The Scottish BordersAbout The Area
The Anglo-Scottish frontier is arguably the most beautiful, and certainly the most bloodstained, region of Britain, perhaps of all Europe.
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.
For international and UK visitors the Scottish Borders as a whole has a very low profile as a visitor destination.
No one solution will completely answer this question. However a key ingredient in the marketing strategy has to be the development of a Scottish Borders ‘Brand’ which conjures up a picture in the mind of potential visitors from all over the world, a picture which presents SB as a place to visit, preferably for several days, with the whole family, in spring, summer, autumn and the festive season.
The benefits of National Parks as they relate to Scotland have been described in detail in a recent report by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS) and the Scottish Campaign for National Parks (SCNP). But what about our area and the people living and working in it?
We all know and appreciate some of the advantages of living in this beautiful part of the world. The main disadvantages in a sparsely populated rural area like this are economic. Incomes tend to be lower, services relatively more expensive to provide and economic opportunities are more restricted.
Like most National Parks in the UK, the main economic activities in this area are farming, forestry and tourism. Farming in Scotland is under growing pressure, particularly hill farming. The reduction of subsidies for renewables has limited the alternative options for landowners. Grants for forestry are in decline.
Tourism, on the other hand, is buoyant. This is good news for tourism-related businesses, and it presents possibilities for diversification to farmers and landowners. The “National Park” label is a magnet for tourists, and allows tourism businesses to charge a premium. They can market their offerings much more effectively under the umbrella of the “National Park” label. More visitors come, for more months of the year, and they are prepared to pay more for the implicit guarantee of an enjoyable holiday.
The same goes for farmers, landowners, and others who produce high quality local goods. Tourists like to buy authentic, local products. Direct marketing under the National Park label of beef, lamb, jams and jellies, (tweeds and cashmere too perhaps?) to visitors is a well-established way to benefit from these demands.
It is not just the area of the National Park which gains from the label. Surrounding towns and villages enjoy the “halo” effect of visitors looking for accommodation, shopping opportunities, cafes and attractive places to go on rainy days – museums, abbeys, visitor centres. The economic benefits of living inside National Parks have been explored for National Parks in England by comparing areas inside the National Parks to very similar areas outside the National Parks. All this leads to more jobs, higher incomes and a generally livelier economy in National Park areas.
Would a Borders National Park enjoy the same advantages?
The Northumberland National Park was created in 1956 and has a northern boundary which stops at the border with Scotland. This was a rather artificial boundary in that “The essential requirements of a National Park are that it should have great natural beauty, a high value for open-air recreation and substantial continuous extent.” (Hobhouse Committee for the formation of National Parks, 1947). This description self evidently applies to the rolling Cheviot hills just North of the Border as well.
Now Northumberland National Park has announced that it is building a major new visitor centre at Once Brewed, the Sill. Half of the £14.8m funding comes from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Much of the rest comes from the EU and private Trusts. National Parks are eligible for funds from these sources. It is estimated that this investment will bring an additional £5m per year to the region in increased tourist spend.
Are the Cheviots north of the border any less attractive? They are certainly less well-advertised to the outside world. A “National Park” designation would raise the profile of the area and tell tourists everywhere about the attractiveness of the area, its many leisure opportunities and activities. It is reasonable to conclude that the area would experience the sort of economic uplift that other National Parks have experienced.