Abbotsford House, the manor where Walter Scott lived

“Sir Walter Scott’s Enchanted Castle.

Abbotsford House is the estate of the famous writer Walter Scott, built to his own design. It is located in the south of Scotland, in the Melrose area. He transformed an abandoned farm into a monumental castle with a lush garden and shady groves Walter Scott is one of those rare writers, whose form of historical novel is not restricted by the artistry of the image. A deep connoisseur of “medieval antiquities” and a great artist, he was able like no one else to bring events covered with the dust of time. His passion for the Middle Ages made Walter Scott so invested in the image that he was able to turn the site, very eloquently called “Dirty Lair” (Cartleyhole) – a small farm, barn, vegetable garden, meadow on the banks of the river Tweed, duck pond – in 12 years, starting in 1811, into a luxury estate, a Gothic Abbotsford Castle, decorated in the medieval manner.

The architects had to make changes to the original design from time to time in accordance with the ever-changing creative plans of the restless Sir Walter. For example, whereas by 1816 only four rooms had to be added to the house, by 1818 it was clear that this was not enough – the estate was growing “by leaps and bounds”.

New buildings appeared on the new lands. The hospitable owner settled his friends in them, providing them with comfort and a comfortable life, and always a pleasant company.

Already living on the estate, Walter Scott was constantly inventing more and more details of both the castle itself and the surrounding grounds. Each detail was either an original or a unique copy of famous palaces from different historical eras.

Thus, a large number of turrets and balconies were made, carved oak elements as in the Hallirud Palace, a painted ceiling similar to the ceiling of Rosslyn Chapel.

Alabaster replicas of the Melrose Abbey gargoyles

The builder John Smith was responsible for doing most of the work. He was captivated by the abbot’s workplace at Merlows Abbey, and copied it in many ways. The mantelpiece in the Voltaire house belonged to the abbot, the niches with two sets of armor and the images of Saints Andrew, Peter and Paul were copied from the ruins of the same abbey. Individual carved panels are from the ancient abbey at Dunfermlin.

Much of the glass at Abbotsford was painted by Elizabeth Terry, wife of Daniel Terry and daughter of the great Scottish landscape painter Alexander Nasmith. Abbotsford’s chief architect designed the buffet and ice bucket. Many of the easel works illustrate the stories Scott told his guests. For example, The Outlaw Wedding tells the story of Walter Scott’s handsome ancestor Willie Scott of Harden, caught in the lands of Murray of Elibanks. He was given the choice of being hanged or marrying Murray’s ugly daughter, who was nicknamed “the beak-headed Meg.” As Voltaire wrote, “He did not lose hope until the rope was tightened around his neck and the other end was tied on a stout oak bough. And then he chose an ugly wife over a real noose. They are said to have lived a very happy life.

The great master of the novel was also a famous antiquarian and collector.

Among the curiosities hanging on the walls is a prison door and part of a wall built into the wall of the house, the keys of the old Edinburgh city jail, mentioned in the first chapters of the novel Edinburgh Dungeon (1818).

Sir Walter Scott was famous as a collector of things with history, most of the furnishings in the house have it great. For example, a mantel clock from Marie Antoinette, a silver urn from John Byron, an antique carved door, a gift from the Edinburgh burghers, a medallion with a portrait of Goethe, a crucifix once owned by Mary Stuart, furniture donated by George IV, a strand of Good Prince Charlie hair, the sword of the Duke of Montrose.

Villa Foscari in Venice, photo and description

Because of his fame, Scott received many gifts from friends and admirers. Among the artists’ works are images not only of Walter Scott’s son, father, and relatives, but also of his many servants.

The inscription on the brass plate fixed to the chair reads: “This chair, made from the only piece of wood surviving from Robroyston House, in which the incomparable Sir William Wallace was put to death by a criminal hand for defending his father’s land faithfully, is respectfully donated to Sir Walter Scott in gratitude from his humble servant Joseph Traine.”

The walls of the mansion are decorated with knight’s armor and antique weapons. Between the living room and dining room is a small armory, which in Scott’s time was used as a smoking room. It now houses a rich collection of pistols and sabers, among them the sword of the Scottish Highlanders. Some of the exhibits are associated with the name of Rob Roy, the legendary Scottish hero and protagonist of one of Scott’s novels.

Almost every detail was thought out, even how the chair should stand, and what kind of view it all should have from the window.

Each item, including furniture, was either an original or a unique copy of the furniture of famous palaces from different historical periods.

The library contains seven thousand of the nine thousand books collected by Sir Walter Scott (ex-libris and many of the spines are written in Latin: Uualter Scotus). The rest of the books are in his study, and all of them together represent a wide range of Scott’s interests. Remarkably, each book has its own place, and exactly the one Walter Scott assigned to it, so that the library looks exactly as it did when the books were used by their owner. The shelves are made of Jamaican cedar, the same wood that mimics the ceiling. Scott planned to fill the space with additional shelves, but abandoned the idea: “The lives of decent people like me are often cut short by falling down the steps of their own libraries. The decorative elements echo the ornamentation of the Rosslyn Chapel, which is located in Midlothian Abbey.

Scott kept his dictionaries and most necessary practical aids near the door that led to the checkroom. This enabled him to leave the study unnoticed by visitors.

The fireplace is made of Italian marble. In the library hung scarlet curtains woven from the wool of sheep owned by Scott (not preserved). And a surviving Turkish rug with a geometric pattern is not on display. The huge Gothic library table is entirely made in the same place on which it now stands. An original collection of personal belongings of famous historical figures is on display. Walter Scott was very proud of his son, also Walter, who served in the Royal Hussar Regiment, and bequeathed Abbotsford to him upon his marriage in 1821. Walter Scott’s last novels were written in the study, along with the monumental nine-volume Life of Napoleon Bonaparte (1827) and Grandfather’s Tales (1828 – 1831), a childhood history of Scotland created for grandson Johnny Lockhart.

The Dining Room

The style of life in the castle was also close to medieval, and Walter Scott not unreasonably called Abbotsford “a dwelling like a dream.” “The enchanted castle” was what his master also called it. During Walter Scott’s lifetime, the dining room was the scene of cheerful family gatherings and dinner parties. Hospitable by nature and world-famous writer rarely sought company. Many of those who visited him stayed here for days at a time, attending every family meal. Invariably friendly, warm and welcoming, Walter Scott nevertheless sighed in private conversations that “his time was taken apart with teaspoons. It was in this room that Sir Walter Scott passed away on September 21, 1832, surrounded by his family. In 1831 the writer’s health deteriorated sharply, and doctors persuaded him to go for treatment in warm countries, where he went with his daughter Anna. Scott returned to Abbotsford after a year’s journey to Malta, Naples and Rome, and was very weak from illness. He was given a bed by the window, which overlooked Tweed. A few days before his death, he suddenly went on the mend, and asked: “Give me a quill and leave me alone for a while.”

Villa Lante in Italy, photo and description

“He tried to squeeze the quill with his fingers, but those refused to obey,” wrote his biographer John Gibson Lockhart. – The quill fell to the paper. He leaned back on the cushions. Tears rolled down his cheeks.”

“My oaks will outlive my laurels.”

Walter Scott loved working in the woodlands around the house: “I could work there, planting and pruning trees, from morning till night.” Having purchased the swampy heathland, Walter began to improve it. He cleared paths with his own hands, planted trees and was personally involved in the design of the “novel house”. In 1816 the estate was already almost 1,000 acres. Almost half of the estate was planted with oaks, poplars, hazel, wych elms, Scots elms, chestnuts, birches, rose hips, and holly. Sir Walter himself wrote that he tended almost every tree himself and confidently declared that his oaks would outlive his laurels… The homestead garden has an incredible selection of plants, both cultivated and field plants. The design is complemented by juicy colors of blooms, spicy aromas and tasty beds of raspberries, strawberries and vegetable crops:

A highlight of the estate is a meadow on the banks of the Tweed River:

In 1820 Scott was granted the right to be called “Sir Walter Scott of Abbotsford, baronet,” which he considered the greatest reward. But Walter Scott’s dream of founding the Scott family of Abbotsford did not come true. His sons died childless. His great-granddaughter Mary, daughter of Charlotte Logcart, married James Gopp, who took their name after the last Scotts died. The castle was under the patronage of the Scott family until 2004. In 2007, the Abbotsford Trus Charitable Trust began restoring it and equipping it for tourists. Near the castle are hotels, built in the same style as it, shopping centers, playground, cafes. All so that tourists can explore the castle leisurely, stroll through the garden and enjoy the magnificent scenery without rushing.

Not just “Ivanhoe” and “Puritans”

The Walter Scott Memorial in Edinburgh is 61 meters high, made of sandstone, in the Gothic style. Erected in 1840. It is decorated with sculptures of heroes of the famous writer.

During more than thirty years of literary activity the writer created twenty-eight novels, nine poems, numerous novels, literary and critical articles, and historical works. The summer of 1814 saw the first novel by Walter Scott (1771-1832), “Waverly, or Sixty Years Ago. The author’s name was not on it, as on all subsequent ones up to the Collected Works of 1829. This was due to the author’s reluctance to risk the literary reputation acquired as a poet. Then the author enjoyed playing with the public, fascinated by the mystery that Scott loved not only in literature but also in life. Only the narrowest circle of friends knew for sure what the whole of Europe was arguing and guessing about: who was the true author of novels, which were a huge success and were published anonymously or under the pseudonym of “Author Waverly”? Almost every year was marked by the appearance of a masterpiece, or even two: Guy Mannering (1815), The Antiquarian (1816), The Puritans (1816), Rob Roy (1818). England’s historical past came alive in such novels as Ivanhoe (1820), The Cloister (1820), The Abbot (1820), Kenilworth (1821), and Woodstock (1826). Quentin Dorward (1823) describes events taking place in France during the reign of Louis XI.

Villa Adriana in Tivoli, architecture and description

Sir Walter Scott is considered the founder of the historical novel genre. The success of his works is due to the unique language, vivid, lively descriptions and lightness of style. The literary genius of the writer with the greatest completeness manifested in the novels. Scott’s works had a huge influence on European and American literature.


The estates, houses, apartments of great artists talk about their famous owners no less, and sometimes even more than their works of art: in these houses the creative personality is realized as much as possible, creating for himself the environment that is most organic to it.

Such a “mirror of the soul” is Walter Scott’s Abbotsford estate, situated on the south bank of the small Scottish River Tweed near Melrose, 46 km south-east of Scott’s hometown Edinburgh. The estate is in the heart of the Scottish Borders, the historic region of Scotland (the Celtic name of the area is Crìochan na h-Alba) bordering the English counties of Northumberland and Cumbria to the south.

Scottish Borders and Melrose

Map of the Scottish Borders.

The “core” of the estate was a small farm of 100 acres (0.4 square kilometers, or, in common parlance, 40 acres), purchased by the writer in 1811 at the end of the lease of the neighboring house in which he had previously resided.

Incidentally, in 1811, to the residents of Melrose Township, the new owner of the farm, 40-year-old Walter Scott, was a famous lawyer and poet. Yes, yes, not a famous writer, but a famous poet: his prose did not begin with the novel Waverly until 1814. And in 1811 Sir Walter Scott was widely known as the founder of the historical poem genre, including as the author of the world’s first novel in verse, Marmion (1808).

The acquired farm had the rather unpleasant name of Cartleyhole, which literally means “dirty hole.” At first, Scott built a small villa on the site of the farmhouse and coined the name “Abbotsford” for it, derived from the words “Abbey” and “ford”.

The thing is that nearby the farm Scott bought was Melrose Abbey, founded in 1136 with the blessing of King of Scotland Dawil I (in the Middle Ages the Celts used to call their King by that name: Dabíd mac Maíl Choluim). The monastery participated in many wars in Scotland and England, was destroyed and rebuilt several times. In 1590, the last monk of Melrose Abbey died, and the abbey itself was abolished in 1610. Part of the abbey’s Gothic cathedral was used as a parish church for another two centuries – until 1810.

Walter Scott’s choice of a place of residence near the old abbey was not at all accidental, and was determined not only by the romantic view of the ancient Gothic ruins. In the Abbey was buried the heart of Robert I Bruce, one of the greatest Scottish kings (1306-1329), organizer of the defense of his country at the beginning of the war of independence against England, founder of the royal dynasty of Bruce. After the death of Robert I his body was buried in Dunfermlin Abbey and his heart – in accordance with the king’s will – was given to his friend and associate Sir James Douglas. In early 1330, Sir Douglas took the heart of the deceased king to the Holy Land with a small band of Scotsmen, where he planned to complete the burial of Robert the Bruce’s heart. The Scottish detachment, having crossed the English Channel, crossed all of France and Spain and reached Andalusia, where they joined the crusading detachment of Alfonso XI of Castile. The Scots joined the Crusaders in battles with the Moors who dominated Andalusia at the time. In one of the battles with the army of Mohammed IV, Sultan of Granada, which took place at the town of Teba, Sir Douglas was killed.

Villa Medici Poggio-a-Caiano, Italy

Alfonso_XI_of_Castile1330 15th century

Battle of Teba on August 25, 1330 by the troops of Alfonso XI of Castile. Fifteenth century manuscript.

According to a legend that emerged as early as the 15th century, confronting an army of infidels, Sir James Douglas took a silver medallion containing his king’s heart from around his neck and threw it into the thick of his enemies with the words “Go on, brave heart, as you have always wanted! Douglas will follow you or die!” and in the same instant was struck down by the enemy. Douglas’s detachment repulsed the king’s heart by breaking through the enemy’s lines. James’ death prevented the Scots from continuing the campaign.


Commemorative sign at the place of death of Sir James Douglas. Spain, Andalusia, Teba.

The remains of James Douglas and the heart of Robert I were transported to Scotland. The heart of Robert I Bruce was buried under the altar at Melrose Abbey.

Exactly 500 years after the battle of Thee, Walter Scott, in his Grandfather’s Tales. A History of Scotland,” he recreated the image of Douglas throwing Bruce’s heart with his deathly wave of his hand.

By 1811, when Walter Scott came to Melrose, the ruins of the Abbey looked like this:


The ruins of the cathedral at Melrose Abbey. Watercolor by William Turner 1775-1851

As for the second part of the estate’s name, “ford,” there was indeed once a ford in the area of the farm Scott bought, used by the Melrose monks to cross the Tweed River.

The River Tweed Tweed (or Uisge Thuaidh in Scottish), which forms in its lower reaches the border between England and Scotland, is certainly not the same for Scots as the Volga for Russians and the Dnepr for Ukrainians, but together with other rivers of southern Scotland Clyde and Annan Tweed, originating in the Tweedmuir Hills, is important for historical memory. It is not without reason that the Scottish proverb “Annan, Tweed and Clyde rise oot the ae hillside” still exists today.


In the Middle Ages, and even in the 19th century, the Tweed was much more full-flowing than it is today. This is what the riverbed looks like today near Walter Scott’s estate:


And this is what the river at the same location looked like in the 19th century:

Abbotsford_Morris_edited 1881

Abbotsford in an 1881 watercolor.

This is how Cartliol Farm became Abbotsford Manor.

After a while Walter Scott began to rebuild the farmhouse he bought, gradually turning the unsightly house first into a small villa and then into a small castle in the old-Scottish baronial style. And the design of the building was carefully thought out by Scott himself. As the construction was very long and the project was constantly changing, the result was a rather strange architecturally “castle”.


Abbotsford Manor plan.

The construction stretched for many 13 years! It was not until 1824 that the “castle” was completed, and in 1826 Scott settled in it.

1822 Portrait of Walter Scott (1771 - 1832)

Portrait of Walter Scott, 1822.

It was during this time that Scott’s neighbors learned that the owner of the “castle” was not only a poet, but also a famous novelist. Incredibly, from the publication of his first novel, Waverly, in 1814 until 1827, all of the writer’s novels were published without the author’s name, and the incognito was only revealed in 1827-just five years before his death.

Вилла Альдобрандини в пригороде Рима


In life Scott was an exemplary family man, a good, sensitive, tactful, appreciative man; very fond of trees, pets, and good feasting in a family circle. He was very fond of his Abbotsford estate, putting literally his whole soul into its improvement – not only the house – “the castle”, but also the acquired surrounding lands.



View of Abbotsford from the Tweed

Abbotsford manor house was turned into a kind of museum of Scotland’s medieval past. Within the walls of Abbotsford you can find quite a few stones from Scotland’s ruined castles and monasteries, of which sculpture was also brought into the manor. Stained glass windows depicting the kings of Scotland were copied from the ceiling of Stirling Castle, a fountain modelled on the Edinburgh Cross opposite St. Egidius Cathedral in Edinburgh was built, and alabaster copies of the gargoyles of Melrose Abbey were created.

View of Abbotsford from the garden

Walter Scott’s extensive library and astonishing collections of antiquities, furniture, weapons and armor were brought to the estate and added to throughout his life.


Walter Scott’s study

Walter Scott, in frail health, had a phenomenal capacity for work: as a rule, he published at least two novels a year. During more than thirty years of literary activity the writer produced twenty-eight novels, nine poems, numerous novels, literary and critical articles, and historical works.

Scott gained much of his extensive knowledge not at school or university, but through self-education. Everything that interested him was permanently imprinted in his phenomenal memory. He did not need to study special literature before composing a novel or a poem. A colossal amount of knowledge allowed him to write on any chosen topic.

Of course, it cannot be said that the Abbotsford library was Scott’s favorite place of Abbotsford: he treated everything on his estate with a reverent sensibility. But it was undoubtedly in the library and in his study that the great writer traveled through time, and it was there that heroes of medieval Scotland visited him.

Walter Scott Library

The Library at Abbotsford

Sadly, Walter Scott lived only six years in his beloved Abbotsford Library as the writer died on 21 September 1832.


Sir Walter Scott. Portrait by John Graham Gilbert.

But to this day the flag of Scotland still flies over Abbotsford Tower: a white oblique cross on a blue background.

Abbotsford Aug2009

So it turns out that there is no way to avoid politics even in a note about Scott’s estate. It is known that before 1707 Scotland existed as an independent kingdom, then England and Scotland united into one kingdom. In 1990 it reestablished its own parliament.

At the end of 2011 Scottish Prime Minister Alex Salmond promised to hold a referendum on secession of his region and “win the fight for independence. According to British Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell, the threat of dividing the kingdom is very real – Britain risks ceasing to be a single state within a few years.

The Scottish government intends to put the issue of the country’s independence to a referendum in autumn 2014. The corresponding bill, which will regulate the forthcoming events, is planned to be submitted this year. On October 15, 2012 the British Prime Minister David Cameron and the first minister of the Scottish regional government Alex Salmond signed an agreement defining the order of the referendum on Scottish independence in autumn 2014.

So Walter Scott’s dream of an independent Scotland appears to be coming true 182 years after his death.

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