Legendary Hawick born and bred rugby commentator Bill McLaren once declared: “A day out of Hawick is a day wasted.” This uncharacteristic overstatement – the Voice of Rugby was known for playing down full-blown rugby battles as ‘a wee bit of argy-bargy’ – reflects the appeal of the ‘Queen of all the Borders’, a town not always appreciated as much as its myriad attractions deserve.

A local phrase I keep hearing when I head back to Hawick is “it’s better felt than telt”; the idea that to appreciate Hawick you have to come, see and feel what it offers, from its textile traditions and the annual Common Riding, through its distinctive Hawick Balls (McLaren always had a bag of the sweets on hand to dish out) and, of course, the Borders Scots dialect.

The National: Robin McKelvie explores HawickRobin McKelvie explores Hawick (Image: Robin McKelvie explores Hawick)

Hawick enjoys a privileged location in the Borders hills at the confluence of the Slitrig and Teviot. These sweet, clean waters propelled its rise from the 18th Century as a mill town, with the first knitting machine introduced in 1771 by John Hardie. Hawick grew to become the home of tweed, invented here in 1826. The second half of the 20th Century brought tougher times as cheaper competition from abroad forced many mills to close. Unemployment rose.

The railways left in 1969. Recent years have seen a renaissance in Hawick, with co-operative Famously Hawick leading the way. Set-up in 2018, this initiative brings a quintet of local businesses together, sharing knowledge and boosting each other, reflecting the strong sense of community I find running through Hawick.

My first stop is William Lockie, whose shop feels gloriously old school, where you can pick up quality merino and cashmere garments. Nearby Johnstons of Elgin are a slick operation with a superb café attached. There are real bargains – I find a £2,000 camel hair coat reduced to under £500.

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Similarly slick are famous fashion brand Hawico – I peer into their factory from their swish shop. At Lovat Mill you can even commission your own tweed, as visiting pop stars and Royalty have done.

The most striking famously Hawick attraction, however, is undoubtedly the Borders Distillery. An old textile industry sleeping giant has been reborn to house this glorious new distillery. It is already conjuring a range of spirits, but the long-term focus is on whisky, using that sweet local water.

Forget any anachronistic images of smoking old industrial-scale mills. Today the focus is on sustainability and going green, neatly chiming with the local rugby team, nicknamed the ‘Green Machine’.

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John Fordyce, the human dynamo behind the distillery, says: “We are proud to be a zero-waste distillery with the organic by-product from distillation going back into the barley fields.” Lovat Mill recycle 100 per cent of their wool waste and Johnstons of Elgin were founding members of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance. Hawico offer a ‘Redress and Repair’ service to refresh old cashmere garments. William Lockie don’t use chemicals in their washing process.

Digging deeper into Hawick’s textile heritage I head for the Borders Textile Towerhouse. They have done a tremendous job of resurrecting this Sixteenth-Century building: exhibits range from garments through to artefacts and photographs, all helping tell the colourful stories of centuries of textile production in Hawick.

I find energy and drive in modern Hawick, too, manifesting itself through a diverse sweep of festivals. These include spring’s Reivers Festival and the Alchemy Film and Arts, then in summer the famous Hawick Common Riding. The latter is a tradition that marks the attack by an English raiding party in 1514 that was repelled by Hawick’s plucky youths. Proud locals ride out to mark the boundaries of the town’s common land as part of festivities that Rough Guides rated one of the best parties in the world.

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Another key attraction is the world-class walking. The long-distance Borders Abbeys Way links Hawick with the abbeys at Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh.

The handy Town of 1000 Trails website (townof1000trails.co.uk) offers two-footed adventures for all ages. And all abilities. The  trails boast dramatic views and bountiful wildlife, touching on why McLaren was so dedicated to Hawick. The town also has the oldest cycling club in the world. It is fitting the new Kirkpatrick C2C, South of Scotland’s Coast to Coast 250-mile cycling route, puts Hawick centre stage. One of the longest coast-to-coast routes in the UK launches digitally in July, with signage to follow.

The Explorer route crosses Scotland in eight stages, with the 21-mile long Newcastleton to Hawick and the 25 miles from Hawick to Melrose key sections.

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Professor Russel Griggs, Chair of South of Scotland Enterprise, says of the new route: “The Kirkpatrick C2C, South of Scotland’s Coast to Coast route, is a fantastic opportunity for our region to maximise our growing reputation as the home of cycling.”

Each time I visit Hawick I find something new. This time there is a £2 million pedestrian bridge, helping reconnect the town.

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Then there is At The Riversedge. This River Teviot year-round retail platform promotes local artists and craftspeople. We’re talking everything from bespoke gifts to upcycled furniture.

More than 45 local businesses offer a calendar of workshops, taster sessions and events. There are light lunches and delicious home baking too. Being Hawick, there is creativity with a new ‘makers’ table’ every week.

I end my latest Hawick adventure at an old favourite with our old friend. Wilton Lodge Park is one of Scotland’s great urban parks, 100 acres of tree-lined riverside walks, a walled garden, bandstand and waterfall, with cycling and walking routes. There is also a bike pump track, sports pitches, and an adventure playpark, plus a museum telling Hawick’s story.

I find him here, in the heart of Hawick where he was happiest and now never has to leave. Doffing my metaphorical cap at the McLaren’s statue, I reluctantly leave the land of tweed, mills, irresistible sweets and remarkable history.




The Night Safe

This fine dining family-run restaurant on Hawick’s High Street focuses on seasonal dishes at affordable prices, with a new three-course menu for only £30 featuring the likes of cured salmon with pickled veg and citrus dressing, 8oz flat iron steaks or a confit chicken ramen bowl.

Adam’s Kitchen

This award-winning eaterie is situated on Hawick’s High Street and is the town’s top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor.

The Polish husband-and-wife team conjure up local produce-driven cuisine with an extensive gin menu.

They have also recently opened a second restaurant at Hawick Golf Club on Vertish Hill.

Damascus Drum

Come in for a brew, tuck into a healthy Mediterranean salad, or just savour a slice of cake. You can then pick up one of the second hand books they have for sale; they also offer fabulous handmade rugs from Anatolia.



Branxhlolme Castle

Three miles south west of Hawick, Carol Shanley and Brian Desport have brilliantly revamped Branxholme Castle. They offer B&B and have a four-bedroom holiday cottage, plus a café and spa.


Balcary House Hotel

This 11-bedroom boutique hotel near Wilton Lodge Park welcomes guests and their pets to Hawick. It looks, feels and is Victorian, but it also has all the mod cons you need after a recent makeover. They also offer a range of beauty treatments.


The Bank Guest House

This grand old 1857 dame used to house the Royal Bank of Scotland. A Grade B listed heritage gem, reflecting Victorian grandeur, it has been reborn as a stylish guest house in the heart of Hawick. Comfy Italian leather sofas tempt you to settle in the guest lounge. They even have a designated freezer if you’ve been fishing.


Stouslie Snugs Luxury Farm Glamping

This luxury glamping escape sits on a small family farm two miles north of Hawick, with epic views across the Teviotdale Valley from glass-fronted glamping pods. They are cosy, with underfloor heating and a Scandinavian wood-fired hot tub. Book direct on the website and they’ll throw in a free bakery grazing box from local business Harper’s Cake Shop, plus a bottle of bubbly.