Scotland is a country full of attractions - from Iron-age Scottish Brochs (sort of iron-age skyscrapers), to its famous whisky tours of its isles, to the breathtaking Highlands of Scotland, to far-flung ghost islands (like the island of St Kilda). Scotland is also home to number of old abbeys and monasteries, some of which are today in ruins and inhabited by crows. They all tell the long and complicated history of Scotland.
One such ruined abbey is Kelso Abbey in Kelso Scotland near the border with England. When Kelso Abbey was founded in the 1100s, it was one of Scotland’s largest and wealthiest religious houses. Today one can visit what is left of the once imposing fortress-like abbey and hear the crows caw.
History Of The Kelso Abbey
Kelso Abbey was founded in the 12th century by Tironensian monks and overlooks the confluence of the Tweed and Teviot waters. At one time Kelso grew to be the seat of a powerful abbacy right in the heart of the Scottish Borders.
- Built: In The 1100s
When it was built, it was within sight of the powerful Roxburgh Castle (that is now completely ruined). The Abbey grew wealthy (one of the wealthiest and grandest in Scotland) thanks to the vast estates in the Borders.
Being on the Scottish Borders and close to England, Kelso Abbey saw its share of conflict and destruction and the Scottish and England forces vied for control over the area. Like Jedburgh Abbey and Melrose Abbey, it was sometimes attacked (especially with the outbreak of the Wars of Independence in 1296). There were repeated attacks in the 1500s.
- Destroyed: In 1545
The Abbey was able to weather centuries of conflict but by the mid-sixteenth century it effectively ceased to function and so fell into ruin. The final attack in 1545 saw everything destroyed except for what can be seen today.
Between 1647 and 1771 parts of the ruined abbey were dismantled and quarried for stone for local buildings in the surrounding town of Kelso. Parts continued to be used by a parish kirk. But in 1805 huge parts of its ruins were moved away (the parish church as well), leaving only what is seen today.
Visiting The Kelso Abbey Today
Today the only remains still standing is remains of the church include part of the nave, the western transept, half of the great west front and the Galilee porch at the west end. The massive and solid design of the remaining tower suggest the abbey was once a formidable and even semi-military construction. There was likely a second crossing to the abbey that not long stands today.
- Remains: The West Tower Crossing And Part of The Infirmary
One can wander among the remains of this once spectacular example of Scottish monastic architecture. It is hard to imagine how impressive this once-sprawling monastery precinct would have been in its prime.
But even with just the west tower crossing and part of the infirmary remaining, is still one of the most stunning architectural achievements of the medieval period of Scotland.
- Admission: Kelso Abbey is free to visit.
- 1 April to 30 September: Daily, 9.30am to 5.30pm
- 1 October to 31 March: Daily except Thursday and Friday, 10am to 4pm
The Town of Kelso & Floors Castle
The ruins of this great medieval Scottish Abbey are not the only attraction in the town. The town itself is known as one of the most beautiful in Scotland and is worth a visit. It is an old market town in the Scottish Borders with a population of only 5,600.
- Kelso: A Small Market Town
The other main attraction in the town is the Floors Castle. It is an estate house (not a fortress) completed in 1726. In the 1800s, the estate was embellished with turrets and battlements and is now a category A listed building.
- Floors Castle: The Other Main Attraction In Kelso
The Floors Castle is open to the public and one can also enjoy the spectacular Victorian Walled Garden with glasshouses, herbaceous borders and a formal Millennium Garden. There is plenty to discover in the 300-year-old estate building and gardens and is ideal for families. There is also a cycle trail through the estate.