The romantic ruins of Gothic abbeys in the Borders region stand as mute reminders of the battles that once raged between England and Scotland, as well as between Protestants and Catholics. For a long time, the "Border Country" was a no-man's land of plunder and destruction, lying south of the Moorfoot, Pentland, and Lammermuir hill ranges.
The Borders is also the land of Sir Walter Scott, master of romantic adventure, who topped the bestseller lists in the 19th century. Because of its abundant sheep-grazing land, the Borders is home of the cashmere sweater and the tweed suit. And plans to re-establish a railway line between Edinburgh and the Borders are moving forward, however slowly.
Rich in history, the town of Melrose, about 60km (37 miles) southeast of Edinburgh, is one of the highlights of the region. It has one of the most beautiful ruined abbeys in the country, as well as nearby Abbotsford, home of Sir Walter Scott, which is about 3km (2 miles) west. Melrose is on the Southern Upland Way, a trail that snakes across lower Scotland from Portpatrick in the southwest to the North Sea. You can take a hike along the section that runs near Melrose - a delightful and scenic trek. Among sports fans in the U.K., the town is most famous for its annual "Rugby Sevens" tournament, which began in 1883.
Visitors may prefer to take the bus to Melrose from Edinburgh. Travel time is at least 90 minutes, departing twice an hour or so. Call tel. 0870/608-2608 for information. If you're driving from Edinburgh, you can reach the town by going southeast along the A68 or the more winding A7, which runs past the town.
The tourist office is at Abbey House, Abbey Street (tel. 01896/822-555). It's open Monday through Saturday from April to October.
North of Edinburgh, the region of Fife still likes to call itself a "kingdom", a distinction dating to Pictish prehistoric times when Abernethy was Fife's capital. Some 14 of Scotland's 66 royal burghs lay in this rather self-contained shire on a broad peninsula between the Forth and Tay rivers. The highlight for golfers is St. Andrews, which many consider the most sacred spot of the sport. But the town, named after the country's patron saint, is also of ecclesiastic and scholarly importance. St. Andrews is the site of Scotland's first university, founded in 1413. Closer to Edinburgh, Dunfermline was once the capital of Scotland, and its abbey witnessed the births of royalty and has the burial grounds for several, as well.
Dunfermline & Its Abbey
The ancient town of Dunfermline, 23km (14 miles) northwest of Edinburgh, was a place of royal residence as early as the 11th century. The last monarch to be born in Scotland, Charles I, came into the world at Dunfermline. However, when Scottish and English crowns were joined 3 years later in 1603, the royal court departed for London and the burgh's fortunes declined - a process aided by a fire in 1624. Linen manufacturing in the 18th and 19th centuries provided a boost. In America, its most famous product, however, is Andrew Carnegie, born in a weaver's cottage in 1835.
Dunfermline is on the "Fife Circle" train route from Edinburgh to the north, which means twice hourly connections to the Scottish capital on a 30-minute ride. By bus, the trip from Edinburgh takes about 40 minutes. If you're driving from Edinburgh, take the A90 west, cross the Forth Road Bridge, and follow the signs north to the center of Dunfermline.
Culross: Step Back in Time
Thanks largely to the National Trust for Scotland, this town near Dunfermline shows what a Scottish village in the 17th and 18th centuries was like. With its cobbled streets lined by stout cottages featuring crow-stepped gables, Culross may also have been the birthplace of St. Mungo, who went on to establish the Cathedral in Glasgow. James IV made this port on the Firth of Forth a royal burgh in 1588. The National Trust runs a visitor center (tel. 01383/880-359; www.nts.org.uk) that is open daily noon to 5pm from Good Friday to the end of September, which provides access to the town's palace and other sites. Adult admission is £8.50.
Historic Scotland Explorer Pass
Many of the attractions in these areas are run by the Scottish Government's Historic Scotland organization. If you are planning to visit several of them in a few days, it's worth getting an "Explorer Pass." For 3 days entry, it costs £22 for an adult, £17 for a senior, and £12 for a child. A 3-day family pass is £44. For more information, go to www.historic-scotland.gov.uk.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.