Dryburgh Abbey, Borders, Scotland
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In an idyllic setting of landscaped parklands, the richly coloured ruins of Dryburgh Abbey nestle peacefully beside the River Tweed in a spot almost as secluded today as it was 900 years ago. Founded in 1150 and colonised with a group of canons from Alnwick, this Premonstratensian house was the first and most important abbey in Scotland. It is also the only foundation of that order to have survived to any substantial degree, which is nothing short of a miracle considering its turbulent past.

Throughout the 14th, 15th, and even the 16th centuries, Dryburgh Abbey suffered terribly at the hands of the English. It was very nearly destroyed by fire on at least two occasions, and sustained extensive damage from attacks at various times. By the end of the 14th century the abbey church had to be virtually rebuilt, and substantial repairs made to some of the domestic buildings. Despite these periods of unrest, the canons still seemed to get through their daily round of prayer, reading, writing and contemplation for the next world. Monastic life at Dryburgh Abbey came to end at The Reformation in 1560.

Little survives of the abbey church, but what remains standing is an excellent example of Early English architecture in its purest form. The North Transept, containing vaulted chapels, is particularly well preserved and still proudly displays the clerestory with beautiful clustered shafts supporting a row of lancet windows. A closer inspection of the magnificent carved detail shows it to be unbelievably clear and sharp. After The Reformation, the two chapels in the north transept of the abbey church became the burial chambers for members of the local nobility, and it is for this reason that they have remained in such good order. Lying in this hallowed environment are Sir Walter Scott and Field-Marshal Earl Haig, both very closely connected with Dryburgh Abbey.

The claustral buildings along the east range are reputed to be the finest in Scotland, and the Chapter House is particularly splendid. A really grand entrance leads down to a huge vaulted chamber, that would once have been colourfully painted, and decorated with elaborately carved arcading where senior members of the abbey sat. Examples of the geometric paintwork are still visible on some sections of the wall, and the stone arcading has survived along the east wall. Across the site are other fragmentary remains and foundations of domestic buildings, including the west wall and rose window of the refectory, and evidence of the 16th century gatehouse.

Marking the significance of this foundation is a carved obelisk dedicated to Hugh de Moreville that was erected by the 11th Earl of Buchan in the late 18th century. In turn, we have the Earl to thank for his foresight in preserving the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey. Without his dedicated efforts over a period of some 40 years, there may have been even less to remind us of the lovely pink sandstone monument that the Premonstratensians lovingly created. Walking through these lush, wooded parklands is a truly pleasurable and calming experience and it is not difficult to understand why the canons chose it as their refuge.

 

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