Abbotsford House: Residence of the famous Scottish novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott

Ever since Sir Walter Scott was young, he loved the serene rural landscape of the Scottish borders. He spent his childhood at his grandparent’s home, the Sandyknowe Farm, where he grew up fascinated by his grandmother’s folktales and stories about the history of the beautiful countryside. After Sir Walter finished his studies at the University of Edinburgh, he knew the city was not a place he wanted to spend the rest of his life.

He wanted to return to the Scottish borders, and in 1811, Sir Walter bought a farmhouse where he intended to live with his family, situated on the banks of the River Tweed. However, the modest house turned out to be too small for the family and Scott extended the house and named it Abbotsford after the nearby picturesque ruins of Melrose Abbey.

Sir Walter wrote many of his poems and novels in the house, including the popular Waverley Novels. The following period was very successful for his literary career and finances, so he decided to demolish the existing house and to build the grand mansion that still stands today. Abbotsford House is a particularly interesting historical house because unlike the homes of most of the other great authors, Sir Walter himself was involved in the property’s design and construction, and therefore it reflects the mind and soul of the famous novelist.

Abbotsford House. Author: ingawh. CC BY-SA 3.0

To build his dream home, Sir Walter collaborated with the famous English architect William Atkinson. The construction of the castle-like building would initiate the development of a new architectural style that would later be known as Scottish Baronial. Scott gathered wooden paneling and carved stones from abandoned castles and abbeys and incorporated them into the iconic building.

Abbotsford House, the residence of historical novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott. Author: Ad Meskens. CC BY-SA 4.0

Today, Abbotsford House is open to visitors that want to see the former home of the author of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy. The museum was closed during a recent major restoration and reopened by Queen Elizabeth II herself. The rooms in the house look exactly as Sir Walter left them.

Sir Walter Scott’s Library at Abbotsford House. Author: Ad Meskens. CC BY-SA 3.0

The library is the most impressive room in the house. On the shelves, around 9,000 books narrate historical events, myths, and legends written in seventeen different languages, collected by Sir Walter himself. The richly decorated ceiling in the library is an imitation of the one in the Rosslyn Chapel.

Ceiling decoration in Abbotsford House. Author: Ad Meskens. CC BY-SA 4.0

Sir Walter’s study is where the great author wrote his literary classics. His reading glasses are still on his writing desk. Sir Walter didn’t collect only books but also historic artifacts, such as a crucifix of Mary Queen of Scots, armor, and weapons. Among his enormous arms and armor collection are also Claverhouse’s pistol, Bonnie Dundee’s pistol, the sword of the Marquis of Montrose, Rob Roy’s broadsword, dirk, and gun, and two cannonballs used in the siege of Roxburgh Castle in 1460.

Armor in Abbotsford House. Author: Niels Elgaard Larsen. CC BY-SA 3.0

The captivating entrance hall is decorated with statues of St. Andrew, St. Peter, and St. Paul, as well as suits of armor from the battle of Waterloo and historical relics. The hall is richly ornamented with oak paneling from Dunfermline Abbey, while the table in the dining room is made from oak trees from Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire. The walls in the dining room are decorated with various portraits including those of Sir Walter’s great-grandfather, also named Walter Scott, his grandmother, Barbara Haliburton, his wife Charlotte Charpentier, and his daughter Anne. In this room, Sir Walter Scott passed away on 21 September 1832.

The entrance hall of Abbotsford House. Author: Ad Meskens. CC BY-SA 4.0

Abbotsford House is surrounded by lovely flower gardens, topiary, and a tranquil woodland. One garden is named the Morris garden, in honor of the character from Sir Walter’s historical novel Rob Roy. From Edinburgh, the stone basin was brought to the colorful gardens of Abbotsford. It is the same basin that in 1660 was filled with wine for the celebration of the Restoration of Charles II to the throne.

Topiary in the garden at Abbotsford House, in the Scottish Borders. Author: GavinJA. CC BY-SA 3.0

Sir Walter called his home ‘the Delilah of his imagination’, his ‘Conundrum Castle’ and his ‘flibbertigibbet of a house’ that would ‘suit none but an antiquary’. The historic house is one of the most famous houses in the world and remains one of Scotland’s most visited tourist attractions.

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