One of the most charming Border towns, Kelso is often described as having a continental flavour. A picturesque, gracious town with a large cobbled Market Square bounded by imposing three-storey 18th and 19th centuries pastel buildings, and presided over by the honey-hued Ionic columns, pediment and large clock bell tower of the elegant 19th century Town Hall, Kelso is a delight for those visitors not in a hurry to be elsewhere.
The town sits at the confluence of the Tweed and Teviot and grew-up in the shadow of its now ruined Benedictine Abbey; once the richest and most powerful of the Border abbeys, it is now the least intact of the four ruins, just a bleak fragment of what was the largest of the group. Kelso Abbey was founded in 1128 after David I, who had originally founded the abbey at Selkirk, did a rethink, deciding that Kelso was a more favourable site.
Unfortunately, the town and abbey lie on a main invasion route from England, and both were savaged brutally by English armies on three separate occasions in the first half of the 16th century. The last and by far the worst assault occurred in 1545, as a part of the 'Rough Wooing' inflicted by the Earl of Hertford, when the Scots refused to ratify a marriage treaty between Henry VIII's son and the infant Mary, Queen of Scots. Such was the extent of the devastation that the abbey was all but destroyed, and the garrison of 100 men and 12 monks butchered. Over 450 yrs later the ruins still remain dramatic enough to make an impressive impact, with the heavy Norman west end of the abbey church almost entirely intact. Beyond that little is left but the transepts, a ragged tower and two nave bays.
On the western fringes of Kelso, by the reedy banks of the River Tweed, stands the proud outline of palatial Floors Castle, the largest inhabited castle in Scotland. The ancestral home of the Dukes of Roxburgh, Floors is an architectural extravagance, bristling with pepper-mill turrets and castellations that rise up from the 'floors' or flat terrain of the Tweed bank. The enormous home was constructed by William Adam (1689-1748) in 1721 and modified in the 1840's by Willaim Playfair (1789-1857), employing mock Tudor flourishes.
A holly tree in the deer park marks the spot where poor James II of Scotland was killed outright when a cannon accidentally exploded in his face, during the siege of Roxburgh Castle in 1460. The remains of 12th century Roxburgh Castle rest on a high defensive mound at the junction of the Tweed and Teviot. Only mere traces of rubble and earthworks remain of the ancient stronghold. The modern day village of Roxburgh is young in years by comparison with the original Roxburgh, one of the oldest towns in Scotland, now virtually disappeared.