Bracing days out and cosy nights in make for the perfect break near Jedburgh, finds Fiona Laing
Built by the 6th Marquis of Lothian in the 1820s, it is a plain circular 150ft stone tower, crowned by a wooden platform atop Peniel Heugh.
Staying for a weekend in a cottage on the Lothian estate meant there was really no escaping the challenge of climbing its 200-plus steps.
Armed with the tower’s key from the Estate Office, and a waiver signed, we set off on the ascent.
It’s quite steep but through trees on a well-marked path and out on to the moorland, it took us about half an hour at a relatively slick pace.
As we climbed, the hills and valleys of the southern Borders unfolded. The river Teviot to our right, the Eildon hills behind us and then as we reach the flat top of Peniel Heugh, there is the coast on the horizon.
And we can survey the challenge I’ve set us: the monument.
Our first feat is to unlock the padlock (a little dexterity came in handy) before we step up into our vertical sandstone spiral. The steady ascent is aided by our phone light before we emerge triumphant on the viewing platform, with the landscape laid out for us. The stiff breeze apart, on the platform we could be in a modern garden gazebo with its pretty pastel blue wooden railings.
After doing wonders for our step count, we head back to the comfort of Monteviot Stables West, the cottage we have for the weekend. With a roaring wood-burning stove, a fully-fitted kitchen and space for muddy boots, we are able to recharge our batteries without a second thought.
We raid the thoughtful welcome basket for cake and use the coffee pod machine while we plot our next move.
The cottage is on the books of Crabtree & Crabtree, a Kelso-based company which specialises in luxury accommodation in this part of the world, so there are plenty of suggestions in the property folder. We could head for Jedburgh, less than five miles down the road, or back up the A68 to St Boswells and Melrose. But it seems a shame to wander far when there is plenty to do right here.
On the doorstep are the Harestanes countryside and craft centre and Woodside Walled Garden, both popular destinations: the former for families, the latter for gardeners.
Then just across the field beside the cottage there is access to St Cuthbert’s Way. The 62-mile walking route links Melrose and Lindisfarne, taking in the Borders abbeys en route for the island where St Cuthbert spent his final days.
Exploring the Monteviot gardens is a must and in the summer there’s also the house. The Lothian family has certainly made its mark on this corner of Roxburghshire and the estate stretches to 20,000 acres, including 30 tenanted farms.
Monteviot House has an enviable position overlooking a bend of the River Teviot and today shows the imprint of different generations of the family. With major remodelling and improvements of the house in the 1960s, the present Marquis of Lothian (Conservative politician Michael Ancrum) has made the gardens his focus. They make much of the elevated site above the Teviot and include a formal herb garden and a terrace of roses in front of the house, as well as an extensive arboretum.
Most intriguing is the Garden of Persistent Imagination, the latest of the 11 different areas set out around the house. Taking inspiration from Salvador Dalí, Lord Lothian and Monteviot’s head gardener Ian Stephenson have created an area that is both provocative and thoughtful.
Combining unusual plants with bold stone features, including a dramatic arched circle, creates a garden which is radically different from the Victorian constructs normally associated with Scotland’s grand houses. Yet, it is not all modern – the circle uses traditional arch-building skills and a bridge crosses a stone garden inspired by the ancient Zen landscapes of Kyoto temples.
It’s all too easy to while away a few hours in these gardens, but at least our cottage is close at hand when we want to collapse in front of the fire. n
Monteviot Stables West is available to rent via Crabtree & Crabtree (www.crabtreeandcrabtree.com) from £720 per week; short breaks of 2/3 nights from £540 (rates available until the end of March). It sleeps eight and has three bathrooms.
Monteviot House and Gardens, Jedburgh, TD8 6UQ, www.monteviot.com; Monteviot’s gardens are open to the public daily 12pm-4pm from 1 April to 31 October, adults £5 (under 16 free). The house is open in the afternoons in July.