Last weekend myself and my fellow Scotlanders got the opportunity to spend a few days in the Scottish Borders to explore the area and show off the towns and villages along the new Borders Railway. In collaboration with Visit Scotland we were given themes, itineraries and selfie sticks so we could capture our very own “#brilliantmoments”.
I choose to find out more about the design, craft and textile companies in which the Scottish Borders are famous for. The Scottish Borders are filled to the brim with talented crafts people, the village and towns are artistic hubs of small independent retailers who make a living from doing what they love, and selling their handmade gems into shops and online sites worldwide.
After a gorgeous drive through Midlothian, Galashiels and Selkirk our first stop was the thriving Johnstons of Elgin Cashmere factory and shop in Hawick (pronounced Hoyk, as the locals say, like you would Hoyk up your troosers!)
Their new state of the art Visitor Centre, Restaurant and Shop sits on the banks of the River Teviot alongside the factory which has sat on this site for 140 years. We watched a short video about the unique and fascinating history of this luxury material before being shown around each of the sections of factory floor. This is where the knitted cashmere and lambswool items are made like socks, jumpers, scarfs, gloves and such and it was really to watch the ladies work the machines, doing such intricate work.
It takes true skill to do such tricky intricate work and when you are making goods for companies such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton the quality has to be perfect. I watched in fascination as one lady placed each individual stitch at lightening speed onto a machine, one stitch, one pin at a speed I can only presume has built up over many years. I was so impressed with everyone here, how lovely and chatty they were, and how proud they were of the clothes they were producing. I had a brilliant time on the tour and enjoyed browsing around their new shop.
We drove next to Harestanes Country park and visitor centre just outside Jedburgh and had a lovely walk to cool off. It was one HOT day! This is a wee gem of a place and a haven for artists and craftspeople with workshops and studios in the craft courtyard and the Buy Design Gallery which houses wood, ceramic, glass, metal and textile pieces from over 100 local artists and makers. Also, because it is in such stunning surrounding, has a lovely cafe, a wildlife garden and lots of routes to walk for beginners right up to keen hikers you could easily spend the day here with the family, and have a great time.
After a quick lunch at the yummy Simply Scottish restaurant in Jedburgh we headed back to Hawick (Hoyk) to visit father and son team Peter and Andrew Holmes of Scottish Borders Art Glass. Here in their workshop you can watch the ancient skills of glass making taking place as they make pieces ordered by their customers or to sell in their onsite shop. Their customers include the likes of Harrods, The Scottish Government and Chambers Street Museum in Edinburgh. The shop onsite is jam packed full of pieces ranging from vases and plates to baubles and paperweights in stunning colours and designs inspired by the nature, under the sea, outer space and mythology. Peter has been making glass for 46 years and trained under the famous Paul Ysart. He still uses the same ancient techniques now as well as some new techniques he has perfected himself. We were engrossed watching his son Andrew work the glass into an elegant colourful duck, which will by now be for sale on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. How he could stand the heat with the temperature outside was anyone’s guess though. Andrew studied Art and Design at Hawick and Edinburgh before completing an apprenticeship with his father. Chatting with both Peter and Andrew it was lovely to see how passionate and enthusiastic they were about their craft. Both are also happy for anyone to go along to their workshop and watch the process for themselves.
We had a leisurely 40 minute drive to Kelso next and on the way stopped to have some #brilliantmoments amidst the hills and windy roads. This is a really stunning area of the country. The luscious green of the the fields, filled with spring lambs and a surprising amount of horses. Winding county lanes take you up and over the hills and along the edge of the River Tweed. The little villages are picture perfect with hanging baskets, the obligatory picket fences and because it was the time of the Common Ridings they even had the bunting out!
We reached Kelso in serious need of an ice lolly and found a cute little ice cream van in the edge of the river. Again refreshed we headed in to meet Ian and Elizabeth Herd of Kelso Pottery. They were to be found, not stuck indoors with the heat from the kiln but pottering (see what I did?) in the garden around the back, trimming the plants and having a cuppa. Happy to avoid the heat for a while longer I happily toddled around admiring their impressive array of vegetables and flowers. I also spotted Ian’s pride and joy, his sunken outdoor Kiln. Having perfected his firing skills in Japan, Portugal, Crete and Korea he decided to build his unusual Kiln after his retirement. This kiln allows him to create decorative pieces such as his brilliant time tablets. He also designs and makes domestic-ware such as mugs, bowl and plates which he decorates with images of the Scottish Borders landscape. His wife , Elizabeth mixes throwing and hand building techniques to make animals and birds. Isn’t this pig cute?
After a long, hot but exciting day it was time to find our accommodation for the night. Another 40 minute drive to Peebles allowed us more #brilliantmoments along the River Tweed before we reached the Horseshoe Restaurant with rooms. We had a gorgeous meal before hitting the sack precisely 23 minutes after dessert. You can read my review of my night’s stay here.
Look out for my next blog from the Borders, our second day. Heading back up towards Edinburgh we visited the awe-inspiring Rosslyn Chapel, the National Mining Museum and the rather cute Butterfly and insect World.
The new Borders Railway will link Edinburgh to the Scottish Borders and will take you through Midlothian to Tweedbank, not only making it easier for people living in the Borders to travel to Edinburgh hopefully lessening congestion but also allowing people in Edinburgh and further north to visit the beautiful towns and villages of the Scottish Borders.
Read more about the new Borders Railway project here
Trains will begin running on September 6th and tickets can be bought via Scotrail