Monday, 26 August 2013

Crossragual Abbey

About a mile outside the small town of Maybole lies the Crossraguel Abbey. The name is thought to have come from the Cross of Riaghail. St Riaghail was an Irish saint, often better known as St Regulus or St Rule. It's hardly on a main trunk route now but in the middle ages it's likely to have had a number of passing visitors as it sits conveniently half way between Paisley Abbey and Whithorn in Galloway, where St Ninian set up his church and was a common destination for pilgrims.

The land was granted to the church by Duncan the future Earl of Carrick in around 1214 to 1216 on the condition that Paisley Abbey build a daughter monastery here. Somewhat reluctant to relinquish control, Paisley Abbey built a small chapel here instead and manned it with some of it's own monks. In 1244, the bishop of Glasgow put his foot down and ruled that a proper independent abbey be set up here, much to Paisley's complaint.

There is little to be seen of the original 13th century abbey today. Some remains of one of the transepts can be seen to the left of the current church. Earl Duncan was succeeded by his son, Neil, as Earl of Carrick and his daughter married Robert Bruce. Robert Bruce's grandson went on to become King Robert I, who played such an important part in the Scottish wars of Independance . Perhaps due to this connection the Abbey remained loyal to the Scottish King throughout the wars, which in the early part of the 14th century brought some unwelcome attention and destruction from the English army. Much of the Abbey that we can see today was built during the 14th century. It's loyalty to the crown gave it favour with Scottish kings for some time to come and in 1404 Robert III (who was himself an Earl of Carrick before becoming king) granted it a charter effectively giving the Abbey control of the surrounding area.

This is one of a series of arches which are the remains of what would have been cellars. Above these were the rooms that the Abbot lived in.

The cloister area. a wooden shelter would have run round the outside above the walkway. The stonework in the middle of the lawn is a 13th century well.

There would have been no talking allowed in the cloisters but in this passage way leading into it there are benches set along both sides where the monks would have been allowed to have a good old natter.

Just off the cloister was the warming house (the refectory would have been just above it). No doubt a popular place in Winter (or even your average Scottish Summer) as this was the only fire available to the monks other than those in the kitchen.

In one of the room there was a little collection of masonry that at some point has become separated from the rest of the building. Being out of the weather, much of it has the original decoration still visible. This sort of carving may have appeared all over the abbey and certainly in the church area.

In 1530, the Abbot of the day, William Kennedy, had this fine tower house built for himself to live in. I think there might be some divergence between monastic ideals and reality going on here. Just to back up this, it should be noted that William was the brother of the second Earl of Cassilis. William was succeeded as abbot by his nephew Quintin Kennedy. There is also some suggestion that the Third Earl of Cassilis may have lived here under the guardianship of Abbot William.

Not hugely monastic, but this slot in the tower looks awfully like those designed to shoot guns through in other buildings of it's age.

Another view of the tower. The remaining foundations you can see in the fore ground were from a little row of five houses that were for old monks to live in during their retirement years (or at least old age, for I'm sure they didn't officially retire).

In the South West corner of the site is this dovecot.

Looking up from inside, you can see the individual nesting places for the doves.

Also built in the time of Abbot William is this impressive tower at the Abbey's gatehouse.

 This window seat is in the little room at the top of the tower.

The grand house and building plans of the Kennedy Abbots in the early part of the 16th century didn't last very long. In 1560 the religious reformation happened in Scotland and abbeys up and down the country were dissolved. I'm sure that rich abbots hailing from the nobility would be just the kind of thing that John Knox and his followers were grumbling about. Perhaps because of it's locality, Crossragual Abbey escaped the reformation fairly lightly and in 1564 the Fourth Earl of Cassilis took over control of the Abbey. In 1565 an official commendator, Alan Stewart was appointed but the earl obtained a 19 year lease on the Abbey. The Earl of Cassilis may not have obtained the deeds fairly as there is some evidence that he roasted Alan Stewart over a fire until he handed them over (there's negotiation skills)

The monks who had lived at the abbey at the time of the reformation were allowed to live the rest of their lives there but when they had died, the useful life of the Abbey was effectively over and in the course of the next few centuries the local people found it a useful source of ready to use building materials.

There are a few old prints of the Abbey to be found online in various places which I think are probably 19th century in origin. Here's the gatehouse tower through a doorway.

I'm pretty sure it's this doorway. It's to be found in the Chapterhouse, where once business would have been done.

The chapterhouse is still in very good condition with glazed window, and has quite wonderful acoustics.

Many of the stones in the walls have the marks of the individual mason who crafted the block quite still quite visible.

The sacristy, where church equipment, garments and book would have been stored is also in good shape. It too has acoustics worthy of a quick song.

It features this head carved in one of the corners.

Two of the other corners also have heads, if slightly scarier. It's difficult to make anything out of the stone in the fourth corner but if three have heads, I should imagine that that one is the same, only unrecognisable with the passage of time.

This carving in the middle of one of the walls looks a bit like a squirrel to me.

This is the nave of the church and would have been used by local people attending church there.

Beyond the wall in the last picture is the choir of the church. This is where the monks would have attended mass and would have had the high altar at the end of it.

The ornamental details that can be seen in the above etching are still there to be seen today.  Below is the sedilia, which is seating for the clergy attending the mass.

This is the piscina, a basin in which water used for washing the sacred vessels used during the mass was emptied. Both this and the sedilia are 15th century.

There are a number of grave slabs set in the floor, this one is a replica, which explains it's good condition, of the grave of Egidia Blair, who died in 1530 and was Lady Row of Baltersan. the shape of the cross is repeated in slabs throughout the church and also set into the floor of the chapterhouse.

I noticed that this slab has the same mason's mark as some of the stones in the chapter house - there's a picture of it a little earlier in the blog. I've blown it up a little and inset it to make it easier to see. It builds the image of the mason a little more when you can see that when he was not involved with building he was also  carving gravestones.

In this old print you can see all sorts of foliage growing on the walls, which would lead to much of the deterioration of the building and not just people stealing the stones for their own use. It also shows that Historic Scotland's task in looking after these places is not just in cutting the grass and charging a modest entrance fee. In some places expensive restoration work is required to make them safe for people to visit.

Some of those same windows, without greenery, today (two days ago really)

Monday, 19 August 2013

Daleks, tunes and other goings on.

I was pretty stationary during my last time off ( pretty stationery ). There seems to have been plenty to do in Kirkcudbright what with the Arts and Craft trail and musical goings on. When the weather is kind, the town is more picturesque than most, even when you've grown rather accustomed to it. It might only be at the end of my street but I still like to imagine how grand  Maclellan's Castle must have looked in it's day. You can be sure the local laird would have had a bit more garden space between him and the rest of the town than there is now.

Even nearer is the Tolbooth. These days, a local art gallery and wee cafe, but when it was built, somewhere between 1625 and 1629, much of the town bureaucracy would have been conducted here. The building also included a jail which is famous for having imprisoned a local sailing captain, one John Paul Jones, for having flogged a man so badly he died. My American friends will of course know that he overcame this early hiccough in his career and later fought against Britain on behalf of America and is now known as one of the fathers of the United States navy.

As well as hosting art exhibitions, the building has a small collection of it's own on permanent display, several feature the Tolbooth itself, though mainly from the back. This one is by   Helen S. Johnston.

This painting of the Tolbooth is by Scottish Colourist Samuel Peploe .He spent quite a lot of time in Kirkcudbright, too much it seems and came to dislike the place. Some of his later pictures of the town show up this dislike.

A one legged seagull enjoys the sun.

 I wasn't in Kirkcudbright quite all of the time and on my regular visit to Dunoon, I passed through Largs, where I saw this chap guarding the coast.

Largs is the scene of Battle of Largs in 1263 in which the Scots under Alexander III defeated the Norwegian army of King Hakon Hakonerson and put an end to Viking problems on the mainland for ever. Actually, importance of the battle has rather varied over the years and it was more a series of running skirmishes than a battle and it is perhaps debatable who actually won, either way, in the later part of the century our Southern neighbours were certainly a greater problem than longships from across the North Sea. Whatever happened in the battle, Largs likes to make a feature of it's Viking connection.

This scale model of a Viking ship sits outside the Vikingar! museum.

Many years ago when I lived in Polmont, the local church had taken down it's bell and installed loud speakers in it's bell tower to blast out the sound of the church bell on a Sunday morning. I spotted that a Galloway church had done the same. Good grief - what's the problem with using the bell and a length of rope. How soulless!!

There are horse and cart rides round the town in the Summer. It drives past our house on the High Street. In Kirkcudbright, the High Street is only the High Street by name - the main centre and bulk of the town shops are elsewhere. Often the horse is heard to come past the house more often than cars - it must have been what town streets all sounded like before the motor car, rather pleasant really.

It wouldn't do to work the horse too hard and the owner has at least two horses that he rotates on the job.

Some years ago we had a comedy on the telly here called Bread where the family at the centre of the story used to reserve the piece of the road outside their own house for parking their car by placing police cones there. Round the corner, on Union Street, a similar attempt to reserve a piece of the public highway for private use - naughty.

A dalek outside our local bookshop. You can't spend all day exterminating things and a little time spent with a book is time well spent.

This dalek was spotted in a local cafe.

Last year or maybe the year before, time goes so quickly, the Parish Church had one of their gargoyles replaced. This is the new one starting to weather in a bit.

I was up in the balcony of the church looking at their stained glass (now that's not like me, is it!) and found the old gargoyle stashed with a few other items at the bottom of the stairs. Poor fellow - might be happier round at the museum.

Here's a busy fellow.

Look out! Pirates on the river.

Have no fear, it's just a boating regatta down by the harbour.

Inspired by Scotland's current most popular residents, this boat has got their own panda.

Most of my time off has been spent in music one way or another. Matt Seattle appeared at the Mill on the Fleet playing the Border Pipes, sometimes traditional tunes, sometimes not.

Most of the entertainment has been home grown. Cafe Largo played a charity concert in the parish Church featuring musicians from a few miles away to my next door neighbour.

Much of the music was connected to the Arts and Crafts trail. Here's my niece, Hazel, and Mary playing piano duets, also in the church.

Once a month in the Gordon House we have an open mic night. This month (the first one I've managed to get to for ages) there was an influx of Dalbeattie musicians to boast our numbers.

The Kirkcudbright Bay Hotel has recently fitted out it's courtyard with a bar and had been asking local tunesters round on a Sunday afternoon in the Summer to provide entertainment. Thanks to all my fellow folkies who came to support me through my afternoon there, but the last few weeks have also featured Stirring the Stoor and the Dykeside Ramblers (they have a CD at £4 each but no home on the web). A small delay in my working trip meant I could also catch 44 Blues at the 'Bay.