The Tweed Dales: Journeys and Excavations
The Tweed Dales: Journeys and Excavations

Book review – The Tweed Dales: Journeys and Excavations

What’s the story?

In an interesting hybrid of historical writing, folklore and travel writing, Elspeth Turner and Donald Smith attempt to take their reader on both a literary and physical journey through the Scottish Borders. The atmosphere of each of the six journeys they discuss is evoked through stories, myths and true past events all rooted in the landscape of the region, writes Stacey Wylie.


It is a pleasure as an adult to read about folklore and be mystified and thrilled by it like a child. Turner and Smith have succeeded in recollecting an array of obscure myths that definitely give the Scottish Borders an exciting aura. The comprehensive history of each area results in a renewed appreciation for the Borders’ heritage and history as you discover more about its battles, royalty and bizarre characters, such as Michael Scot, a widely known mythical wizard.

The Tweed Dales: Journeys and Excavations


The Tweed Dales promotes its unusual fusion of genres as accommodating for everyone. However, the ratio of history and stories to actual travel guidance is uneven. Each journey is documented heavily by a description of the area’s past, sporadically peppered with driving directions. Whilst this makes it impractical as an actual guide – the directions are not in one cohesive place – it also makes for a jarring read for the armchair traveller. The content is dense and not the easiest to follow, making The Tweed Dales feel like a serious read despite its inclusion of stories and myth.


A keen interest in the history of the Scottish Borders is definitely needed for The Tweed Dales. Anybody looking for a casual dip into folklore may feel overwhelmed or even bored by the wealth of historical fact. As for travellers, you may be better off with a plain-speaking travel guide, unless you have a genuine combined interest in the stories and the past of the Borders.


A thoughtful book, produced with tremendous effort and care, The Tweed Dales is innovative and pleasant. Whilst it would have benefited from a clearer format – perhaps a separate section for the driving instructions and more emphasis on physical travel rather than the journey through the past – The Tweed Dales is perfect for anybody with a zeal for history and folklore.

The Tweed Dales: Journeys and Excavations: Exploring History, Folklore and Stories from the Heart of the Scottish Borders, by Elspeth Turner and Donald Smith, Luath Press, £12.99.
Scottish Field rating: ***