Friday, June 15, 2018

A literary pilgrimage to Abbotsford by Michelle Styles

Over the years, I have enjoyed visiting houses where famous authors created their stories and found inspiration. Literary pilgrimages if you will. Recently  I took a literary  pilgrimage and visited Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott. While he can be a bit overlooked today, Sir Walter Scott was the first successful commercial novelist so it felt appropriate to visit his house. In his day and for decades afterwards, he was the world’s most popular novelist. In doing so, I was retracing the steps of other writers such Nathaniel Hawthorne and  Charlotte Bronte who had also come to see where the man wrote his books.
Abbotsford from the walled garden
Sir Walter Scott purchased the farmhouse and set out about refashioning it into a Scottish baron’s castle.  At the time, he was  the world’s most popular novelist. The main train station in Edinburgh — Waverley — is named after the novel which made his name, rather than the opposite.

A grandfather clock belonging to Scott
More than anyone else, he did much to popularize certain beliefs about Scotland and Scottish history. He loved Scotland and wanted others to love it to.  His novel Ivanhoe popularized the medieval period as a world populated by  brave knights and maidens who needed rescuing. i It also gave the world the image of Robin Hood as the Earl of Locksley. If you like romances set in the Highlands, again Scott is the writer ultimately responsible for popularizing this area and inspiring generations of writers.

Sir Walter Scott's marriage lines
He was such a Scottish patriot that he obtained permission from George IV to search for the Scottish crown jewels and then actually discovered them in a box in Edinburgh castle where they had been put a 100  years before when the Act of Union happened. Partly as a reward for the discovering the missing jewels, Sir Walter Scott became the mastermind behind George IV’s visit to Edinburgh which among other things resulted in  tartans and whiskey being legalized.
Unfortunately for Scott, shortly after his great triumph with George IV’s visit, his publisher went bankrupt. Because of how it worked back then, Scott also become bankrupt and had to go back to writing (as well as selling his Edinburgh property) to pay off the debts. 
He worked so hard that his health was damaged and he died  in the dining room in 1832.
An outfit belonging to Sir Walter Scott
Shortly afterwards, the family decided to open the house to visitors. They only showed the main public rooms, including Scott’s  wood paneled study while living in the rest of the house. Scott was a great collector of stuff — old armor, arms, books on the occult, locks of Robert Burns and Nelson’s hair etc. The library remains just as it was in  Scott’s day when they used to use it for entertaining.   There are  no bedrooms or backstairs areas open but they have significantly altered since Scott’s day. The main purpose of a visit to the house is to worship the genius of storytelling that was Sir Walter Scott.
He also landscaped the grounds and walled garden. On the day I visited there was a group of artists (including one in full artist regalia – beret and smock) painting in the garden. The grounds also host a number of adventure play areas for children and walks along the Tweed and through the woods Scott planted.
There is also a newish tea room (the food is good and reasonably priced)  above a small museum where items associated with Scott can be found, including his marriage lines to his wife. I will admit to never really having seen the proper document before. It is no wonder they went to simple licenses.  They also have a gift shop where  Scott’s books and inevitable Scottish shortbread is sold.
Apparently weddings are often held in the grounds and the former private area of the house has now become accommodation for guests. There is a
The house is quite close to Melrose Abbey where Robert the Bruce’s heart was buried. The name Abbotsford harkens back to the abbey. It is a forgotten corner of Scotland in many ways but well worth a trip.
In  Other News
My 27th historical romance  Sent as The Viking’s Bride has been accepted and will be published in January 2019. As it is set on the Scottish Islands of Jura and Colonsay, I feel grateful that Scott first popularized such things all those years ago.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance set in a wide range of time periods, most recently Viking. You can read more about Michelle's books on 

1 comment:

dstoutholcomb said...

enjoyed reading this