We have a visionary King David 1 to thank for an outstanding group of historic monuments located across the Scottish Borders.
When he wasn’t marching armies south to consolidate his kingdom’s boundaries, he found solice in indulging a deeply religious side.
Around 900 years he was the driving force behind the establishment of a trio of abbeys at Kelso, Melrose and Jedburgh.
Today, along with Dryburgh Abbey that came along in 1150, courtesy of Hugh de Moreville, Constable of Scotland and Lord of Lauderdale, they attract visitors in their tens of thousands.
King David, or Dauíd mac Maíl Choluim, was Prince of the Cumbrians from 1113 to 1124 and King of Scotland from 1124 to 1153.
He was one of the most influential kings of Scotland, welcoming Anglo-French (Norman) aristocracy and reorganising Scottish Christianity along the lines of European and English models.
Melrose Abbey, founded in 1136 and populated by Cistercian (white) monks turned out to be one of his greatest legacies.
The first community arrived from Rievaulx in Yorkshire, laying the foundations for a way of life that would flourish for almost 400 years.
From Romans to Reivers, through the Wars of Independence to Tudor tantrums, the borderlands are acknowledged to be the most fought over in the UK.
And Melrose often found itself in the front line.
Melrose became a base for Robert the Bruce, from where he launched raids across the border. In 1322 Edward II’s army sacked the Abbey.
The present abbey church dates almost entirely from a rebuilding programme that following a devastating raid by Richard II’s army in 1385.
The final blow came when Henry VIII tried to force a marriage between Mary, daughter of James V, and his son Edward. He launched a campaign known as the ‘Rough Wooing’ during which Melrose Abbey was torched and destroyed.
What you see today remains a masterpiece of medieval design and expertise.
And a walk around the Abbey and down to its fine museum, is to experience a unique and timelessly tranquil and contemplative atmosphere.
In the borders you can’t go far before crossing paths with one of its most famous sons – Sir Walter Scott. His home at nearby Abbotsford takes design inspiration from the Abbey and it receives honourable mentions in many of his novels and poems.
A watercolor of the Abbey by JMW Turner was commissioned to illustrate the poem “Lay of the Last Minstrel,” written by Scott in 1805. His literary predecessor, the poet Robert Burns, visited the Abbey in 1789 and was taken with its “far-fam’d glorious ruins’.
The fascinating story of Melrose Abbey is beautifully presented in Historic Environment Scotland’s official souvenir guide.