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The small village of Cambuskenneth lies directly to the east of Stirling itself. The village is enclosed within a broad loop in the River Forth and the only road in or out heads north for a mile before meeting the A907 near Stirling University and the Wallace Monument.
A footbridge was constructed across the river in 1934, but the village still retains a slightly odd sense of close proximity to the city to its west, but almost complete separateness from it.
It was probably this same combination of convenience and seclusion that led King David I to ask the Augustinians to found an abbey here in 1140.
Originally known as the Abbey of St Mary or the Abbey of Stirling, Cambuskenneth Abbey rapidly gathered considerable wealth and influence because of its royal patronage and its links with Stirling Castle.
At its height at the end of the 1200s (see image below) Cambuskenneth comprised an extensive complex of buildings. This included a large abbey church, some 60m long. To its south was the usual cloister surrounded by ranges of domestic buildings. Between the cloister and the river to its east stood secondary ranges of buildings and a wharf.
Cambuskenneth's closeness to Stirling Castle gained it few favours from passing English armies during the Wars of Independence from the end of the 1200s. By 1378 the abbey church was reported to be in ruins. It was rebuilt during the early 1400s and once again used by Scotland's royalty.
On 11 June 1488 the nearby Battle of Sauchie took place between James III's army and supporters of his 15 year old son, James, Duke of Rothesay (see our Historical Timeline). James III fled before the battle commenced, and he was subsequently murdered by an unknown hand. His body was brought to Cambuskenneth Abbey and he was buried in front of the high altar of the abbey church, alongside his Queen, Margaret of Denmark, who had died in 1486.
Today their last resting place is marked by a fine tomb surrounded by railings, with views that include the Wallace Monument to the north and Stirling Castle to the west. But now the abbey church and most of the abbey has gone, this seems a slightly sad and incongruous burial place for a King, even for one of Scotland's most unpopular.
After the Reformation the abbey became a quarry for stone reused in various parts of Stirling itself. Apart from the bell tower which still stands today, very little was left by the time the site was excavated by William Mackison, the Stirling Burgh Architect, in 1864.
Today's visitor finds an intriguing site comprising four very different elements. The only standing building is the bell tower, probably built in the late 1200s, and heavily restored in the 1860s. The rest of the abbey's main complex, including the abbey church and cloister, is visible only from stone courses on the ground. Much of what you can actually see today owes as much to the 1860s restoration as to the the original builders. The burial ground and the tomb of James III and Margaret of Denmark comprise the third aspect of today's Cambuskenneth Abbey.
But perhaps the most interesting part of any visit to the abbey is the least obvious. Beyond the railed enclosure surrounding the main abbey complex are more remains and ruins in the rough pasture leading down to the riverside. These seem to correspond to the secondary ranges of buildings shown on the information board, and if so give a very rare opportunity to explore parts of an abbey ruin "in the wild".