Literary Tweed – Sir Walter Scott

Looking ahead to festive celebrations and of course Burns Night in January got us thinking about the literary figures connected with our home patch here in the Scottish Borders – for there are few places anywhere in the UK with more literature written about it, or more writers associated with it.

From early Border ballads and the prophecies of Thomas the Rhymer to the best-selling novels of Sir Walter Scott, the influential writing of James Hogg and John Buchan, and work of modern-day writers, this is an area rich in literary history.

And to help visitors explore this wonderful heritage, we’d like to share some brief history on the lives of several of the region’s literary greats, starting with the most famous of them all: Sir Walter Scott.

Although born in Edinburgh in 1771, Sir Walter Scott is forever associated with the Borders. Today, it can seem like that there are few places he is not connected with either directly, or through the locations of his novels, or specific characters (whether fictional or real).

Scott’s love affair with the Borders began when he contracted polio as a young boy and was sent to his grandfather’s farm near Smailholm Tower to recuperate. It was there that he first became rapt in the tales and folklore of his ancestors. Whenever possible in his early adult life, he would return to the Borders to spend time ‘exploring every rivulet to its source’ as he sought out ancient ballads and stories.

Having rented properties locally during his time serving as Sheriff of Selkirk, in 1811 Scott bought land at Clartiehole and renamed it Abbotsford. There he built the house of his dreams – a grand place where he could receive his many eminent visitors on their trips to Scotland.

Although Scott first made his literary reputation as a poet, it was as a novelist, and the Waverley series in particular, that he found even more fame. He wrote fast – Guy Mannering for instance was written in just six weeks – although he did so for one simple reason: he needed the money.

During better times, Scott had added to Abbotsford House and the wider estate, but when a publishing firm that he was involved in went bankrupt, Scott was left owing a significant amount of money. When he died in 1832, he had mostly cleared the debt. A must-visit, Abbotsford is now almost exactly as he left it – a fascinating insight into the life of one of Scotland’s literary giants.

Further info

Other places to visit associated with Sir Walter Scott: Traquair House, St Ronan’s Wells, Scott’s View.

Look out for our next post on James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd …