Last night we were catching up with the BBC4 programme – ‘How to Build a Cathedral’, and no I am not planning on building one before you ask and in the process was reminded of book by a ‘sometimes bishop’. The programme itself I found interesting with some great camera work. In fact my shutter finger spent most of the programme twitching especially with the spectacular views of Ely Cathedral’s Octagon and the flooded light of Saint-Denis Basilica, Paris. Which reminds me, if anyone knows someone who can get me permission to get up into the octagon at Ely, I would be forever grateful. Anyway enough of that and onward to tell you about the book.
William Durandus the 13th Century liturgist and Bishop of Mende had a theroy as to why churches are built as they are? This was how it was expressed in the programme:
The height representeth courage. The long length of the nave long-suffering. The breadth is Christian charity. As the stones of the walls without mortar would fall so man can not be set in the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem without love which the Holy Spirit brings.
This was a very very condensed version of his part of his work which in English is titled:- ‘The Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments: A Translation of the First Book of the Rationale Dibinorum Officiorum written by William Durand sometime bishop of Mende.’ (Got to like that title ‘sometime bishop’.) Within its fascinating pages it has a rational behind every bit of the building including a rather bizarre section linking the proportional size and holiness of sanctuaries (compared to the chancel and nave) to virgins! You don’t need to spend money on the book if you fancy having a wee read of it, it is available for free on google play, you might want to skip the first 152 pages however and start reading from page 153 which is entitled Chapter 1 of a church and its parts. Although some of you might wish to read from page 139 which is his rationale on Divine offices, and still others might want to read the lot.
As for the programme, it doesn’t appear to be on BBC iplayer yet, although it does say it will be coming shortly.
Inchmahome Priory is situated on the Island of Inchmahome which in turn is the biggest of three islands on the only natural lake in Scotland, the Lake of Menteith. (There are some man-made bodies of waters called lakes and those who would argue it is a loch called ‘The Lake of Menteith’.)
A trip on the cuddy boat ferry and in under 10 minutes you are on the island. When you land right beside the Priory you can head straight to it, or do what we did and firstly take a walk all the way around the island. It is a wonderful calm and peaceful place and rich in wildlife and an old wood full of traditional trees.
The Priory itself was founded in 1238 by the then Earl of Menteith, Walter Comyn and it is said that Mary Queen of Scots sought sanctuary in the Priory from the Black Canons of the Augustinian order in 1547 when she was still a young girl.
Okay so the break wasn’t a very long one, but it was a break and it was enjoyable. Hubby thought he was just off for a Sunday afternoon drive, but I had a surprise in store for him. It is a long time since I had been to the Border Abbeys, and Hubby had never been so seemed like a good idea, so off we set across country down the Clyde Valley, in fine weather with ‘Baby’s’ hood down, destination Melrose Abbey.
On the way we stopped off at Neidpath Castle, a borders tower which I have driven past on many occasions but it has never been open. It has a lovely honesty about it, you can see work in progress. Unfortunately it would appear that this is the last season it will be made open to the public which is a shame, however on the other hand, if it means it will once more be used as a home for someone then that is all to the good.
Back in ‘Baby’ we headed once more towards Melrose and it’s Abbey, debating as we travelled what we might do on our return home that evening.
Melrose Abbey is a glorious building, while much of it has long since gone, the stones raided for the construction of later buildings in the town and surrounding area, it is still an impressive building. It was the White Monks who called Melrose home, and while there own lives were austere the Abbeys in which they worshipped became very ornate.
The wonderful stone vaulted ceilings have fine bosses many of which are still clearly identifiable, such fine work for something most people who worshipped in that place would never see.
Of course like all the border Abbeys and many other church buildings up and down the land Melrose suffered at the Reformation. Melrose was fortunate in many respects though in that it was adapted rather than destroyed. A new plain barrel ceiling and square pillars with an industrial feel were added, however much of it’s beauty remained.
A lot of the stonework has survived in remarkable condition and I was slightly surprised, but delighted, to see that some was still in its original places out braving the elements. St Peter surviving in remarkable condition, will St Paul who stands not far from him has been less fortunate with weather damage clearly taking its toll. Meanwhile on the roof a statue of Mary and Jesus also remained in place, although both have been defaced, there is little other damage.
Again there were spiral stairs to climb this time not only for the views around but also for a view of the roof itself and the bell which the monks had once climbed daily to ring the steps worn by countless feet.
Then of course there is the gargoyles, and one in particular, a bagpipe playing pig!
Melrose is certainly a fine Abbey and well worth a visit, you could easily spend a day there, in the gardens, exploring the graveyard and museum – a fine building which I could happily live in – as well as the Abbey itself, we will doubtless be back, in fact we nearly never left as we were locked in as it was past closing time.
Getting back into ‘Baby’ the discussion about what to do that evening resumed. Time to put the remained or my plan into action, I suggested driving a bit further on to Dryburgh Abbey, just for a look, by which time Hubby might have made a decision. Following the signs we neared the Abbey only for me to take a wrong turning at the last minute, or so he thought. Next to the Abbey is a hotel where I had booked us in for the night, to make the most our Borders Break.
Dryburgh Abbey Hotel is a lovely place to stay if you are visiting the borders, with views of the Tweed and the Abbey through the trees. We had what can only be described as an excellent dinner, which if we had paid for in Glasgow or Edinburgh would have meant the room was free! Cheese in oatmeal with apple compote and vension carpaccio with beetroot for starters, then apricot sorbet and celeriac and thyme soup, then I had the most wonderful melt in the mouth piece of beef and plum tart while Hubby had whole stuffed grouse the meal was rounded off with creme brulee and a walk in the night air down by the river. The morning saw a fine breakfast – Hubby used to think kippers were orange since meeting me he now knows they aren’t and he tucked into Arbroath Smokies and scrambled eggs with great relish. Then it was time to check out and investigate the next door Abbey.
If I had to chose I think Dryburgh Abbey would be my favourite of the three Abbeys we visited. It has a very calming and peaceful feel about it; our first proper glimpse of the Abbey was across the wall through the trees in the morning light.
The man in the Historic Scotland shop said that it was the trees that were the important thing about the place, I think he got that wrong but didn’t want to engage in a debate about it, although the trees that surround the Abbey are fine indeed – will post a separate picture blog of them later - so we left the wooden hut and walked out into the Abbey grounds. Although the Abbey is smaller than that of Melrose, it seems far more complete, you can walk up the night stair (the lower half is wooden and not original), the day stair is also still visible and several other features which are usually long gone and left to the imagination or a line drawing on a fading board are still there to see.
As you wander across the cloisters you hear the sound of chanting coming from the Chapter House, a wonderful cool room, but it isn’t just the music that draws you in, the place is inviting and peaceful, I found myself wondering how the man in the wooden hut could call the trees the most important thing about the site. You can still vaguely see some of the Chapter House orginal plaster work and painting.
There was another surprise in store in here, but this one was not man made, there is one of the high arches were the window cut into the ceiling a swallow had made a nest and the parents were constantly flying in and out feeding their young.
The Abbey has the most charming of grave yard surrounding it, I know some people just can’t understand why I like graveyards so much I just do, Hubby is getting used to it now and I think secretly is starting to get just as interested. I can hear the man in the wooden hut even now saying – it’s only charming because of the trees!
If you look in-between the trees you can see, what for me, was a new style of headstone. On one side there is a craving of a person reading, I am presuming the Bible, with an angel’s head looking down on them on the other side is the back of the angel and the details of the person whose grave it is.
I could have happily spent the whole day just wandering around Dryburgh Abbey, sitting and doing nothing much, but it was time to move on, Kelso was calling with its Abbey and two Castles!
As we drove towards Kelso and being suckers for brown signs (it doesn’t always pay off), we diverted off the main road and headed towards Smailholm Tower the home of the Pringles, no not the snack that once you start you can’t stop. The Pringles were a border family who lived in this tower for over 200 years, it had to be easy to protect due to raiding parties from over the border, and while we visited it on a lovely clear day it must be a miserable place to be in the winds, rain and snow of a East Coast Autumn and Winter.
The house feels quite claustrophobic inside, but clambering past the cows and up the spiral staircase is rewarded with magnificent views around the borders.
It wasn’t a long detour as there isn’t actually a lot to see at Smailholm Tower so soon we were back on our way again, daring the threatening clouds by keeping ‘Baby’s’ top down.
We arrived at Floors Castle in time for lunch, their Courtyard restaurant rare beef bap is highly recommended! The castle is the home of the Duke of Roxburgh and sits overlooking the Tweed and Kelso in grounds surrounded by a very very very long wall which we had to drive around once to get in and then again to get out and back were we wanted to be. Although it looked rather plain from a distance, is fairytale when close up. The battery had died in my camera by this time, and I had forgotten to bring the spare, so the pictures from now on are thanks to Hubby.
The Castle has some wonderful items inside, the Pentecost tapestry for one, and while the Bird Room is a lovely room it being full of over 400 stuffed birds, some of them extinct, was not my cup of tea. As we neared the end of our walk round inside the Castle we were caught up by a coach party and decided it was time to leave, so off we headed for Kelso.
As I have already blogged about Kelso Abbey I don’t intend to add anything more about it in this particular posting, suffice to say, unless you are really keen and have some time to kill you wont have missed anything much by missing it out.
Then it was back in the car to hunt for Roxburgh Castle, the ruins of which we had seen from Floors Castle on the other side of the Tweed.
Roxburgh Castle is not an easy Castle to find and is not signposted so after driving past it and finding no road we took the next turning and headed towards the village of Roxburgh down narrow country lanes with no passing places. Fortunately we didn’t meet anything and the drive alongside the river was a very pleasant one, but try as we might we were having no luck in reaching the Castle itself. Then we saw a sign, not for the Castle but for a wood turner and decided to go and have a browse. The browse was well rewarded when Hubby was able to pick up two wonderful pieces of Bur Maple for a couple of shelves he has been planning for a while now, they also do wood turning courses and I picked up a leaflet, maybe one day. As we left we explained how we had happened upon them only to then be told that the Castle was in the field behind the workshop and the farmer didn’t object to people going to have a look as long as they didn’t disturb the cows. I took one look at the field with its long grass, nettles and thistles and decided against it, but Hubby climbed the gate and strode off to bring back these pictures for me.
Then it was back home, if you have never explored the Scottish Borders then we can highly recommend them, we had managed to have ‘Baby’s’ hood down for the whole trip which was an added bonus but even if the weather hadn’t smiled on us it still would have been a good weekend.