Melrose Abbey, Scotland

The Scottish Borders region is pretty, but without a mode of reliable transportation to get you from one part of the county to another, there’s unfortunately not very much to see in each individual town. I’ve been in Melrose now since about noon, and after finding the youth hostel I was booked at discovered that they didn’t even take receptions until 16:00. Thankfully an assistant let me toss my heavy pack in the main lobby, leaving me with my small laptop case.

As I was crossing the road into Melrose Abbey (considered to be the most lovely of all the abbeys in the area) it started to rain. I had my silly-looking poncho though so it wasn’t too much of a problem. I spent the next couple hours taking the audio tour of the ancient abbey, founded by Cisternin monks about 900 years ago. The abbey has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries, and is now only a small fraction of its former size, and what’s left has been mostly reduced to ruin. However, there’s still some amazing stonework in the walls and high gothic windows, and the graveyard surrounding it contains what is believed to be the heart of the famous king Robert the Bruce (yes, just the heart, not the rest of him).

Interestingly, to continue my very limited “research” into clan Douglas, I discovered that James Douglas (or the Black Douglas as the English called him) was actually one of Robert the Bruce’s most trusted friends and captains, and when the king passed away, he asked his friend Douglas to carry his heart into Jerusalem so that it could be with the Scottish soldiers in the crusades like he always wanted to be. James complied but was killed in Spain on his way there, and the heart was returned to Melrose Abbey where it was laid to rest somewhere in the abbey for several more centuries until being rediscovered a few decades ago and reburied (properly) in the main graveyard. Even though they can’t be sure whether the heart they discovered was Robert the Bruce’s, many are leaning in that direction. Regardless, it’s nice that someone distantly and most likely in my family was part of Scottish history.

After the abbey though, the rain was coming down even harder and I didn’t want to bike all the way to Kelso or Selkirk, and the buses are all messed up because it’s the bank holiday. I made myself some pasta at the hostel and then went for a walk (which I’m still on right now at this moment) up in the tall flower-covered hills above the town of Melrose, looking down upon it. It was nice to relax for awhile and not have to worry about an itinerary for a couple hours, and just watch the sleepy little village below me and the trees sway around the abbey. I’ll probably be heading back now (I’m still in the foothills right now, writing this) and turn in early, so I can get to Edinburgh earlier to see the sights there.