Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Border Abbeys — Kelso Abbey

Not much remains of Kelso Abbey. One tower and the crossing to another tower survive, thick Romanesque walls with rounded arches. The town of Kelso has encircled the abbey and cuddles close. The only remaining green space around the abbey has been used for a cemetery.

Kelso Abbey ruins
The shops in Kelso cuddle close to Kelso Abbey.
Romanesque architecture at entrance to Kelso Abbey
Romanesque architecture of Kelso Abbey is evident in its large towers, thick walls, rounded arches, and symmetry.
Founded in 1128, this abbey eventually became one of the largest and richest in Scotland. It was periodically under attack from English occupiers in wars between England and Scotland, but continually rebuilt. In the 1540s, during the so-called "Rough Wooing" when Henry VIII was attacking Scotland and trying to force the Scots to submit to having the young Mary, Queen of Scots, marry Henry's son Edward - the abbey was largely destroyed. Parts of the abbey were utilized later as a parish kirk (i.e., church) and gaol (i.e., jail). Eventually, much of the abbey's stones were used for other buildings in Kelso, and most of the remaining rubble was cleared away in the early 19th century.

Cemetery in Kelso Abbey's grounds
Kelso Abbey's grounds are used for a cemetery.
Today, Kelso Abbey rises above the town serenely, more a park than a ruin. Entry is free. No staff or other attendants are regularly at the abbey. Only a few placards describe items of interest.

Information placard for Kelso Abbey
A placard showing a guess of what Kelso Abbey looked like before it was destroyed.
Ruins of Kelso Abbey's entrance towers
Kate reading about the ruins.
We had the ruins almost entirely to ourselves. A few metal supports and some netting help hold the abbey together, which for me diminishes the ambience. I understand it wouldn't be prudent to allow blocks of stone to fall and crush tourists, but modern intrusions into this medieval structure are incongruous and unwelcome. I'd rather assume the slight risk of injury and enjoy the ruins as they stood for centuries.

Kelso Abbey is worth a visit if you're like me and want to see as many ruins as you can, even minor ones. But many travelers would likelier be happier spending their time at the other Border Abbeys, which are more extensive and impressive.

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