Kelso is a small market town in the Borders region of southern Scotland. Its name probably derives from Calk Heugh - the "chalk outcrop" which its two rivers cut through. These are the Teviot and Tweed, joining here, both famed for salmon fishing. The town grew up around its Abbey, whose monks farmed the fertile valleys. Its town centre is of a style common in northern France and the Low Countries but rare in Scotland, with a large market square, and Flemish-style buildings. The main reasons to visit are the Abbey and Floors Castle.
Difficult to believe now, but the tiny village of Roxburgh five miles south was once an important settlement, and indeed briefly the capital of Scotland.
By plane: the nearest airport is Edinburgh, 50 miles (81 km) away, with a good choice of flights. Newcastle Airport is 62 miles away.
By train: the nearest railway stations are Tweedbank (17 miles), terminus of the Borders Railway, and Berwick-upon-Tweed (25 miles) on the East Coast Mainline.
By bus: Borders Bus 51 / 52 runs every two hours daily from Edinburgh along the A68, via the Royal Infirmary, Dalkeith, Lauder, Earlston, and St Boswells to Jedburgh / Kelso.
Bus 67 runs every two hours daily from Berwick-upon-Tweed west via Coldstream, Kelso, St Boswells and Melrose to Galashiels.
By car or bike from the north approach along A68 or A697 before branching onto the minor roads. A689 runs up the valley from Berwick-upon-Tweed via Coldstream to Kelso and Jedburgh.
The Abbey and Floors Castle are in town, and Roxburgh Castle is only a one mile walk. There's no bus along the road to Mellerstain House.
- 1 Kelso Abbey, Roxburgh St, Kelso TD5 7JD. Apr-Sept daily 09:30-17:30, Oct-Mar Sa-W 10:00-16:00. Built 1128-1143 by the Tironensian monastic order (who'd split from the Benedictines), this was once one of the wealthiest and grandest monasteries in Scotland. But it suffered repeated attack and destruction, and was in a poor state even before the 1560 Reformation. All that remains is the west tower and the transept, still a striking piece of Romanesque architecture. Free.
- Kelso Square The largest market square in Scotland with well preserved 18th and 19th century architecture reminiscent if the low countries.
- 2 Floors Castle (1 mile north of Kelso (the main gates are in the town)). Main residence of the Duke of Roxburghe, largest inhabited house in Scotland and open to visitors in the summer months. Art collection, tea room, garden centre and country sports.
- 3 Roxburgh Castle. Ruins of a medieval castle established by David I and birthplace of Alexander III. Roxburgh Castle was strategically important from the 12th to the 15th centuries and the adjoining town of Roxburgh (of which there is now no visible trace) was an important royal burgh and centre of agricultural trade with Europe. The castle is in ruins and very little of the stonework is now visible. There is however an impressive earthwork mound topped by remnants of thick stone fortifications. Remnants of the main gate are visible to the west of the castle. Worth visiting in spring via a pleasant riverside walk by the river Teviot when the weather relatively clement and before an overgrowth of Nettles impedes access.
- 4 Jim Clark Museum, 44 Newtown Street, Duns TD11 3AU (15 miles north of Kelso). Mar-Nov M Tu Th-Sa 10:00-16:30, Su 13:00-16:30. A small exhibition about the motor racer Jim Clark (1936-68). It reopened in 2019 after refurbishment. Adult £5.
- 5 Mellerstain House, Gordon TD3 6LG (5 miles north of Kelso off A6089). April-Oct. Sumptuous 18th C pile constructed by William & Robert Adam. Set in extensive gardens. Adult £10.
- 6 Smailholm Tower, Sandyknowe Farm, Kelso TD5 7PG (six miles west of Kelso). Daily Apr-Oct 09:30-17:30. This was a "peel tower", a fortified turret that served as a lookout and signal tower against raiders. It was built circa 1500, fell into disrepair in the 18th C but was partly restored in the 1980s. Although there are opening hours and an entrance fee, you can pretty much see it gratis by looking over the fence. Adult £5.
- Golf: Kelso Golf Club is just north of town, Schloss Roxburgh (see "Sleep") is four miles south.
- 1 Kelso Racecourse. National Hunt course with jumps races Sept to May.
- Kelso Sevens is a sevens-rugby tournament held in May, next is 2 May 2020.
- Civic Week is held in July with horse riding, sports competitions, pipe bands and general hoo-hah. The next is 11-18 July 2020.
- Border Union Show is a large agricultural show, running since 1813, held at Springwood Show Ground (aka Borders Events Centre). It's held on the last weekend in July with livestock judging, funfair and craft, food and drink stalls. The next is 24-25 July 2020. Border Union also organises the Championship Dog Show in June, same venue, the next is 20-21 June 2020.
- Kelso Pottery near to The Knowes car park has some interesting studio pottery for sale.
- Cheap eats in town centre are Ozkans Grill, China Red, The Cobbles, Lemon & Thyme, and Kelso Tandoori.
- The Contented Vine is an Italian at 60 Horsemarket, open M-Th 18:00-21:00, F-Su 17:00-21:00.
- Rutherford's Micropub on The Square is open M-Th 12:00-22:00, F Sa 12:00-23:00.
- Bellevue Guest House, Bowmont St TD5 7DZ (300 yards north of centre), ☏ . B&B with six rooms, friendly hosts, good value for money. B&B double £85.
- Black Swan Hotel, 7 Horsemarket TD5 7HE, ☏ . Check-in: 13:00 to 21:00, check-out: 10:30. Traditional pub with rooms near The Square, sometimes noisy. Double room £55.
- Cross Keys Hotel, 36 The Square TD5 5HL, ☏ . Friendly comfy old coaching inn. B&B double from £100.
- Ednam House Hotel, Bridge Street TD5 7HT, ☏ . Georgian mansion overlooking the River Tweed and Springwood Park, great views, comfort & service. B&B double from £120.
- Queens Head Hotel, 24 Bridge St TD5 7JD (opposite Ednam House Hotel), ☏ . Coaching inn established 1725, with contemporary decor, comfy & friendly. B&B double from £70.
- 1 Schloss Roxburghe Hotel, Heiton TD5 8JZ (off A698 four miles south of Kelso), ☏ . The old Rox has been well restored into this upscale confection. With restaurant, golf, other country sports and facilities for pets. B&B double from £180.
Within the Borders, Dryburgh and Melrose Abbeys are a few miles west, and Jedburgh Abbey a few miles south.
St Abb's Head is a dramatic headland on the Berwickshire Cliffs.
Edinburgh to the north is a must-see.