Great Scott and his beloved Scottish Borders – Who could ever doubt the inspirational qualities of the Scottish Borders.
It was beguiling Border landscapes and legends that first fired the imagination of the young Walter Scott, providing a formative starting point for the remarkable journey that was to follow.
And it is impossible to overstate the importance of Sir Walter Scott.
The son of an Edinburgh solicitor he was sent to his grandparents farm in the Borders to recuperate after suffering from polio. At Sandyknowe, in the shadow of Smailham Tower, he was talked to read and listened to local legends and folk tales.
Later he studied at Kelso Grammar School – a building still standing next to the town’s ruined abbey.
It was to be the start of a love affair with the region that lasted all his life. He settled in the Borders when he was appointed Sherriff Substitute of Selkirkshire and his courtroom is preserved as a museum in Selkirk.
Soon after his appointment, in 1811, he started work building Abbotsford on the site of a run down farm.
Those who would know more abut the man can follow a dozen tourist trails of Scott’s favourite Border haunts – the exploretheborders.com masthead is known as Scott’s view and was one of his regular rides. They provided material for storylines and characters for his books and poems.
But to experience more about the man , all roads must lead to Abbotsford, his magnificent “conundrum castle” home, tucked away in 100 acres on the banks of the Tweed, mid-way between Melrose and Galashiels.
Here, he assembled a treasure trove that reflects the enlightened times in which he lived; a massive collection of books, artefacts, porcelain and paintings that display an insatiable curiosity in the world at large and Scotland in particular.
Here you will find Rob Roy’s broadsword, dirk, sporran purse and gun on display; knives belonging to Charles I; Montrose’s sword; a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair and Bonnie Dundee’s pistols.
In the library, the ceiling copies elements of Rosslyn Chapel; predictably arousing much excitement among Da Vinci Code addicts.
Elsewhere, items of furniture and oak panelled walls have been fashioned from timbers rescued from the Auld Kirk at Dunfermline; a stone fireplace is modelled on the stalls at Melrose Abbey, and the entrance is copied from Linlithgow Palace.
Another of Scott’s historic recycling initiatives is the Robroyston chair made of wood from the House of Robroyston where Sir William Wallace was “done to death by felon hand for guarding well his father’s land”.
If it were Scott’s intention that the heart of Scotland would forever beat at Abbotsford he can rest easy.
A super-celebrity in his day, wealthy on the revenues that accrued from bestseller after bestseller, Scott scoured Scotland, England and the Continent for acquisitions.
He was also an avid collector of popular publications, the penny dreadfuls of their day that sold from door-to-door on sensational subjects such as witchcraft and the supernatural.
As a pioneer in popular culture, his modern-day equivalent could be Indiana Jones and J K Rowling rolled into one.
At Abbotsford, fact lines up neatly alongside fiction; much of it interleaved with Scott’s best-known novels that took form at the writing desk in his wonderfully preserved study.
In the library there are 9,000 priceless tomes, including a 15th-century Middle English manuscript, poems and songs handwritten by Robert Burns, together with pamphlets from the times of Jacobites and Covenanters.
Wandering around this incredible time capsule of a building – much the same as it was when Scott lived here – it is easy to imagine that it could still have some, as yet undiscovered, secrets to share.
It was here, too, that he brought to life some of British literature’s most enduring books including Ivanhoe, Rob Roy and the Waverley novels.
His contribution to the world of literature and to Scotland, are only matched by the legacy he bequeathed to the Borders.
exploretheborders.com is delighted to be working with The Abbotsford Trust to develop this special section dedicated to Sir Walter Scott.
More information and opening times at www.scottsabbotsford.co.uk