The pink- and red-tinted stone ruins of Melrose Abbey soar above their riverside surroundings. Founded in 1136, Melrose was the first Cistercian settlement in Scotland and grew rich selling wool and hides to Flanders. The English repeatedly razed the abbey, most viciously in 1385 and 1545, and most of the remains date from the intervening period. The site is dominated by the Abbey Church, which has lost its west front, and whose nave is reduced to the elegant window arches and chapels of the south aisle. Amazingly, however, the stone pulpitum (screen), separating the choir monks from their lay brothers, is preserved. Beyond, the presbytery has its magnificent perpendicular window, lierne vaulting and ceiling bosses intact, with the capitals of the surrounding columns sporting the most intricate of curly kale carving. In the south transept, another fine fifteenth-century window sprouts yet more delicate, foliate tracery and the adjacent cornice is enlivened by weathered angels playing musical instruments. Look out, too, for the Coronation of the Virgin on the east end gable, and the numerous mischievous gargoyles, such as the pig playing the bagpipes on the roof on the south side of the nave. The sculptural detailing at Melrose is easy to miss if you don’t know where to look, so using the free audioguide, or buying yourself a guidebook, is a good idea.
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