A Magical Scottish Tour to Rosslyn Chapel
I have a confession, I’m a huge Dan Brown fan. Author of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, Dan Brown’s books struck a few cords in me. I love the play on history, infused with mystery and the whirlwind romance of travel. I remember back when I first read Da Vinci Code and couldn’t wait to get to Paris to visit some of the sights he focussed on, like the Louvre and Saint Sulpice. And in 2005 when I finally arrived in Paris for the first time I was enchanted with these buildings he had brought to life for me. But for years there was one place that escaped me, Rosslyn Chapel.
I even tried once to visit the mystical Rosslyn Chapel. When I visited Europe back in 2012 with my father we met up with my brother in London for a five countries in five days crazy tour. From London we headed north to Edinburgh and while we saw wee signs for Rosslyn, it somehow escaped us. I was disappointed but I knew I’d get there someday.
So, when I added Edinburgh again to my itinerary for my epic solo adventure last summer I was determined to visit the chapel. I booked a tour with Rabbie’s Tour Company. The tour was called Rosslyn Chapel & Scottish Borders, and was a day tour from Edinburgh, and I was thrilled! I’d finally get to visit!
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The small tour group of around 10 met in the morning at a café in the heart of Edinburgh. I immediately loved our tour guide, Gillian. A full blooded Scott with a full head of curls, Doc Martins on her feet and donning a kilt. She looked like a Scott and her bubbly, warm personality, full of wit, made her the perfect guide.
As we headed off for our first stop of the tour she regaled us in all things Edinburgh. From tales about the Castle to the abundance of sheep, she filled us in on Edinburgh’s past, its present, and about one of Scotland’s well known novelist, Sir Walter Scott. And our first stop in the Scottish Borders, which is where Scott grew up, was at a view point that he frequented when he had writers block. It was a stunning view over Scotland’s rolling, lush green hills. I would have loved to sit at the perfect wooden bench there and take up my pen and paper, and be inspired by the view and the creative juices of Scott’s that might still linger.
Our second stop found us parking off a back road and hiking through the forest, rich with the smell of wild garlic. Somehow we made our way to a tall statue of William Wallace. At 6’6”, with a six foot sword, it’s said that the statue was built in the beginning of the 1800’s, making it the first statue of Wallace. The statue didn’t seem very Scottish. It was more of a fusion of Greek and Roman, with a Welsh dragon on the helmet. It was so strange to see this odd statue of one of Scotland’s legends in the middle of nowhere.
I must say our next stop was a lovely surprise. I’d never heard of Melrose before but was so charmed by this little town, home to Melrose Abbey. Here we were left to explore the Abbey and the small town for a while. The Abbey was beautiful and legend has it Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried on the grounds. Yes, just his heart. Dating back to 1136, the Abbey was founded by David I and is now in ruins. When I ventured into the ruins of Melrose Abbey I stumbled upon a set of stairs that led to its roof. Wow, what amazing views over Melrose and I could even see the intricate details of the Abbey up close. Like a fanciful image of a pig with bagpipes carved into the Abbey.
Before meeting back up with the group I decided to wander around the old town. As I paused at a real-estate office to browse its window full of listings I met a sweet, elderly man. Just on his way back from church he made mention of my real-estate browsing. I told him, “only in my dreams.” And I was struck and inspired by his response, “dreams must start somewhere.”
On my dreamy high, from the conversation with the gentleman to my enjoyment with the day thus far, I headed over to the Abbey Coffee Shop. With my fresh, moist and delicious cheese scone and coffee I waited for the tour to continue…. to Rosslyn Chapel.
Down through the Tweed Valley we went, and all I could think was how excited I was, and would it live up to my expectations, or would I be disappointed. I’d soon find out.
To get to Rosslyn Chapel you first enter a modern building, where you pay your entrance fee, of which goes toward the chapel maintenance and local communities. Along with a gift shop there are a bunch of exhibits about the chapel, its history and the legends attributed to it.
I was eager. So, I bee-lined it out of the building and to the chapel. It seemed so small, standing in the yard, I was surprised. As I entered the chapel its small size seemed to be an illusion. I felt dwarfed inside, surrounded by such incredible detail that was at first overwhelming. Everywhere I looked there was something different. A devil there, a trillium and aloe here, and over there a fallen angel shown upside-down wrapped in ropes. Even stories told in stone work, from the seven deadly sins on one side of an arch and the seven virtues on the other side. To be honest, I was almost over come with tears at the outstanding detail, craftsmanship and magical aura of Rosslyn. And yet saddened that I couldn’t photograph any of the chapel’s inside.
I slowly made my way around the edges, then through the inner portion, taking in the walls, the floor, the ceiling and each and every nook and cranny. There were strange men, called green men, of which over 100 littered the chapel. These green men were an old pagan symbol. There were odd carved cubes. Were they a form of secret code? The ceiling was like a night’s sky with a mix of stars and flowers. Up front were the master mason pillar and the apprentice pillar. I didn’t understand, why was the apprentice pillar so intricate and stunning, while the master’s simple? Turns out no one really knows.
Rosslyn Chapel was founded by Sir William St. Clair in 1446. The chapel was intended to be a large cathedral, but after forty years construction halted and it was left half done. They don’t even know who the builders, or masons, were. It’s strange to think that the images seen in the chapel, like Indian corn and the aloe plant, among others, from North America are not found in any other 15th century chapel. Even the fusion of biblical, pagan, masonic and Knights Templar images leads to more questions.
Whatever the truth is, I relished in the myths and legends behind Rosslyn Chapel. I was intoxicated by each and every detail that together told a story. The thick bewitching atmosphere within combined with the most impressive stone work I have ever seen all fueled my absolute amazement and thankfulness that I’d finally experienced it with my own eyes.
I was thrilled by all the places we visited on the tour. I couldn’t have been happier with my choice of tour companies. Along with the fabulous tour, our guide was fantastic. She was a fountain of knowledge on both Scotland’s past and present. And even amused us with a soundtrack along the way filled with bagpipes, songs about Edinburgh’s tales and even current Scottish music. Would I recommend Rabbie’s Tour Company? Yes! Would I use them again? In a Scottish heartbeat.
I was in no way paid or compensated for my review of Rabbie’s Tour. But my Visit Scotland press pass did offer me free entrance to some of the sights we visited on the tour.
Have you ever explored Rosslyn Chapel?
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