The small town of Innerleithen lies between Peebles and Galashiels in the Scottish Borders, close the north bank of the River Tweed. The area around the town has been occupied since pre-Roman times. The remains of an Iron-Age hill fort are visible atop Caerlee Hill and defensive ditch works are visible on the hill of Windy Knowe. A semi-permanent Roman marching camp was discovered on the flood plain by the River Tweed. Like other places in the Borders, Innerleithen's success is built on wool and knitwear, but its fame sprung from its health-giving spring, subject of Sir Walter Scott's 1823 novel Roman's Well.
It grew initially along the line of the Leithen Water which flows south through the town from the Moorfoot Hills before meeting the Tweed nearby. In the 1700s the relatively few people living in Innerleithen made their living by sheep farming or weaving. Everything changed in the late 1780s. Alexander Brodie, a native of nearby Traquair, returned to Innerleithen after running a successful blacksmithing business in London. He built Brodie's Mill, a woollen mill that still stands in Damside. Brodie's aim was primarily to provide work for local people displaced from other work by agricultural improvements, and for 40 years his mill made little money. It did show that textile milling was a practical proposition in Innerleithen, however, and Brodie can be said to have brought the Industrial Revolution to Innerleithen.
Other mills followed and by the end of the 1900s, Innerleithen was a thriving mill town, with the industry probably reaching its peak output in the decade to 1910. Since then Innerleithen has shared the story of falling demand and rising competition common to many textile towns in the UK, and in the Scottish Borders in particular. Three of the town's textile mills were demolished during the second half of the 1900s, to be replaced by new housing. Another mill has diversified into ceramics, and only one remains in operation, clinging to a toehold in the rather precarious cashmere market.
There was another reason for the growth of Innerleithen during the 1700s and 1800s. Sulphurous springs known as St Ronan's Wells arose on the north side of the town and acquired a reputation for healing those who sampled the water. When Robert Burns visited Innerleithen in May 1787 he described it as a "famous spa". Even better followed in 1827, when Sir Walter Scott published his only contemporary novel, St Ronan’s Well, set in a fictional Borders spa town that many associated with Innerleithen. The resort quickly became popular with affluent members of Edinburgh society who came to enjoy the clean air and, of course, to take the waters. Today it is the eighth largest settlement in the Scottish Borders.
Innerleithen's success, both as a mill town and as a spa town, increased significantly with the arrival of the railway in 1866. The spa was expanded, with a bottling plant being added in 1890. Today, St Ronan's Wells still exist, with an attractive sampling pavilion and a local history museum, both well worth visiting. As is Innerleithen's other main claim to fame: two miles to the south lies Traquair House, the oldest continuously inhabited house in Scotland.
Robert Smail’s Printing Works - is a fully functional Victorian era letterpress printing works. It is now preserved by The National Trust for Scotland as an Industrial Heritage museum showing visitors the operation of a local printer around 1900 while still carrying out orders for printing and stationery.
The firm was established in 1866, carrying out print jobs for the local community as well as operating a stationer's shop, and between 1893 and 1916 published a weekly newspaper. It remained in the ownership of the Smail family, who made little effort to keep up with twentieth-century advances in technology, and, through an initiative from Innerleithen Community Council, led by Iain Henderson and Nettie Watson, was run by the third-generation owner Cowan Smail until he retired and the property was acquired by the National Trust for Scotland in 1986 and opened to the public in 1990. Visitors are given a one-hour tour showing the various stages of the process as well as a chance to try hand typesetting and at certain times the opportunity to print their own work
St. Ronan’s Wells - St. Ronan’s Wells is a pavilion overlooking the Leithen valley, originally constructed by the Earl of Traquair as a retreat for visitors to the spa. The visitor centre hosts temporary exhibitions as well as exploring the history of the local area. The centre’s name comes from the founding legend of an itinerant pilgrim monk called St Ronan, who came upon Innerleithen on his journey up the River Tweed. The local story claims that “St. Ronan Cleik’t the Deil by the hind leg and banished him”, referring to the monks bringing Christianity to this part of the world. The origins of the unique ‘Cleikum Ceremonies’ held in the town every July are based on this story by Sir Walter Scott and are explained in the visitor centre, giving a unique insight into this wonderful and much-loved tradition.
The literary connections of the town to James Hogg and Sir Walter Scott are also explained in the permanent exhibition; Scott frequented the spa as a boy and wrote a novel about the town called St Ronan’s Well, in 1824. The adjoining gardens provide a lovely setting to relax in, with sculptures, picnic areas and plants for sale. Hundreds of visitors still come each year to sample the spring water, which we have “on tap”!
Traquair House - is claimed to be the oldest continually inhabited house in Scotland. While not strictly a castle, it is built in the style of a fortified mansion. The house pre-dates the Scottish Baronial style of architecture and may have been one of the influences on this style. It contains a brewery.
Innerleithen’s golf course - scenic views, easy walking and challenging golf. The perfect combination! Established in 1886 and designed by 3 times Open champion Willie Park Jnr, Innerleithen golf course is a 9 hole course located in the Scottish Borders, 32 miles south of Edinburgh and 6 miles from Peebles. If you are playing 18 holes, varying tee positions on some of the 'back' 9 holes provide a new set of challenges on your way inward.
This attractive course set in one of three valleys enjoys magnificent surroundings. The Leithen Valley and its river form an integral part of the course which will require some accurate and thoughtful shot-making in order to score well. The clubhouse offers free Wi-Fi and a selection of hot and cold drinks and snacks.
Velvet Hall Alpacas - alpaca trekking in the Scottish Borders An opportunity to walk with an Alpaca in the beautiful Tweed Valley countryside. They offer any trekking experience to meet all your requirements. Alpacas are adorable and love going out trekking. They amble along taking it all in their stride with a playful, inquisitive nature; children and adults of all ages will fall in love with them.
Haughhead Stables – sables proud of the high standard of their ponies and horses. They offer all types of equine experiences including 30min pony rides, hacks of various duration, picnic experiences, riding holidays where we can supply the horse or you can bring your own. They have ponies and horses suitable for all experiences and ages.
No1 Peebles Road – the owners would like to welcome you to No1 Peebles Road. They have created a special little space for coffee lovers and foodies. Their aims are simple: to provide top quality coffee, food and home baking. They set out to give our customers the best coffee and that is what they have done. As with most skills, the quality of the finished product is all about knowledge. It is how the combination of the ingredients and skills come together to create a great cup of coffee. They support other local businesses when sourcing our products, so every pound you spend at No1 supports other people in the area.
Saffron Restaurant - opened in April 2012, Saffron restaurant has quickly made a name for itself as one of the top restaurants and takeaways in the area. Belayet, the owner has a passion for food and insists on only the finest quality ingredients. The small and friendly restaurant is run by a welcoming front of house team and they can cater for most dietary requirements, just ask when you order.
Traquair Arms Hotel Restaurant - the restaurant and bar area are open for lunches from 12-2pm and in the evenings from 5pm, serving food until 9pm. Food is served all day on a Saturday and a Sunday. The Traquair evening menu is packed with dishes made using locally sourced ingredients and the large specials board changes every few days offering a section of globally inspired dishes! Choose to eat outdoors in their much-loved beer garden, loved by all who visit and is well known for its tranquil beauty. The Traquair Arms won the best beer garden in 2008. They offer guests a cosy and traditional bar to relax in and play host to a large selection of locally brewed ales including Tempest and Traquair Brewery, located only 1 mile from the hotel. They also have an impressive whisky shelf, running the length of the bar, offering whisky from all over Scotland and Ireland.
The log stove is always burning in the colder months and on the evening of every second Thursday, the doors are open to local musicians who host a traditional music night.
The local area is steeped in history and with the Southern Upland Way running right past the hotel, they are very popular with walkers and sightseers. The Tweed Valley is also known for being one of the best places for outdoor biking in the UK and they are often filled up with guests taking part in local sporting events.
Walkers are welcome at Innerleithen, except on the mountain bike trails, where it’s unsafe to walk. Walking up the section of The Southern Upland Way is recommended. The route passes through Traquair village and heads up on to Minch Moor. This coast to coast journey is Scotland’s longest Great Trail, making it an enticing challenge for veteran long-distance walkers. Setting off from the old harbour of Portpatrick on the west coast, the Southern Upland Way encounters a wide range of dramatic landscapes – conquering high moorlands, epic mountains, quiet forests, expansive lochs and remote valleys teeming with wildlife – as it journeys eastwards towards the village of Cockburnspath.
As well as the breath-taking scenery, this trail passes through several areas rich in archaeological and historical interest and also visits a range of elegant towns with their own stories to tell. The Southern Uplands of Scotland is probably the least visited areas of Britain, yet arguably offer some of the best walking landscapes in the UK.
Nearby 7stanes Innerleithen is regarded as one of the best and most challenging four downhill tracks in the UK. The centre offers many exciting, adrenaline-pumping routes and has been a popular downhill race venue for many years. The downhill trails, all of them are orange-graded Bike Park Extreme. There's also some serious cross-country action on the challenging red graded Innerleithen XC trail. Further information can be found visiting Adrenalin Uplift’s website.
The area is famous for fly fishing (both trout and salmon), and there is a fish ladder near the golf course, just outside the town boundary on Leithen Road. This proves a popular stopping point for locals and visitors to watch the autumn and winter runs of salmon. Fishing for trout and salmon is available (depending on the season) on angling association water on the River Tweed and Leithen Water.
Innerleithen has several bookshops, the largest of which holds nearly 19,000 titles and is one of the largest in the Scottish Borders.
To entertain the influx of visitors James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, together with other prominent literary and sporting figures such as Christopher North and Henry Glassford Bell, founded the St. Ronan’s Border Club. One result was the inaugural meeting of St Ronan’s Border Games, held in September 1827. he Ceremonies continue to this day as part of St. Ronan’s Borders Games, also known as 'Games Week' (although, in reality, this is a 10-day-long festival). The Border Games are the oldest organised sports meeting in Scotland. These happen in the first and second week in July and draw significant local and tourist participation.
Since 2003, the town hosts the annual Innerleithen Music Festival, every August in the Memorial Hall. Acts that have played at the festival include Eddi Reader, Julie Fowlis, Dougie MacLean, Karine Polwart, Karen Matheson and Old Blind Dogs. In addition, it has an active amateur operatic society which stages an annual production.
To get to Innerleithen from Edinburgh, follow the A701, then A703 south from Edinburgh, and at Peebles turn east onto the A72. The town is also served by the First Bus no. 62 service which runs between Edinburgh and Melrose via Penicuik, Peebles, Innerleithen and Galashiels.