Scotland's old gravestones are a national treasure. All too often, however, they have been damaged or lost. Removal and destruction of old gravestones was a trend which started in earnest in the Victorian age but amazingly still continues in some places. Future generations will look back on today's all too common mistreatment of old gravestones in much the same way we now view the activities of our ancestors who broke up Pictish symbol stones for use in field walls.
But it is still possible to find Scottish graveyards which are full of old gravestones; which show that sensitive restoration and conservation of these monuments to our ancestors is possible; and which - sadly - make painfully obvious what we have lost elsewhere. One of the best examples anywhere in the country of how it should be done is Tulliallan Kirkyard, on the northern edge of Kincardine and close to Tulliallan Castle, home of the Scottish Police College.
To reach the kirkyard you take a minor road north from traffic lights in the centre of Kincardine. Pass the three high rise blocks, and keep on going straight ahead for as far as you can (about a third of a mile) until the road runs out at the boundary of the castle grounds. On your right a gate in a wall gives access to the kirkyard. It's at about this point that it becomes helpful to know that the key to the kirkyard gate can be obtained from the Bridges Coffee House which you would have passed on your left just after the traffic lights. They also do excellent food.
The kirkyard has probably survived so well because it became a time capsule. The ruined Tulliallan Old Parish Church it surrounds was built in 1675, but replaced by a new church on a different site in 1832. Today the shell of the old church surrounds a beautifully tended memorial garden.
In more recent times, the kirkyard has been lovingly restored by members of the Kincardine Local History Group. Fallen, buried or sunken stones were cleaned and restored to position, while stones from the 1800s whose brick bases had crumbled away were re-bedded in concrete.
The result is an amazing gallery of Scottish gravestones, dating from the late 1600s to the early 1800s. Traditional symbols of mortality such as crossed bones and hourglasses are everywhere, and as Kincardine has traditionally been a port, nautical symbols of ships and anchors are especially well represented. But you will find all sorts here, including stones in memory of masons, tailors, gardeners and one carrying a wonderful image of a woodsman felling a tree.
One unusual feature is the use of long, low gravestones in parts of the kirkyard. In at least one case it is obvious from the rear face of the stone that whoever put it here reused an earlier upright gravestone, simply turning it on its side and carving a new inscription on one face.