The Scottish Borders, in the south-eastern corner of Scotland, have traditionally had an active housing market. Just north of Northumberland, the county is still dominated by great estates. Few country houses come onto the market; those that do are generally 18th- or 19th-century, and there is little in the way of intrusive new building.
In the past, the Borders was much-disputed territory with dwellings and livestock changing hands almost daily through the work of the Border Reivers, and many peel-towers (fortified houses) survive today. Two of these have notably been renovated and there are others in ruins which could be modernised to stunning effect, for the price of a three bedroomed flat in London, and all have commanding views because they were built to be defended.
Neidpath Castle is an example of an old peel tower. However, for more traditional housing needs there has always been a healthy market in the Borders, with properties in towns like Galashiels and Lauder coming most in demand because of their easy access to Edinburgh.
For years prices were astoundingly low considering from much of the central borders, Edinburgh can be reached by car in around an hour, and Berwick upon Tweed has a rail station which takes you straight into Kings Cross. However, since the advent of the Parliament, house prices in Edinburgh rocketed with the creation of more jobs, more businesses and more wealth.
According to the Land Registers of Scotland, the average house prices in the Scottish capital rose from £116,059 to £139,859 between spring last year and spring 2004, and Edinburgh’s average price is now much higher than other areas north of the Border.
Simon Fairclough, spokesman for the Edinburgh Solicitor’s Property Centre, told the Scotsman recently that the boom was unchecked and set to continue throughout the year. All of which is having an effect on prices in the Borders, which have been rising in recent years, but not as steeply as of late.
Prices rose in the Borders by 35% in 2003 according to figures from the HBOS, compared with a national average of 19%, which illustrates the dramatic nature of the rise. People living and working in Edinburgh obviously look to the much more picturesque border country and decide they would rather commute. However, buyers are coming from all over the UK.
John Millar from John Sale in Galashiels explains: ‘Lots of people want to move to the Borders because it is unspoiled, but has good transport connections to Edinburgh, Glasgow Newcastle and Carlisle’.
The borders remains relatively unspoiled. ‘We get about a third of our interest from people in Edinburgh, a third from the rest of Scotland and a third from England.’ And people who have just sold a house in an area where prices are higher can afford to bid more in a process which asks for blind bids over an asking price, therefore driving the limits up. Because of this new-found popularity, until recently demand was far outstripping supply, but the spring boom means there are more properties on the market than there were, however most things sell fast.
Kelso is a classic border market town. Good quality houses which are well placed with some land, says Mr Millar, go incredibly quickly and prices on some properties have basically doubled in two years he says. Also, property selling for £80,000 at the end of last year now fetches over £100,000 and top end properties also reflect this rise.
A large, 8 bedroomed house on the outskirts of a town like Hawick, an hour and a half drive from Edinburgh will set you back around £525,000 and the same house nearer to Edinburgh near the A7 could well go for £750,000. These prices may look small compared with the Home Counties, but the room for growth is not to be underestimated.
The other factor to bear in mind is that although there is currently no rail service between major border towns and Edinburgh, a railway is in the pipeline, and without question when this is up and running, prices will shoot up even more. In other words, if you are considering a move, it would be wise to make it sooner rather than later.
Galashiels, Melrose, Kelso, Coldstream, Hawick, Selkirk.
Train: King’s Cross to Berwick-upon-Tweed (Northumberland) 3hr 32min; King’s Cross to Edinburgh 4hr 19min.
Car: Berwick-upon-Tweed is 320 miles from London, via the M1, A1 and A1(M); Galashiels is 346 miles from London, via M1, A1, A1(M) and A698.
St Mary’s School, Melrose (01896 822517). Co-educational, age range 4-13, day and boarding. www.stmarysmelrose.org.uk/
Belhaven Hill, Dunbar, Lothian (01368 862785). Co-education, age range 7-13, day and boarding. www.belhavenhill.e-lothian.sch.uk/
Edinburgh Academy (0131-556 4603). Boys only (co-educational sixth form), age range11-18, day and boarding. Associated preparatory school. www.edinburghacademy.org.uk/
Fettes College, Edinburgh (0131-332 2281). Co-educational, age range 10-18, day and boarding. www.fettes.com/
George Watson’s College, Edinburgh (0131-447 7931). Co-educational, age range 3-18, day and boarding. www.gwc.org.uk/
St George’s School for Girls, Edinburgh (0131-332 4575). Girls only, age range 3-18, day and boarding. www.st-georges.edin.sch.uk/
St Margaret’s, Edinburgh (0131-668 1986). Girls only, age range 3-18, day and boarding. www.st-margarets.edin.sch.uk
Golfcourses: Berwick-upon-Tweed (01289 387256); Hawick.
Hunts: the Berwickshire, the Duke of Buccleuch’s, the Jed Forest, the Lauderdale.
Fishing: rivers Tweed, Teviot and Ettrick.
Walking: St Mary’s Loch up the Yarrow valley is a beautiful place to go walking