4 Abbeys Challenge

‘There are four 12th Century Abbeys in the Scottish Borders, positioned in the town of Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose and Dryburgh. You can visit them via the Abbeys Walk, which is a 64.5 mile journey on foot OR, you can be like me and take your car. It’s not that I’m lazy; I just don’t really have the time for that kind of walking commitment’


Plus, I don’t want to turn up at the last abbey with the appearance of a woman who has just walked 64.5 miles. That’s not a good look for me. I imagine most people do it in sensible chunks, over a period of several days. I drove.


Three of the four abbeys (Jedburgh, Melrose and Dryburgh) have admission charges and all four are looked after by Historic Scotland. Kelso Abbey is free to enter as this is an umanned (or unwommaned, if you like) site.



This abbey is my personal favourite. Possibly because it’s the only one I’ve managed to visit on several ocassions when the sun’s been out. Honestly; it does happen. Melrose is famous as being the resting place of the heart of Robert the Bruce. The rest of him is buried in another abbey, which is located is Dunfermline in Fife. I have no idea why he’s split up like this, but feel free to Google it if you like.


Like the other abbeys, Melrose is built in the shape of a cross and is gothic in style. The small town was developed around the building and, also like its neighbours, it has been partially destroyed (on more than one occasion) by English armies. They seem less in interested in setting fire to it these days, which can only be a good thing. In addition to the Abbey, its graves, inscriptions, gardens and viewing tower, there is also the Commendator’s House on site, which now serves as a museum. Within the museum is an excellent display on Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott, who famously wrote about Melrose Abbey in his poem, ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’


This is the most remote of the four Borders Abbeys in the sense that it sits ouside the town. Its location on the banks of the River Tweed does make it the most peaceful and it is here that Sir Walter Scott was laid to rest. In a shock turn of events, Dryburgh was partially destroyued by English troops in 1322. They then sneaked around until we had rebuilt it and came back to make another mess in 1385. How rude. Imagine putting all that effort in finally sitting in your recontructed abbey, casually looking out the window only to see all those troops marching your way. I’d be all like ‘FFS…not again! Quick, Nobert, grab that lamp and bolt!’. I’m fairly certain that’s pretty a pretty accurate historical reenactment of what actually went down.


Dryburgh Abbey is definitely the best one to climb around and there are lots of ruind to conque and views to be had there. The Abbey also has an operational Church (and by that I mean it has a roof) and, should the mood strike you, can you get married in it. It certainly must look good in wedding photos, although I’d totally be looking around me for English guests setting fire to stuff. I jest, or course. I wouldn’t be inviting any. I’m joking…my husband is English and visited all four abbeys with me without so much as getting his lighter out. And we all know how much he likes lighting fires…

4 Abbey Challenge, Scottish Borders, Sightseeingshoes
Who needs a roof when you’ve got all this?


Lying furthest to the south, close to the Scotland/England border, the positioning of this Abbey made it an obvious target for invaders. Also, it’s *so* close to England that it probably cut down days of marching, looking for somewhere to attack. I mean, it’s a measly 10 miles away, so your army would still be relatively fresh from its trip and you’d definitely make it to town at a reasonable hour. Why wouldn’t you invade?? I would. Anyway, English people don’t attack it quite so much these days as Historic Scotland are on site and they can be quite the deterrent for visitors causing trouble.


The abbey has a free audio tour (included in the admission price), which takes you through the history of the building and its grounds. There’s also a beautiful visitor centre, herb garden and museum room on site.


Located smack bang in the middle of the lovely little town of Kelso, or at least where *I* think the middle of the town is. The site is unmammed and free to visit, so you needn’t run the gauntlet of being asked if you’d like to buy the latest copy of Historic Scotland’s guide book, or feel like you should take the audio guide, despite the fact that you just pretened to listen to it so that staff don’t think you’re only there for the pretty pictures. I’ve no idea why HS don’t charge for the site as it’s very bit as beautiful as its neighbours. This isn’t a complaint, you understand – just commenting.


Kelso Abbey has little of its floor plan reminaing, but the walls of the west toward and north transept are in place and gives you some indication of how beautifully grande the original abbey must have been. I won’t bother telling you what happened to it as, by now, you’ve surely worked it out by yourself. One of the best, and most surprising, aspects of Kelso Abbey is the Roxburghe Memorial Cloister. This was built in the easly 1930s for the 8th Duke of Roxburghe, who was then kind enough to hand over the abbey to the good people of Scotland. What a swell guy.


Have you taken up the 4 Abbey Challenge?

Suz x


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