Abbotsford: Sir Walter Scott’s Home In The Scottish Borders

Wide flower borders in front of a castle-like house

You would have thought that with scenery like this, I’d have come home with some first-rate pictures of Abbotsford, the castle-style home Sir Walter Scott built, but as I spent the time there in a weird state of literary reverie, this is as good as I could muster.

I read Waverley, as a youngster, but I’m ashamed to confess I have forgotten it. The Bride Of Lammermoor, a romantic horror story, stays with me. 

I’d love to visit Abbotsford again when the roses are in their first flush of flowers. There are hundreds, not just in the lovely formal gardens, but in and around the car park. On the day of our visit, the few roses left were perfectly in tune with my imagination. The red roses, tethered to the wall in one place, withered in others, were not flowers, but young love, rapturously enjoyed, thwarted, then… no, I will not say, in case you have not read the book.

The face glimpsed between the rose leaves, though not the bride, somehow channels her, head framed forever by a stone veil. (Sir Walter Scott salvaged architectural details from ruined buildings and incorporated them into his garden’s walls.)

Stone dogs lie on either side of the arched door at Abbotsford

I’m a very poor advance guard, as I can barely explain what I experienced there (I’ll not say ‘saw’ as it went beyond that). Did Sir Walter Scott walk this way between the two guard dogs and through this doorway on his way to dream up new stories and characters? I can’t tell you for sure, but I imagined he walked past me as I paused to take the picture.

Hydrangeas in the flower borders at Abbotsford

We happened to be within a few miles of the estate while travelling from Edinburgh to Lindisfarne, by way of another garden that escapes me and, though our schedule was tight, couldn’t resist calling in. We didn’t have time to fully appreciate everything on offer here, but when I was wondering what, from 2018, that I had not already shared I would not like you to miss out on, it was this place that came to mind: food for the imagination at this reflective time of the year.

With 2019 almost upon us, if you’re looking for a place to celebrate Burns Night (26th January), there might still be time to snag tickets for Abbotsford’s Burns Supper, for the very reasonable price of £32.50 (or £29 for Friends of Abbotsford). If you’ll have a long journey to make, read The Bride Of Lammermoor on your way over. Burns wouldn’t mind:

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae fareweel alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee.

Robert Burns, from Ae Fond Kiss

(I’m not saying it all ends badly, mind you. You’ll have to take your chance on that.)

If you can’t make Burns Night, your pockets are deep enough, and you travel in numbers, you can rent a wing of the house and stay at Abbotsford with up to 14 other people. The experience comes with free dreams, not just nightly, but in the daytime too.

39 Replies to “Abbotsford: Sir Walter Scott’s Home In The Scottish Borders”

  1. These aren’t first-rate pictures? I cannot imagine better. But I can indeed imagine that “literary reverie,” and I think it must have been wonderful. The whole of this place seems as though the intention was to give form to reverie. I love the unreality of it, and I thank you for taking us there.

    1. The basic ingredients do help a lot and I picked the best of them to share here. I’m sure you’re right when you say, ‘the intention was to give form to reverie’ – this place seems to be as composed as any novel. I loved the idea that the original house was half paid for by an advance on an unwritten poem, which we could say was giving reverie form, were we to want to play with the idea a little more.

      1. Now THERE’S reverie: an advance on an unwritten poem! Enough to build the original house? That too stretched the imagination. But it also makes the whole place more wonderful, and, yes, it tilts towards the notion of form to reverie. Lovely!

        1. There or thereabouts: half the price of the farm (which was later expanded into the Abbotsford estate) was raised using an unwritten poem as security, which I suppose is a third party advance. It does not seem to have made the poem any easier to write!

  2. I have never read any of Walter Scott’s books and unlikely to do so now, but I have heard of Abbotsford and if we ever venture that far north again it is definitely on my list of gardens to visit. Meanwhile I shall enjoy viewing it vicariously. Thanks Susan. I look forward to travelling with you in 2019.

    1. Thanks, Derrick. I couldn’t handle all the elements to my satisfaction somehow, but the beauty of the place does seem to have come across.

  3. Too bad Sir Walter scooted past before you could get a portrait of him. As many capabilities as our cameras now possess, they still can’t take retroactive pictures.

    1. That’s a thought!

      Mind you, given we were in Scotland, if one of the Loch Ness monster photographers had been around with nothing else to do, who knows what they might have come up with?

  4. Hi Susan! I really must go there! It’s not that far from me in Dundee and I think your photos are absolutely gorgeous. You’ve inspired me to visit, and maybe even to read his work. 🙂 Karen 🙂

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