Nightlife in the Scottish Borders has less in common with Edinburgh nightlife and more with nightlife on one of the smaller Greek islands. Here, evening entertainment is focussed on dining out, traditional music and local bars. The pace of life here is slower than in the cities, however, if you are holidaying in the Scottish Borders, the chances are you have come for the scenery, wildlife, fishing, golf, walking or cycling and not for an abundance of nightclubs.
Fans of folk music are well-catered for in the Scottish Borders. Usually on the second Saturday of the month, The String Jam Club meets in the intimate setting of The County Hotel in Selkirk. There you can see some great live acoustic acts from up-and-coming local musicians, to favourites such as Daintees’ frontman, Martin Stephenson, and Ireland’s Mary Coughlan. The club was launched in 1997 by singer-songwriter Allie Fox who is both host and resident musician. Musicians playing any style of music are welcome to contribute to ‘open mic’ spots.
Musicians and audience members alike are welcome at the weekly Kelso Folk and Live Music Club, which promotes music-making in traditional and contemporary fashions. Meetings take place every Friday night throughout the year, starting with an early evening session in The Oak Room at the Cross Keys Hotel (8pm to 10.30pm). The Cobbles Inn pub session starts at 10pm. By 11 o’clock, the session starts to get busy as the musicians and singers from the Cross Keys arrive. It’s not unusual for performers to arrive after midnight if they’ve been to a gig first. The night usually ends around 1am. Organised by the Kelso Folk and Live Music Club, the Annual Kelso Folk Festival takes place in August/September: a weekend of live concerts, sessions, workshops and open mics, featuring award-winning bands and artists, and offers a showcase for local talent.
On the first and third Fridays of the month, the Rolling Hills Folk Club meets in the Smith Memorial Hall in the village of Darnick, near Melrose. And, every second Thursday Innerleithen, Denholm and Peebles Folk Clubs meet. ‘St Boswells Live!’ is a music club held in the local village hall. There are ‘Headline’ nights, local support acts, and occasional jam sessions – check their website or the local press for details. Every third Sunday, the Gordon Arms Hotel, Yarrow, hosts regular guest musicians from 3pm onwards. Each August, the Innerleithen Music Festival presents a range of live music events. Previous performers have included Eddi Reader, Skipinnish, and Barbara Dickson.
Musicians and audience members alike are welcome at the weekly Kelso Folk and Live Music Club, which promotes music-making in traditional and contemporary fashions
In November each year, the Denholm Folk Festival showcases sessions in the Auld Cross Keys, The Fox and Hounds, Denholm Meet, and Lesser Hall. Festival favourites include the nationally acclaimed ‘Elbow Jane’, well-known for their unique blend of bouzouki, keyboards mandolin, guitar, and percussion. Set on the beach front in the small fishing town of Eyemouth, overlooking Eyemouth Bay, the family-run Tavern Bar has live music every weekend: tribute acts, rock bands, duos and soloists. The Tavern also plays host to quiz nights, bingo, darts and pool. The Hippodrome on the harbour in Eyemouth, was originally built in the 1830s as a granary. The building was later used for fishing trade activities until 1987 when it was gutted and converted into the Fishermen’s Mission, providing support to fishermen and families from the town and along the coast. Today, it hosts live music events from folk music to jazz and roots to blues. It is also an arts space showcasing dazling performances, exhibitions, poetry, talks and films.
The MacArts in Galashiels is run by a charitable organisation, which was inspired by Dunc MacKinnon, a Borders promoter who brought high profile acts to the Scottish Borders in the 1960s. This former church is the setting for dance, theatre, live music and comedy nights. In Peebles, the Eastgate Theatre and Art Centre season is bursting with performances of comedy, theatre, dance, films, talks, live music, screenings of Covent Garden operas and ballets, relayed live from the Royal Opera House, and National Theatre screenings. Music in Peebles’ season of events brings the very best chamber music to the Scottish Borders, featuring concerts by world-class artists and outstanding young musicians playing music ranging from the 18th century to modern day. Their annual Festival Concert is part of the Creative Peebles Festival.In January and February Sunday afternoon concerts take place in the Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre.
In February is the Patron’s Concert featuring star students and recent graduates from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Throughout the year, The Kelso Music Society endeavours to bring the finest musicians from all over the world to play in the beautiful 18th-century Kelso Old Parish Kirk. If a night at the movies is more your thing, in Galashiels, there’s The Pavilion Cinema, a family-run independent cinema with four digital screens. It is the only purpose-built cinema in the Borders, but there are also a few multi-purpose venues offering occasional screenings: Tait Hall, Kelso; Tower Mill Cinema/Theatre (Heart of Hawick); Eyemouth Hippodrome; Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre, Peebles; and Hemelvaart Bier Café, in Ayton, a small town just outside of Eyemouth.
In November each year, the Denholm Folk Festival showcases sessions in the Auld Cross Keys, The Fox and Hounds, Denholm Meet, and Lesser Hall. Festival favourites include the nationally acclaimed ‘Elbow Jane’, well-known for their unique blend of bouzouki, keyboards mandolin, guitar, and percussion
Performance venues and Scotlands first micropub
At the Hemelvaart, in addition to the film nights, there are quiz nights, live music performances, and comedy nights featuring up-and-coming artists and TV regulars, such as Zoe Lyons and Gary Delaney (regulars on the BBC comedy ‘Mock the Week’) and Justin Moorhouse (‘Phoenix Nights’). In November 2018, London-based magician Pete Heat, who has performed for stars such as David Beckham to Benedict Cumberbatch performed at the Hemelvaart. Fans of continental beers are spoilt for choice at the Hemelvaart: they serve over 100 different craft beers from around the world and have a particularly impressive selection of Belgian beers.
In Kelso, Scotland’s first micropub, Rutherfords, is a ‘must’ for lovers of craft beer, artisan gin and Scottish whiskies. A micropub is a small free house which serves cask ales and promotes conversation by shunning all forms of electronic entertainment. According to the micropubs’ founder, Martyn Hillier, “Micropubs should ideally bring back to life a disused shop.” Rutherfords was formerly a knitting shop. “They are small in size.” Rutherfords can cater for up to 30 people inside (a mix of seated and standing). There are also tables outside.
In accordance with ‘The Rules’, Rutherfords has no recorded music, gaming machines or television. They do, however, encourage conversation between regulars and visitors, and host live music, cocktail-making classes and gin-tasting events. Pickerings gin is available on tap, served from a microscope, specially adapted to serve this most popular tipple. And it’s not just any microscope, but one from the lab at The Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies, the old animal hospital which now houses Pickering’s distillery. Rutherfords was Runner-Up in CAMRA’s Pub of the Year Award 2016 and Borders winner for Real Ale Quality so, as you’d expect, their choice of real ale is first class. Whilst proud to uphold another ‘Rule of Micropub’ – the ‘no lager rule’, Rutherfords is equally proud to be the sole distributors of Pilsner Rotthaus in Scotland. Kelso taxi rank is conveniently situated across the car park from Rutherfords.
In Kelso, Scotland’s first micropub, Rutherfords, is a ‘must’ for lovers of craft beer, artisan gin and Scottish whiskies. A micropub is a small free house which serves cask ales and promotes conversation by shunning all forms of electronic entertainment
Pub nights and craft beers
Perhaps better known as a local gastropub/restaurant, The Cobbles, just off the market square in Kelso, is also a great pub for a good night out. It is the brewery tap of Tempest Brew Co and their craft beers are available in cask, keg and bottle. New in 2018, the Tipsy Ghillie is a bar, bistro and live music venue providing traditional entertainment including a pool table, dart board, weekly quiz, regular live music sessions. The bistro looks out onto the cobbled streets of Kelso Market Square, and the bar area (behind the bistro) is dog-friendly.
Melrose has a fine selection of hotels with bars, and one pub, The Ship Inn, which has late opening, until 1am, on Fridays and Saturdays. Sporting events are shown on the six large screens, and there’s a state-of-the-art surround sound system. If you fancy a dram of fine whisky whilst in Melrose, the Henderson family at Burts Hotel will happily talk you through their dedicated menu which boasts 90 single malts. Their restaurant has been awarded two AA Rosettes every year since 1995. Directly opposite Burts Hotel, is its sister hotel, The Townhouse (also run by the Henderson family). Both hotels are stylish and welcoming, each with its own characteristics. Also in the centre of Melrose is the Kings Arms Hotel Melrose, a charming 300-year-old former coaching inn. In the summer, visitors can enjoy a drink on the decking or, if you fancy a game of pool or darts, you can enjoy a pint in the games room.
The Tontine Hotel in Peebles, serves Broughton Cask Ale (from the local Broughton Brewery), St Mungo’s lager (brewed in Glasgow), old-fashioned cocktails and more. The Crown Hotel has a lively bar which is popular with locals and visitors alike. For the young and the young at heart, The Indigo Rooms lounge bar and nightclub in Galashiels is the ultimate in borders nightlife. Open three nights a week 10pm-3am, The Indigo Rooms enjoys a mixed clientele, from the Borders locals and stylish students to globetrotting guests. Grab your dancing shoes and go!
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