Abbotsford was the home of Sir Walter Scott, the famous early 19th-century author. He’s never been one of my favorite writers, but I gained a new appreciation for him as a person once I visited his house.
The house is less than 200 years old, but Scott had it built to look deliberately medieval and the place has something of fairy-tale air about it as you approach through the walled garden. This is entirely his own creation; there was nothing but a farm house on the site when he bought the land. The great views of the house from the garden as well as from the lawn below along the River Tweed are planned to be impressive.
Sir Walter’s taste for the medieval and gothic are also on display inside Abbotsford. He was a collector of antiquary pieces–statuary, bits of ancient architecture–and if he couldn’t buy the originals for his home, he had a replicas made.
Roman plaques are set in the garden walls. At least one hallway features vaulted arches, and there is a good collection of armor suits and weaponry in the front hall. Not to mention the walrus skull hung upside down so the tusks stick straight up like antlers; I don’t know if that was done on purpose or out of ignorance about the type of animal the skull belonged to.
Our tour was allowed to take photos inside the house, but without using the flash, so most of my indoor shots came out pretty dim.
Aside from all the real and replica antiques, the high point of our visit to Abbotford was inside Scott’s study. The room has been carefully preserved, first by Scott’s family, then by The Abbotsford Trust, which keeps the house in its care today.
The walls of the study are lined with books on two levels, around the main room and along an open gallery above. At the center sits Scott’s enormous desk. His checkbook is still in the slight-opened top drawer.
In one corner of the room is a door leading to a tiny closet–“closet” in the medieval sense of the word, as a small, enclosed room, not a place where you keep your clothes. It was meant to be used for private conversations that couldn’t be overheard. Whether or not that was something Scott actually needed or he just liked the idea of having a hidey-hole, I couldn’t say.
Like many Scottish people over the past few centuries, Scott had a thing about Mary Queen of Scots. Not only did he write about her in one of his early novels, he collected items connected to her. Where I think he crossed a line into the deeply morbid, however, is in the painting of Mary’s head in a basket just after her execution that hangs in one of the hallways just as you leave the building.
In spite of this final, too grisly little note, my general impression of the house was that it was fascinating and fun and I might want to do the same kind of thing if I had the money.
The morning had been misty, though not as bad as the day before. When we left the house, some of our party went down the steep hillside beneath the house to cross the lawn to the river. The grass was very wet.
Before we went on to our final stop of the tour, we were served lunch at the cafeteria upstairs from the Visitor Center and gift shop. Just soup and sandwiches, but the room had glass doors and a balcony on one side, so we could continue to look at the beautiful view of the house while we ate.
There was then just enough time for a quick walk through the Visitor Center, which documents a lot of the work behind the construction of the house and how Scott enjoyed living in his fantasy house. The guestbook at the entrance to the exhibit is left open to the page signed by Charles Dickens and his wife (underlined so you can find them among the other signatures).
In the gift shop, I bought a book about some of Scotland’s most famous murders, starting with the brutal stabbing of David Rizzio in Mary Queen of Scots’ apartments at Holyrood. I think he would’ve approved–Scott, I mean, not poor David Rizzio.