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The Trimontium Walk


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South Front of Melrose Abbey

Melrose Abbey
Melrose Abbey

As you can see from the outside of the railings, there are many different colours of sandstone used for the building. This variation comes about from the stone being hewn from different quarries at different times. After the various sackings of the Abbey, the builders involved in the restoration used what stone they could save, but inevitably new material was needed too, and they sourced that wherever they could. The chief builder of the restored South front of the Abbey was John Morow or, perhaps, Moreau, since he came from Paris, or even Murray because there is a rhyming wall plaque, amazingly enough, in Scots, not French or latin, placed at the important chancel end. A plaque with details of his life and works is in the Abbey.

Carving - pig with bagpipes
Carving - pig with bagpipes

Along the side facing you, there are many interesting features, some of which can be clearly seen from your walk. The main features on this, the South front are the huge south window and the south door. Above the door is the tower which can be ascended and from which there is a superb view over the town. From the tower also, to the West, one can clearly see one of the curiosities of the Abbey - the 'pig playing the bagpipes' gargoyle. Most of the religious statues which filled the niches carved along this side of the church were destroyed at the reformation in 1560. Remains of two can still be seen, including the statue of the Virgin Mary with the headless child. The story goes that the man who knocked the head off was struck on the arm by the falling head and was never able to use that arm again. The other statue is of St Andrew - in a wrong sized niche.

Within the graveyard, were the tombs of the monks, the last dying in 1590, and then of many well-known Melrosians of times past, including James Curle, whose excavations at Trimontium were written up and published in 1911, and his brother Alexander who excavated at Traprain Law in 1919, both of whom were born in Priorwood House, the Youth Hostel.

Commendators House
Commendators House

Within the grounds of the Abbey is the burial place of Bruce's heart with its commemorative stone, and across Cloister road the Commendator's House and gardens where the artefacts rescued from the Abbey are on display, as well as a Trimontium room and Anne Carrick's historical figures (of Smailholm Tower).

Obviously this virtual walk site cannot give anything like the atmosphere of the real place and the walk. There are audioguides to the Abbey available as part of the cost of admission which tell you all about the Abbey and what to look for. Similarly the very knowledgeable guides who take the Trimontium Walks are well versed in what you can see and what you need to visualise. There is nothing like the real thing.

As you leave the area of the Abbey, look back at the East window with its statuary telling the story of the Coronation of the Virgin, to whom the Abbey was dedicated.

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