Kelso may have first taken root around its landmark abbey, but today this is not a town mired in dull privation and austere abstinence. Lesley Rosher, owner of quirky craft shop The Crafty Creative, beams: “We had a ball recently and over 500 people came and had the time of their lives. It didn’t feel like there is a cost-of-living crisis.”

That ball was part of the rollicking Civic Week celebrations that rumbled through Kelso just before my visit, an extravaganza that showcased a town both proud of its Borders history, but also celebrating being a booming market town today, with the bunting still hanging proudly in shop fronts. Horse parades that echo the Borders Common Ridings sit next to roller skating gymkhanas during this festive week.

The National: Kelso AbbeyKelso Abbey (Image: Robin McKelvie)

Kelso is a town clearly on the up, making the most of the fact that although it may not be part of the Borders Railway, nor on the main cross-border roads, it is wedged handily between Edinburgh and Newcastle, appealing to those looking to explore the slower roads in many ways.

Peering out over cobbled Kelso Square I spot cafés, wee bakers and niche shops rather than vape stores, as good a sign as any in today’s Scottish urban landscape.

In my first few minutes I’m told Kelso has “Britain’s friendliest horse racecourse” and I learn that local body Visit Kelso recently declared the town ‘Scotland’s Wellness Capital’, with local luminaries singing up as ‘Wellness Warriors’ committed to helping improve the town’s wellbeing and mental health. This ranges from teaching people breathing exercises, through to welcoming spaces where they can pop in for a cuppa and a chat. I learn over my weekend here that this positivity is all very Kelso.

The National: Floors Castle,KelsoFloors Castle,Kelso (Image: Robin McKelvie)

Optimism bursts too from Kelso Square – where a Farmers Market has been bustling on the 4th Saturday of every month for over 20 years – into the surrounding streets, whose names tie into Kelso’s market town heritage: Horsemarket, Woodmarket and Mill Wynd. I nip into The Dessert Diva, whose lemon meringue cheesecake reached the semi-finals of a cake competition on This Morning; they’ve won best dessert in the country at the Prestige Awards three years running too.

At Becattelli, Luca welcomes me with strawberry gelato bursting with fresh Borders strawberries. Luca tells me when he moved to Kelso in 1977 the “food was terrible” compared to his native Florence.

“Kelso has really come on a lot over the years, as has the Borders in general with some world-class produce available.”

The National: Robin on the Borders Abbeys WayRobin on the Borders Abbeys Way (Image: Robin McKelvie)

I wash the gelato down with a spot-on cappuccino from Seasons, a former hairdressers, now reinvented as a cool coffee shop and record store set up by a couple who escaped London’s rat race to thrive in Kelso.

It keeps coming in Kelso. Naked Sourdough is a baker that grew out of Lockdown. Owner Cristina Wood is a huge fan of Kelso, who “prefers Kelso to living in either Edinburgh or Glasgow”. People come from both cities for her sourdough; one customer makes sure to snare their jalapeno and cheddar every time they are up from London.

Next is Scott Hunter. Not content with running a first rate butcher (a star is their Cheviot lamb), deli and restaurant, I find him in the process of bringing them altogether under one brand as Scott’s of Kelso; his staff still have time to perfectly cook halibut for me.

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Of course Kelso is not all about monkish privation-defying epicureanism. The home of rugby star John Jeffrey and Scotland’s most capped player Ross Ford, also has that racecourse (two in fact), which are open to all and also home to the UK’s oldest horse racing grandstand.

Then there is a choice of golf courses, world-class fishing and a cricket club. Walking routes also ease off around Kelso, with the 68-mile circular Borders Abbeys Way weaving right through town. The local Cobby Riverside Walk opens up views of the two rivers – the Tweed and the Teviot – that have shaped Kelso over the centuries.

Less traditional attractions include a mountain bike park and a skateboard park. Kelso also sports – an increasing rarity for Scotland – an ice rink.

The Borders Ice Rink welcomes curlers and ice skaters in winter and has recently pivoted, with the rink’s Laura Nisbet explaining, “We’ve just opened up to roller blading in summer and local people love it.” Very Kelso.

The National: Claire Mole at The Mole HouseClaire Mole at The Mole House (Image: Robin McKelvie)

Also new this year is the Kirkpatrick C2C, the coast-to-coast epic cycle route across Scotland that features Kelso in two of its legs. Cycling is becoming big business in southern Scotland and Kelso is well placed to take advantage of that.

A visit to lifeblood Kelso Abbey – you can scan the grand facade without actually venturing inside – is essential of course. In the trim gardens next door a monument pay tribute to the terrible toll paid by Kelso’s soldiers at Gallipoli. There is also Sir Walter Scott’s Kelso, which you can explore on a heritage trail that takes in where he stayed, the grammar school he attended, his publisher and some of the scenery that inspired his work. Scott was a massive fan of Kelso, gushing it was “the most beautiful if not the most romantic village in Scotland.”

You could frame a whole trip around Kelso’s history. There is Kelso Bridge, designed by John Rennie, who went on to conjure up London Bridge (the one that got shipped to North America) and Waterloo Bridge. There are traces of Jacobites (ask about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s horseshoe cast) and the Wars of Independence at the ruins of Roxburghe Castle, a pivotal site in Scottish history.

The National: Floors CastleFloors Castle (Image: Robin McKelvie)

I also re-visit Floors Castle having heard exciting things are afoot with the dynamic new Duke of Roxburghe at the helm of the largest privately owned inhabited house in Scotland. There is a real energy about the estate – the superb Terrace Café shop is rammed, but the staff are unflustered and everyone is still cheery.

The weekend after my visit the grand walls will also echo to these sounds of Oasis and Queen tribute bands in the annual Roxburghe Rocks festival. Why not? Kelso is a town where the past and bright present are always gloriously intertwined.



Newly rebranded under the expert stewardship of Scott Hunter, whose mantra is “local, local, local”. They have a butcher heaving with fresh Borders beef and lamb, a well-stocked deli and a restaurant too with a Francophile leaning. Corkage on their excellent wine selection is £15.


Superb new arrival bringing the Thai owner’s grandmother’s recipes to the heart of Kelso. Tuck into lip smackingly good chicken satay, spicy green curry and coconut-tinged massaman curry.


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You eat well at a hotel bursting with dining venues. Fine dine with a tasting menu at Sunlaws, go for ‘Scottish Bistronomy’ at bright and breezy Charlie’s, or ease into Eyemouth fish and chips at the State Room.




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Not just Kelso’s best place to stay, but one of Scotland’s finest after a major Hyatt reinvention. Swim in the heated outdoor pool and bubble in the adjacent hot tub. Play a round on the championship course, indulge in the spa and try country sports like archery and clay pigeon shooting. More a resort than just a hotel.


This grand mansion dates back to 1761 and is the grandest place to stay within the town. Enjoy afternoon tea in plush surrounds and peer out over the River Tweed from its lofty garden.


Another old timer, with a heritage dating back to 1769. The location is hard to beat in the heart of the action right on the cobbles of Kelso Square. The vibe at this family-run (by the Ballantynes) bolthole is welcoming old coaching inn.




“People come from all over not just to our shop, but to Kelso, from as far afield as Edinburgh and Northumberland. There is so much on offer and it all comes together at the Kelso Farmers Market.”


“I chose Kelso as it is so vibrant and I love that the people are so friendly and supportive. Our town has a quirky vibe too and a tight, positive community. All the businesses work with Visit Kelso to support each other in this beautiful place.”


“Kelso is really bucking the trend by increasing its footfall. It is a booming market town that people always come back to when they discover its unique buzz.”


“We came to Kelso for a wedding, but we soon decided that we just had to move up from London. We have a much better quality of life here in the Borders and in Kelso, which is like the Borders in microcosm.”

TRAVEL INFO: Visit Kelso has lots of information on the town and surrounds.