Tag Archives: Scottish Borders

Scottish Borders Saddles Up

Towns and villages across the Scottish Borders are gearing up for the upcoming season of special events and one of the area’s most spectacular traditions – the Common Ridings.

Hundreds of horses and riders will turn out in 11 separate festivals to take part in each town’s annual ride-out – a celebration of the centuries old riding of the Boundaries. The tradition harks back to the days when the magistrates and burgesses of the town made an annual inspection of the various markers that outlined the ground belonging to the town. Each town has its own special week of events each summer that combines with various ride-outs with parades, music and song.

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Jedburgh Callants Festival

The rides are the most spectacular element of each festival and can over 300 horses and riders gallop across open fields, through rivers and up hillsides and parade through town centres behind an elected principal rider that bears the town flag as they follow the historic boundary lines. They can last anywhere from four to ten hours and often include a ceremonial element.

It’s an amazing sight, with almost everyone from each town turning out to cheer on the riders and wish them luck and a safe journey with the phrase – ‘Safe Oot, Safe In!’ Many of the rides start first thing in the morning so if you want to see them for yourself, you’ll need to be prepared for an early start.

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Galloping Across the Fields

Hawick is the first of the larger town ride-outs and this year’s Common Riding Festival takes place from 5 to 11 June, with the main ride-out being held on Friday, 10 June 2016.

In Hawick the traditional ride-out is combined with a commemoration of the young men who successfully defended Hawick from a raiding party at the Battle of Hornshole in 1514. Following the disastrous Battle of Flodden in 1513, where all Hawick’s menfolk between the ages of 16 and 60 were killed, it was heard that a raiding party was approaching and the young men of Hawick decided to defend their town. They surprised and defeated the invaders who had camped at Hornshole, taking their banner and riding triumphantly back to town. Although small in scale, the victory was a huge boost to the town’s pride after the Flodden defeat.

The main ride outs for each town take place on the dates below, although dates should be confirmed before travel:

  • West Linton – Saturday, 4 June 2016
  • Hawick – Friday, 10 June 2016
  • Selkirk – Friday, 17 June 2016
  • Melrose – Monday, 13 June 2016
  • Peebles – Wednesday, 22 June 2016
  • Galashiels – Saturday, 2 July 2016
  • Jedburgh – Friday, 8 July 2016
  • Duns – Saturday, 9 July 2016
  • Kelso – Saturday, 23 July 2016
  • Langholm – Friday, 29 July 2016
  • Coldstream – Thursday, 4 August 2016
  • Lauder – Saturday 6, August 2016

These events are the most familiar example of the heritage and traditions of the Scottish Borders but the region is also filled with stunning countryside and history and makes a wonderful holiday destination at any time of the year.

We have a selection of fabulous cottages in gorgeous locations in the area, ranging from romantic retreats for two, to beautiful family friendly cottages that are perfect for a relaxing break or a larger family get-together. We even have some properties that allow you to bring along your own horse, should you fancy riding in some of the beautiful countryside yourself.

Click here to discover more or call 01835 822277 where a member of our friendly team will have lots of suggestions of great places in the region for you to stay.

Charming New Addition – The Study at Minto

History fans and those looking for something ‘a bit different’ are sure to love the latest addition to our portfolio, which is set in the picturesque village of Minto in the Scottish Borders.

Perfectly set up for two people, The Study at Minto was built in 1889 as the village school in a location that was deemed to be ‘the most beautiful and commodious in the south of Scotland’. The views are indeed stunning and can be enjoyed from the beautiful raised patio outside after a day spent out exploring the local area.

Study at Minto
Open Plan Living Area

The building itself has undergone a long and careful restoration and preservation that has retained most of its stunning original features including fine Gothic windows as well as floors, doors and decorative woodwork.

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Four-Poster Bed

The interior is a fabulous eclectic mix of history and craftsmanship. An intricately-carved Tudor four-poster bed provides a rather grand place to sleep, after which you can cook-up a tasty breakfast (free range eggs can be sourced in the village) in a kitchen constructed from an early 19th century French sideboard rescued from a chateau south of Paris, with worktops formed from recycled Victorian pews from a Borders church.

Two stunning carved oak panels on either side of the south window date from 1890 and were created in the workshops of the eminent Scottish architect, Sir Robert Lorimer. Amongst the exquisite Persian rugs and French and Scottish furniture dating from the mid 18th to the late 19th centuries, visitors can also discover a 1920s working gramophone and taxidermy including a rare Capercaille named Hector who was a pet on a Scottish estate that died of natural causes.

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Shower Room

Even the shower room at The Study is packed with history with its loo and basin being beautiful reproductions of the original Thomas Crapper line from around 1880.

There’s no shortage of history in the surrounding area as well, with lots to discover on the many walks near the cottage.

An old medieval church lies abandoned in the woods across the golf course, surrounded by the remnants of Victorian planned rose gardens. Attached to the church wall, you can still see a ‘joug’ – a terrifying chain that was placed around the neck of gossiping women as a means of punishment!

North east of Minto village is Fatlips Castle. Built as a Turnbull clan stronghold in 1530, its memorable name is said to originate from the habit of members of the house to greet guests with less discretion than was considered decent at the time. The key to the Castle can be borrowed from an adjacent village.

There’s a treasure-trove of beautiful buildings and bridges in the nearby Minto estate, as well as a hidden lake with a delightful waterfall in Gibbies Glen. The area’s natural beauty also includes the giant and famous Minto Larches. Grown from seedlings and planted in the glen 300 years ago, they are thought to be the oldest and best examples in Scotland.

Nearby Ruberslaw Hill is actually an extinct volcano and an ancient place of worship. It has been much celebrated by poets and writers in the Borders who have seen from its summit one of the most beautiful views in Scotland.

Filled with history, tradition and natural beauty, this part of the Borders is a wonderful place to visit and with its fabulous charm and character, The Study makes the perfect base. Pet friendly and sleeping two people, a week’s stay starts from just £450.

Monster-hunting Holidays!

Scotland is a land of legends, from kelpies (water-horses) to faeries and giants to selkies (seal-folk); there are no shortage of stories about supernatural creatures which thrived in the wild and untamed Scottish landscape in times gone by. Possibly the most famous of all these beings is Nessitera rhombopteryx who some believe still resides in the one of Scotland’s largest, deepest, fresh water lochs, right in the heart of the Highlands.

Famous? Then why haven’t you heard about this legendary entity?

Ah, but you have, possibly by one of her other, more common, names. For the creature of which I speak is the notorious Loch Ness Monster, more affectionately referred to as Nessie!
The first recorded sighting of a monster living in the area of Loch Ness was over 15 hundred years ago, when Irish monk St Columba was visiting the Pictish shores. After having sent one of his followers into the water to attract the ‘water beast’ he demonstrated the power of his God by commanding the creature to break off his attack and caused it to flee in terror!

The first ever picture of the Loch Ness Monster?Fast forwarding to the beginning of the 20th century, further interest was sparked when George Spicer and his wife saw what they described as ‘a most extraordinary animal’ cross the road in front of their car and disappear into the Loch. The sighting lead to numerous ‘hunting’ parties visiting the loch over the following few years determined to catch the monster ‘dead or alive’. It was at this time that the well known ‘Surgeons photograph’ was taken, which has now been exposed as a hoax. However in 1938 a South African tourist called G. E. Taylor made a 3 minute recording on 16mm colour film of the elusive creature, and although only a single frame was ever made publicly available, experts have said that it is ‘positive evidence’ of Nessie’s existence.

In 1943 the monster was seen again by C. B. Farrel of the Royal Observer Corps as he carried out his duties on the Loch. He described a finned creature with large eyes and a neck that protruded 4-5 feet out of the waters. 11 years later, the crew of a fishing boat called the Rival III reported sonar readings of a large object at a depth of 480 feet keeping pace with them for approximately half a mile as they sailed across the loch.

What lies beneath the tranquil waters of Loch Ness? (photo courtesy of conner395)In 1960 the monster was again caught on film by Tim Dinsdale, which, when digitally enhanced in 1993, showed a creature with rear flippers and a plesiosaur-like body (plesiosaurs were carnivorous aquatic reptiles which lived at the end of the Triassic Period). Sceptics have said that due to the poor quality of the film, these features could have been created by tricks of the light as it reflected on the water, but no one really knows.

Just 4 years ago the monster appeared on film again, when Gordon Holmes videoed a jet black ‘thing’, about 45 feet long, moving quickly through the loch waters, but because the footage did not include anything which could be used as a scale comparison, once again it can not be classed as definitive proof.

A visit to the Loch Ness Monster Visitor Centre in Drumnadrochit ensures you a sighting of the beast! (photo courtesy of n.hewson)So, the legend remains just that!  There is no undisputed verification of the existence of a monster living in the waters of Loch Ness, but then again, there is no sure proof that there is not! Perhaps, sometime soon, someone will get the evidence that Nessie isn’t just a myth or tale, but rather another example of how the unique, unspoilt landscape of Scotland supports species that have been long extinct elsewhere.

If you fancy taking on the challenge and take part in a bit of Nessie spotting then Unique Cottages has a selection of cottages close to Loch Ness, including two where you can actually see a great length of the loch from the window!

See cottages near Loch Ness >

Come Rally Round!

Throughout history there have been plenty of famous people who have hailed from Scotland.  Rightly so, many of them have become local heroes who are celebrated and remembered by their fellow Scots in various different ways.  Jim Clark is one such star who lives on in the hearts of his countrymen, and back in 1970 an event was started which ensures he will to continue to do so for generations to come.

The Jim Clark Rally, near ChirnsideIf you’ve never heard of Jim Clark, then suffice it to say that he was one of the best formula one racing drivers of all time.  His versatile driving style lead him to become twice world champion, no small feat for a lad who grew up on a farm not far from the Berwickshire town of Duns.

Sadly, Jim Clark died in a racing accident in Germany when his car veered off the track and crashed in some trees; however, the annual Rally that commemorates this short but exciting life ensures that the legend lives on.

Jim Clark action in the Scottish BordersOver the past 40 years the Jim Clark Rally has grown to become one of the biggest motor sport events in the UK, attracting drivers and spectators from all around the world.  The course winds its way through the beautiful Scottish Borders countryside in and around where Jim Clark grew up, providing a suitable challenge for those who wish the follow in the great man’s footsteps.  For the less intrepid, there are plenty of places on the various stages where you can admire others’ driving skills and get a great vantage point for watching the action.

This year the Jim Clark Rally begins on Friday 27th of May and provides a great weekend of entertainment for motor-sport lovers and those, like me, who secretly wish they could have been rally drivers themselves!  Spectator packs are available from the Jim Clark Rally official website, were you can also find more information about the event, as well as a collection of photos that demonstrate the thrills and spills of the last few years.

Something novel…

I’m of the opinion that reading is definitely ‘medicine for the soul’ and that a good book can transport you to another place, a world away from any worries or stress.  Whether it be a gritty crime mystery, a heartwarming romance, an epic historical thriller or a light hearted comedic satire, there are books suit every taste.

Melrose Abbey, Scottish Borders.Avid readers like myself will, no doubt, be delighted to hear that once a year, in the pretty Border town of Melrose, lovers of literature congregate for a celebration of the diversity and enduring appeal of the written word.

If, when you think of books and reading, the image of a dusty old library with a misery guts of a curator sharply ‘shhh-ing’ you for the slightest sound springs to mind, then prepare to be surprised!

The Borders Book Festival has a relaxing, jovial, carnival type atmosphere, which is both exciting and exhilarating!  In fact, you would be hard pushed to find such a wide collection of witty, intelligent, imaginative people all in one place at one time!  But it is one factor which unites them all and that’s a love of all things literary!

Borders Book Festival 2011, Melrose, Scottish Borders.With a range of events taking place from the 16th to the 19th of June, the Borders Book Festival offers something for everyone, no matter your age or interest.  The festival attracts famous names such as presenter Peter Snow, broadcaster and journalist Michael Parkinson, impressionist and playwright Rory Bremner, comedian Rory McGrath and actor Larry Lamb, to name just a few.

The event is eminently family friendly, and children (of all ages) can have fun while they learn about the Murderous Maths of Everything, create their own story in the Mazes and Monster Workshop or just sit back and enjoy the free Storytime sessions.

So, if you agree that sometimes there is nothing better than curling up with a novel, then why not check out theVisit Melrose, Self Catering Cottages Scotland. Borders Book Festival this year and join an exceptional celebration of the written word in some truly beautiful Scottish surroundings?

Self Catering Cottages in Melrose >

More about the Borders Book Festival >

Here’s a video about the venue where the festival is held (it refers to the 2009 festival, but will be held at the same place this year), I hope to see you there! >

Going out on a limb.

After the ice age, when the glaciers melted, greenery once again reclaimed the lands of Scotland and pioneer native trees began to grow and spread.  At one time, much of Scotland was covered in indigenous forest, with trees such as Birch, Willow, Ash, Hazel, Yew and Rowan dominating the landscape.   However, now only 1% of Scotland’s land is covered by this type of ancient woodland, but the area’s where it still remains have become a priority in relation to preservation and we definately have some champion trees that deserve a mention (and a visit if you’re in the area).

Let’s us start with the Fortingall Yew.  Estimated to be between 2,000 and 5,000 years old, this conifer is thought to be the oldest known tree in Europe.  Standing in the churchyard of the village of Fortingall in Perthshire, the tree has stood longer than the church itself.  It stood before the introduction of Christianity to Scotland and it was likely to have been regarded as a sacred place since the Iron Age.

The tree is now surrounded by a wall built in order to protect it from souvenir hunters who, over the last few hundred years, have visited it and taken parts away with them.  However, the wall has come to serve two purposes, not only protecting the ancient Yew but also supporting many of its ageing branches.

Local legend says that Pontius Pilate, the judge at Jesus Christ’s trial, was born in the base of the tree and played in its shade as a child; allegedly, he was the illegitimate son of a Roman legionary stationed in the area and a local girl!  In times past Yew trees were referred to as “trees of eternity” – in the case of the Fortingall Yew it would seem to be true!

Not only is Scotland home to the oldest tree in Britain (and probably Europe), but it is also home to the tallest tree in the UK.  Although the overall winner in the category of tallest tree has been a matter for debate (due to technicalities in their measurement) both of the finalists are Fir trees and stand at over 200 feet tall.    In 2009, as part of the “Tall Trees Project” a tree known as the Stronardron Douglas Fir in the grounds of Dunans Castle, Argyll was crowned the champion, with Diana’s Grove Grand Fir at Blair Castle, Fife coming in a close second.

Then there is the Capon tree in the Scottish Borders that is also worth a mention; it is the last remain tree of the once very extensive Jed Forest and is estimated to be 500 years old.  This old Oak’s trunk is now split in half and many of its branches are propped up with wooden supports, yet each year it still has a central role in the local summer festival when the principals of the celebrations make their way to the tree and a sprig from its branches is pinned to the lead-man’s lapel.

These are just a few individual trees in Scotland which we think are worth a little praise but if you would like more information about areas in Scotland where ancient woodland can still be found then the Woodland Trust website gives details of woodlands throughout Scotland as well as useful information to help you plan your visit.

(Scotch) Pancake Day!

It’s Pancake Day tomorrow all across the UK (also known as Shrove Tuesday) and I for one am looking forward to the excuse to cook an old favourite.  As a child, I used to be thrilled at the thought of returning home from school to the warm farmhouse kitchen where my mother would be making Scotch pancakes on the Aga.  Also known as Drop Scones, my mother would cook the pancakes directly on the simmering plate of the Aga, but in the rather less traditional kitchen of my hilltop cottage, I now use a normal frying pan to produce just as scrumptious results.

Scotch Pancakes in comparison to normal pancakes are smaller, thicker and (in my humble opinion) much more tasty and satisfying!  If you fancy a change from normal pancakes this year I strongly recommend the following recipe, which only requires four easy to source ingredients, to bring a bit of traditional Scottish cooking to your home.

To make approximately 20 yummy Scotch Pancakes you will need:

100g/4oz Self-Raising Flour

25g/1oz Caster Sugar

1 (medium size) Egg

150ml/1/4 pint Milk

1)      Mix the sugar and flour together in a bowl and then make a well in the centre.

2)      Beat the egg and pour it into the well, along with half the milk.

3)      Mix to form a thick batter, then add the remainder of the milk and mix again (you should now have a runny batter and be ready to cook the first batch!)

4)      Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and once hot spread with a little lard or oil (I use a piece of kitchen towel to do this, as it avoids putting too much on).

5)      When the fat is hazy (but not smoking), spoon the mixture into the pan using a tablespoon (one spoonful for each pancake) making sure they are spaced well apart.

6)      Bubbles should rise to the surface of the half-cooked pancakes and at this point turn them over.

7)      Cook for a further 30 seconds (or until golden brown) then remove and place between a clean tea towel to keep warm and moist and until you are ready to eat them.

8)      You may need to re-grease the pan between batches to avoid the pancakes sticking.

You can enjoy Scotch Pancakes on their own, buttered, with jam or even chocolate spread (very popular with the kids)!  You don’t have to eat the pancakes straight away, indeed, once cooled you can put them in an air tight container and store them for up to 3 days – heat them up or eat them cold, whatever your preference.

If you fancy trying this, or any other traditional recipe, Aga or Rayburn cooker then you’ll be please to hear that a number of our unique cottages do have them (in a lot of cases as well as a standard cooker ) so why not get in touch and let us help you find your ideal cottage?

From all of us here at Unique Cottages have a delicious and enjoyable (Scotch) Pancake Day!