Abbotsford provides a fascinating insight into the life and work of Sir Walter Scott, who built the country house. It stands just a few miles from the lovely Scottish Borders village of Melrose, and Scott lived there in his later life with his wife and their four children.
The house has been open since 1833, a year after Scott’s death, when it became a pilgrimage site for his many fans. During the 1850s, a dedicated entrance was created for tourists (Queen Victoria visited in 1867 although it’s unlikely she entered with the day-trippers) and by 1883 around 1,500 people visited annually. Its heyday was during the 1970s, when 80,000 visitors a year came to Abbotsford, but by the early 2000s, its popularity had waned and was only welcoming around 19,000 visitors annually.
Recently, though, Abbotsford has been given a new lease of life by a multi-million pound restoration project. It has brought this amazing house back from the brink to a standard worthy of Scott’s importance; one only equalled by Robert Burns in Scotland’s literary legacy.
Scott’s stories such as Ivanhoe, Waverley and Rob Roy became the world’s first bestsellers. He was wildly popular during his lifetime in the US (particularly in the Southern States where Mark Twain blamed him for the American Civil War) and in Russia, where the likes of Pushkin and Tolstoy considered Scott to have invented the modern Russian novel (he’s now part of the Russian curriculum).
The enormous royalties from Scott’s writings enabled him to buy Cartleyhole Farm for £4,000 in 1811. He then lavished money on Abbotsford’s design, and its construction began in 1818 and was completed in 1824. The house was the physical embodiment of Scott and he was involved wholly in its creation (even choosing the door knockers and window latches).
The recent renovation means the 9,000 books and the 4,000 artefacts that Scott collected – including Rob Roy’s sword, a set of keys to Loch Leven Castle, Mary, Queen of Scots’s crucifix and objects from the South Seas – are now on show.
Abbotsford’s new visitor centre provides a good grounding into who Scott was. It then dovetails into the house, which takes you back to 1832. All the restoration has been sensitively done so the unique atmosphere that Scott created remains. Walking from Melrose, along the banks of the River Tweed is the finest way to approach this wonderful building.
Recently Scott’s reputation in Scotland has faded a little, perhaps because the romantic, tartan-bedecked view of the country portrayed in his novels doesn’t sit well with today’s Scots. But no one can deny the huge cultural impact he’s had on the country and the world. And it seems Abbotsford’s revitalisation is again sparking interest in Scott, his work, his legacy and this magnificent house.
HOW TO GET THERE
Limited direct National Express bus service 534 between Glasgow, Edinburgh and Melrose. Abbotsford lies
three miles west of Melrose.
FIND OUT MORE
Abbotsford, Melrose TD6 9BQ
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