Driving through Northumberland, the A68 rises windingly and steeply as it approaches Carter Bar, a narrow pass in the Cheviot Hills where there once used to be a tollgate. Coming from the south, this is where England ends and Scotland begins. “Hello!” I always cry as I drive past the Welcome to Scotland sign, happy to be on home territory again.

Drivers on a long haul, or those new to the area, pull over in the laybys to enjoy a superb vista over Teviotdale, the Border hills and forests falling away into the blue distance. There is usually a mobile café, serving snacks to sustain travellers on the their way north. It is popular because, more often than not, after drinking in the beauty of the Borderlands, the next stop for many visitors is Edinburgh, or beyond.

It is a long-running joke in these parts that tourists rush through the Borders on their way to the Highlands, where the more scenic and famous Scotland begins. In so doing, they completely ignore an under-trumpeted region that amply rewards exploring.

The Herald’s focus on the Highlands and Islands shone a much-needed light on an area most of us know only superficially. In getting under the skin of a vast but thinly populated area, its in-depth coverage brought to life the problems and pleasures of a part of Scotland better known from its rose-tinted and glamorised image in films and books than from an insider’s perspective.

What was striking, as someone living in the Borders, was the similarity of some of the issues experienced at both extremes of the mainland, albeit on a different scale.

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Issues around infrastructure, transport, housing and employment dominated The Herald’s reportage. Here in the Borders, there are also communities that are poorly served by public transport, or not served at all. As in the Highlands, having your own transport is essential for many, who would otherwise be stranded. One of the great success stories in recent times, however, is the Borders Railway which, covering part of the once famous Waverley line, runs from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, close to Melrose.

Before the line reopened, many were concerned about its impact. Would it bring a flood of new house building and commuters? Would it change the soul and character of the place?

Now, almost 10 years later, you can tell from the jam-packed car park at Tweedbank that it is no longer a question of who will use the train, and more a question of who doesn’t? Even its fiercest critics have been won over, relishing the ease with which they can reach the capital, not to mention approving its environmental credentials.

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You might say its arrival has proved transformational, not just for those of us within easy reach of Tweedbank, but for the towns and villages along the entire route. In a way unthinkable 20 years ago, it is now possible to live in Galashiels and commute to Edinburgh. It’s surely not a coincidence that Gala has recently topped the polls as the happiest place to live in Scotland.

As yet, sadly, the same cannot be said for Hawick, the underdog of the Borders in terms of transport links. This substantial and characterful town - known in its weaving heyday as the ‘Glasgow of the south’ - has been left out in the cold.

Hopefully, however, that might be about to change. A long-overdue £10m feasibility study is now in the pipeline to examine the logistics of continuing the Tweedbank line to Hawick, Newcastleton and Carlisle. Should that come to pass, the effect would be dramatic. Connecting Hawick by rail to the rest of the Borders, and to Edinburgh and Carlisle, would bring fresh life and new opportunities to a town and its hinterland that are rich in potential. Here’s hoping one day Hawick will be buzzing again.

Of course nothing like the barbarism of the Highland Clearances ever took place here. It did, however, endure waves of depopulation, as recorded in Tom Devine’s The Scottish Clearances, which covers the devastation of dispossession and forced migration south as well as north of the Highland line.

When Devine came, one winter evening, to speak in Melrose, there was standing room only. Later, with a whisky in his hand, he gave what felt like an informal seminar to a group of our enthralled neighbours that lasted into the small hours. Much has been written on the Highland tragedy. Far less has been said about the undramatic but ruinous (and so far unreversed) drain of people out of Border rural districts in the 18th and early 19th centuries to Scotland’s burgeoning mill towns and cities.

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Unlike in the Highlands, tourism is relatively low-key, for which some are grateful. They see every tour bus that speeds past without stopping as a bonus. Even so, word is spreading about what is on offer: fishing, walking, cycling, riding, canoeing and a plethora of historical sites such as the great border abbeys and medieval castles, or Sir Walter Scott’s mansion at Abbotsford, or the award-winning Trimontium Museum, showcasing the nearby Roman fort.

The arrival of the Great Tapestry of Scotland in Galashiels in 2021 marked a turning point for regenerating Borders fortunes. Each of these is reason enough to visit. Highland imagery and culture might be an international shorthand for Scottishness, but the sense of identity close to the Border remains exceptionally strong.

Every town and village has its own personality and allegiances, and it’s noticeable how assiduously people work to protect and improve their locale. Traditions such as the common ridings and a love of horses and hunting glue communities together, as do a love of wildlife and outdoor pursuits.

One Highlander spoke to The Herald of the “central belt focussed body politik”, and his words chime down here. There is a sense that the Borders region is undervalued and overlooked compared to urban centres, and that most of those in Holyrood don’t understand what it’s like to live here.

Thankfully depopulation is not an issue as it once was, although there’s a natural cycle of youngsters departing, to be replaced by working-age incomers and returnees, or those who have retired. As a result, regardless of its challenges, the Borders region quietly thrives. For every traveller who sees Carter Bar as the escape route to a better life elsewhere, there’s another who views it as the gateway to their forever home.