Melrose is an ancient settlement on the south side of the River Tweed. The Eildon Hills a mile to the south were an important base of the Votadini tribe in the Iron Age. The remains of a huge hill fort around the top of the most easterly of the Eildons acts as a reminder as their presence: while on their north eastern flank is the Rhymer's Stone, commemorating the location of the fabled Eildon Tree.
Not much more than a mile to the east of Melrose, at Newstead, is the site of the large Roman settlement of Trimontium, which was sufficiently important to be named on a map of the world produced by Ptolemy in the second century. This included a fort large enough to house 800 cavalry, and what was probably the most northerly amphitheatre in the Roman Empire.
The name of Melrose, or Mailros, was confusingly applied first to a loop in the River Tweed two miles east of today's town. This was home to a monastery founded by St Aidan from 650AD and destroyed by the Scots in AD839. When King David I asked the Cistercians to set up an abbey at Melrose in 1136 he had in mind the site of St Aidan's earlier monastery. (Continues below image...)
The Cistericans preferred a site two miles to the west, and what they built over the following 50 years took the name of Melrose Abbey. Although the existing settlement on this site was called Fordel, it gradually became known as Melrose after its abbey, leaving the original Melrose to be called Old Melrose on modern maps.
The town of Melrose suffered, like its abbey, from invading English armies in the 1300s and again in the 1540s, and the abbey's days finally came to an end after the Reformation in 1560. By then the town of Melrose was well established as a centre for wool and linen production, though the textile industry never really took off here as it did in other Borders towns like neighbouring Galashiels.
Today's Melrose is a pretty town largely bypassed by the key routes through the Borders. The two main roads, the A7 from Carlisle to Edinburgh and the A68 from Darlington to Edinburgh pass a couple of miles either side of Melrose, while the more recent bypass by the road connecting them, the A6091, means the town is untroubled by heavy through traffic. This is perhaps as well as it is can be a very busy place in its own right. One route that does come right through Melrose is the Southern Upland Way long distance footpath.
Visitors to Melrose are drawn by a range of attractions. Best known is Melrose Abbey, which lies on the north east side of the centre of the town. Forming part of this is the excellent Commendator's House Museum, which lays claim to having the largest collection of medieval artefacts on display anywhere in Scotland. Close to the abbey is the walled Priorwood Garden, run by the National Trust for Scotland. This specialises in species suitable for drying, and there is a dried flower shop here too. The NTS also own the nearby Harmony Garden.
Also in Melrose is the Trimontium Museum, celebrating the Roman heritage of the area and the starting point for a four mile circular walk taking in the key Roman sites including those at Newstead. Two miles to the west is Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott.
For one week each year Melrose becomes the world centre of seven-a-side rugby. Since 1883 the Melrose Sevens have taken place in the second week of April, with teams now coming from all over the world to play. The focus of the activity is the Melrose Rugby Football Club's ground just to the west of the centre of the town.
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