Bopping About Abbotsford

Despite having been to the Borders many times over the course of my life, my family had never been to Abbotsford House until this year. And until this year, I had never read a book by Sir Walter Scott. I am a terrible half-Scot indeed.

This was not our first or second encounter with Sir Walter Scott during our stay in Scotland. Our first reference was while overlooking Scott’s View, which I mentioned in a previous post. Our second reference was during our day trip to Edinburgh when we took in Scott’s Monument in the center of the city, although I didn’t mention it there.

In case you don’t know about Sir Walter Scott, he was a Scottish author who was best known for titles like Ivanhoe, Waverley, Old Mortality, and The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Born in Edinburgh in 1771, Scott’s love for reading began at a young age when he was sent to live in the Scottish Borders where his aunt taught him how to read. It was there that he began collecting histories and tales from the region which ultimately influenced his writing style.

Around 1804, after much success with publishing various novels and volumes of poetry, Scott and his family move to a rented home on the bank of the River Tweed. Seven years later, the family moved to Clarty Hole, also on the Tweed, which would become Abbotsford House in 1812 after several construction projects.

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Abbotsford is extraordinarily beautiful, both on the inside and outside. When you first walk into the house, you are greeted by a large entrance hall decked floor to ceiling with armor, weapons, stuffed animal heads, and other oddities. You are then welcomed to wander through to Scott’s personal study & library, which still contains a large amount of his collection, under lock & key, of course. The room itself is not particularly big; it is about 10ft by 10ft and 3 of the 4 walls contain floor to ceiling bookshelves with a small catwalk along the upper half of the room. It’s really all you could want in a 19th century English-style study.

Adjacent to the study is the library. Now, if you’ve ever seen Downton Abbey, think of that library, just a bit smaller and with a little less grandeur. The library runs along the back of the house and offers the best views of the Tweed. It also includes more books and a large marble fireplace.

The remainder of the house tour included the women’s sitting room, the dining room, and a gunroom. Apart from the study and library, the most wonderful part of seeing Abbotsford was learning about its long history of use, even if it’s only been around for about 150 years. The house was in constant use by Scott’ descendants until about 2004 when his great great granddaughter, Jean, died. Jean and her sister, Patricia, were the ones to open the house to the public and allow visitors to tour around the grounds and the house. At this time of Jean’s death, Scott’s family was not in a financial position to take on the care and upkeep of the house. Luckily for us and for the house, the family set up a trust to take care of the estate so that people like me could continue to visit the fairytale of a house.

After touring the house, we led ourselves on a self-guided tour of the gardens surrounding the house. The front lawn is perfectly manicured with a long boxwood hedge fence that shows off the interesting artifacts that were built into the stone wall behind. These artifacts, like shields and statues, were also built into the house’s walls.

Fun fact: it was in this front garden we found a plaque that says that Scott coined the phrases “lock, stock and barrel”, “blood is thicker than water”, “caught red-handed”, and “tongue in cheek”.

Off to the right of the house, there are beautiful gardens full of flowers and trees, some of which were meant for more tropical climes. Those particular plants are able to grow because there is actually a steam heater in the garden to ensure the plants’ survival.

Of course, you can’t go to Abbotsford without walking down to the Tweed to see how the fishermen are getting on. This also provides one of the best views of the house.

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If that doesn’t scream “perfectly picturesque Scottish countryside” then I don’t know what does.

What a wonderful trip this year’s visit was. It makes me eager to go back and explore more of beautiful Scotland!

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