The long debated Borders Railway from Waverley station to the “current” terminus at Tweedbank, at 30 miles the longest new domestic railway to be built in Britain for more than a century, was opened to passengers on 6th September 2015. Courtesy of the Mountain Maid and Hare celebrating a couple of biggish birthdays, on 1st October Margaret and I were delighted to join other friends on a 1st class refreshments-provided excursion on the Union of South Africa steam train.
Waverley is the only station in the world named after a novel. Sir Walter Scott chose the name of a town in Surrey because it carried no connotations, yet that name is now ubiquitous. The 98-mile Edinburgh to Carlisle railway, completed in 1862, became known as the Waverley Line. The highly controversial closure (the final passenger service was on 6th January 1969) left the Borders as the most extensive and populous area in Britain without a railway.
I mention the Tweedbank terminus, at present little more than a platform and lacking a station building and toilets, as being “current” because many still cling to the hope that one day the line to Hawick will be re-instated. A further extension to Carlisle seems unlikely.
But for the moment, extending the line from Galashiels and across the Tweed by the Redbridge Viaduct to the new Tweedbank station (mid-way between Galashiels and Melrose) has been very successful despite some teething problems. Indeed 126,000 passenger journeys have been made in the first month, the equivalent, if maintained of 1.5 million a year, more than twice the forecast 650,000.
The cost has been trimmed back to £353m, partly by restricting the double-track to 9½ miles. Insufficient passing places may, initially at least, cause delays to the planned journey time of less than an hour, crucial if the line is to compete with the car.
The timing on our charter train was such that we had only two hours at Tweedbank, a time further reduced by the inclusive bus trip to Melrose. Nevertheless, Christine, Martin and I still had time for a gentle stroll by the Tweed back to the station.
An outing on the train and even with such a short walk would be ideal for a short family break, although I would suggest planning for a much longer stay in the Melrose area. The standard train service covering the 7 stations between Waverley and Tweedbank is half-hourly six days a week, hourly on Sundays. Off peak day returns cost £11.20.
From the Abbey car and coach park, turn left down Abbey Street, also signposted River Walk. Pass by Melrose Abbey where it is alleged the heart of Robert the Bruce lies beneath the high altar. Later turn left, leaving the tarmac road to follow the green sign, Borders Abbey Way. (The route also crosses the well-signed NCN Route 1 and the Southern Upland Way).
Go along Chain Bridge Road and so to the impressive suspension bridge which gives access to Gattonside. Opened in 1826 and with major repairs in 1991, when the 'swing' was cancelled out, take note that no more than eight people should be on the bridge at one time. Do cross and return!
Head upstream on the south bank following the obvious path. It would be impossible to get lost. Pass by the Cauld, built to divert water by a lade to the Abbey Mill. Continue past the grounds of Waverley Castle Hotel built on Skirmish Hill, the skirmish being over the custody of the 14-year old King James V.
On approaching Lowood road bridge spanning the river, stay on the south bank, turn left and cross the road as signed, Tweedbank station ½ mile…..and so by the tarmac old trackbed to return to the terminus.
Map: Ordnance Survey map 73, Peebles, Galashiels & Selkirk
Distance: 2 miles
Terrain: Pathed all the way
Start point: Abbey car and coach park, Melrose
Time: A gentle hour
Nearest towns: Melrose and Galashiels
Refreshment Spot: Abbey Coffee Shop, Buccleuch Street, Melrose