Scottish Borders & Sir Walter Scott, BordersAs a writer, Sir Walter Scott was hugely influential, casting a long shadow over his peers. This Edinburgh born, child of the Enlightenment, was the sole influence for The Trossachs’ success as a tourist destination. And yet, it was not Edinburgh in particular that was responsible for his literary guile, nor indeed was it The Trossachs, whose lochs and brays inspired his 1810 poem ‘The Lady Of The Lake’: more pertinent to his development as a man, as a writer, was the Scottish Borders . For it was there amongst the fertile greenery that he received an education, learning the contours of the English language and the nuances of Scotland’s tumultuous past.
A poorly child, a sufferer of polio, Scott was sent to live with his grandparents, Robert and Barbara Scott, at Sandyknowe Farm in 1773. Roxburghshire was some 30 miles or so, south of Edinburgh , but its pacific verdure and rich history peppered with conflict and intrigue would become a fertile homestead for the young writer’s imagination.
The Scottish Borders have seen their share of Scottish history: the Border Reivers, whose banditry would become legend; the Covenanter wars of the 17th Century; the Jacobite Rebellion , among whose participants were descendants of Scott’s; and further back to Scotland’s fierce battles with their Auld Enemy, England.
His aunt as a huge influence, giving Scott a grounding in the English language. Scott became hooked on these tales of derring-do, and the balladry that brought Scotland’s history to life in verse and song. The lyrical reenactment of history would become a forte of Scott’s, whose own role as historical poet was germinating in his youthful mind. As the polio was destined to leave a lasting mark on the young man’s health; the pen, it would seem, would be Scott’s most dextrous asset.
Between abortive attempts to recover from his illness, including trips to Bath Spa and Prestonpans, Scott returned to Edinburgh in 1779 to formalise his eduction at The Royal High School Of Edinburgh. After which, he returned to the Borders, this time to Kelso , to stay with his aunt and continue is education at grammar school. Throughout Scott’s life, he would make the journey from Edinburgh to Selkirk or Montrose ; as if his pneuma was nourished while in the rural setting of the Borders.
It was fitting that his debut was ‘The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’. The romantic tales, half-truths and legends of the area were his most comfortable metier. The Borders were his home. In 1824, the splendid Abbotsford House , just two miles from Melrose, designed by William Atkinson, was finally completed after six years of construction. A grand building, its location on the banks of the River Tweed was an idyllic setting for a writer, and it was here that Scott spent his final years, dying in its dining room in 1832.
Scott was buried in the nearby Dryburgh Abbey . Abbotsford House has been open to the public since 1833, and is faithfully preserved; so too its collection of arms and books, its walled gardens and chapel (added in 1855 by Scott’s granddaughter). A family ticket costs £16, and is well worth a trip to see how Scott lived before his death.
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