Kelso is a small market town in the Borders region of southern Scotland, with a population of 5639 in 2011. 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) northwest, with a good choice of flights. Newcastle Airport is 62 miles southeast.
By train: the nearest railway stations are Tweedbank (17 miles west), terminus of the Borders Railway from Edinburgh, and Berwick-upon-Tweed (25 miles east) on the East Coast Mainline from London Kings Cross to Newcastle and Edinburgh.
Bus 67 runs every two hours daily from Berwick-upon-Tweed west via Coldstream, Kelso, St Boswells and Melrose to Galashiels, the Borders transport hub. Don't take Bus 60, which runs further north via Greenlaw.
By car or bike from the south follow A1 to Berwick-upon-Tweed then take A689 via Coldstream. From the north follow A68, then either A697 and A6089 past Mellerstain, or A699 from St Boswells.
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 has well preserved 18th and 19th century architecture reminiscent of the low countries.
- 2 Floors Castle, Roxburgh St TD5 7RL, ☏ . Castle Apr-Sept daily 10:30-17:00. Grand mansion built in 1720 by William Adam, and embellished with cod-castellations in the 19th. There may have been an earlier turret, but Floors was designed for sumptuous living not defence. It's home to the Duke of Roxburghe and has extensive gardens - these are open all year, dogs on leads welcome. Adult £18, conc £17, child free.
- 3 Roxburgh Castle, Kay Brae TD5 8LT. 24 hours. Ruins of a medieval castle established by David I and birthplace of Alexander III. The castle was strategically important from the 12th to the 15th centuries and the adjoining town of Roxburgh (of which nothing is now visible) was a royal burgh and centre of agricultural trade with Europe. The ruins are scrappy, as the Scots destroyed it in the 16th century to put it beyond English use. The main remnants are the earthwork mound topped by stone fortifications, and the main gate on the west side. Free.
- Duns village 17 miles north has the Jim Clark Museum, see Berwick-upon-Tweed.
- 4 Greenknowe Tower is the shell of a 16th century turret. It's on A6105 by the village of Gordon and free to admire 24 hours.
- 5 Hume Castle is a 12th / 13th century bastion of the Hume family, but the walls were only added in the 17th. There's no public access in 2022.
- 6 Mellerstain House, Gordon TD3 6LG (8 miles north of Kelso off A6089), ☏ . May-Oct F-M 11:00-16:00. Sumptuous 18th century pile built by Robert Adam, the most complete example of his work, and home of the 14th Earl of Haddington. Set in extensive gardens laid out in 1910. Adult £10.
- 7 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 century 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 £6, conc £4.80, child £3.60.
- Golf: Kelso Golf Club is just north of town, Schloss Roxburgh (see "Sleep") is four miles south.
- 1 Kelso Racecourse. This is a National Hunt course with jumps races Sept to May.
- Rugby: Kelso RFC play in National League One, Scotland's second amateur tier. They play at Poynder Park north side of town and host the Kelso Sevens tournament in May, with the next probably on 30 April 2023, tbc.
- Civic Week is held in July with horse riding, sports competitions, pipe bands and general hoo-hah. The next is 16-23 July 2022.
- 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 29-30 July 2022. Border Union also organises the Championship Dog Show in June, same venue.
- Kelso Pottery near to The Knowes car park has some interesting studio pottery for sale.
- A Hume Country Clothing 2 shops, one in the Square, and the other along Horsemarket. Opened in 1929, offering a selection of both ladies and gents clothing.
- 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.
- Kelso Gin distillery is at Ancrum two miles north of Jedburgh.
- 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 £95.
- The Old Priory on Woodmarket is an elegant B&B open Feb-Dec.
- Black Swan Hotel, 7 Horsemarket TD5 7HE, ☏ . Check-in: 14:00 to 21:00, check-out: 10:30. Traditional pub with rooms near The Square, friendly but sometimes noisy. Double (room only) £60.
- 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 £100.
- 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.
As of March 2022, Kelso and its approach roads have 4G from all UK carriers, but with lots of dead spots. 5G has not reached this area.
- Dryburgh and Melrose Abbeys are a few miles west, and Jedburgh Abbey is a few miles south.
- St Abb's Head is a dramatic headland on the Berwickshire cliffs.
- Edinburgh to the north is a must-see.