Dream homes away from home

Paul Bloomfield, 15 March, 2021
According to travel writer Paul Bloomfield, the Scottish Borders is the place to go if you like amazing architecture and dramatic landscapes.

Looking for a property with period features? I’ve got just the place for you.

Whitewashed stone walls five feet thick. A vast oak door carved with the motif of a proud unicorn skewering a lion. A priest hole, characteristic of Tudor houses south of the border, climbing to a full chamber for the resident cleric secreted up in the eaves. Turrets, secret staircases, 16th-century murals, a medieval long-drop loo. And in the private chapel – housed in the ‘new’ wing, a mere three-and-a-quarter-centuries old – the smell of malt betrays one of the most intriguing features: the 18th-century brewery below.

My father discovered the equipment while clearing out what seemed to be junk from a storeroom in the 1960s,” explains Catherine Maxwell Stuart, 21st Lady of Traquair. “Though it had been forgotten and gathering dust for over a century, he got it going again – and now we produce a range of traditional ales based on old Scottish recipes.

Your own private on-site brewery – surely that seals the deal. Though you might find Lady Catherine not so keen to sell. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the magnificent Traquair House – overlooking a strategic bend in the River Tweed near Innerleithen – has been continuously inhabited since at least 1107, when it was used as a royal hunting lodge. It’s hosted the likes of Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Sir Walter Scott, a close friend of Lady Louisa Stuart in early 19th century.

If historic architecture – and tales of the erstwhile inhabitants of those ancient structures – is your thing, then an amble through the Borders might be for you.

My visit to Traquair House came at the midway point of Inntravel’s new six-night Tweed & the Scottish Borders holiday, which proved to be a feast of property porn.

I started my journey in Edinburgh, with a stay at The Dunstane Houses. A family-run boutique B&B that’s far more elegant than that description suggests, this grand mid-Victorian mansion has been updated with a rich Orcadian sensibility – and whisky cabinet: if you’re fond of a wee dram, ask for advice on your ideal nip from the comprehensive range, including several from Orkney distilleries. Just leave something in the tank to explore the hidden courts and castle of the Scottish capital’s Old Town; a morning stroll along the Water of Leith path, a little taste of littoral delights to come, is a good head clearer before roaming the city proper.

The recently relaunched Borders Railway whisked me to Tweedbank station for my transfer to Peebles for the start of the walk proper. And the properties. Shortly after setting out west along the northern bank of the Tweed, a dark shadow loomed over the trail: 14th-century Neidpath Castle, one of the best-preserved of Scotland’s Peel Towers, bastions designed to defend against the notorious reivers that ravaged the borders during the late Middle Ages. Though not open to drop-in visitors, it’s an imposing presence on a particularly magical stretch of the river, guarded with herons and punctuated by the plops of diving goosanders. A couple of miles more took me over a pair of impressive Victorian viaducts to Barns Tower, another defence-minded medieval home that’s now a (frankly spectacular) holiday rental. And the return to Peebles traverses dense pinewoods and rewards with views of humpback hills – though the walking itself is comfortable throughout the tour, the surrounding landscapes are wilder and more dramatic than I’d anticipated.

The route east to Innerleithen is another gentle leg-stretch, passing wader-clad fly-fishers and Kingsmeadow House, the kind of riverside Georgian mansion that evokes images of Belle Epoque weekend parties. The Tweed Valley Railway Path provides an even surface for ambling, allowing walkers to take in their surroundings at ease; it’s worth keeping an eye on the river for dippers and ospreys, known to hunt here since they returned to the region in the mid-90s. And the arrival at Traquair House is the icing on the cake – though the cake itself came later, with a slap-up feast at my guesthouse, the friendly Caddon View, serving cuisine several steps of quality up from what you might reasonably expect at a small-town B&B.

The stretch to Melrose began with a short taxi ride to Yair Bridge (or ‘Brig’, as the local dialect would have it), start of another riverside leg glinting gold with autumn foliage. Another day, another architectural wonder – and this one’s something special: Abbotsford, the mock-Gothic confection designed by Sir Walter Scott. The polymath author transformed a humble farmhouse into something akin to a fantasy castle, adopting medieval elements to create a new style – Scottish baronial – that proved influential over the following years. For Scott, though, it was purely personal: this was both habitation and office, a place that both embodied the history and inspired the tales on which his success was founded. And for me, roaming its halls decorated with medieval arms and monastic carvings, browsing its libraries crammed with precious volumes, and inhaling its air of learning and romance, it represented the epitome of a dream home, in its lovely gardens, grounds and woods overlooking the Tweed. If only I could get a big enough mortgage…


Related holidays

The Tweed & the Scottish Borders
Featuring charming, 4-star accommodation, our Scottish Borders walk follows the River Tweed as its tumbles downstream, pausing in the traditional towns of Peebles and Innerleithen before ending in pretty Melrose.
More about our walking holiday in the Scottish Borders >

The Hidden Borders
We also offer a 4-night version of the holiday, focussing on Peebles and Innerleithen and the quiet countryside which surrounds them.
More about our short walking break in the Scottish Borders >
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