The shortest route from north-east England to Edinburgh follows the A68 across the Scottish border at Carter Bar before descending into Jedburgh. As you drive into the town your attention is gripped, and held, by the remarkably complete ruins of Jedburgh Abbey, magnificently located on the rising ground to the north of the Jed Water.
Jedburgh has always been, and remains, an important gateway to Scotland. In the Third Millennium this means good tourist information facilities and shops designed to attract the passing trade. From the 1200s to the 1500s, living on the border between two intermittently warring nations had an altogether riskier edge, with English armies frequently passing through en route north, and the Scots on their way south.
The town suffered as a result, being attacked or occupied in 1296, 1312, 1320, 1409, 1410, 1464, 1523, 1544, 1545, 1547 and 1548. In 1523 the Earl of Surrey, the head of an English army, wrote about Jedburgh: "There was two times more houses therein than in Berwick, and well builded, with many honest and fair houses therein, sufficient to have lodged a thousand horsemen therein." That was before he burned them down. (Continues below image...)
Jedburgh was so frequently occupied by the English that in 1409 the Scots themselves destroyed the castle that once stood at the southern end of the High Street to avoid it being used by southern invaders. In 1548 the town was even occupied briefly by a French army helping the Scots defend themselves against the English (see our Historical Timeline).
As you read the history of a border town like Jedburgh you are left asking not just how its surviving inhabitants always managed to rebuild after these attacks, but also why they didn't simply find somewhere quieter in which to live their lives.
Perhaps those with a choice did leave, but the town of Jedburgh always bounced back. The Abbey was a different matter and the attacks in the mid 1500s, followed swiftly by the Reformation, meant it would never recover.
Throughout much of the last few hundred years Jedburgh has been an important woollen centre, and in the early 1800s it also supported no fewer than three breweries. From 1856 the town was served by the Jedburgh Railway, which connected to the wider network at Roxburgh Junction. Passenger services stopped after floods in 1948 and the lines were lifted altogether twenty years later.
Today's Jedburgh is a pleasing town built largely of the same stone as the ruins of its abbey. This is probably no coincidence as the domestic parts of the abbey were used as a quarry by townsfolk after the Reformation.
Some shops and services are aimed specifically at the passing cross-border traffic, but for the most part Jedburgh aims to serve the large rural area surrounding it. The end result is an attractive town and a fitting gateway to Scotland.