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Jedburgh Abbey

September 19, 2012

On a short trip to the (Scottish) Borders this weekend to visit friends, we spent a sunny  – sunny! – morning exploring the wonderful ruins of Jedburgh Abbey. We have visited before, but this was the first time that our boys were old enough to appreciate it. Through a child’s eyes, monastic ruins look neither poignant nor numinous: they are fun.

One of several great monasteries founded by King David I of Scotland during the flowering of religious patronage in the twelfth century, Jedburgh was a house of Augustinian Canons; priests who went out to serve in the community while maintaining a monastic routine. They were never left to enjoy a contemplative life for long, however. Jedburgh is only ten miles or so from the English border. This puts it firmly in the ‘Debatable Lands’ which were fought over for centuries, with the Scots invading the English lands to pillage and burn, the English doing the same in reverse, and the Scots borderers – when there was nothing better to do – pillaging and reiving from each other. The wealthy abbeys of the Borders suffered accordingly. Parts of Jedburgh Abbey were destroyed during the Scots Wars of Independence at the start of the fourteenth century. Further raids followed during the fifteenth century and a sustained English attack in 1523 destroyed more of it, but its final demise came via the book rather than the sword: the Reformation of 1560 swept away all trace of Catholicism in Scotland, turning what remained of any monasteries into parish churches. Of the great medieval abbey of Jedburgh, only the skeleton survives today, ‘bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang’.

However, any poignancy was completely lost on the boys, as I say. Crumbled walls make great climbing frames; hidden staircases make splendid ambush spots. Not only that, but the little visitor centre at the entrance to the abbey has a room full of dressing up clothes. Younger son homed in on a dashing doublet and hose and was soon haring around the walls ‘being a nobleman’, looking for baddies to attack and ladies (or failing that, mummy) whom he could wow with a sweep of his velvet cap. Elder son, who is a more retiring soul, donned a russet habit and felted wool cowl, and drifted off through the ruins like a ghostly novice. He certainly caused a few tourists to do a double take.

Novice monk contemplates a stone coffin, in which a small nobleman lies temporarily dead.

With its warm pink stone, unexpected vistas and colourful history, Jedburgh Abbey is a wonderful place to visit, if ever you should find yourself lucky enough to be in the Borders.




Another of David I’s foundations, in this case on what is now the English side of the border, features in Now, THIS is a castle. And there are further beautiful medieval ruins to be found in Of Merovingians and macaroons.


12 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2012 7:54 am

    Having dressing up clothes available is quite inspired. Do they have adult versions as well?

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      September 19, 2012 10:40 am

      Not sure, Linda. If you’re a smallish adult, you might get lucky!

  2. September 19, 2012 11:14 am

    Great photos – it’s been years since I was there. Loving the monk and the nobleman 🙂

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      September 19, 2012 11:51 pm

      Thanks, Jo. Sometimes it’s nice to remind each other of what’s on offer on our own doorstep!

  3. September 19, 2012 8:31 pm

    Loved the film “extras” in your post!! Really brings the pictures to life – LOL! I can imagine a few tourists having palpitations being caught unaware 😉 Lovely post. I’d not heard of this castle before so thank you for the guided walk around it. And I love it when there are dressing up clothes around. Being a “small adult” I can usually fit into them. I remember visiting a Glasgow museum and wearing a kind of crinoline. It really changed the way I walked around the room – fascinating. And a great idea to inspire the imagination!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      September 19, 2012 11:54 pm

      Ooh, I think you’ll have to make a trip to t’other end of Scotland one of these days and explore the Border abbeys – not to mention the few remaining cashmere mills!

      Dressing up clothes is such a good idea. They have a great rack of clothes at Jedburgh, from across the medieval and early modern period. I’m thinking maybe an Elizabethan dress with those red shoes…?! 😉

  4. September 20, 2012 8:44 pm

    We used to live near Jervaulx Abbey – my son used to love playing “boo” and counting the sheep poo…he was only 3 at the time. Thank you DB for another lovely posting. I am sad tonight – having bid a dear friend good-bye. She has 3 sons and the most beautiful daughter. Hold your children close tonight, my son is my present and my future…I am fortunate in being able to look forward to this.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      September 20, 2012 11:51 pm

      Oh, Alison, I am very sorry to hear of your sadness. For whatever it’s worth, I will pray for your friend and her family. Life is so fragile and precious.

      I have lovely memories of visiting Jervaulx with a friend. It was a sunlit evening in May. We were almost the only people there: we dropped our money into the honesty box at the little iron gate and wandered about the grassy ruins, amongst the sheep and the wallflowers giving out honey-sweet fragrance on the evening air. A magical memory.

      I hope that happy memories will be of some small comfort to you in the days to come.

  5. September 25, 2012 5:12 pm

    Simply breathtaking.

  6. September 30, 2012 4:18 pm

    Thanks so much for this lovely post and the stunning photos, DB. I’ve heard of Jedburgh, but haven’t yet managed to visit, but it’s now risen up my wish-list. 🙂 What a wonderful idea to have dressing-up clothes. I would have revelled in them as a child. Not being a small adult by any stretch of the imagination, I shall just have to envy your sons.

    Now to follow your links…..

  7. October 18, 2012 8:58 pm

    Beautiful colours, the same kind of stone as the St Magnus cathederal in kirkwall, Orkney? We tend to whoosh through jedborough enroute south. We must take time to stop. Thanks for sharing, just grandeur.

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