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Queen Mary's Tree

Balmerino Abbey

At Balmerino Abbey, North Fife, there are still remaining some of the pillars and the groined roof of the cloisters and the walls of the chapter house. In the monks' orchard a mighty Spanish chestnut tree, believed to have been planted by the monks and to be about 700 years old, which makes it one of the oldest of its kind in the country, spreads its ancient boughs over the lawns. A walnut tree planted in the grounds of Balmerino Abbey by Mary, Queen of Scots, on a visit there, provided the wood which lines the Secretary of State's room at Edinburgh's St Andrew's House. The Prior's Well, from which the monks of Ermengarde's monastery must have drunk 700 years ago, still runs, and in fact provides the water for the manse of Balmerino church.

After the Reformation the abbey became a temporal lordship, but a strangely unlucky one. Both the first and second Lords Balmerino were sentenced to death, and the sixth and last was beheaded as a Jacobite in 1746.

Not far from the abbey is handsome Naughton House, which stands on the site of Naughton Castle, vestiges of which are still discernible on the rock. Naughton, a stronghold of the Hays, was built by Robert de Lundin, natural son of William the Lion, and tradition has it that in this castle on the rock a lamp burned in the keep to serve as a guiding light for shipping in the Firth. The Hays came back to Naughton early in the 17th century, when another branch of the family purchased it, and among the church silver is a Communion cup dated 1669 bearing the arms of Hay and the initials of George Hay and his wife, Mary Ruthven.

Close to the abbey is a block of houses recently built by Mr Henry J. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn, Hereditary Standard-bearer of Scotland, in memory of his brother killed at Anzio. Each house has a plaque on which is inscribed the last message Lt.-Col. David Scrymgeour-Wedderburn sent to his men before the battle. The houses stand in a beautifully formal square surrounding a lawn and facing the Tay. With their white walls and blue doors, their simple architecture and central pediment and pillars, they represent an enlightened and imaginative attempt to give to modern rural buildings some of the form and dignity loved by those who built on these banks so many centuries ago. One thinks that the Queen-Mother Ermengarde, were she to see this building, would not be displeased with the thought of families living happily and well housed on the land she loved.



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