Lincluden Collegiate Church is signposted to the east of the A76 a little north of its junction with the A75 Dumfries bypass. It lies in a bend of the Cluden Water near its confluence with the River Nith, and on the eastern edge of the housing estate that today forms most of Lincluden itself. Parking arrangements are not obvious: you are probably best leaving your car near the Abbey Inn and walking along the narrow road beside it. This becomes a track leading past the gate in the metal railings surrounding the remains of the church, a couple of hundred yards from the Inn.
The story of Lincluden Collegiate Church begins in about 1160, when a priory of Benedictine nuns was formed here. At about the same time the now wooded motte to the south east was formed to support a small castle.
In 1389, Archibald, 3rd Earl of Douglas, better known as Archibald the Grim of Threave Castle, was granted permission by the Pope to replace the priory with a college of canons. The college took over the buildings of the priory, which comprised a priory church with a range of domestic buildings to its north.
Extensive building works to make Lincluden a much grander establishment were under way through most of the 1400s. Part of the renovation was to accommodate the spectacular tomb of Princess Margaret in a rebuilt choir after her death in 1450. She had been daughter of King Robert III and widow of the 4th Earl of Douglas.
The Reformation of 1560 inevitably brought change to Lincluden Collegiate Church, as it did to all religious communities across Scotland. Lincluden was attacked and badly damaged by Protestant reformers.
Repairs were quickly completed by William Douglas, the younger brother of the last Provost of the college, for the considerable sum of £3,000. This proved a sound investment when he was then granted the college and associated "mansion" (probably the rebuilt north range) by his brother. The sunken garden to the east and remodelling of the motte as a large garden ornament probably date back to around this time.
After passing through various hands the buildings of Lincluden Collegiate Church were abandoned by 1700, and then used as a quarry until 1882 when the laird stepped in to consolidate and tidy up the ruins. The church was later passed into State care and is now looked after by Historic Environment Scotland.
The remains themselves can be confusing, and are best viewed from the motte to the south east. It is easy to start with an assumption that the church must have run, unusually, from north to south, given the trend of most of the stonework on view.
It didn't. This impression is given because most of the nave of the church has disappeared, leaving just the walls of the south transept and a neighbouring piece of the south wall of the nave containing the outline of two magnificent windows.
The walls of the choir are largely complete, and contain some fine examples of decorative stonework, some of it still remarkably crisp. Lady Margaret's tomb and the nearby door to the Sacristy are the highlights. To the north of the Choir are the remains of a range of domestic buildings, today comprising a series of vaulted ground floor rooms, some now roofless. At the far north end the stonework of a taller tower still remains, pointing raggedly to the sky.
Read about Thomas D. Murphy's visit to Lincluden Collegiate Church (when it apparently stood in open countryside) in his 1908 book, British Highways and Byways From a Motor Car.