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Dryburgh Abbey: Sir Walter Scott's Last Romantic Ruin

“Is death the last sleep? No! it’s the last and final awakening.”- Sir Walter Scott

This week we continue our three-part miniseries on Sir Walter Scott with our second instalment. We last left off with our kickoff of the series- Scott’s home, Abbotsford. Taking on a more somber tone, we now provide a wee look at the final resting place of Scott- Dryburgh Abbey. The Abbey now only consists of ruins and are known for their romantic appeal. Therefore, it should be no surprise to those who know of his work, that Sir Walter Scott decided that this was where he wanted to be entombed.

Before we begin, I would like to ‘set the stage’ a bit. Scott was known for how he created the idea of a romanticised Scotland- it’s traditions and glory. I agree wholeheartedly as when you visit Scotland (and especially when you live here), it isn’t at all difficult to come to the understanding that this beautiful country instils these feelings and emotions on its own; Scott just helped to put it in words and brought it to life on paper. Therefore, with this in mind, let’s continue our journey to Dryburgh Abbey and its romantic ruins. Historic Scotland has done a lovely job, as always, with creating an official guide to the Abbey. Therefore, my article will highlight some of the history from that guide but focus more on a photographic exploration as the stones speak for themselves.

Located in the Scottish Borders on the River Tweed, the Abbey was founded in the mid-1100s. The remnants of the abbey church remain incredibly beautiful- the pink sandstone's warm hues certainly help- and the Gothic architecture is prominent. Whenever I visit the countless historic sites around Scotland (especially the ruins), my inner Indiana Jones takes over and I’m often overcome with excitement to explore the site. And Dryburgh Abbey has some great archaeological aspects that fulfilled my curiosity.

Stone masonry was a very important skill in medieval Scotland, and Dryburgh Abbey has many wonderful examples that highlight the artistic abilities of those who helped build it. One room, the Parlour (the only place where canons were allowed to speak to one another) now holds a fantastic display of carved masonry that demonstrates the masons’ creativeness and craftsmanship. Interesting designs were carved into the sandstone, including flowers, leaves, St Andrew, and lizards (often used to represent the devil).

It isn’t just the ruins that are a site to behold, the grounds themselves are also worthy of a proper walkabout. According to Historic Scotland, the 11th Earl of Buchan, David Erskine, purchased Dryburgh House and set about preserving the Abbey and used it as part of his gardens. For example, “he planted a number of parkland trees”. Fittingly, Erskine was also buried at Dryburgh and his family vault can be seen below. However, there are much older and even more significant trees located at Dryburgh. Thought to be dated back to the 1100s, there is an incredible tree known as the Dryburgh Yew that Historic Scotland attributes it as, “among the most important trees in Scotland”. There is even a California Redwood on the grounds (pictured below Erskine's tomb). Readers of the blog might recall my love of trees as opined in my article on Dirleton Castle.

As for the main character of this miniseries, Sir Walter Scott is buried in the North Transept alongside his wife, Charlotte, and son, Walter, as well as his son-in-law, John Gibson Lockhart. The North Transept is the best-preserved part of the abbey church, and a beautiful place for Scott to finally rest. He was allowed to be buried at Dryburgh Abbey by right of his ancestors, the Haliburtons.

One tip for visitors is that there is a hotel conveniently located right next door- The Dryburgh Abbey Hotel. Therefore, if you are out travelling around the Scottish Borders (perhaps Sir Walter Scott’s home, Abbotsford), you can stop for the night and take a nice rest in an historic and stunning Scottish country house before or after exploring the Abbey (we're also happy to say that they're dog-friendly). Check out their website for more planning and booking information.

Dogs are also allowed at the Abbey (but not in roofed areas) and must always be kept on a lead. Before heading out on your exploration of Dryburgh Abbey, make sure to check their Historic Environment Scotland website for important planning information.

Until next time- Explore & Discover!

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