Southern Scotland: Aug 10-12, 2019

Updated: Apr 6

Locations/activities covered in the blog:

  • Dryburgh Abbey

  • Melrose Abbey

  • Scott's View

  • Grey Mare Waterfall

  • Threave Estate and Gardens

  • Caerlaverock Castle

  • Village of Moffat

  • Culzean Castle

Below is a map of our planned route through the Border Region and Southern Scotland.

Day 4 Plan

  • Dryburgh Abbey

  • Melrose Abbey

  • Scott's View

  • Grey Mare Waterfall

After walking through the Barras Market we drove south to the Scottish Border Region. This was our first time driving in several days and it was my turn to drive. It was a 90-minute drive and after 30 minutes I already had a stress headache and stiff neck. It was going be a while before we could be relaxed while driving.

Our first destination was the ‘Border Region’ located in southeastern Scotland adjoining the border with England. This chunk of land between the Scottish cities and England is not a top travel destination. Most people start their trip in Edinburgh or Glasgow and then head north to the Highlands and beyond. But the ‘Borders’ has a lot to offer and our 2 ½ days wasn’t nearly enough time to enjoy all the area has to offer.


The Border Region

The border region was often the scene of battles between England and Scotland but regardless of who won the battles, neither Scottish crown nor English crown could rule with any effect. Families or clans in the Borders switched allegiance between the Scottish and English crowns depending on what was most favorable for the members of the clan. It’s been written, ' … for six centuries (until 1600) this troubled buffer zone … rang to the clash of steel, the thunder of hooves and the screams of bloody murder’. The accuracy of this statement might be questioned but the picture it paints of a region in turmoil is probably correct.


During these turbulent six centuries, Scottish Kings were keen to develop the area and their efforts are best seen in the four magnificent Border Abbeys of Melrose, Jedburgh, Dryburgh and Kelso; all were founded by King David I in the 12th Century except Dryburgh. The location of the Border Abbeys was no accident. They were to be large to demonstrate the power and wealth of Scotland. They were to be close to England to demonstrate the strength of goodwill and Godliness of the two nations. These buildings were intended to portray his power over these lands, their families and clans as well as to the English monarchy.


Dryburgh Abbey

Considered the most beautiful and secluded of all the Border Abbeys, the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey are surrounded by beautiful grounds. Even in its dilapidated condition, it was a great place to wander around.

Ruins of Dryburgh Abbey in the Border Region of Southern Scotland dates to 13th century

First established in 1150, Dryburgh Abbey became the premier house in Scotland of the Premonstratensian order. It is not the most structurally intact abbey but is considered one of the most beautiful, perhaps due to its tranquil setting away from nearby towns and the sense of seclusion you feel on the church grounds.

Ruins of Dryburgh Abbey in the Border Region of Southern Scotland dates to 13th century

Although the abbey was founded in the 11th century most of what survives today dates from the 13th century. Of the church, only part of the north transept gives any sense of the original structure.



In churches, a transept (shaded) is an area set crosswise to the nave in a cruciform ("cross-shaped") building.




The almost intact north transept houses the graves of novelist Sir Walter Scott and Field Marshall Earl Douglas Haig, a senior member of the British Army during World War I.

The almost intact north transept of Dryburgh Abbey in the Border Region of Southern Scotland. Border Abbey

Dryburgh was the last of the Border Abbeys to be founded and the only one not created under the instructions of King David I. It was the High Constable of Scotland, Hugh de Moreville, one of the most powerful men in Scotland, who invited the Premonstratensian Order to build the abbey. However, it never had the wealth or influence of its sister abbeys which were support by the crown.

Crumbling stone walls of Dryburgh Abbey in the Broder Region of Southern Scotland

The abbey functioned for just over 400 years and during that time it saw plenty of war and strife.

Crumbling stone walls of Dryburgh Abbey in the Broder Region of Southern Scotland

Although all of the abbeys were attacked, Dryburgh suffered worst following King Edward II’s unsuccessful invasion of 1322. English troops, hearing the bells rung in celebration of victory, were said to have gone out of their way to take revenge and set fire to the abbey. It was torched again in 1385 by Richard II. Even though it was rebuilt, it once again was devastated by fire in 1544 and never recovered.

Crumbling stone walls of Dryburgh Abbey in the Broder Region of Southern Scotland

After the Scottish Reformation, Dryburgh Abbey became silent, its stones surely cherry-picked and hauled away to build other structures in the surrounding area. Such was the fate of this magnificent abbey in the Border Region.

Crumbling stone walls of Dryburgh Abbey in the Broder Region of Southern Scotland

Melrose Abbey

Melrose Abbey, now a ruin, was once considered to be one of Scotland’s most beautiful buildings. Its history provides the visitor with a sense of romance. Probably the most famous ruin in Scotland, the abbey was founded by David I in 1136 for the Cistercian Order of North Yorkshire.


As with most prominent buildings and abbeys in the Borders Region, Melrose was raided first by King Edward II’s army in 1322, then by King Richard II’s in 1385. Work started on the complete rebuilding of the abbey almost as soon as Richard's forces had left, and it is the remains of this rose colored stone building which remains today.

Massive Melrose Abbey in the Border Region of Southern Scotland

The king wanted the abbey built on the site of a 7th century monastery, but the monks bargained for the current placement citing their need for arable farmland. When you are inside the church ruins it's surprising to realize that only a small portion of the abbey church survived. Visitors are dwarfed by the massive pillars the tallest of which (84 feet) support the roof of the nave.

Massive 84 foot tall pillars supported the roof of Melrose Abbey in the Border Region of Southern
Massive 84 foot tall pillars supported the roof of Melrose Abbey in the Border Region of Southern

Still remarkably intact is the presbytery at the east end where the high altar once stood. The fact that window tracery (carved stone separating the glass) on the east window is almost complete is a testament to the workmanship and skills of the builders.

The presbytery at the east end of Melrose Abbey where the high altar once stood. The window tracery is almost completely intact

Look at the intricate stone vaulted roof adjacent to the east window. It's hard to imagine how beautiful this abbey looked when it was at the pinnacle of its might.

Intricate stone vaulted roof of Melrose Abbey in the Border Region of Southern Scotland. Border abbey.

It's possible to view the upper parts of the abbey via a spiral staircase in the south transept of the church. It was a great place for a selfie that highlights the rural nature of the Border Region.

Massive Melrose Abbey in the Border Region of Southern Scotland

A view of the south entrance to the church.

South entrance of Melrose Abbey in the Border Region of Southern Scotland. Border abbey.

A view of the back that highlights the prominent east window and the remains of the north and south transept.

East window of Melrose Abbey in the Border Region of Southern Scotland. Border abbey.

Powerful people endowed the abbey richly and it was a highly desirable final resting place. Alexander II (died 1249) was among the privileged people to be buried here. The exact location of his tomb is unknown but most high status burials would have happened next to the altar. The burial grounds in the southeast corner of the grounds contain headstones from many different eras.

Cemetery on the grounds of Melrose Abbey in the Border Region of Southern Scotland. Border abbey.

Robert I, popularly known as Robert the Bruce was King of Scotland from 1306 until his death in 1329. Robert was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, and eventually led Scotland during the First War of Scottish Independence against England. He fought successfully during his reign to regain Scotland's place as an independent country and is today revered in Scotland as a national hero. It is said his embalmed heart is buried in Melrose while his body is buried in Dunfermline Abbey.

In 1544, as English armies raged across Scotland in an effort to force the Scots to allow the infant Mary, Queen of Scots to marry the son of Henry VIII, the abbey was again badly damaged and was never fully repaired. The Scottish Reformation in 1560 saw the abbey slide into terminal decline. Generally, the monks were allowed to continue living in the buildings, although many joined the reformed church. As a way of life, however, the abbeys were finished.


Two additional stops on our first day driving through Southern Scotland were Scott's View and Grey Mare Tail Waterfall.


This peaceful vista overlooking the River Tweed and Eildon Hills was known as one of Sir Walter Scott's favorite places to come and reflect. The hills are the remains of an ancient volcanic activity.

Vista overlooking the River Tweed and Eildon Hills was known as one of Sir Walter Scott's favorite places in Southern Scotland

After a busy day, we were able to also squeeze in one final stop on our way to Moffat, where our next Airbnb was located. The Grey Mare's Tail is a 200 ft hanging valley waterfall near Moffat. The falls are produced by water flowing from Loch Skeen cascading into the lower valley below.

Hike through green valleys to Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall in Southern Scotland

With a rapidly setting sun, we quickly donned our hiking boots to get as close as we could before darkness set in. The green rolling hills in this area of Scotland are so beautiful.

Hike through green valleys to Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall in Southern Scotland

We would have liked hiking to the top of the falls and see Loch Skeen, but this close-up of the falls, which resemble a horse's tail, was all we muster for today.

The Grey Mare's Tail waterfall is a 200 ft hanging valley waterfall near Moffat in Southern Scotland.

Our Airbnb in Moffat was a first floor apartment in a converted church. Yet another cool location Dave had found.

Airbnb in old church in the village of Moffat in Southern Scotland

We quickly unpacking the SUV, headed to the Stag Ale House for a well-earned Tennents and then crashed.

Day 5 Plans

  • Threave Estate and Gardens (actually unplanned)

  • Caerlaveock Castle

Today started the same way many Scottish mornings did for us ... with rain, but that was ok since we planned some low-key activity after the hectic pace of the previous days.


Threave Estate and Gardens

In all honesty, we began driving in the area (Dumfries and Galloway) and accidentally stumbled on Threave Estate and Gardens. At the center of the grounds stands Threave Estate, designed in the Scottish Baronial style in 1871 for the Gordon family.

Threave Estate and Gardens in Dumfries and Galloway Southern Scotland

Covering 64 acres, the garden has been created over the years by students of the Trust’s School of Heritage Gardening.

Beautiful flowers in the gardens on the grounds of Threave Estate and Gardens in Dumfries and Galloway Southern Scotland
Beautiful flowers in the gardens on the grounds of Threave Estate and Gardens in Dumfries and Galloway Southern Scotland
Beautiful flowers in the gardens on the grounds of Threave Estate and Gardens in Dumfries and Galloway Southern Scotland
Beautiful flowers in the gardens on the grounds of Threave Estate and Gardens in Dumfries and Galloway Southern Scotland
Beautiful flowers in the gardens on the grounds of Threave Estate and Gardens in Dumfries and Galloway Southern Scotland

Without a doubt, these were the most beautiful gardens we saw during our UK travels.

Beautiful flowers in the gardens on the grounds of Threave Estate and Gardens in Dumfries and Galloway Southern Scotland
Beautiful flowers in the gardens on the grounds of Threave Estate and Gardens in Dumfries and Galloway Southern Scotland
Beautiful flowers in the gardens on the grounds of Threave Estate and Gardens in Dumfries and Galloway Southern Scotland

Caerlaverock Castle


Getting to this castle was a bit of a challenge. For the first time we had to drive on single-track road or one-lane road. These roads permit two-way travel but are not wide enough in most places to allow vehicles to pass one another. To accommodate two-way traffic, single-track roads are provided with passing places to pull off onto. The distance between passing places varies considerably, depending on the terrain and the volume of traffic on the road. We quickly figured out the road etiquette/rules.


Single track roads in Southern Scotland

Despite the driving conditions, the visit to Caerlaverock Castle was well-worth the tension headache I had when we arrived. There are a number of things that set Caerlaverock apart from other Scottish castles. Built atop a rocky outcrop, the castle is surrounded by a wide moat and was built in the shape of an equilateral triangle with its apex at the huge northern gatehouse and circular towers in each corner. The castle was completed in the 1270s. The aerial photo below helps explain the unique design.

Caerlaverock Castle in Southern Scotland
Simon Ledingham, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4562685

As you walk from the car park to the castle grounds your greeted by the twin-tower gatehouse. But you can't appreciate the castle until you get closer and the moat becomes visible. In the picture below you can see the arrow slits used by archers defending the castle. It was designed to be a defensive stronghold despite being well defended it didn't quite live up to expectations.

Moat surrounding the ruins of Caerlaverock Castle in Southern Scotland

Caerlaverock was a stronghold of the Maxwell family from the 13th century, when King Alexander granted him these lands to help control trade and secure the borders between his Scottish Kingdom and the English frontier. Similar to the abbeys, the castle's proximity to England brought it into the brutal cross-border conflicts.

Moat surrounding the ruins of Caerlaverock Castle in Southern Scotland

Edward I, the 'hammer of the Scots' besieged Caerlaverock in 1300. He attacked with 87 knights, 3000 men, and siege engines that had been transported across the country. Under intense pressure the castle fell in two days and remained under English control for 12 years. The castle saw more action in the 1500s, being captured by the English in 1544 and again attacked by them in 1570. However the union of the English and Scottish crowns in 1603 finally offered the promise of peace between England and Scotland after 400 years of sporadic warfare.

In 1300, Edward I, the 'hammer of the Scots' besieged Caerlaverock Castle in Southern Scotland.

In 1634, with peace in hand, Robert Maxwell converted the castle into something more befitting the family's standing as Earl of Nithsdale. He built the magnificent Nithsdale Lodging whose ornamental stonework still dominates the interior of the castle.

Magnificent Nithsdale Lodging of Caerlaverock Castle in Southern Scotland was built in 1634

Dave, the 25th Earl of Nithsdale, surveys his vast land holding from the courtyard.

The Earl of Caerlaverock Castle surveys his vast land holding from the courtyard.

But the promise of peace was an illusion. Wars of religion soon turned against the Catholic Maxwells. In 1640, just six years after the building of the Nithsdale Lodging, the

Protestant Covenanter army besieged Caerlaverock for 13 weeks. After Maxwell surrendered, the attacking army destroyed the SE tower and curtain wall at the back of the fortress. Removing the wall created a life-size cutaway of the castle when viewed from across the moat.

Southeast tower and curtain wall of Caerlaverock Castle destroyed in 1640

After the seige, the castle was no longer defensible and repairs were never considered. What we see today is pretty much what was left after the Summer of 1640.

Southeast tower and curtain wall of Caerlaverock Castle destroyed in 1640

The reward for our adventurous day, was a 'fish and chips' dinner. It's hard to believe we waited 5 days for this fried feast.

Scottish fish and chips dinner in Moffat in Southern Scotland

Day 6 Plans

  • Moffatt Village

  • Culzean Castle

Today was a partial travel day. First we took the morning to walk around the Moffat. Moffatt is a small village of about 2,500 people. Since the 1600s the village has been a popular spa town. The sulfur and salt containing springs were believed to have healing properties specifically curative for skin conditions, gout, rheumatism, and stomach complaints. Nowadays the village relies on small local shops to bring in vacationers. We actually bought several midcentury 'antiques' and also picked up a few books to read during the trip.

Shops on main road through Village of Moffat in Scotland

Culzean Castle

Culzean Castle is perched on the Aryshire cliffs overlooking the Firth of Clyde. Unlike most Scottish castles, Culzean doesn’t have deep roots in defense, nor a strategic position. Although in the late 1300s, there was a stone tower house on the site, it wasn’t until almost four centuries later that Culzean became the magnificent building it is today.

Culzean Castle on the Aryshire cliffs overlooking the Firth of Clyde in Scotland

The story of Culzean is the story of the Kennedy clan, a branch of the Lords of Galloway, who were the most powerful family in the ancient kingdom of Carrick, now absorbed into Ayrshire. The Kennedys supported Robert the Bruce in the Scottish Wars of Independence and rose to be first Lords, then Earls of Cassillis.

Grand wall and entrance to Culzean Castle in Scotland

In 1762 Sir Thomas Kennedy, the 9th Earl, decided to rebuild the tower house on the property that was known as Coif Castle. However, it wasn’t until the 1770s that it started to become the grand country seat it is today. David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis, commissioned famed Scottish architect Robert Adam to design and build a castle that reflected the family’s status and wealth. FYI - the 'crumbling entry was added during the 1770' and designed to look as it were centuries old.

Grand wall and entrance to Culzean Castle in Scotland

The new structure was decorated with all the fanciful attributes of a romantic Gothic fortress, with turrets and towers creating a picturesque outline. Development didn’t finish until the late 1800s with the completion of the West Wing over three floors. By this point, Culzean rivaled the finest European palaces as the best place to stay in a castle in Scotland.

Culzean Castle and beautiful ground in Scotland rivaled the finest European castles of the time

Neither David Kennedy or Robert Adam lived to see Culzean finished in the late 1800s. They both died in 1792 with the Earl leaving massive debts after the colossal cost of refurbishment and expansion of the castle. 

Culzean Castle in Scotland rivaled the finest European castles of the time

Guided tours of the main castle provided access to some of the famous rooms within this incredible 'home'. One of the first rooms on the tour was the Armoury Hall, decorated with displays of flintlock firearms and historic swords. This collection is one of the finest in the world and one of Culzean's great treasures.

Armoury Hall, decorated with displays of flintlock firearms and historic swords in Culzean Castle in Scotland

The round Blue Drawing Room with the family portrait paintings and elaborate ceiling details have some of the best views of the Firth of Clyde. The painting above the fireplace is of Susanna Kennedy, Countess of Eglinton, Third Wife of the 9th Earl of Eglinton. It is one of the few paintings of female members of the Kennedy Clan. King George II once proclaimed her to be ‘the most beautiful woman in my dominions’ when she attended his court in 1730.

Blue Drawing Room of Culzean Castle in Scotland with the fireplace painting of Susanna Kennedy, Countess of Eglinton, Third Wife of the 9th Earl of Eglinton
Culzean Castle on the Aryshire cliffs overlooking the Firth of Clyde in Scotland

After spending all the morning and most of the afternoon at Culzean, we began our 3+ hour drive to Oban, Gateway to the Isles and entrance to the Highlands.


We arrived at the Airbnb, and we quickly unpacked the car. Amazingly with practice we could now pack/unpack the car in 15 minutes since there was so much room, but parallel parking was still a hassle.


We were lucky to arrive just in time for an incredible sunset. These pictures were taken under duress by Dave who had already begun to get 'hangry'. After snapping a few pictures we headed straight to a restaurant for dinner and a mojito. These pictures were taken

Sunset over Oban Harbor in Scotland
Sunset over Oban Harbor in Scotland

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