The stark appearance of this Cistercian abbey, constructed of local freestone ashlar during the late 12th century, is very different to many of the other Scottish abbeys built, as they were, of wonderfully warm-coloured sandstone. Founded in 1142 by King David I, the first colony of monks were thought to have been brought from Rievaulx in Yorkshire. Indeed, although no written evidence has survived to verify the fact, the original abbey was believed to have been modelled on the elaborate and ornate style of Rievaulx Abbey.
Dundrennan Abbey is still accessed by the decorated west door, although it is no more than a restored archway set in a much-repaired wall of the church. With the exception of the church transepts, and the entrance arches to the Chapter House, very little remains standing to any height at Dundrennan. However, much of the foundation masonry is visible, including the column bases along the length of the nave, giving an accurate indication of how the site was laid out.
There is a good deal of rich sculpture to be found within the surviving abbey church walls, and many detailed features, including a fascinating effigy of a 'murdered' monk. In the Chapter House, the traditional burial place for abbots, there are some fine grave slabs set in the restored floor.
It would appear that Dundrennan Abbey did not suffer unduly from the various wars with England, despite the lands being destroyed by fire, but the buildings had fallen into a state of disrepair and decay through natural process by 1529. At the Reformation in 1560, monastic life seems to have ceased but the abbey church continued to be used as the parish church for almost another 200 years.
When we visited Dundrennan Abbey in early May, the weather was atrocious and the dense, low cloud prevented us from being able to appreciate the beauty of these ruins. We have been reliably informed, however, that on a good day this ruinous monument, nestling peacefully at the foot of a lush valley, is quite magical.