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The borderlands of England and Scotland are dotted with archaeological sites, from prehistoric burial sites to mediaeval castles and graceful abbeys.

We are delighted to offer this unique tour which has been put together by our friend and popular Archaeological Tour Manager Clive Warsop. Clive who lives in the Borders will be very much on his own ‘patch’ on this tour, and what better guide could we ask for, to share his enthusiasm for the history and culture of his local area.

On the way to our base in Dumfries, we will for a while follow the course of the River Tweed and call in at Abbotsford, the home of historical novelist Sir Walter Scott and Melrose Abbey, the last resting place of King Robert the Bruce’s heart. We continue with visits to Caerlaverock Castle, one of Scotland’s great medieval fortresses; Sweetheart Abbey, a graceful ruin set beside the Solway Firth, and Threave Castle, the island fastness of Archibald the Grim.

In Whithorn we visit the museum which is based around the site of the shrine of St. Ninian, Scotland's first saint, then journey even farther back in time with a visit to the impressive Cairnholy Chambered Cairns. Finally we cross the border into Cumbria and Northumbria, following the course of Hadrian’s Wall, still remarkably intact after almost 1900 years, and explore two of the best-preserved Roman forts in Britain as well as the fascinating museum at Roman Vindolanda.

Our journey of historical and archaeological discovery will be set against the beautiful backdrop of rolling hills of the Scottish and English borderlands and the bright waters of the Solway Firth.

Available departure dates and prices


The borderlands of England and Scotland are dotted with archaeological sites, from prehistoric burial sites to mediaeval castles and graceful abbeys.

Friday 26 August 2016

We depart from our local pick-up points and head for Melrose in the Scottish Borders for our visit to Abbotsford House, built by Sir Walter Scott following the success of his great novels. There are extensive grounds leading down to the River Tweed, a fine walled garden and a woodland walk, however it is the house that steals the show. Scott was a passionate collector of armour and weapons - Rob Roy's gun and Montrose's sword along with over 9,000 rare volumes are in his library.  Scott died in the dining room overlooking the Tweed in September 1832.

We continue to historic Melrose Abbey, a magnificent ruin on a grand scale with lavishly decorated masonry. The abbey was founded in 1136 by David I, and was the first monastery of the Cistercian order established inScotland. The graceful architecture of the abbey church is among the best late 14th-century church architecture in the British Isles and includes some beguiling sculpture – most notably the famous bagpipe-playingMelrose pig. The Abbey is also the burial place of Robert the Bruce’s heart, marked with a commemorative carved stone plaque within the grounds.

We continue to our comfortable accommodation at the Cairndale Hotel in Dumfries.  All rooms are en-suite. Dinner is served in the evening.

 Saturday 27 August 2016

This morning after breakfast we visit Caerlaverock Castle, one of Scotland’s great medieval fortresses. For most of its history, Caerlaverock played an important role in the defence of the realm. Long before the castle was built, the Romans built a fort on the summit of Ward Law Hill, overlooking the castle from the north. By about 950, the British lords of ‘Karlauerock’ (the name may mean ’fort of the skylark’) had built a fort on the site. Around 1220, Alexander II of Scotland, needing trusted men to secure the Scottish West March, granted the estate to his chamberlain, Sir John de Maccuswell (Maxwell), who built the ‘old’ castle. Within 50 years, his nephew, Sir Herbert, had moved to a new castle just 200m away to the north. There the Maxwell lords remained for the next 400 years. Caerlaverock’s triangular shape is unique among British castles. Why it was built this way is not known. A walk around the castle gives a sense of its strength, its economy of form and its pleasing geometry. Three lengths of defensive curtain wall are linked at their three angles by high corner towers. The north tower, facing into Scotland, is a mightily impressive twin-towered gatehouse, where the Maxwells had their private suite of rooms. The formidably impressive slotted defences (machicolations) at the tops of the three towers date from the late 14th/early 15th century, after the ravages of the Wars of Independence with England had taken their toll. Inside the castle walls stands the remarkable Nithsdale Lodging, built in the 1630s by Robert Maxwell, 1st Earl of Nithsdale. Its attractive façade, embellished with ornate Renaissance stone carvings, contrasts wonderfully with the severity of the ancient castle walls.

Our next visit is to Sweetheart Abbey, which was founded in 1273 by Lady Dervorgilla of Galloway in memory of her husband John Balliol. On her death, she was laid to rest next to her husband’s embalmed heart and the monks named their abbey in memory of her. Sweetheart Abbey’s conception as a shrine to human and divine love is deeply appealing. So too is its attractive setting. The graceful ruin nestles between the grey bulk of Criffel and the shimmering waters of the Solway Firth, whilst its blood-red sandstone walls contrast with the lush green grass at their feet.

Thereafter we will visit Threave Castle, which stands on an island in the River Dee. Legend tells that Threave Island was the home of the ancient rulers of Galloway a thousand years ago, but today there is no trace of their fortress. The tall, forbidding tower that now dominates the island was built for Sir Archibald Douglas in 1369. He had recently become Lord of Galloway, but is better known to history as Archibald ‘the Grim’, due to his terrifying appearance when in battle. By the time he died at Threave in 1400, he had become the 3rd Earl of Black Douglas, and was the most powerful magnate in southern Scotland. Archibald’s castle comprised a tall tower house almost 100ft (30m) high, surrounded by a large complex of other buildings. The latter have now all gone but substantial remains of them were found during excavations in the 1970s. They included an outer hall, where Archibald held court, additional living quarters for retainers and a harbour.

Dinner is served back at the hotel in the evening.

Sunday 28 August 2016

Today after breakfast we visit the Whithorn Story Visitor Centre, which is based around the site of the shrine of St. Ninian, Scotland's first saint. The scheduled monument site at Whithorn has been known by archaeologists for over a century. Artefacts now on display include fragments of early imported glass and pottery, a rare collection of Northumbrian coins, evidence of Viking cat farming and decorated antler comb production and personal items lost by pilgrims visiting the site. In the visitor centre we will discover more about Whithorn's early Christian past and the continuous story of the churches on the site and also see the magnificent 12th century bishops crozier and rings.

We move still farther back in time this afternoon as we visit the Cairnholy Chambered Cairns, two remarkably complete Neolithic burial cairns of a type characteristic of Galloway. On a hillside overlooking Wigtown Bay, the two tombs lie within 150m of each other. Both were partially excavated in 1949 by two eminent professors of archaeology, Stuart Piggott and Terence Powell, with unexpected results.

Cairn Holy I is the more elaborate of the two. It has a splendid curving façade of standing stones that once formed the backdrop to a forecourt in front of the tomb. Excavation showed that several fires had been lit here. The chambered tomb behind the façade consisted of an outer and an inner compartment. The inner compartment was built as a box, so that it was closed and therefore inaccessible from the outer one. It was probably originally roofed by a great stone slab resting on the two taller end-slabs. The outer compartment was entered through the façade.

Tradition holds that Cairn Holy II was the tomb of Galdus, a mythical Scottish king, and it is easy to see why. Perched on a rocky knoll, and set against the background of the heather-clad hill of Cairnharrow, this monument has an undoubted presence in the landscape. Despite the loss of its stone over the centuries, the two jagged portal stones and the chambered tomb behind are testimony to the strength of belief in the area over 4,000 years ago.

Little in the way of human remains was discovered in the excavations. Artefacts were also scarce, but they did include some surprising items, indicating that tombs’ builders had widespread contacts. The most unexpected discovery was part of a ceremonial axe made of jadeite, found on the floor of Cairn Holy I’s outer chamber. This beautiful green stone was imported into Britain from the Alps and its presence in Galloway reflects the wealth and power of its owner.

If time allows we will also stop and look at some of the various standing stones and stone circles that dot the landscape here.

We return to our hotel in time for dinner.

Monday 29 August 2016

This morning we check out of our hotel and cross the border into England. We will then travel along the road which runs parallel to Hadrian’s Wall, with its many dips and crests. Still remarkably intact after nearly 1900 years, Hadrian’s Wall is possibly the greatest relic of Roman Britain. We will visit the museum at Roman Vindolanda, close to the wall, built on a site first occupied by the conquering Roman army in 85AD. The extensive leather collection is dominated by footwear - boots, shoes, sandals, slippers, bath clogs of varying different sizes and types, some of which are clearly women and children. There is also the Roman ceremonial horse chamfron and numerous other leather goods including buckets, bags, purses and an archer's thumb guard. The wooden objects are also very rare and special and include massive building timbers, water pipes and wagon axles, as well as pine barrel staves, storage boxes, parts of furniture, tent pegs and hair combs. The textiles represent the remains of one of the great industries of ancient times, and are very rarely encountered in Western Europe. Some 750 pieces have been found so far, but only one complete item was amongst them - a child's sock. As well as the above there are wonderful small finds, including beautiful bronzes, jewellery, pottery, weapons, basketry, inscribed stones and animal bone.

Continuing along the course of the wall, we will visit the Roman forts at Housesteads and Chesters, which afford an insight into Roman military organization and the lives of the people who lived and worked along the wall. There are some well-preserved structures to explore, including a bath house.

Following our visits we return to our original departure points.

Included in price

  • 3 nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast at Cairndale Hotel, Dumfries. All rooms have private facilities
  • Comfortable coaching throughout
  • Visits to to Abbotsford, Melrose Abbey, Caerlaverock Castle, Sweetheart Abbey, Threave Castle, St. Ninian's Chapel, Cairnholy Chambered Cairns, Hadrian's Wall, Chesters Fort, Vindolanda and Housesteads
  • Services of a Brightwater Holidays representative

Not Included (per person)

  • Single room supplement         £75.00
  • Insurance                              £18.50 (under 65); £37.00 (65-74); £55.50 (75-90)
  • Rail/air travel and overnight accommodation in Glasgow, Perth or Edinburgh before or after the tour available on request.

The same 3-night package by air from London (and other airports on request) is also available from £555pp 

Departure points and times:
Depart Return
Aberdeen 0630 2200
Dundee 0800 2030
Perth 0830 2000
Kinross 0930 1900
Dunfermline 0945 1915
Edinburgh 1000 1900
Subject to minimum numbers, a feeder coach will transfer passengers from Glasgow to Edinburgh:
 Glasgow 0845 2016


Please note pick-up points are subject to minimum numbers and all timings are approximate and may be changed. They will be confirmed when the joining instructions are sent out, approximately ten days prior to departure.

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Jimmy the driver was impeccable and fun - his driving skills gave us great confidence on the narrow roads through Royal Deeside.

Bob Guthrie, Broughty Ferry

The staff at our hotel on Islay were young and keen, very pleasant and helpful indeed.

Mr and Mrs Turner

We thoroughly enjoyed the archaeological tour to the Outer Hebrides, the driver and guide made the holiday a great success

Mr and Mrs Sutherland, Dundee
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