December 2014

Traprain Law rises like an earthen whale from the pastoral East Lothian countryside, compelling fishermen to utter its ancient name of Dunpelder under their breath as they pass round the Bass Rock. A thin dirt trail winds up the side of the hill and through the centuries into the capital of ancient Gododdin. There is a haze and a stiff sea breeze in the air as I crest the final slope, but there is no force of nature that can disperse the sense of history peeling from the turf and sun-bleached stones.

The law does not give up its secrets lightly. Curie and Cree cut a hoard of Roman silver from the stone like mad surgeons seeking memories from the demented by the scalpel’s blade.
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Melrose Abbey, Melrose, Scotland

Last week I wrote one of my unabashedly florid Picture This posts about Melrose Abbey, but the abbey deserves a more complete survey as it is perhaps the finest abbey ruin in all of Scotland. Few ruins can rival the completeness of the remaining structure and evoke the grandeur of what it must have looked like during the height of Melrose Abbey’s power. The simple fact is that this is the big daddy of them all, the primary draw of visitors to the Scottish Borders, and I’m happy to say it delivers. Does it ever. Each footstep upon the emerald turf crushes history from the ground, and the wind whistling over the Eildon Hills weaves it into a cloak of wonder draped over the abbey’s impressive shoulders. Read more...

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Be halde to ye hende. I am ascending the staircase when I spot the words carved into the stone, the mark of a stonemason, not a vandal, by their neatness. The words fade, their meaning inscrutable, as I gaze across the Tweed Valley from the ruins of Melrose Abbey. The Eildon Hills stand in shadow wheezing tales of Trimontium and the Queen of Elfhame while dignified Melrose town clings to the River Tweed like a child upon its mother’s frock.

Here in the heart of the Borders, Melrose Abbey is an edifice that defies you to believe the best is yet to come.
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Dryburgh Abbey, Scottish Borders, Scotland

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my visit to the south of Scotland became something of a pilgrimage to the ruined abbeys that stand as testament to the destructive powers of faith and sovereignty. As my journey took me from Dumfries & Galloway to the Scottish Borders, so my gaze shifted from Dundrennan, Glenluce, and Sweetheart abbeys to their famous Borders brethren. While most of the abbeys in this part of Scotland share similar stories – founded in the Middle Ages, risen to power during the Wars of Scottish Independence, and ruined during the Reformation – it is their situation and their gorgeous architecture that separates them today. Read more...

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