Borders Railway: What to look out for on the line

Fun at the National Mining Museum. Picture: Toby Williams
Fun at the National Mining Museum. Picture: Toby Williams
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FROM historic homes, castles and abbeys to mines and glorious country walks, enjoy the best of what our new rail link offers

It’s been one of the longest waits for a train imaginable.

One of the Borders Railway trains travels across the Lothianbridge Viaduct. Picture: Stuart Nicol

One of the Borders Railway trains travels across the Lothianbridge Viaduct. Picture: Stuart Nicol

Finally, almost 50 years after the Waverley Line closed, the new Borders Railway is up and running.

The line runs from Waverley, through Brunstane and Newcraighall before calling at new Midlothian stations at Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange and Gorebridge.

It’s then on towards the Borders, and Stow, Galashiels and finally Tweedbank.

The whole journey takes just under an hour, with an any time return day trip from Waverley to Tweedbank costing £16, or £11.20 off peak.

Abbotsford House is a former home of Sir Walter Scott. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Abbotsford House is a former home of Sir Walter Scott. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

It means the heart of the Borders is within easy striking distance, opening up country parks, historic homes and fascinating visitor attractions to a new breed of day trippers.

It’s all aboard the new railway . . . so what, exactly, is there to see and do at key stops along the way?

ESKBANK

One of the most impressive features on the Borders Railway line is the combination of scenery and engineering – and the Glenesk Viaduct, near Eskbank, is a perfect example.

It spans the River North Esk and is one of Scotland’s finest pre-Victorian railway bridges, providing travellers with a bird’s eye view of the surrounding countryside.

Just 18 minutes from Waverley, Eskbank is the best stop for the trip on to Rosslyn Chapel. The active might choose to walk or cycle to Roslin village, others can opt to take one of the local Aerial ABW Cabs at the station. The journey to Rosslyn Chapel by taxi takes ten minutes and a return booking by cab costs £25.

Follow up the visit to the 15th-century chapel with a walk through Roslin Glen, check out Roslin Castle or explore the village itself.

Recharge the batteries at The Original Rosslyn Inn, at the heart of the village.

Also in the area is Springfield Mill, a nature reserve on the site of an old paper mill, the town of Dalkeith with its country park, historic churches and palace, and Newbattle Abbey.

NEWTONGRANGE

Next stop is the former mining village known to many as Nitten.

It sprang up in the late 1900s around the massive Lady Victoria Collery, the jewel in the crown of the Lothian Coal Company and a showpiece of Victorian colliery engineering.

The super-pit closed in 1981. However, it is now the five-star National Mining Museum Scotland which offers a fascinating snapshot of colliery life.

Links to the area’s coal mining heritage are obvious. The 105-year-old Dean Tavern in the Main Street is one of the few remaining “Gothenburg” pubs still going strong. It was built by the Lothian Coal Company for staff and had strict rules on gambling and entertainment.

A stroll around the area ignites memories of the way it once was – the colliery owners didn’t bother with fancy names for streets, preferring to call them simply First, Second, Third and so on.

The area is also home to Newtongrange Silver Band, Dalkeith RFC and if you like your football without too many frills, juniors Newtongrange Star play at New Victoria Park.

Venture to Newbattle Abbey, dating from the 12th century and set in 125 acres of parkland. Also within striking distance is 13th-century Dalhousie Castle – now a hotel and spa – and the 14th-century Crichton Castle which is operated by Historic Scotland and features an Italian influenced courtyard.

Stop off at The Sun Inn, in the shadow of the Lothianbridge Viaduct, and watch the Borders train “fly” overhead.

GOREBRIDGE

Only 12 miles from the centre of Edinburgh, Gorebridge is the gateway to rolling countryside and the great outdoors.

Not far from the station is 100 acres of Vogrie Country Park, with a Victorian mansion partially open to the public, original walled garden, a nine-hole golf course and adventure playground with miniature train. The Cedar Tree Cafe is on the site.

Gorebridge is a former mining community which developed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Later it became a holiday resort for Victorians. Work has been under way to upgrade the heart of the village so it’s looking its best for rail tourists.

Also nearby is Gore Glen Woodland Park with two miles of wooded paths suitable for a stroll or cycle.

There’s just time to catch the William Adam-designed Arniston House before it closes again until May.

STOW

Next stop Stow, just 42 minutes from Waverley and rooted in history. Stow means “holy place”, appropriate as a church was founded there as early as the 600s.

In medieval times, it was one of only three sanctuaries in Scotland which offered security from persecution.

The area around the original 7th-century kirk has been a site of worship ever since. The Old Kirk was built in the late 1400s, rebuilt twice and then abandoned – today it’s an interesting ruin.

Alongside is St Mary of Wedale, with a 40ft tall tower, dating from 1876. The church clock was known for its accuracy and in days gone by drivers on the Edinburgh and Hawick Railway would set their watches by St Mary’s clock.

Nearby is the Pack Horse Bridge – a curious triple arch bridge across the Gala Water – which was a main artery linking Stow to the main Edinburgh and Galashiels route.

For a small community, Stow boasts a grand town hall. Dating from 1855, it now provides a host of community facilities.

After all that history, visit the Cloudhouse Cafe and Gallery at 23 Townhouse in Stow for homemade cakes and treats.

GALASHIELS

Known for its textiles and weaving since the mid-16th century, today Galashiels is the base for Heriot-Watt University’s textiles and design campus.

The town’s historic past can be uncovered at the museum, Old Gala House, in the middle of town, once home to the Pringle Lairds of Gala.

As well as weaving and textiles, Galashiels is a town of sporting credentials too. There’s Gala Cricket Club, Gala Fairydean Rovers FC, Gala RFC and Galashiels Golf Club and Torwoodlee Golf Course.

There’s a rich network of cycle paths – from Galashiels you can join the National Cycle Network Route 1 and travel to Innerleithen and Peebles or east to Melrose, Newton St Boswells or Kelso.

The 4 Abbeys Route, meanwhile, takes cyclists on a 55-mile ride through glorious scenery, taking in Melrose Abbey, Dryburgh Abbey, Kelso Abbey and Jedburgh Abbey.

For walkers, Galashiels is often a central point for many Borders routes, which is why its host this week to the Borders Walking Festival.

Galashiels is the first stop en route to Abbotsford House, historic home of Sir Walter Scott. Look for the Border Weaver bus service which will whisk travellers straight to Abbotsford House visitor centre from the station.

Don’t leave town without grabbing a Selkirk Bannock from local baker Alexander Dalgetty & Sons at its Island Street shop.

TWEEDBANK

Just under an hour from Waverley and you have reached your destination.

As the name suggests, Tweedbank sits on the edge of the River Tweed.

It also boasts Gunknowe Loch, a manmade pool where visitors will find a variety of wildlife, birds and quite often a selection of remote controlled models – it’s where the Borders Model Boat Club members regularly meet.

Eventually, Tweedbank will become home to the Great Tapestry of Scotland. An £8.25 million visitor centre is to be built in the village to house the world’s largest embroidered tapestry.

Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford House isn’t far, a 20-minute walk for the energetic, otherwise the Borders Weaver bus is available.

Nearby is the lovely town of Melrose, with its strong rugby links, individual shops, cafes and, of course, stunning abbey.

For a break, head to The Ship Inn in Melrose. Strangely named as there are no ships for miles, it is also the town’s only traditional pub.

n To find out more about where to visit in Midlothian, go to www.visitmidlothian.org.uk. For Borders attractions, go to www.discovertheborders.co.uk. Visit Scotland’s website is www.visitscotland.com