What merits its designation as a National Park?
There is an unrivalled opportunity to understand and appreciate the epic story of the evolution of the Scottish Border land and its communities in this relatively undisturbed area of spectacular landscapes and ancient settlements. There is a timeless quality to the landscape and yet it is still a living and working landscape which continues to be shaped by the people who live here.
The Scottish Border, the oldest border in the world, established in 1237 by the Treaty of York (see e.g. wikipedia) runs for much of its length along the ridges of the Cheviot Hills. These formed a partial barrier against invaders. However this barrier was repeatedly breached. In addition to local incursions there were several major periods when Roman then Northumbrian then English armies crossed into Scotland but were ultimately repelled. The people who settled here always had to be prepared to defend their homes and stock. The architecture, the traditions, the folklore and the historical records from prehistoric times up through the time of the Reivers bear testimony to this.
Again and again the invaders retreated back over this border. Then the lands enjoyed periods of peace in which the communities were able to accumulate wealth from agriculture, manufacture and trading the distinctive local products. The hills on which the sheep were pastured yielded the wool which generated much of the wealth of the four great abbeys, Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh, in the mediaeval period. The fertile land of the river valleys supported agriculture. The abundant waters of the great rivers powered the mills and provided good transport to the port of Berwick, and the plentiful supplies of wool led to the growth of the Borders textiles industry, famed for the quality of its products. Today in spite of ups and downs the industry still produces some of the finest and most sought after tweeds and woollens in the world.
Much of this narrative can still be read by running the eye across the landscapes of the area. Cycling, walking, riding or driving around the area, takes one out of time, the layers of history are peeled back. The hills are marked by forts and cultivation going back to the pre-Christian era. The placenames, Abbotrule, etc, – recall the era of the great abbeys; Pennygant, Din, etc the p-celtic period, Chesters, Bonchester Bridge etc, the Roman era. The switchback roads e.g. the A68 south of St Boswells – reminds the driver that this is the path of a Roman road.
The architecture and layout of towns and other settlements reveal their origins and evolution to the visitor’s eye. Jedburgh Abbey, burnt down by invaders then rebuilt. The house in Jedburgh where Mary Queen of Scots was staying when news of her wounded lover Bothwell reached her, and from whence she scandalously rode over the moors to visit him at Hermitage Castle, dropping her timepiece in the Queen’s Mire at Braidlie, now a popular walking route which visitors can follow today.