A Literary Tour of the Borders

During our recent trip to the Scottish Borders and Edinburgh we managed to cram in quite a few literary delights.

Staying at Dryburgh Abbey Hotel, on the River Tweed, our first destination was Sir Walter Scott's tomb in the Abbey. This is such a wonderful setting for a literary giant and, on this visit so peaceful and autumnal.

Next we visited Main Street Trading Company in St Boswell's. This is one of our favourite bookshops, with an excellent cafe, for much needed refreshment during book browsing! The selection of books at Main Street Trading Company is so well curated and always yields an eclectic mix of new books. There's also a wonderful deli and home shop. We spent quite a few hours browsing happily.

After a delicious breakfast, the following day we set off for Edinburgh. We had a number of planned destinations including Topping and Company, Ragamuffin and Valvona and Crolla. In addition to book browsing and good coffee, we included a few literary destinations. Again, Sir Walter Scott features with the wonderful Memorial on Princes Street. As a good friend said, you can't visit the Borders without tripping over Scott regularly!

 We also visited the birthplace and childhood home of D E Stevenson at 14, Eglington Crescent.  For me, D E Stevenson's novels epitomise the essence of the Scottish Borders. They are so gentle, but with a sharp wit and excellent storytelling. She also incorporates the landscape of rolling hills, lochs and rivers into her novels. Stevenson doesn't shy away from dealing with difficult subject matter either. I was delighted to visit the house where she spent her early years.

We spent a couple of hours in Topping and Company and came away with another fine haul of books. We find Toppings such a well organised bookshop with different and unusual books. It's the only shop I know which carries the full stock of New Naturalists. I also love the Mystery and Crime Room, and on this occasion, found myself browsing their Ghost Story selection, and Horror (light!).

After Topping and Company we enjoyed a coffee and a browse in Valvona and Crolla. I adore this shop for its Alexander McCall Smith links. On this trip north of the border, I enjoyed it even more, as I was reading the newly published 44 Scotland Street novel: The Enigma of Garlic. As we drove and walked around Edinburgh, so many of the street names resonated with my reading - Heriot Row, Scotland Street, Dundas Street, Cumberland Street and many more. McCall Smith is definitely the modern day storyteller of Edinburgh. The Sir Walter Scott of the 21st Century. He captures, for me, the essence of Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside.

Our final destination in Edinburgh was Greyfriars Kirk Yard. I wasn't drawn here for the Harry Potter connections, of which I know there are quite a few, but rather for the gravestone of Greyfriars Bobby, one of the most loyal dogs in history and literature. Bobby was a Skye Terrier who was looked after by a local policeman, John Gray. After John Gray’s death Bobby reportedly guarded his grave in the Kirkyard for fourteen years, being fed and looked after by local residents and visitors. There is a memorial erected to this loyal dog, just outside the Kirkyard, where he is buried. 

Greyfriars Bobby was immortalised in Eleanor Atkinson's book of the same name. I remember reading this book as a child and how it made an impression on me. I think this is because we were a dog-mad family! The story also chimes with the grave of Beddgelert, another loyal dog, in the village of the same name, in Snowdonia.

Our final literary destination was on our journey home. We made a short detour to the hills above Langholm where there is a glorious memorial to the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid. I haven't read much of MacDiarmid's poetry but I intend to rectify this. I also know very little about him. I've always imagined him to be a Scottish Ted Hughes or R S Thomas. The memorial is quite stunning and well worth a visit. Sadly the weather was inclement, so we have promised ourselves a return visit.

All in all, a smashing weekend of books and literary connections.