Border Abbeys III: Kelso and Dryburgh

After poking around Melrose, we wandered west to visit Kelso and Dryburgh.

All you need is water, and acidic soil, and soft sunlight, and water, and . . .
Just growing beside a driveway in Melrose. SIGH.

So, the first stop was Kelso. Kelso is in town, and always has been, a bit like Jedburgh. It was founded in 1113 by King David I. They were Tironensians, named for their founding location of Tiron in France. They were new at the time, being a reformed Benedictine order founded in 1109. The monastic orders were undergoing a lot of reform, upgrades, changes, and “back to the Bible” movements, in part kicked into action by the founding of the Cistercians. The Tironensian Order was never all that common in Britain, especially compared to the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Cistercians, but David I and his successors approved of their Rule and goals, and gave them several properties in Scotland.

Located near the strategic fortress of Roxburgh, Kelso was the largest and wealthiest monastery in Scotland at one point. The Romanesque remains hint at the glory of the abbey, its wealth partly built on royal patronage and partly on sheep.

Unfortunately, Kelso, like Jedburgh and Riveaulx, sat on a popular invasion route, especially during the Scottish Wars of Independence. It was sacked in the 1290s and early 1300s, and again during Henry VIII’s “Rough Wooing” of a Scottish princess for his son Edward. Something about “I’ll keep burning, looting, and pillaging until you defeat me multiple times, or you give me your daughter.” The bulk of the abbey’s buildings were destroyed or severely damaged in 1545, and once the Reformation began, the Tironensian Order was no longer acknowledged in Scotland. The monks faded out and when the last ones died in 1586, the remains of the abbey were given to the local parish to use as a town church.

Towering Kelso.

As with other abbeys in Scotland, when the Reformation came, the abbey became a Protestant parish church, and served that function until the 1770s, when a new church was completed in 1773. The abbey became a quarry for local building needs, then was the focus of Romantic painters and writers until preservation began. This photo above is the only one I was able to get. The ruins and the park around them are off-limits because of the two years of no repairs, and the town is built close around the base. I’m more or less standing in the street for this shot, taken between passing cars.

Dryburgh Abbey is out in the country, with a very, very nice country hotel now next door. Dryburgh was Premonstratiensian, and was founded under the patronage of the Constable of Scotland in 1150. The monks moved in in 1152. Dryburgh was never as large or as wealthy as the other Border abbeys, and so looked and acted more like a typical monastery. It is near the River Tweed (and to my delight, a gent was fly-fishing in the Tweed when I poked my head around some trees to see the river.)

Sir Walter Scott and Douglas Haig are both buried here. You can see repair survey in progress.
As close as I could get.

A remote, rural setting was not enough to protect Dryburgh, and it too was hit by the English in 1322 (Edward II) and the 1380s, and 1544. In 1443, an accidental fire also did a great deal of damage. The abbey slid into decline until by 1584, only two brothers remained in the abbey. The church was taken over and sold. The landscape around it, and the Romantic ruins, were turned into a landscape park by David Erskine, the 11th Earl of Buchan. Specimen trees dot the landscape, including the copper beech below:

There’s also a Sequoiah, but I couldn’t lean back far enough to get a picture.
A shady Scottish lane outside the abbey grounds.

The staff at Dryburgh were delightful people, and were quite happy to answer questions and to open up the shop once we knocked. Alas, my thoughts on the management of the property were far less pleasant, but that’s not the fault of the folks on the ground.

(For those curious, the Wikip article about Dryburgh is less about the church than about the order and the politics of the time around the abbey. It’s not bad as Wikip goes, but I got the sense that Dryburgh was the excuse for the larger article. YMMV)


4 thoughts on “Border Abbeys III: Kelso and Dryburgh

  1. Fortunately R. rugosa doesn’t adapt to dry conditions, or we’d hear a chainsaw and herbicide application.

    Didn’t get to the Lowlands or Cheviots, so this is good background for a possible next trip.

  2. Sad to see that no maintenance has been done. And the real question is will they ever be reopened?

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