In today’s visit we explore the small vibrant market town of Beauly near Inverness and share with you our wander around the ruins of the stunning Beauly Priory. This magnificent ruin of a monastic church was founded in 1230 by French monks and is one of three priories founded in Scotland at this time.
The site itself is extremely picturesque, whether in bloom or winter and it has a certain feel to the place. But then again so do all churchyards, but It’s understandable that the monks would have aptly named it ‘beautiful place’ this quote is also recognized by Mary Queen of Scots who is said to have endorsed the name during a visit to Beauly In 1564.
As you wander through it’s beautiful to see the graveyard and its tombstones peacefully resting and reading the information boards on the priory provided by Historic Scotland. To the right of the entrance to the priory gates is a huge sycamore tree said to be around 200 years old, it looks very fitting for the graveyard and gives that eerie ambience to the site.
Entering through the large doorless frame you are able to peer down the now roofless church, it’s an impressive and large open space that lets you see the entirety of the central area. Originally this church layout would have been partitioned off into different zones, including the nave, a screen in the middle and the choir at the far end. Right by the doorway a holy stoup is still there, this is where visitors would cleanse themselves as they entered and exited the building.
In 1510, the priory changed to the order of the Cistercians and in 1530 the west side of priory with its tall lancet windows were rebuilt by Robert Reid, who was the prior from 1530 to 1558, Reid was also the abbot at Kinloss Abbey and the Bishop of Orkney, it was upon his death that funds from his estate was used to found Edinburgh University. Unfortunately later in 1541 the priory was struck by lightning with the west end needing major works. By 1780 most of the domestic buildings of the priory had disappeared. Parts of them would have been destroyed soon after the Reformation in 1560 and other parts were removed to build Oliver Cromwell’s citadel in Inverness in 1653.
After the reformation the church became popular as a burial ground for the local people, this is why many of the graves are within the boundary walls of the priory, but what’s more fascinating is that in 1999 there were massive floods and the church had problems with their drainage system, but excavations were done and they had removed over 100mm of turf, topsoil and gravel and found what we are walking around today, a number of broken, deeply set grave slabs hidden amongst the elements. It would have been such an amazing find back then and since then it’s been immaculately maintained and looked after.
The priory was used as a filming location for the TV show Outlander, where the main character meets the seer here; the author of the book series Diana Gabaldon has also held book signings and a talk in Beauly, making this a perfect stop off on an Outlander trail throughout Scotland.
What is striking about the church is how elongated it is; there are no aisles, only transepts to the north and south, creating the form of a Latin cross. Though the entire church was laid out and built in one go, it offers examples of architecture spanning the 13th-16th centuries.
We make our way to the North Chapel where we wander and see a number of historic tombs, the first Sir Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail is buried and it is his effigy behind the grill into the former Sacristy, sadly the sacristy never seems really be open to the public, but we were able to take a snap of the inside, which we think looks stunning. It acted as a family burial site, but oddly there is no indication of where the monks who lived and worked at Beauly are buried. Buried opposite is his half-brother Alexander who died in 1479 and his tomb is in the wall between the monks’ choir and St Katherine’s Chapel and is the oldest of all the graves in Beauly. This was the beginning of the connection between Beauly and the Mackenzie’s, which continues to this day. It’s so interesting to walk around the different graves and see their markings and their stories.
The site is open daily from 9-5 in the summer time with free entry and excellent access for everyone, the location and the small market town is beautiful to walk around especially with their flowers in bloom, we ended up grabbing some lovely pastries from the local bakers just a few minutes’ walk away and sat and enjoyed the views. There is also a local museum which is highly rated and worth visiting, but it was just a nice peaceful stop off whilst we’ve been driving through Inverness and was great to find out about its 800 year old history.
So we really hope you’ve enjoyed our short blog today at Beauly Priory and would love to encourage you to get visiting these wonderful places.
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Till Next Time!