A BRACE of seminal Scots have drawn me here to Selkirk in the Ettrick Valley: William Wallace and Scott Hutchison. I’m in search of the “Kirk o’ the Forest”, where Wallace is said to have been proclaimed the Guardian of Scotland in 1298. And this town, amid the bonnie hills and ancient Ettrick Forest, was where Hutchison, one of Scotland’s greatest-ever songwriters, was inspired to conjure up lyrics that also touch hearts, souls and minds.

My quest starts well, being served a pint of local Tempest ale and superb Eyemouth-landed haddock ‘n’ chips in the historic Cross Keys Inn in Ettrickbridge, by the son of another Borders luminary. Rory Steel, whose dad David was the Scottish Parliament’s first presiding officer, is a life-affirming joy.

Rory grew up here and couldn’t bear it when the inn closed, so he bought it last year: “Cross Keys is an essential community hub. I had to save it. We’ve breathed new life in – we’ve now got darts nights, quiz nights and offer older members of the community a place to come to eat a hot meal and keep warm.”

In this part of the world, community is clearly not just a buzzword.

I find more passion after walking three miles downriver to Aikwood Tower (www.aikwoodtower.com), my first base. It’s quite something staying in a 500-year-old Borders tower house. “Aikwood Tower is not just a building, it’s about pride, passion and love for this unique place. We are lucky to be able to share it and the Ettrick Valley, with people from all over the world,” explains owner Vicki Steel. Aikwood is a delight – I play table tennis in the games room, cook up Borders lamb on their Aga, and savour a dram by the huge roaring fireplace; then ease into “my” grounds for stargazing.

The National: On the quest for community

The next day I push on into Selkirk itself. It may not be the first Borders town that trips off people’s tongues. That is surprising, given the aforementioned luminaries, but also Sir Walter Scott, who presided as “Sheriff of Selkirkshire” in the grand courtroom, that still soars above the main square. Scott’s statue vaults skywards outside. The first Borders Abbey was founded in Selkirk too; without it, there may have been no Kelso Abbey. Selkirk also hosts arguably the most spectacular Common Riding.

I’ve touched on the renaissance of the Market Square in The National previously and its traditional souter – Selkirk was once renowned as the “Souters’ Town” – and I’m relieved to find Market Square is still on the up. Three Hills Coffee is roasting superb brews and the General Store re-makery is going great community guns. The guys behind the Selkirk Distillers have just opened Tibbie’s, a gin bar and eatery. I savour their gin infused with real Selkirk Bannock made at Camerons a few doors away, and enjoy the warm community tales of Ewa Przemyska as she pours delicious gins.

My accommodation in the centre for my second night is the grand Scottish baronial Five Turrets (www.fiveturrets.com), which is gloriously contemporary inside. It is one of the most spectacular self-catering abodes I’ve stayed at in the Borders, but its owner offers more. Gethin Chamberlain is an ex-foreign correspondent who, after a life on the road, zeroed in on Selkirk to start this business, as well as Go Wild Scotland.

The National: On the quest for community

Go Wild Scotland is a wildlife tourism project with a difference. “I wanted to run a wildlife operation that offered people remarkable wildlife experiences, but also gave something back to the local community,” smiles Gethin. He has a burning passion for the Selkirk area: “It’s like the Highlands here, just lower and easier to get to.”

Gethin’s wildlife experience guides me deep into the local countryside, where we hunt for red squirrels and pine martens at his wee woodland hideout. In the Philiphaugh Estate, we track the Ettrick Water to the salmon ladder and the Philiphaugh Salmon Viewing Centre. I’m inspired too by the pioneering South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, before a superb lunch at the Waterwheel Café – it seems all of Selkirk is cheerily out for lunch on this crisp January afternoon.

Some Scottish estates are resistant to community interaction. Not Philiphaugh. Gethin guides me to Mauldsheugh Wood.

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“The estate let us regenerate this woodland for the community with native species,” he explains. “And we’ve put in an accessible 1km-long walking trail, with bird viewing, smartphone info points and a pond, so everyone can enjoy it on multiple levels.”

The beaming families we pass are a testament to its life-affirming success, with plans for a forest education centre.

I spend my last hour with my two inspirations. I walk among the gravestones of the “Kirk o’ the Forest”, where Wallace accepted the responsibility of freeing Scotland from English tyranny. This could be a massive tourist draw, but Selkirk is too modest for that.

As the shadows lengthen, I follow the community-owned loch at The Haining to Scott Hutchison’s namesake bench. Peering over the peaceful waters, I think of Selkirk’s impressive community heart. I hope Hutchison would have approved of where Selkirk is heading.

He wrote of making “tiny changes to earth”, and Selkirk is doing that by showing what communities can do with the same sort of passion that shone through his lyrics, and that resounded through the proud spirit of Wallace.