95

by John Burland