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Town profile: Melrose

At first count there are eighteen towns and villages in North America called Melrose. Their attractions range from Scottish settlements in Nova Scotia to Victorian homes in Massachusetts and an award-winning vineyard in Oregon. You can also find Melrose in New Brunswick and Quebec, and a Melrose in New Zealand and Australia. The US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are historically the four top destinations for Scottish emigrants, so what is it about Melrose in Scotland that inspired so many people to carry the name with them?

Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders The original Melrose is one of the Scottish Borders' four great abbey towns and is home to one of Britain's most beautiful abbey ruins. Like its sister Cistercian abbeys, Rievaulx and Sweetheart, Melrose Abbey is a graceful amalgamation of geometrical beauty and sacred space. The abbey offers a special opportunity for those interested in the history of Robert the Bruce, who founded the current abbey and whose heart is buried on its grounds.

stained glass window depicting the conversion of Merlin by Kentigern (St Mungo), Stobo parish kirkMelrose is also known for its legendary associations; it is strongly linked to King Arthur, who is thought to be sleeping in the nearby Eildon Hills. Southern Scotland has a strong Arthurian tradition which in many ways supercedes, and certainly predates the generally more familiar version put forward by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the twelfth century. This Scottish tradition incorporates some significant differences to the traditional arrangements of characters, for example, the Scottish Merlin "Wyllt" is a wild prophet of the woods, who is converted to Christianity by St Kentigern (St Mungo) and buried near the river Tweed.

Built on the banks of the river Tweed and only two miles from Melrose, Abbotsford was the home of Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe, Rob Roy and the Waverley novels. Scott was a lifelong devotee of this particularly beautiful part of the Scottish Borders. The publication of one of his most popular works, The Lay of the Last Minstrel, drew many visitors to Melrose in the hope of seeing the abbey as Scott describes it:

If thou would'st view fair Melrose aright,
Go visit it by the pale moonlight;
For the gay beams of lightsome day
Gild, but to flout, the ruins grey.
Where the broken arches are black in night,
And each shafted oriel glimmers white;
When the cold light's uncertain shower
Streams on the ruin'd central tower;
When buttress and buttress, alternately,
Seem fram'd of ebon and ivory;
When silver edges the imagery,
And the scrolls that teach thee to live and die;
When distant Tweed is heard to rave
And the owlet to hoot o'er the dead man's grave
Then go—but go alone the while—
Then view St. David's ruin'd pile;
And, home returning, soothly swear,
Was never scene so sad and fair!

There is some considerable doubt as to whether Scott actually visited the ruins of the abbey at night, but we at Scottish Language Dictionaries can definitely vouch for Melrose abbey earlier in the day: at sunset the abbey walls glow a deep and rosy pink... weather permitting, of course.