Scottish Borders: Taking The 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.

Three of the four abbeys (Jedburgh, Melrose and Dryburgh) have admission charges and all are looked after by Historic Scotland. Kelso Abbey is free to enter as this is an unmanned (or un-womanned) site.

Melrose Abbey

This abbey is my personal favourite. Possibly because it’s the only one I’ve managed to visit on several occasions 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 Dunfermline Abbey in Fife. I have no idea why he’s in so many different places.

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, like its neighbours, has been partially destroyed (more than once) by English armies. They seem less 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. This serves as a museum. There’s an excellent display on Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott here. Scott famously wrote about Melrose Abbey in his poem, ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’

Dryburgh Abbey

This is the most remote of the four Abbeys in the sense that it’s outside the town. Its location on the banks of the River Tweed makes it the most peaceful and it’s here that Sir Walter Scott is buried. In a shock turn of events, Dryburgh was partially destroyed by English troops in 1322. They then sneaked around until we rebuilt it and popped back to make another mess in 1385. Rather rude, if you ask me. Imagine putting all that effort in and finally sitting in your reconstructed abbey. You’d be casually looking out the window only to see all those troops marching your way again. I’d be all like ‘FFS…! Quick, Norbert, grab that lamp!’. I’m almost certain that’s pretty a pretty accurate historical re-enactment of what actually went down.

Dryburgh Abbey is the best abbey to climb around and there are lots of ruins to conquer and views to be had. 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 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.

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

Jedburgh Abbey

Lying furthest to the south, 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 for their army. I mean, it’s a measly 10 miles away, so your guys would still be relatively fresh from their trip and you’d definitely make it 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. They can be quite the deterrent for visitors causing trouble.

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

Kelso Abbey

Located smack bang in the middle of the lovely little town of Kelso, the site is unmanned and free to visit. This means you needn’t run the gauntlet of being asked if you’d like to buy the latest copy of Historic Scotland’s guide book. 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 a passing thought.

Kelso Abbey has very little of its floor plan remaining, but the walls of the west are in place and gives you some indication of how grand the original abbey must have been. I won’t bother telling you what happened to it as you’ve surely worked it out by yourself. Roxburghe Memorial Cloister is one of the best aspects of Kelso Abbey. This was built in the early 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 rather swell guy.

Have you taken the 4 Abbeys Challenge?


Suzanne x


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