It took about half an hour to drive to Jedburgh and I liked it immediately, free parking and complimentary wifi – what a wonderful example to every other town in the UK who choose instead to fleece the casual visitor at every opportunity.
The weather was improving rapidly now and I went first to the Tourist Information Centre and arranged a speed sightseeing visit of the Abbey, Mary Queen of Scots House and the Castle Museum.
First the Abbey, an eleventh century Augustinian Church with much later additions in response to natural disasters and the consequences of border warfare, a magnificent soaring structure with both a bloody and peaceful history in almost equal measures. Augustinians were priests who lived a secluded and contemplative life, but who went out into the countryside from their cloister to minister to the people and Jedburgh eventually possessed about twenty parish churches.
Monastic life was mostly routine, boring probably, but the abbey’s location close to the border with England inevitably brought it into the conflict between the two countries that bedevilled the later Middle Ages. During the Wars of Independence in the fourteenth century, the canons had to evacuate the premises several times and watch the place being sacked and plundered. Further attacks in the 1400s were followed by major raids in the sixteenth century. These and the Protestant Reformation of 1560 led to Jedburgh’s demise as a monastic institution.
Although a great deal of the Abbey is now only stone foundations and ruins it is still possible to get a genuine feeling of just how grand and important this place must once been. Soaring Gothic arches built over earlier Romanesque windows, a bell tower visible for miles around and surrounded by gardens and the river, the Jed Stream, which once powered a water mill, surging past today, swollen by days of heavy rainfall.
Mary Queen of Scots
I liked the Abbey, so much so that my strict timetable was beginning to slip like fine sand through my fingers so I hurried through the final stages, skipped the visitor shop and made my way to the house where Mary Queen of Scots lived for a month in 1566. She may or may not have stopped there of course, both England and Scotland are littered with houses that claim a royal visit but as I approached I got a feeling that this claim might just be genuine.
The day was getting better and better – free admission! A house/museum on three levels that told the story of one of history’s tragic victims of circumstance, Mary Stuart, and in my opinion one that was well worth an admission charge so when I had finished I left a generous £5 donation.
The attendant at the museum told me that it was just a ten minute walk to the castle museum but what she didn’t tell me was that it was up a massive energy sapping hill so after just a few yards I gave up, went back to the car park to get the car and drove to the top instead.
This was another free museum. Brilliant. It wasn’t a real castle however because sometime during the wars of independence the Scots pulled it down and destroyed it so that invading English armies couldn’t use it anymore which was a solution that seemed a bit extreme to me.
Today the castle is a prison museum experience with a history of imprisonment and hopeless incarceration and an explanation of life in a Victorian correction establishment. It was good, I liked it, but not as much as Mary Queen of Scots House so I only left a £2 donation this time. Actually I was running out of coins.
Reluctantly I left Jedburgh, I would have liked to have played golf today but I wasn’t disappointed that I had been sightseeing instead. I drove back to Galashiels but on the way stopped off at Abbotsford House, the home of Sir Walter Scott.
To be honest I had imagined this to be a simple place, a crofters cottage and a small garden but it turned out to be a magnificent stately home with acres of grounds that would have taken far more time to look around than I had available today. So I have been to Abbotsford House but I haven’t visited Abbotsford House and that will have to wait until the golfing holiday next year.