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Arts and culture in the Scottish Borders

Festivals and design

Arts and Culture Scottish Borders

Pick up something unique for your home at an arts and crafts festival

For locals and visitors alike, one of the highlights of the Borders’ cultural calendar is the Borders Book Festival which takes place in and around the walled gardens of Harmony House in the centre of Melrose. This year’s festival will run from the 13th to 16th June. Former guest speakers include Melvyn Bragg, John Cleese, Judy Murray, and Rory Bremner. Running alongside the main festival, is a programme for schools, and a family/child-friendly programme, attracting and delighting thousands of children, who are, after all the audiences and readers for the future. The programme includes story-telling, hands-on art activities and even the occasional sing-a-long. In addition to talks, storytelling and book-signings, the Borders Book Festival also showcases the finest food and drink from across the Borders and Scotland: artisan beers, craft gins, Scottish seafood, tasty burgers, home-made cakes and locally-produced ice cream.

Over a long weekend at the beginning of May, and now in its seventh year, Art at Ancrum is an exciting celebration of the arts and crafts of the region. It is the weekend when the local pub, church, community centre and several private residences are turned into gallery spaces to showcase the work of a range of invited professional artists and makers. Visitors park in the centre of the village and pick up a trail guide from the organisers on the village green. Visitors are invited to enjoy the trail in any order, but each venue is numbered so you can keep track of where you have been. Whatever your interest, there is bound to be something to delight you: hand-woven scarves, beautifully-crafted furniture, fine art paintings, designer clothing, leather goods, glassware, jewellery, and willow sculptures.

If you love a spectacle, there is no more impressive way to celebrate summer in the Scottish Borders than watching one of the traditional Common Ridings. In the 12th century, when common land was much-needed by local townspeople for grazing livestock and growing produce, annual audits were carried out by landowners’ representatives to ensure that neighbours had not encroached on the common land. These audits were carried out on horseback – hence ‘riding the commons’ or ‘common ridings’. Nowadays, the ridings are a time of celebration and a display of local pride in commemoration of tradition, history and local legend. Visitors flock to the Borders to enjoy the spectacle of hundreds of horses and riders in procession around the picturesque towns and neighbouring hamlets and villages.

If you love a spectacle, there is no more impressive way to celebrate summer in the Scottish Borders than watching one of the traditional Common Ridings

Live performance and theatre

Arts and Culture Scottish Borders

Watch fabulous live shows in locations such as Galashiels

Towns also host balls or gala dinners and celebrate the ‘bussing of the colours’ in which ribbons are tied to the staff of the Burgh flag (a tradition dating back to when a lady attached her ribbon to a knight’s lance prior to battle). As part of the Common Ridings celebration in Peebles, visitors and locals gather to enjoy the Beltane Festival. Traditionally, Beltane is a Gaelic May Day festival which celebrates the halfway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. It is a festival of fire which celebrates fertility, spring and the coming of summer. It is said that James I witnessed this festival in Peebles in the 15th century. The Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre in Peebles, a year-round venue for creativity with its film festivals, performances, visual arts and children’s activities. It screens ballets live from The Royal Opera House and drama productions from the National Theatre.

For live performances in Galashiels, the MacArts community and performance venue is a must. In addition to the theatre performances, the musical line-up in 2018 featured artists such as Turin’ Brakes, Hazel O’Connor, and The Wedding Present. Each August, the village of Stow plays host to the ‘Stowed Out’ Festival – a family-friendly music and arts festival which showcases an eclectic mix of music, spoken word and art. In a short space of time, the festival has mushroomed into a well-respected event. Heart of Hawick is an arts and culture-led regeneration project which transformed three buildings in the town: Borders Textile Towerhouse, Heritage Hub and Tower Mill. The Borders Textile Towerhouse, the oldest building in Hawick and former defensive tower, is now a vibrant fashion and design museum/gallery space which exhibits the work of Scottish textile artists.

Various incarnations of the building now known as the ‘Heritage Hub’ include it having been the local Corn Exchange, a concert hall, a cinema and even a nightclub. Now, the Heritage Hub houses the Scottish Border’s archives and is a must-visit place for anyone researching their Border ancestors. In years gone by, Tower Mill was a spinning mill driven by a 14-foot high waterwheel: now, it is a multi-purpose arts and entertainment venue with auditorium, cinema and cafe. Throughout the year, Tower Mill screens live productions from the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Opera House, in addition to hosting live theatre performances and comedy nights. For performances of a different kind, Paxton House offers a programme of musical evenings featuring chamber music. Paxton House is famed for its Chippendale and Trotter furniture, costume collection, and Picture Gallery featuring late 18th and early 19th-century paintings (many of which are on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland).

For live performances in Galashiels, the MacArts community and performance venue is a must. In addition to the theatre performances, the musical line-up in 2018 featured artists such as Turin’ Brakes, Hazel O’Connor, and The Wedding Present

Galleries and exhibitions

Arts and Culture Scottish Borders

Enjoy art work at visiting exhibitions

Not to be missed on a visit to Paxton House are the visiting exhibitions in the Hayloft and Regency Galleries. If your visit to the Borders takes you to the coast, you may like to spend an evening at The Hippodrome in Eyemouth which features a variety of arts events, talks, film screenings and activities. Each November, the picturesque village of Denholm hosts ‘a wee folk festival for a wee village’: a range of concerts, workshops and an open stage competition for folk music enthusiasts.

Open from the beginning of April to the end of October, the Trimontium Museum in the Ormiston Building, Melrose, houses Roman artefacts including tools to build the fort, the remains of glassmaking, pottery, and replica armour and cavalry saddle. A recreation of a kitchen and a Blacksmith’s workshop illustrate what life may have been like in the fort 2,000 years ago.

Jedburgh Castle Jail houses collections which focus on traditions, industries and important individuals of this historic Scottish town. Visitors may walk through the original cell blocks of the Georgian jail, gaining an insight into what life was like in an 1820s prison. Tweeddale Museum and Gallery on Peebles High Street has a changing programme of contemporary art alongside its displays about local history. And in Galashiels, Old Gala House (once home to the Lairds of Galashiels) is a museum and gallery which tells the story of the town and its people.

In Selkirk, an unusual 18th-century building is home to Halliwell’s House Museum and Gallery. Inside, you can learn about the town’s history and its associations with William Wallace and the Battle of Flodden. On the ground floor, there is a reconstruction of an ironmonger’s shop, whilst upstairs, you can explore the history of the Selkirk Common Riding Festival. Also upstairs, is The Robson Gallery which hosts a vibrant exhibition programme showing the work of local artists and makers as well as exhibitions of local and historical interest.

The most famous abbey ruins in the Borders are Jedburgh, Melrose, Kelso and Dryburgh Abbey, all founded in the 12th century and with sites now managed by Historic Scotland. The Borders Abbeys Way is roughly a 65-mile circular route linking the abbeys. Experienced walkers can complete the route in five or six days, but many visitors choose to walk individual sections of the route.


Everything you need to know about the Scottish Borders

Where to eat in the Scottish Borders

The best things to do in the Scottish Borders

The best shopping in the Scottish Borders

The best nightlife in the Scottish Borders

Image credits: ©ING Image; Shutterstock.com; Phil Wilkinson/Live Borders

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