The busy and beautiful town of Peebles lies at the confluence of the River Tweed, flowing east towards Berwick-upon-Tweed and the sea, and the Eddleston Water flowing from the north, whose valley has long been an important communications route between Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders. It had a population in 2011 of some 8,400 people, so is not large. Our first reaction on seeing "Secret Peebles" was to wonder how a town of this size could have enough secrets to sustain a book about them. Much of the answer lies in the fact that Peebles has a long history, spanning some nine centuries, and this has resulted in a place that amply rewards the sort of closer examination given to it in this excellent book.
Echoes - or more tangible evidence - of much of the town's history remain on view today if you know where to look for them, and if you want a simple explanation of the purpose of this book it is to show its readers where to look, and what for. King David I was a visitor to Peebles in the mid 1100s, though nothing remains of the castle he stayed in while hunting here. On the other hand, a little more remains of the first parish church built here. The River Tweed was not bridged until 1467, by which time the town was defended by a wall and bastel houses. Railways and woollen mills arrived in the 1800s, and tourists soon followed.
"Secret Peebles" by Liz Hanson takes a themed approach to its subject. A chapter on the River Tweed and its influence on the town is followed by chapters looking at the town's streets; then private houses; religion; welfare and medical matters; crime and punishment; Peebles for pleasure; and arts, crafts and trades. As an example, the chapter on religion charts the history of church development in and around Peebles and offers descriptions and photographs of active and ruined churches. The coverage extends beyond Peebles itself into what until 1890 was the County of Peeblesshire and the result is a nice overview, and some interesting ideas of places to visit.
It is obvious from the text that the author knows her subject intimately, and she brings the town to life in a way that has you checking whether the weather forecast makes an immediate trip to Peebles a viable proposition to explore further. The book is copiously illustrated with modern colour and older monochrome photographs that help give life to the words, and further enhance the book's attraction. If we have one regret it's over the absence of a map tied to the key places covered in the town, which would have greatly helped anyone not familiar with its layout. But even without it this is a book we'd strongly recommend.