A small patch of Paradise in Fife
Cross the Tay Road Bridge from Dundee to Newport and turn right and you’ll find a small patch of Paradise on the edge of the River Tay: the ruined Balmerino Abbey.
It was founded in 1229 as a daughter-house of Melrose Abbey, a working Cistercian Abbey until the Reformation, and converted to a private house in around 1660.
Today there’s not much left. One and a bit walls of the church remain and humps mark where pillars used to support the roof.
Parts of the Chapter House and living accommodation can also be seen but this is now all fenced off, as it’s unsafe to enter and is undergoing stabilisation. You can still see some fine carving around the arches, though, which gives an idea of how lovely the building must once have been.
A separate building, half under-ground, was either the infirmary or the Abbott’s house, according to the NTS sign. I thought it might have been an ice-house. The Undiscovered Scotland site reckons it was the cellar of the Abbott’s house; I prefer that idea to the thought of sick monks lying in dripping gloom.
The Abbey was never large – probably no more than 20 monks lived here at any one time. It was damaged first by the English in 1547 and again by Scottish Protestants in 1559, and went into decline. By 1606 it was a secular lordship for James Elphinstone, 1st Lord Balmerino.
Visiting Balmerino Abbey
We visited on a hot day but the mown grass was damp and very pleasant on bare feet. There’s a short nature trail through the trees and one ancient, fabulously contorted Spanish chestnut tree, with huge metal props supporting its sagging limbs. It’s worth coming just to see the tree, which legend says dates from 1229!
A visit to Balmerino Abbey won’t take long but it’s a beautiful, peaceful spot to while away half an hour or so. You could have your picnic at one of the tables under the trees before walking along the Tay (see below). It’s definitely worth the trip if you’re interested in history or just want a quiet spot to relax in.
Balmerino is reached from the Wormit-Newburgh road on the south side of the Tay, then down a narrow lane (sign-posted). The Abbey’s on the right before you reach the village of Balmerino. It’s a National Trust for Scotland property, so if you’re not a member please put some money in the honesty box. The cash will be used to help preserve the ruins.
You can park on the verge outside the gate or, if that’s full, there’s room for 2-3 cars a bit further down the lane. When you’ve finished enjoying the Abbey, walk down the lane to this second parking area, turn left past a cottage and you come to the shingly beach of the Tay. It’s another great place for a picnic, especially at low tide. Keep going along the bank and there are paths up into the woods where you can get a good hour’s walk.
Find out more at http://www.nts.org.uk/Property/Balmerino-Abbey/