Scotland, Day 5 – Rosslyn Chapel and the Scottish Borders

Day 5 — hotly anticipated for quite some time, for it was the day of our Nutters Tour! (Aka Rabbie’s 1-day tour of Rosslyn Chapel and the Scottish Borders, departing from Edinburgh, aka their “Da Vinci Code” tour.)

Thanks to our ever-conveniently located close, we only had to walk a couple blocks to the Rabbie’s office on High Street, and waited in somewhat overcast dampness with other loitering nationalities. To this day I’ve no idea what our driver’s name actually was. I thought the organizer lady said Mackenzie, and I think when he said his own name it started with a K, so ‘Kenzie, perhaps? All in all, he was a slight, sprightly, redheaded Scotsman with an eyebrow piercing, an uncanny resemblance to my brother, and a penchant for sharing TMI.

Scott's ViewWhile, sadly, our van was not packed with wild-eyed conspiracy theorists clutching tattered paperbacks of Dan Brown classics, we were accompanied by a lovely couple from Cornwall, and 10 women of varying ages (all blonde, oddly…) from Denver who were some sort of tour group. I think they may all have been teachers.

Which makes the Diana Gabaldon obsession one of them had even more terrifying. (She spent the better part of the day trying to convince our driver and anyone else who’d listen that Gabaldon is actually Scottish, her work is amazingly historically accurate, and she writes the best books that ever graced paper with ink. Yikes.) Right, onward, then.

We headed south into the Lowlands and towards the Borders, with our first stop at Scott’s View, said to be a favourite spot for the writer to rest his eyes upon. Yet another view that reminded us not a little of northern Ontario, and there were some excellently lazy coos in the next field watching us as well.

Oh, and at some point on the way we’d been treated to a meandering story by our driver that ended in the scandal of his family finding our, when his grandfather went into a nursing home, that his aunt and uncle had been pilfering gramps’ savings. Righty-o. Oh, but we did see a Pictish standing stone in a field (the news kiosks of their day) and apparently a possibly dead badger, but I was on the wrong side of the van.

The original Wallace MonumentNext stop was in the middle of nowhere, where we trekked back through some farmer’s bush, presumably, to see the original Wallace monument, about which our driver was thoroughly derisive, in a mostly funny way. I believe Homer Simpson and “abomination” were mentioned. Indeed, it bore no resemblance to the grand edifice erected near Stirling.

The red sandstone statue was rather Greek or Roman emperor in the face and head, complete with imposing beard. However, things go downhill quickly from there, fashion-wise. Wallace’s claymore is slightly taller than he is, which would make it impossible for him to have hefted it. Here we got another set of awesome Wallace stats, noting the sword was 5-foot something (a different number from the 5’6″ we’d been quoted, and which seems to be the usual stat. Of course, the real Wallace was a giant of a man (quoted at 6’7″ this time, I believe, so swinging such a sword wouldn’t have been a problem.)

The statue’s kilt is on backwards — the pleats are at the front — and it’s too short. A man’s kilt is at least knee-length, because it covers to the tops of the boots, which come to the knee, to protect the legs when striding purposefully through the brush. (Wallace is wearing Roman-esque sandals or something.) The kilt the statue is sporting is a backwards woman’s kilt. However, it’s all moot because Wallace was a Lowlander, and wouldn’t have worn a kilt, anyway. Kilts are for Highlanders. Lowlanders wore trews, or trousers. So there you go.

There were additional embarrassing details about the incorrectness of the shield, too, but I forget what they were. Of course, some well-meaning vandal had tried to paint the Scottish colours on the shield at some point, but couldn’t get up high enough to finish it. Awesome.

Our next stop was the village of Melrose, where we had lunch and explored the ruins of Melrose Abbey. Blessedly, we separated from the Denver Crew for a good hour. We enjoyed baguette sandwiches and squares (I haven’t had a good caramel square since I lived in Sydney — sweet, blessed blood sugar spike) from the local bakery while being watched by rooks. Then we trekked over to the Abbey.

Melrose AbbeyDespite the condition of the place, it remains exceedingly beautiful, and given the intricacy of the stonework, would have been a stunner prior to 1544 (when Henry VIII had it burned, bastard). The last monk there, James Stuart (a bastard son of James V, incidentally) died in 1559, and the place was pretty much done for after 1560.

Robert the Bruce’s heart is said to reside there, after its odd, truncated pilgrimage to the Holy Land that only got as far as Spain. There is apparently a wizard’s stone coffin there as well (a gent named Michael Scott), and plenty of knight’s tombs and those of the Prentice (?) family, who were presumably prominent locals.

And, of course, the famous gargoyle of a dancing pig playing the bagpipes, which you can see when you climb the tower. Of course, they make it sound like you climb up and it’s right there, so I felt like a bit of a moron when it took me forever to spot it. In my defence it was a ways away on an entirely different section of roof. Sherry got pretty excited over the remains of the original tile floor as well, though I thought the floor remains at Mellifont Abbey were better. (OH HAI, we’re nerds.)

After heading out of Melrose, it was time to up our Templar game, so we headed to a wee, sleepy village called Temple, which had quite an interesting graveyard and small, ruined church. Temple used to be called Balantradoch; they changed the name to reflect the place’s history as the former HQ of the Knights Templar, back in the day. Before they were wiped out on the orders of King Philip IV, anyway.

Temple Church and CemeteryThere was some really interesting detail and folk art on the gravestones, including one of a local merchant dressed in his finest and posing with his children. There’s also another chapel across the road, with its bell rather thoroughly stopped up. The legend is that it used to toll frequently, but was stopped after the Templar treasure was found there. One of the Denver blondes was asking all sorts of questions about who found the treasure, etc. on the way back to the van. Riiiiight…

And finally, we arrived at Rosslyn Chapel… more or less. Alas, the place has been under restoration since the late 90s, and we arrived at the tail end of things, when it was still mostly covered up. As you can see, the place is starting to become a lot more visible. Too bad we’ve been home for a month…

Most of the outside was covered up, though Sherry got better photos than I did, and the barrel vaulted ceiling was only visible in snippets. (No pictures allowed inside, anyway.)

Rosslyn Chapel from the backHowever, we got to see the Apprentice Pillar, the Green Men, the maize of mystery, and all the Chapel’s other intrigues. (There’s a good overview of the carvings here.) Including the white glue mark on the wall where the Hollywood folks apparently stuck some “important” icon. 🙂 (Given that the Chapel was so much under restoration even when the movie was filmed, a lot of it was actually filmed on a replica set.)

And that was that for our Nutters Tour day. We got back to Edinburgh and decided to check out a place called The Grain Store, out across George IV Bridge (which, being covered with buildings, is not very bridge-like). They specialize in local foods, though unfortunately the menu was much better suited to Sherry than to me. My wild sea trout was done well, but just not really to my taste. Ahh well, live and learn.

After that we stopped by The Malt Shovel, a pub whose name we both enjoyed, for a drink. Sherry had a couple of whiskeys, and I had a cask ale. Pretty typical pub, though they did have lovely stained glass windows.

And that was about it for our last day in Edinburgh. Off to the west coast in the morning!

Melrose Abbey, Rosslyn Chapel, and the Borders Photos

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