IF you had been alive when England captured Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1482, you would have known all about Roxburgh, one of the most significant settlements in Scotland. Today only traces of long-lost Roxburgh and its eponymous castle remain, after it faded away with the capture of its lifeblood port. I’ve just been back to today’s town here on the confluence of the Tweed and Teviot and I’m delighted to report that Kelso is booming.

Many people bypass Kelso as it’s not on the reborn Borders Railway, nor on the main road arteries between Edinburgh and England. “People sometimes miss out Kelso, but that is a serious mistake,” insists Emily McGowan, who works promoting this trim Borders market town and the wider Borders region. “Kelso is on the up – just look at our market square, especially when the farmer’s market is on.”

I see what McGowan means. We’re standing on that square in front of the impressive Georgian town hall, surrounded by similarly grand architecture. In too many Scottish town centres the beauty these days is blighted by vape shops; not in Kelso. Here the historic core is alive with family-run small businesses.

I meet Becattelli’s owner Luca Becattelli, who came to Scotland from Florence aged seven: “Scotland and Kelso have really changed since the 1970s. There really is world-class produce. In my gelato I weave in fresh Borders strawberries. People are more open to new flavours and ideas and that rubs off on everyone in Kelso.”

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Next up is the Dessert Diva. I had heard that their signature lemon meringue cheesecake made the semi-final in a competition run by TV’s This Morning. Jill Scott is the talent behind a whole host of sweet treats made with real love: “At the heart of what I do is flavour, we never compromise on that. Quality too. Our coffee, for example, comes from next door in Galashiels, from the excellent Lucky Bean roasters.”

Another Kelso newcomer emerged during lockdown after Cristina Wood’s sister sent her starter sourdough culture. “My sourdough literally grew and grew and my passion became a business,” smiles Wood. “I chose Kelso for my shop as it is so vibrant, and I love how friendly and supportive the people are. Kelso has a quirky vibe too, with a tight community and a positive can-do attitude.”

I dine seriously well too in Kelso. A lunch highlight is the recently rebranded Scott’s of Kelso. Scott Hunter’s brainchild is a brilliant butcher; a deli and a superb restaurant too. I savour spot-on pan-fried halibut. Scott tells me it’s “all about local, local, local as we have some of Scotland’s finest produce here in the Borders”. At dinner, I swap continents at Sook Jai Coffee Shop. The seriously friendly Thai owner introduces me to her grandmother-inspired chicken satay, Thai green curry and massaman curry, a real feast bursting with flavour that my whole family savours.

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Next I meet Lesley Rosher of The Crafty Creative, a gem that offers everything from jigsaws to craft kits. “Kelso is a passionate place. We’ve just held our Civic Week with its own Common Ridings, fireworks, activities for kids and much more,” she tells me. “People step up here to embrace and celebrate tradition and community. You would not have thought there is a cost of living crisis if you had been to our ball. There were 500 people having the time of their lives.”

You could spend days wrapped in great shopping and food in Kelso, but I want to dive deeper so take a walk with Colin Henderson, the living embodiment of Kelso’s history, a former Kelso Laddie. He shows me around streets alive with history, including the horseshoe said to date back to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s visit in 1745 on his way south. We take in the grand façade of what he describes as “easily the grandest of the Borders abbeys” and also Kelso Bridge, designed by John Rennie, who also fashioned the London Bridge that was shipped off to North America.

Henderson could scarcely be more passionate about Kelso: “We’ve got it all, from the UK’s friendliest horse-racing course, a skateboarding park and our own cricket club, through to world-class fishing and golf.”

I am also drawn to Kelso’s landmark sight. Floors Castle is said to be Scotland’s largest inhabited country home. I’m relieved not to encounter Butcher Cumberland when I walk in; instead, a smiling portrait of the dynamic young Duke of Roxburghe with his wee daughter. It’s a breath of fresh air, as is the 1980s music festival they hold and the network of walking and cycling trails. I eat well here too in the welcoming Terrace Café, which you can visit without a ticket.

My last port of call is the Borders Ice Rink. Many Scottish rinks are currently struggling, but this is Kelso. The rink’s Laura Nisbet enthusiastically tells me they’ve adapted: “I thought outside the box with the idea of turning it into a roller-skating venue during summer. That has proved wildly popular.” In winter, the curlers and ice skaters will help the venue power on year-round with a new, more eco-friendly power system too. Very Kelso. It’s great to see such positivity in a corner of Scotland once decimated by war.