Sandison's Scotland; Feeling the Heart and Soul of a Proud Scottish History

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BRUCE SANDISON IS A JOURNALIST, ANGLER AND AUTHOR OF A STRING OF BEST-SELLING BOOKS ABOUT SCOTLAND'S OUTDOORS. HE LIVES IN SUTHERLAND.

There is something essentially comforting about Melrose in the Scottish Borders - maybe because of the glorious abbey that presides over the old town.

It was founded in 1136 and, for 400 years, played an important part in the nation's affairs. King David I (1008-1153) granted the monks vast lands for their sustenance: "Eildon, Melrose and Darnick, together with the royal lands and forest of Selkirk and Traquair with pasturage for sheep and cattle, wood for building and burning and rights of fishing in the Tweed."

The English Earl of Hertford burned the abbey in 1544, during the "Rough Wooing" of the infant Mary, Queen of Scots. Hertford's master, King Henry VIII, was determined that Mary should be betrothed to his sickly son Edward, thus giving him a tighter grip over his unruly northern neighbour. But by 1590, Dan Jo Watson, "pensionarius de Melrose", was the sole member of the convent and when he died in that year, the glory days of the abbey died with him.

When I visit the abbey, my first call is to pay my respects to King Robert the Bruce. His heart is buried there- just his heart because the rest of Bob's bits and pieces are buried at Dunfermline Abbey in Fife. When the great king died in 1329, the heart was removed from his body and placed in a silver casket. Bruce had instructed his faithful lieutenant James Douglas to carry it with him on a crusade to the Holy Land.

However, Douglas - never one to pass up the chance of some pre-emptive Moor-bashing - was killed along the way during a scrap in Spain. …