In my previous post about our travels on Wednesday September 5th, I focused on our 2½ hour visit to Sir Walter Scott’s home – Abbotsford House, but that only told part of the story of our adventures for the day.
You may recall that I noted the the name of Abbotsford House was in some part connected to the Cistercian monks of nearby Melrose Abbey. A magnificent abbey church just 3 miles from Scott’s home, it had loomed large in the lives of many on both sides of the Anglo-Scottish border from the time of its foundation in 1136, to the day when the last monk died in 1590.
It had been formed at the request of Kind David I of Scotland and it took more than 60 years to complete. The Abbey was built in the Gothic manner, and in the form of a St. John’s cross. While a considerable amount of the Abbey is in ruins, what remains is quite spectacular to behold, and among the hallowed few to be buried there are Alexander II (died 1249), and Robert the Bruce (died 1329).
Such was the fame and fortune of Melrose Abbey, that it attracted unwanted attention from the English during the long and bitter Wars of Independence. The abbey ruins we visited date almost entirely from a rebuilding that took place following a devastating raid by Richard II’s army in 1385. It is regarded as one of the marvels of medieval church architecture to be seen anywhere in the British Isles.
One of the things I had read about Melrose Abbey in my pre-trip research was that it is known for its many carved details, including likenesses of saints, dragons, plants and gargoyles. As Mary and I walked around the outer base of the Abbey, we spotted an army of demons, devils, and hobgoblins that were literally bursting out of the walls. A teaser board at the entrance to the ruins told us to look for a bagpipe-playing pig, and sure enough Mary spotted it.
There was a narrow spiral staircase that the adventurous could climb that would take you to the top of the bell-tower, well over 100 feet up. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I wound my way up, clinging to a thick chord that hung from the very top all the way down to the ground.
The views from the top were stunning, made all the moreso by the spectacular blue sky. I could see for miles in all directions, and was also afforded a unique vantage point from which to view some of the Abbey’s ruins.
Our next destination was Dryburgh Abbey and the drive there would take us through the Eildon Hills. This is a stretch of Scottish countryside that has been designated as one of 40 protected areas of exceptional scenery, done so in order to protect it from inappropriate development. It is also the valley in which Sir Walter Scott’s beloved River Tweed runs through, and there is a spot halfway between the towns of Melrose and Jedburgh known as “Scott’s Viewpoint”.
According to a popular story, Scott stopped at this point so often on the way to Abbotsford House, his horses would halt here without command. After his death in 1832, his funeral procession passed this way en route to his burial at Dryburgh Abbey, and his horses stopped at his favorite viewpoint to allow their master a last look at the Borders landscape he so loved. It is a great story, but truth be told, the funeral procession did pass this way, but the halt close to this spot was actually due to an accident with one of the carriages.
The main purpose in stopping at Dryburgh Abbey was to visit the gravesite of Sir Walter Scott, and compared to many other ruins we had seen (and plan to see), there was not much left of this Abbey.
We spent about about 25 minutes wandering through the remains of Dryburgh Abbey. Aided by some reader boards and artist’s renderings, it was easy to imagine that this had been quite a spectacular site before a sustained attack from English armies in 1544 proved to be the final blow, from which it never recovered.
Sir Walter Scott is indeed buried within the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey, as is Field Marshall Douglas Haig, the commander of the British Home Forces until 1921.
One of our favorite things about our visit to Ireland in May of 2017, was the frequenting of tea shops for a late afternoon cuppa, and a pastry or savory pie. The same has held true in Scotland, and as we arrived in the town of Jedburgh around 3:30 in the afternoon, we found a wonderful little spot called Simply Scottish.
You can see by the display case above, the choice wasn’t easy, but Mary settled for a lemon sponge slice, while I opted for a chocoholic delight – an orange-chocolate fudge brownie. Good thing we left the scale at home.
Jedburgh Abbey was next on our must-see list. and after enjoying our tea and pastry, we noted that it was open until 5:30, and only a five minute walk from where we were parked on the High Street, so off we went to visit our third and final Abbey of the day.
In contrast to Melrose and Dryburgh Abbeys that were built on fairly lowlaying grounds, Jedburgh Abbey stands on an elevated position overlooking the Jed Water, and it occupies a spot where there has been a Christian worship site for more than 1,000 years.
Though much damaged over the years, especially during the wars with England, it is still one of the finest late Norman buildings remaining in Scotland.
When the Protestant Reformation arrived in 1560, the monks were allowed to stay but the Abbey was used as the parish kirk for the reformed religion. It remained in use until 1871 when it was deemed unsafe to continue worship in the Abbey church, and a new parish church was built. Restoration of Jedburgh Abbey has been ongoing since 1917, and continues to this day, as it is now a “scheduled monument” in the care of Historic Scotland.
I should have mentioned this earlier, but based on previous experience in England and Ireland, before we left home, I looked into purchasing memberships in the National Trust and Historic Scotland. Between the two of them they manage and care for over 500 monuments, attractions and “treasured places” in Scotland. We knew we were going to visit a lot of these places and even with a seniors discount (called “concessions” in Scotland), we knew we would spend anywhere from £8 to £22 every time we wanted to enter one. For a total of £145, I purchased annual “joint” memberships with each organization, and they have already paid for themselves within the first week.
This had been a busy day for us, and we had covered a lot of ground while learning a lot about the life and times of Sir Walter Scott. The last thing for us to do was to check in to our B&B for the night which in Jedburgh was St. Ola, a property run by an English woman who had professionally redeveloped the property, and it was a beauty.
That closes the book on day six of our Scottish adventures. Tomorrow, we have some more exploring to do in Jedburgh before we move on, and it includes a visit to a place known as Mary, Queen of Scots House. Stay tuned!