MELROSE must surely be located in one of the most picturesque spots in the Borders, lying as it does below the triple-crested Eildons and clinging to its ancient Abbey ruins, the majestic waters of the Tweed and the rich farmland which have shaped so much of its history.
And it’s a history that can be traced as far back as 900BC when a ramparted city was housed on the North Eildon.
The Romans came in 80AD, establishing the fort of Trimontium on their newly-constructed road that stretched from Dover to Aberdeen. At its peak the fort and its protected hinterland was home to around 1,500 soldiers and the same number of civilians who fed, watered and clothed the garrison.
An exhibition is mounted in the town centre and there are guided walks of the site of the buried fort.
In 1136 it was the Cistercian monks who descended in a more peaceful invasion to establish their Abbey to St Mary. This led to the establishment of a flourishing trade in wool and linen. English raiders and the coming of the Reformation saw the monks quit the Abbey.
But it remains a place of hallowed beauty and buried within its grounds is the heart of Scotland’s national hero in the Wars of Independence, Robert the Bruce. Thousands of visitors flock here at all times of the year.
The adjacent Priorwood Garden and the Harmony Garden are also popular.
Melrose, of course, is famous the world over as the birthplace of rugby sevens. In 1883 the local rugby club was struggling for cash and local butcher Ned Haig came up with the idea of the “sports”, which included the abbreviated version of rugby which is now played across the globe. Ned’s memorial headstone can be found in the town’s Waird Cemetery and the history of both the club and the development of the sevens can be found at the Greenyards – home of Melrose RFC. The club’s annual sevens are on April 9.
Each June the town celebrates its heritage with a week-long festival. This year’s Melrosian is 19-year-old student Ruaridh Nairn whose dad was Duns Reiver in 1983. The Festival Queen has yet to be announced – she will be crowned at a charming ceremony within the Abbey grounds on the Thursday of the Festival Week, which runs from June 19-25.
The festival was founded in 1936 to help bond community spirits and the first Melrosian was appointed two years later.
More recently, a new festival has emerged in the town, the Borders Book Festival, and guests have included Rory Bremner, Jim Naughtie and John Prescott. The festival runs at various venue in the town from June 16-19.
And yet another festival hits the scene over the weekend of July 29-31 – the Rolling Hills Festival which features folk and traditional music.
The Melrose of today is far removed from the Melrose of the hill settlers, the Romans and the monks. But it remains very much a varied and vibrant town. There is much to offer the visitor from both close at hand and further afield – as well, of course, as the locals.
Hotels, shops, restaurants and businesses are all of a high standard.
And, sitting close to both the A68 and the A7, road access could hardly be easier.