SELKIRK is not somewhere I usually even consider visiting; my guidebook on this Borders trip doesn’t even namecheck it. Within minutes of arriving I realise that’s a serious omission: Selkirk is not a place to miss. The town bursts with community spirit and independent shops. Then there’s the William Wallace connections, a grand house being reborn and now soaring eagles. Oh, and Selkirk even has its own gin distillery.

That Selkirk is sometimes ignored today makes no sense even on a quick dip into its history. We’re talking one of Scotland’s oldest Royal Burghs, a hub that sported Scotland’s first race course and a grand abbey before Kelso. Before Jedburgh, Dryburgh and Melrose too.

I start my trip at the site of the Kirk o’ the Forest, where William Wallace was crowned Guardian of Scotland – a plaque marks the spot, but there really deserves to be a statue at this pivotal place in Scottish history. You can feel the heritage here and connect to the days when the vast Ettrick Forest stretched right across southern Scotland – ideal guerrilla warfare country.

The National:

Selkirk boasts Bonnie Prince Charlie, Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg connections too, but what most impresses me is the modern day spirit of the “Souters” as the locals are known, a name dating back to its famous cobblers. I find a real life souter, Colin Turnbull, above, who welcomes me at Turnbull’s Shoe Repairs. “We’re carrying on a tradition that’s been here in Selkirk for centuries”, he smiles. “But it’s not just us as the whole centre of Selkirk has loads of wee shops and businesses.”

He is right. I wander along finding a proper grocer and butcher, the kind I wish would open on my street. Selkirk is a glorious world away from supermarket hegemony. Selkirk’s BID company is called Selkirk Means Business and their slogan echoes what underpins the shops – “Town. Trade. Tradition”. I find facades beautifully revamped and green shoots everywhere, signs of the work they and the community are doing.

At The General Store I meet effervescent Sue Briggs, who bounces me around her brilliant shop. It could scarcely be more general, recycling anything and everything, teaching people skills as they work. I snare a rugby ball cushion fashioned from Tweed offcuts. Nothing goes to waste. I ask how badly the pandemic affected Selkirk and am pleasantly surprised by the reply: “We have more shops than before, people have been using the independent shops more and more.”

The National:

I find this positivity and creativity at Selkirk Distillers too. This small batch operation concoct their delicious range of gins locally and have opened a small shop on the High Street. The owner Allan Walker introduces me to one of the more unlikely gins I’ve ever tasted – it’s flavoured with Selkirk Bannock. It’s actually lovely, a warm hug of a spirit that instantly evokes Christmas. There are gins distilled to raise money for charities close to Walker’s heart too.

Heart and passion ooze from Charly Murray and Javier Ternero at Burnside Gallery & Frames too. They’ve recently opened and chose Selkirk “as there is a real sense of community here and we feel very welcome”. Their own welcome is warm as I peruse a shop alive with art displayed in a beautiful space that looks more hipster café than dull gallery.

Selkirk surprises at every turn. The Five Turrets blows me away. This remarkable self-catering oasis in a grand old stone building offers more than great views out over the hills that lend Selkirk such a spectacular setting. Selkirk polymath Gethin Chamberlain is an accomplished photographer, foreign correspondent and wildlife conservationist. He’s brought the best back from his travels – bold colours, neat lines and solid hardwoods creating a space a world away from tartan twee.

Chamberlain is heavily involved in preserving wildlife and helping the community access it through Go Wild Scotland. So are the Golden Eagle Centre “The Eyrie”. Their innovative translocation programme has turned the tide after southern Scotland was at risk of no longer having a golden eagle population. It was just announced this month that their efforts have boosted numbers up to 33, the highest level in three centuries. You can learn more at the centre and also tuck into a lovely lunch in their bright new café.

At my last stop I’m met by an unlikely guide. Leader of Reform UK Scotland Michelle Ballantyne may not be my political cup of tea, but she is putting a lot of energy into the community-focused The Haining project. This spectacular country house has presided over a wooded knoll in Selkirk since the 1790s. It’s being resurrected by a charitable trust to function as a community space and events venue. They’ve already managed to build an accessible path around the loch the house overlooks.

Wandering the grounds you’ll find a touching bench dedicated to Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchinson. That one of the most talented, creative and warm musicians Scotland has ever been blessed with grew up in Selkirk comes now as no surprise to me. I won’t be ignoring Selkirk any longer; I suggest you don’t either.