To celebrate Scotland’s national holiday, St Andrew’s Day, Historic Environment Scotland made free tickets available for all of its properties. This inspired us to take a drive down to the Scottish Borders and visit the abbeys of Melrose and Dryburgh. But the highlight of our trip was the surprise we stumbled upon between them.
The drive from Edinburgh to the Borders was lovely, full of quiet roads winding their way through autumn-toned forests, and small old-fashioned towns with boxy white churches.
Melrose appeared very small and quaint, with its large, ruined abbey immediately visible from the road. We were given audio guides upon entry but we didn’t use them much, preferring to explore the ruins in our own way.
Melrose Abbey‘s most prominent features are its very tall windows – some of their amazingly thin stone supports now reinforced with metal rods – and its many weird and wonderful statues, which include skulls, pigs and other assorted gargoyles. It’s possible to climb a very narrow spiral staircase up to the roof, where you’re rewarded with an excellent aerial view over the surrounding countryside.
Melrose Abbey has one of those picturesque graveyards, where interesting headstones are spattered with lichen, hung with ivy and embossed with moss. I was particularly enamoured with the morning frost lacing the abbey’s ruined foundations, creating networks of sparkling crystals.
On the road from Melrose to Dryburgh I spotted the most glorious view out the window, and requested that we stop to take it in. Parking beside a field of fluffy cows, we walked a little down the slope to appreciate the panorama in all its glory: rolling green hills, forests flocked in every autumnal shade, and distant sloping mountains draped with white mist.
The scene struck me as so serenely beautiful that it almost brought me to tears! Only later did we discover that this is ‘Scott’s View’, named as such because writer Sir Walter Scott loved it. Clearly he was a man of good taste. We said goodbye to the cows before driving on to Dryburgh.
Unlike the imposing Melrose Abbey, Dryburgh Abbey lies hidden among trees beside the River Tweed. Though less architecturally impressive than Melrose Abbey, it did have a few stand-out features: a small exhibition of stone carvings (including St Andrew himself on his cross) and the graves of Walter Scott and his family. It was interesting to read about the monks who once lived there, sworn to living their lives in almost complete silence.
With the sky growing darker and pinker, we started to make our way home. But not before stopping to admire one of the huge bulls living in the field beside the abbey, who had come up to the fence to bid us goodbye!
All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, November 2016. All rights reserved.