First-time visitors to Kelso might be surprised at the width and breadth of what its shops, offices, pubs, hotels and cafes have to offer.
There is no surprise for the many who make regular trips both from within the Borders and beyond the area’s boundaries. Although hosting a population of just over 6,000 people, it is indeed a most vibrant town.
The shops and services on offer are mostly contained within easy walking distance of each other and branch out from the ancient market square. Horsemarket, Woodmarket, Coalmarket, Mill Wynd, Distillery Lane and Peat Wynd all give more than a hint to the town’s commercial and industrial past. And not many Border towns can boast that it once had a mint – Kelso’s was at Cunzie Neuk at the foot of Roxburgh Street, with coinage produced for Scotland’s kings while they resided at the long-gone Roxburgh Castle.
There is not much that you cannot purchase in Kelso – and do so in pleasant surroundings of this majestic Borders burgh.
This is very much a sporting town. Rugby and football are the sports of winter, while cricket, bowls and golf belong to the the summer, although some hardy golfers continue to play as long into the winter months as possible.
There is an ice rink for both skating and the roarin’ game that is curling, and in hostelries you can enjoy the less physically-taxing skills of darts and dominoes.
Kelso can boast not one but two racecourses. At Berrymoss around the golf course there is National Hunt racing, while point-to-pointing is enjoyed along the banks of the River Tweed at Friar’s Haugh.
The rivers Teviot and Tweed come together at Kelso’s Junction Pool. Both rivers provide first-class fishing for salmon, sea trout and trout. If you don’t fish, enjoy the pleasure of a stroll along the banks while watching anglers in action.
Springwood Park is one of Kelso’s greatest assets. Perhaps its best-known use is for the annual two-day Border Union Show and the world-famous Kelso Ram Sales. The showground also boasts a large dog show and rarely a weekend passes without some activity in its grounds and hall.
Kelso has a recorded history that stretches back to 1113 when the Earl of Tweeddale and Northampton – later to become King David 1 of Scotland – brought monks from Tiron in France to establish a monastery in Selkirk. But Selkirk didn’t suit them so they flitted in 1128 to found Kelso Abbey. James 111 of Scotland was crowned within its walls and David’s son Prince Henry is buried there. It is likely this Tweedside homestead dates back to around 00AD. There was an Eastern Kelso and a Western Kelso linked by the Common Way along what is now Roxburgh Street.
Many monarchs came here. For 200 years Roxburgh was the seat of power of the Kings of Scots – monarchs were born, married and killed here. It was occupied by both the Scots and the English before its final destruction in 1550.
Floors Castle has a more peaceful history and is the hereditary home of the Dukes of Roxburghe, boasting a window for every day of the year.
Rennie’s Bridge, near the town centre, was constructed between 1800 and 1803 to replace a wooden structure that had been washed away by a flood in 1797. It is said that John Rennie, a native of Haddington, used his Kelso bridge as a trial for the great Waterloo structure which he built over the Thames in London.
A second bridge now crosses the Tweed downstream of Rennie’s structure – it was named Hunter Bridge after a local councillor and Borders Regional Council convener, Tom Hunter.
One of the most impressive buildings in Kelso is the Town Hall which dominates the ancient square. With its commercial enterprise, its architecture, its history and its sporting activities, Kelso is a proud town that is well worth a visit.
Friendliness and courtesy abounds. There is no requirement to rush around Kelso. Take your time and wander. Take in its beauty and its history. Savour what this market town has to offer – because it has much.