Discover a part of Scotland where the spirit of ancient Romans and romantic writers endures in the emerald hills, looping rivers and welcoming villages.

Mention walking in Scotland and many people instantly dream of heading off to distant hills, tramping up Highland massifs and forging off to isles over the horizon. But as the cooler winds of autumn and the prospect of winter looms there is a walking hub in the Borders that comes into its easily accessible, but no less spectacular, own.

For me all roads in the Borders lead to Melrose, or rather trails, with a trio of Scotland’s most famous long distance walking options weaving through this trim market town; myriad shorter options, too, in a land awash with the ghosts of the Romans and Sir Walter Scott. I already had a passion for walking in Melrose after breezing through on the coast-to-coast Southern Upland Way. It was a trip highlight: a town brilliantly set up for walkers with walker-friendly accommodation, pubs and restaurants, with Robert the Bruce’s heart buried in its picturesque abbey, the remarkable Trimontium Roman Museum and Scott’s old palatial retreat at Abbotsford.

HeraldScotland: Robin McKelvieRobin McKelvie (Image: Robin McKelvie)
Then came the re-opening in 2015 of the Borders Railway, a massively welcome addition that really got me into Melrose walking and catapulted the town into the hiking spotlight. Hop off the train and you’re practically on the Southern Upland Way, with Melrose just an easy stroll along the Tweed away. It’s a hard-to-beat walking experience, poring over maps as the hills crowd all around on the train, knowing so many options await at the end of the line in Tweedbank.

Local buses criss-cross the region, too, linking up the walking routes. The work done by local groups to maintain and offer information on short, circular, and long-distance walks is impressive. The Walk Melrose website is invaluable (walkmelrose.org.uk/long-distance-walks), as is the work of the Melrose Paths Group and local partners. It also publishes a superb booklet of walks you can order through the site. 

My tip for accommodation is Burts Hotel (burtshotel.co.uk) – it is clued up on the myriad walks and its restaurant offers the post-hike reward of local ale alongside Borders lamb.

A map, compass and decent walking gear are advised for all walking trips. 


The Southern Upland Way
Of the three of ‘Scotland’s Great Trails’ that sweep through Melrose, this 214-mile epic from the Atlantic coast at Portpatrick, through to Cocksburnpath on the North Sea, is easily the longest, taking at least two weeks to tackle. There are much shorter Melrose options. First, you can walk the 18 miles east from Traquair. This is a great all-rounder as you get the big hills and moor to start, with spirit-soaring views as you bash along, then you work through forest as you seek out the River Tweed, your companion on the last stretch to Melrose. 

Alternatively join the shorter 10-mile section north from Melrose to Lauder through rolling hills and farmland, where a cracking pub awaits in Lauder: the Black Bull (blackbull-lauder.com). Another option is to catch the train to Galashiels, take in the new Great Tapestry of Scotland Museum then cross the Tweed to join the river as it arrives in Melrose. This section introduces you to the mighty Borders river. Keep an eye out for herons, birds of prey, otters and leaping salmon.
dgtrails.org/southern-upland-way

HeraldScotland: Getty ImagesGetty Images (Image: Getty Images)
Borders Abbeys Way
Starting points don’t come more dramatic than the backdrop of Melrose Abbey, where Bruce insisted his heart was buried. Whatever your religious beliefs, taking in a remarkable route that features a quartet of romantically ruined abbeys, each almost a millennium old, is a life-affirming experience. It is 68 miles in a circle, if you want the challenge of savouring the abbeys at Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh on one trip. 

My favourite stretch is the 18 miles out of Melrose east in search of Kelso. You can do it in one long day, but I suggest spending the night at Dryburgh Abbey Hotel (dryburgh.co.uk), fortifying your walking limbs with local venison and pheasant, and taking proper time to appreciate the abbey where Scott chose to be buried. You follow – sometimes see at a distance – the Tweed for much of the stretch through wee hamlets and farmland to Kelso Abbey. Floors Castle offers a tempting detour, with its handy café.
scotborders.gov.uk/bordersabbeysway


Venture on to St Cuthbert’s Way
Again, we set off from Melrose Abbey, but we’re not going in a circle as we’re crossing the border in search of the Holy Isle, Lindisfarne, in Northumberland 62.5 miles away. St Cuthbert first embraced religion in Melrose in 650AD, with Holy Island his eventual resting place and the original pilgrimage shrine. This route is well set-up with baggage services that help you complete it in four-to-six days. 

If you want to enjoy a circular day walk I suggest hefting on the main route up over the Eildon Hills south of Melrose and dropping into St Boswells and the charms of the Mainstreet Trading Company (mainstreetbooks.co.uk), a brilliant bookshop and café. Catch a bus back from St Boswells or cut through the fiery red and burning orange leaves of the forests as you follow the Tweed back north to hook up with the Borders Abbeys Way to Melrose. A pint in Melrose completes the experience either way.
stcuthbertsway.info

HeraldScotland: Robin McKelvieRobin McKelvie (Image: Robin McKelvie)

Trimontium
East of Melrose and the small village of Newstead is a Roman site of breathtaking significance. Trimontium Trust Director Dr John Reid told me the finds made here suggest organised resistance to Roman rule centuries earlier than previously thought and that “Scotland was Rome’s Afghanistan”. 

You can catch a bus from Melrose but, if you walk here and have a good ramble around, you’ll still only walk four or five miles and it’s largely flat. The Trimontium Museum Trust operate guided walking tours into October, resuming again in spring.

Guided tours open up the site but there are a flurry of information boards to help you work out how this fort would have spread its tentacles across the landscape. There are viewpoints too. 

Trimontium would have been a flurry of activity with cavalry rushing out across Roman Scotland and the builders of the Antonine Wall bustling to and fro. It’s a glorious place to walk – make sure to get to the east end of the site and admire the view of Leaderfoot Viaduct straddling the Tweed. Bring a picnic and dine with the Romans with views back to the Eildon Hills. 

The last time I was here I continued up to the hills and linked with the St Cuthbert’s Way back to Melrose. That makes for a much longer day, but you get two walks for the price of one and you will be beaming all the way back to the train.

Hike the Eildon Hills
It’s no wonder the Romans chose the Melrose area for their largest Scottish fort at Trimontium. The views from their adjoining hill fort dappled trio of Eildon Hills are truly epic, gazing south towards any approach from England and peering deep into Scotland too. While Scott liked to admire the Eildons from a distance, you get to appreciate them much closer.

The walk here follows the route described in detail by Walking Highlands and takes in all three peaks, with the start easy to follow south out of Melrose on the St Cuthbert’s Way. It may only be six miles, but it’s a heart-pumping adventure with those three peaks to battle up and over 500m of ascent. Mile for scenic mile this is not just one of my favourite walks in the Borders, but in Scotland. 

The view from Eildon Mid Hill is the highlight, but Eildon North Hill and Eildon Wester are no slouches either. 

Don’t miss the Rhymer’s Stone on the way back, where Thomas Rhymer claimed he met the Queen of the Fairies. I’ve walked the Eildons in winter, a gorgeous time to explore if it’s not too icy and slippery; take care, bring the right gear and the wintry hills make a gentler alternative to a night on the Cairngorm Plateau.
walkhighlands.co.uk/borders/eildon-hills.shtml
trimontium.co.uk/visit/walks
scotlandstartshere.com