1810 | The Borders

Roman remains, holy places, thieves and raiders, and rolling hills and stunning coastlines

Welcome to this wonderful, and wonderfully quiet, corner of Britain straddling the ancient, if fluid, border between Scotland and England. Dominated by the Cheviot Hills, the borderland is a largely rural, pastural landscape with rolling hills, broad valleys and a stunning coastline, and acts as the backdrop to stately homes, bustling market towns and magnificent castles.

This tour takes you to a selection of the very best gardes in the region, explores the Roman occupation of Britain two thousand years ago, touches upon early Christianity on these islands and shows off the best of the area's landscape and heritage.

The Scottish Borders
The Scottish Borders, originally the historic counties of Berwickshire, Peeblesshire, Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire, is a wealthy rural area with prosperous market towns, a plethora of stately homes and four magnificent abbeys.

Historically, these counties bore the brunt of the conflicts with England, both during declared wars, such as the Wars of Scottish Independence, and the armed raids and activities of the Border Reivers, raiders from both Scottish and English families, raiding and ransacking the entire Border country without regard to their victims' nationality.

Originally meaning 'the land of the people living north of the River Humber', this northern most and least densely populated of all England's counties has long been a frontier zone between England and Scotland.

It has a rich Brythonic-Celtic prehistory, a hugely significant Roman history, more medieval castles than any other English county and, because of Lindisfarne, many consider it to be the cradle of England's Christianity.

The county remains largely rural despite the considerable growth in tourism due to its scenic beauty and the abundant evidence of its historical significance.

The Gardens

We take you to a selection of the very best gardens in this large area and, we hope, we have chosen a varied selection of large-scale public gardens and smaller private gardens although, as always, we leave unselected many more than we actually visit; I suspect that the horticultural highlights will be found in two or three of the private gardens. As ever, when we plan tours in Scotland, I am indebted to Kenneth Cox and his wonderful book Scotland for Gardeners, without which, the pickings would be very thin.

Sleeping & Eating

We have choosen Doxford Hall Hotel as our base for the whole tour (we had thought that we may have to split the tour into two lots of three nights) and, although Doxford is new to us, we are old friends of its sister hotel, The Wordsworth Hotel in the Lake District.

We shall dine-in, at Duxford Hall, on four evenings and dine out twice, once on the coast at The Ship Inn, Low Newton, and once in the border town of Swinton, at The Wheatsheaf.

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At a glance
Scenic Heritage & Garden tour
11 gardens including:
Holy Island of Lindisfarne
Max group size 12
The Alnwick Garden
Hadrian's Wall
Walter Scott's Abbotsford
Vindolanda & Housesteads
Excellent hotel
Floors Castle
4 private visits
Superb food
Fully escorted
Day 1 | Tuesday, 3 July

From Edinburgh to Northumberland, via the Holy Island of Lindisfarne

Tim will collect you from the Hilton Hotel Edinburgh Airport, from where we drive south, crossing into England, for the day on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, a unique and special place off the Northumberland coast, accessible only by a tidal causeway.  

Our island visit begins with Lindisfarne Castle, a magnificent 16th-century castle built to protect English ships from Scottish raiders. Some 400 years later the castle was renovated by Edwin Lutyens, the Edwardian society 'Arts & Crafts' architect, for fellow socialite, Edward Hudson, the founder of Country Life magazine; happily, Lutyens collaborated with his long-time partner and plantswoman, Gertrude Jekyll, who planted the enchanting walled garden.

At lunchtime we'll have time to explore the town and have lunch at one of the pubs and cafés, before re-grouping to visit Lindisfarne Priory, one of the most important places in Anglo-Saxon England. Its bishops had close links to the Northumbrian kings, who ruled from nearby Bamburgh Castle, and its monks had guardianship of the shrine of St Cuthbert, which brought great wealth to the monastery. The Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the most beautiful and intricate manuscripts ever produced, were made here in the early 8th century, and assimilate the spiritual and cultural influences of Ireland, Rome and the Germanic world of the Anglo-Saxons. Ransacked by marauding Viking raiders in the 8th century, it remains a place of pilgrimage today.

We are about 40 minutes from Doxford Hall, our hotel and home-from-home for the week, where we will arrive in good time to check in and relax, before drinks and dinner at Doxford Hall.

We have chosen Hilton Hotel Edinburgh Airport as a departure point because of its proximity to the airport and because it affords customers, who are not staying at the hotel, a comfortable and secure environment in which to wait. Moreover, I plan to depart the hotel at 9.30am, time enough to get to the hotel from Edinburgh city centre and, indeed, from Glasgow city centre. See also Joining Instructions.

Today's total driving is about 100 miles/160 km

Tuesday, 3 July
Lindisfarne Castle
Day 2 | Wednesday, 4 July

The magic of Alnwick, tea at Howick Hall, the coast and a seaside pub

We spend the day close to home, and close to Northumberland's beautiful coast, starting our day at the peerless Alnwick Garden. Space doesn't allow me to retell the full story of The Alnwick Garden, but it is worth reading (here) how, in less than twenty years, this wonderful, though derelict, 18th-century, 12 acre/5 ha walled kitchen garden has been transformed into the stunning garden you will see today.

We'll have lunch at The Alnwick Garden and there will be time, too, for a brief exploration of Alnwick, a bustling medieval market town, before an afternoon visit to Howick Hall Gardens & Arboretum. Home to the Grey family since 1319, the gardens are primarily the work of Charles, 5th Earl Grey and his wife Mabel, and later their daughter Lady Mary Howick between 1920 and 2001. They established and maintained an informal and natural style of gardening which continues today, and is particularly evident in the woodland walks and the wild bog garden. Howick Hall is also the spiritual home of Earl Grey tea, specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834, and we shall have afternoon tea in the tea room, because it would be rude not to!

Late in the afternoon, we'll drive along this stretch of Northumberland's beautiful coastline, stopping for photographs and to stretch our legs at Bamburgh, for views of the majestic Bamburgh Castle, before supper at The Ship Inn, in the picturesque seaside village of Low Newton.

Today's total driving is about 50 miles/80 km

Wednesday, 4 July
The gates to the Poison Garden, Alnwick
Day 3 | Thursday, 5 July

An extraordinary day on Hadrian's Wall

We spend the day on and around Hadrian's Wall, the most visible and best-known land frontier of the Roman empire, and the most important and substantial of Roman remains in Britain.

Our morning is spent at Vindolanda, just to the south of Hadrian's Wall and, although pre-dating the Wall, Vindolanda became an important garrison and a Wall Fort in its own right. Indeed, Vindolanda was demolished and completely re-built no fewer than nine times, each time leaving a distinctive mark on the archaeology landscape. Today Vindolanda contains both a modern, world-class museum and ancient buried forts, one of Europe's most important archaeological resources, but it is possibly the writing tablets for which it is rightly famous. Delicate, wafer thin slivers of wood covered in spidery ink writing, the tablets were found in the oxygen-free deposits on and around the floors of the deeply buried early wooden forts at Vindolanda and are the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain, and they are fascinating.

After lunch, at Vindolanda, we drive to nearby Housesteads Roman Fort, on the wall itself, where you will get some impression of what life may have been like for the garrison of some 800 Roman soldiers, in this bleak, but beautiful landscape.

We will return to Doxford Hall for dinner.

Today's total driving is about 140 miles/220 km

Thursday, 5 July
The remains of a Roman hypocaust at Housesteads Fort
Day 4 | Friday, 6 July

A long-overdue return to Scotland!

We return north of the border, to visit two gardens and a neighbouring plant centre, and our day starts with a private guided visit of Carolside, a late-18th century mansion set in beautiful parkland, nestling in a bend of the River Leader. Carolside has been cultivated for over 200 years and is renowned for its soft and delicate herbaceous planting, striking Delphiniums, its Secret garden, Winter garden and Herb garden, and sweeping lawns leading to the oval walled garden, with its Historical Collection of ancient roses. Kenneth Cox, in his book Scotland for Gardeners, describes Carolside as "one of Scotland's finest private gardens".

From Carolside we drive south, to the River Tweed, for lunch at Woodside, an award-winning plant centre & tearoom based in a lovely old walled garden. Woodside is home to a large and well-stocked plant centre, filled with plants professionally grown from their own nursery.

Indeed, the lovely old walled garden, where we've just enjoyed lunch, is the former kitchen garden of our next visit, to Monteviot, a beautifully located house and gardens on the curving and winding River Teviot. The gardens are a series of distinct gardens, each leading to the next, and include an impressive Rose Garden and a Japanese-styled water garden, with four curved bridges linking three islands, together they rank among the most interesting gardens in the Scottish Borders.

We will dine at The Wheatsheaf, in the Borders village of Swinton, en route home to Doxford.

Today's total driving is about 130 miles/210 km

Friday, 6 July
The Water Gardens, Monteviot
Day 5 | Saturday, 7 July

Two gardens in the heart of Northumberland

Staying in Northumberland, our day is occupied by two neighbouring gardens, of vastly different sizes, and we start the day at Wallington, the much-loved home to generations of the unconventional Trevelyan family. Traditionally a Liberal family, Sir Charles Philips Trevelyan joined the Labour Party, an unusual move for a landed and titled member of the gentry, and served in the first two Labour administrations of Ramsay MacDonald. Anyway, Sir Charles gave Wallington to the National Trust, and today we can visit both the house, and all its treasures, and the wonderful gardens, including the East Wood, and its red squirrels, and the hidden walled garden, nestled in the woods.

Although Wallington will happily occupy much of the day, there is still the treat of Frank Lawley's garden at Herterton House to look forward to. This garden is an exceptional plantsman's garden, it is simply designed, meticulously planted and beautifully maintained. There is a formal garden, a much-photographed and well-known knot garden and the main garden, which is best seen from the staircase at the back of the house, and topiary throughout the garden. It is, in short, a modern masterpiece.

We will return to Doxford a little earlier, for dinner and a relaxing evening.

Today's total driving is about 100 miles/160 km

Saturday, 7 July
Irises in bloom at Wallington
Day 6 | Sunday, 8 July

Two dukes, one large castle, an admiral and a private garden

We return to Scotland for our final full day of gardens, and we aim to see three delightful gardens, all of which are reasonably close together and two of which are new to us. We will cross the border at Coldstream, stopping briefly at the Flodden Field battle site, where King James IV and some 10,000 Scots fell in battle, in 1513, before our first visit, to Bughtrig, the private garden of Mr and Mrs William Ramsey. William's father, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey, who commanded the evacuation of Dunkirk, bought the house in 1928. The main attraction of the garden, other than the significant historical connection, is an enclosed garden of herbaceous plants, roses, peonies and shrubs. From Bughtrig we head west, along the Tweed, to the border market town of Kelso, and to Floors Castle, home of the Dukes of Roxburghe, for lunch and a visit to their Millennium and 4-acre walled kitchen garden.

We stay on the banks of the Tweed for our final visit, to the gardens of Mertoun House, the family home of the Dukes of Sutherland, and one of the oldest Borders gardens, with a walled garden built in 1567, and it is this walled garden that is the jewel of Mertoun, which is probably the nearest to a full production Victorian or Edwardian garden still in existence in Scotland!

We return to Doxford for a relaxing evening and our end-of-tour dinner.

Today's total driving is about 120 miles/190 km

Sunday, 8 July
Part of the main garden, Herterton
Day 7 | Monday, 9 July

Scott's home in Scotland and Edinburgh Airport

After breakfast and loading the minibus, we say farewell to Doxford Hall and return to the Scottish Borders, to Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott's home overlooking the Tweed outside Melrose. As Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire, Scott needed to spend part of the year in easy reach of the courtroom in Selkirk, so he spent legal terms in Edinburgh and legal vacations in the country. For a few years he rented a house at Ashestiel, but in 1811 he bought his own 'mountain farm', as he described it, 'on a bare haugh and bleak bank by the side of the Tweed'.

It was called Newarthaugh on the deeds, but was Cartleyhole (and sometimes 'Clarty Hole') to local people. He immediately renamed it Abbotsford, after the ford across the Tweed below the house used in former times by the monks of Melrose Abbey.

We will have time to explore both the house and its gardens, and enjoy some lunch, before departing to Edinburgh Airport, where we plan to be in time for late-afternoon and evening flights. But please note that if you need to be at the airport significantly earlier than this, we will be happy to arrange for transport to the airport, at your expense, and if you are staying on, in Britain, and don't wish to return to Edinburgh, but would rather be dropped off elsewhere, then please let us know, so that we may assist you in getting to your next destination.

NB. We will arrange transport for those of you wishing to go to Glasgow Airport or Glasgow itself, though this will be at the customer's own expense.

Today's total driving is about 100 miles/160 km

Monday, 9 July
The walled garden, Abbotsford
General Notes

During our tours, we endeavour to be as faithful to our itineraries as possible, but sometimes changes do occur, either necessarily or unavoidably.

Need some help?
We have prepared some helpful information - under 'Essential Information', and this information is designed to enhance your holiday. The pages are, 'An Introduction', 'Additional Information', 'Booking and Paying' and 'Travel Information'.

The tour area map
Click on the Google map of the tour area, and it will open in a new window. The various tour locations are marked GREEN (for gardens), ORANGE (for other attractions), RED (for pubs, hotels and restaurants) and BLUE (for transport) - and click on these markers for more information.

Tour Information
03 - 09 Jul
7 days
25 440,00
Single person suplement:
4 200,00

There is the opportunity to upgrade your room, should you wish to.

Limited - The Borders
Please join this tour at the Hilton Hotel Edinburgh Airport in the morning of Tuesday, 3 July, but please let us know if this will be difficult for you. It may be possible to arrange other collection points, but we won’t know this, until we know the travel arrangements of all the tour participants.

And please note that we do not endorse this, or any other, hotel and we use it as meeting point purely for practical purposes.
There are no specific notes for this tour.
Click to see where we visit