Our first stop of the day was Scott's View, a nice viewpoint overlooking the Tweed Valley. This was a favourite resting stop of the famous writer Sir Walter Scott, and it is said that during his funeral procession, which led past the viewpoint, his horse stopped as it was the habit.
The three-peaked hill you can see is Eildon Hill, there is a statue of Sir Walter Scott on top of the highest peak (of course you cannot see it from here). In the bronze age, there was a hill fort located there, and later the Romans built their fort of Trimontium at the foot of the hill. It is also connected to several legends, one telling that the hill is hollow and home to faeries, another one, told by Sir Walter Scott, saying that it is the home to sleeping King Arthur and his army.
As you can see, it was quite windy when we visited!
Melrose Abbey is no doubt the biggest attraction of the town of Melrose, and rightly so... It simply is spectacular! I did not know what to expect of the ruin, but when I arrived, I was fascinated by it. The reddish colour looked so different to what I had seen before, and the abbey seemed so majestic and old. Wandering around, I did not know where to look first, it was all so beautiful!
Melrose Abbey was the first cistercian abbey in Scotland, founded in 1136. A town soon developed around it.
The abbey was attacked by Edward II in 1322, but Robert the Bruce had it rebuilt - presumably, his heart was later buried here, see the next tip about it!
Melrose Abbey was again attacked a few centuries later when conflicts arose in the borders because Mary Queen of Scots was about to be forced to marry Henry VIII's son. After that it was never really rebuilt, and its last monk died in 1590. The abbey decayed more and more, and was even more damaged by the troops of Oliver Cromwell.
Now the whole abbey is in ruins, some parts of it are destroyed so much that only the foundations are left. Once you have payed your entrance fee, you are free to wander around everywhere. It is even allowed to have your pick nick lunch sitting on the walls or a stone! Apart from admiring the architecture and the beauty, more things to do are climbing the tower and visiting the small museum - see following tips.
There is a free audio guide available, but I did not use it - now I think I should have, because I missed some of the highlights of the abbey, such as the pig that plays a bagpipe, and other carvings!
Admission fee: £5,50 adults, £3,30 children, £4,40 concession - included in the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass!
Opening times: April to September 09.30 am to 05.30 pm daily, October to March 09.30 am to 04.30 pm daily
I must admit that I have a bit of an obsession with Robert the Bruce. Robert the Bruce is just waaaaay cooler than William Wallace - in fact it was him who gained independence for Scotland. Wallace opened the doors, but it was Bruce who finally did it. The Braveheart film does not do him justice at all, presenting him as a weakling who can't stand up against his father and looks up to Wallace... It was Robert the Bruce who became King of Scotland and who defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, which was one of the most important victories in the Wars of Independence.
Ok, rant over - let us now get to the Bruce connection of Melrose Abbey. There is a legend about Robert the Bruce's heart which is as follows:
Robert's wish was to travel to the Holy Land on a crusade, to make amends for all of his sins. Unfortunately, though, he became very ill and knew that he would die before he could make this journey (it is assumed that he died of leprosy). Before his death he therefore commanded that his men should do the crusade for him, and that his heart should be cut out of his body and travel with them. It was done so and his men started their journey, but they only got to Moorish Spain - there they were involved in a fight, and their opponents killed all of Robert's men until only one was left, Sir Robert Douglas, who clasped the small casket with Bruce's heart in it. Desperately, he threw the casket away, shouting: "Lead on, brave heart!"
Impressed by this deed and the love of Douglas to his king, the enemy fighters let him leave and take the heart with him. Douglas returned to Scotland, and Bruce's heart was interred at Melrose Abbey.
You can see from this legend that Robert the Bruce is the real Braveheart - he was the man who was called like this, not William Wallace. But even more interesting is what happened many centuries later: In 1997, excavations were done at Melrose Abbey, and a lead container was found which indeed contained a human heart! It is assumed that it actually is the heart of Robert the Bruce, as there is no other record of any other heart being buried in Melrose.
The heart was re-buried, and there is now a stone marking its site. The stone reads: A Noble Heart May Have Nane Ease ~ Gif Freedom Failye
Behind the main complex of the abbey, there is a pretty building that once was the commendator's house. You need to walk through a small gate to get there. The building now houses a small museum showcasing all kinds of objects connected to the abbey, mainly finds like carvings and ornamentations made of stone. There are also several everyday objects that were found among the ruins, for example cooking pots.
Surrounding the majestic main building, you can also see the foundations of several other buildings connected to the abbey, such as the foundations of the cloisters and the chapter house. There are information plaques explaining what the different buildings were, so you can have a look even if you don't use the audio guide.
I was about to leave Melrose Abbey, when I suddenly discovered that it was possible to climb the tower of the abbey, too! I was pressed for time, but still I decided not to miss this and climbed up the steps. I am happy I did!
You have a great view of the ruin from the tower, providing some new perspectives. You also get a good view of the cemetery and the surrounding hills.
I found it really interesting and spectacular, albeit a bit eerie because it does not feel so stable to climb upon a ruin!
Melrose has a pretty market square like most country towns in the UK. The most prominent feature is the Mercat Cross in the centre of the square. At the top of the shaft you can see a unicorn, this means that Melrose was a royal town and supported the Scottish Royal Arms.
The base of the Mercat Cross dates from the 19th century when it replaces an older base.
The shaft was also used to punish criminals, you can still see the metal chains and collar.
It sure is picturesque, this place, the abbey and the gardens. But to call 5 or 3 pounds (per person!) entry fee 'there is a small contribution' made us reconsider: we rather have the preserves or a small bottle of liquor. Worth the stop over and making a few pictures through the gates, but far too expensive.
Abbotsford is the house built and lived in by Sir Walter Scott, the 19th century novelist, and author of timeless classics such as Waverley, Rob Roy, Ivanhoe and The Lady of the Lake. In 1811 Sir Walter bought the property which was to become Abbotsford, set in the heart of the Scottish Borders, on the banks of the River Tweed. The building of Abbotsford took six years, and was completed in 1824. The house was opened to the public in 1833, five months after Sir Walter's death, and has been enjoyed by visitors ever since. The house contains an impressive collection of historic relics, weapons and armour, and a library containing over 9,000 rare volumes. Visitors will be able to see Sir Walter Scott's Study, Library, Drawing Room, Entrance Hall, Armouries and the Dining Room.
There as been an abbey in Melrose since 650AD, but a structure on the present site dates back to the 12th C.
Construction of the abbey buildings took around 50 years.
In the 13th C the abbey was attacked by the English and many of the monks were killed.
Much of the abbey was also destroyed.
The rebuilding was much supported by Robert the Bruce, and his embalmed heart was buried in the grounds of the abbey. It is now marked by a plaque.
The abbey was destroed again by the English in the 14th C, and rebuilt over the next century, much of what we see today dating back to the 15th C.
Melrose Abbey is right up there with the other famous Scottish Border Abbeys with a 4-star rating. The abbey is thought to be the burial place of Robert the Bruce's heart. Priorwood Gardens is nearby.
Other Border Abbeys worth visiting (see my other travel tips) are Dryburgh (in St. Boswells), Jedburgh, Kelso. Kelso is most ruined of them all. Pair Kelso with a trip to Floors Castle and you'll feel rewarded. All of these abbeys are located close to each other and can be easily seen in a day's trip to the Borders.
I discovered a wedding photographer's website recently that specialized in photo shoots at these remarkable ruins. The photos were definitely pieces of art.
Open all year. This is a Historic Scotland property, so if you purchase the Historic Scotland Explorer pass and see the famous castles and abbeys in Scotland you'll save quite a bit in admission prices. Admission here is (UK pounds): Adult - 3.50; Child - 1.20; Concessions (groups, seniors, students) - 2.50
The former Abbot's Hall now houses a museum, with artefacts from the Abbey as well as Roman remains from the nearby settlement.
The admission ticket for the Abbey also covers the museum entrance.
The cloisters of Melrose Abbey church. Here can be found the plaque honouring the burial of Robert the Bruce's heart
There is acces to the roof of the abbey church, where there are fine views of the ruins, and the surrounding countryside
The exterior of the Abbey church at Melrose was lavishly decorated with sculptures. there are gargoyles shaped like strange animals and flying dragons, and also demons and goblins are portrayed.
The Presbytery window of Melrose Abbey dating from the 15th C
The Presbytery housed the high alter, lit by the magnificent window.