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Visiting Scotland's Kilwinning Abbey ruins: the past in stone

Updated on February 25, 2016
Flag of Scotland
Flag of Scotland | Source
Kilwinning Abbey, Kilwinning, Scotland
Kilwinning Abbey, Kilwinning, Scotland | Source
Kilwinning Abbey, North Ayrshire, Scotland in 1789
Kilwinning Abbey, North Ayrshire, Scotland in 1789 | Source
Map location of Kilwinning, Scotland
Map location of Kilwinning, Scotland | Source

A site which has witnessed various historical periods

North Ayrshire's Kilwinning has an ancient Abbey, which, while in Scotland, I was interested to visit. This building must have looked magnificent, before it went to ruin; and it certainly raises questions of the sheer power and influence of the Medieval church.

Kilwinning Abbey is thought to have been founded between 1162 and 1188, when monks arrived from Kelso, although a church is reckoned to have been in existence here as early as the 7th century. Richard de Morville, Lord of Cunninghame, is reputed to have been a patron to its foundation, although this is not certain. Bernard of Kilwinning, Abbot in 1296, is remembered as the probable author of the important document known as the Declaration of Arbroath.

Previously there were two free-standing towers at the Abbey, neither of which have survived. A number of the Abbey's ancient door or window arches have remained. The church had the broadest dimensions of any in Scotland.

The Abbey is said to have had strong, Medieval links with freemasonry. Literally, the term referred to foreign skilled workers who were free to come to practise their trade. After the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Robert the Bruce is reputed to have come to Kilwinning and attended a masonic ritual.

In the 16th century, Scotland's adoption of the Reformation meant that the Medieval religious houses which abounded no longer had income by which upkeep of the buildings not used by Presbyterians could be maintained. This, rather than any wholesale plan of destruction, is said to be substantially responsible for the ruined state of Kilwinning Abbey today.

In the 18th century, a new Abbey Church was built, strongly Presbyterian in ethos, which meant that the building's design was deliberately not in keeping with the surrounding Abbey ruins.

In the early 19th century, a clock tower was built, completed in 1816; this structure now houses a heritage centre, where there are displays about the local history. This heritage centre is the subject of joint collaboration of the Museum Services of North Ayrshire Council and the Kilwinning & District Preservation Society. At the centre there are items about the poet Robert Burns (1759-1796).

Canadians may be interested to know that another of the series of items in the tower commemorates Robert W. Service (1874-1958), the 'Bard of the Yukon', who was from Scottish extraction; the poet's father hailed from Kilwinning. A Robert Service Memorial is also in the town.

Also worth seeing

At Kilwinning itself, Eglinton Castle is in ruins; a Country Park now surrounds it.

Glasgow (distance: 43 kilometres) has numerous visitor attractions, including St Mungo's Cathedral, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and City Chambers.

Blantyre (distance: 61 kilometres), has the 1813 birthplace museum of Scottish explorer and missionary, David Livingston.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Glasgow Airport, where car rental is available. A railroad service links Paisley and Glasgow City Centre with Kilwinning. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

For your visit, these items may be of interest


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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 6 years ago

      azure0434: Thank-you; in some ways, Scotland, where Kilwinning Abbey is situated, has a distinct religious history from England.

    • profile image

      azure0434 6 years ago

      I'm always looking forward to traveling to England.

    • jacqui2011 profile image

      jacqui2011 6 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      Great hub. Very informative. My brother is from dalry which is very near to it. Next time I'm back in Scotland I'll be sure to look it up. Voted up.