Who could ever doubt the inspirational qualities of the Scottish Borders.
It was beguiling border landscapes and legends that fired the imagination of the young Walter Scott, providing a formative starting point for the remarkable journey that was to follow.
And it is impossible to overstate the importance of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832).
The son of an Edinburgh solicitor, he was sent to his grandparent’s farm in the Borders to recuperate after suffering from polio. At Sandyknowe, in the shadow of Smailholm Tower. he was taught to read and listed to local legends and folk tales. Later he studied at Kelso Grammar School – a building still standing next to the town’s ruined abbey.
Smailham Tower (left) celebrating Scott’s 250th anniversary and (above) testament to his passion for collecting.
It was to be the start of a love affair with the region that lasted all, his life. He settled in the Borders where he was appointed Sheriff Depute of Selkirkshire and his courtroom is preserved as a museum on the town of Selkirk.
Soon after his appointment, in 1811, he started work on building Abbotsford on the site of a run down farm.
To understand more about the man, all roads lean to Abbotsford, his dramatic “conundrum castle” home, tucked away amidst 10 picturesque acres overlooking the River Tweed between Melrose and Selkirk.
Here he assembled a treasure trove that reflects the enlightened times in which he lived; a massive collection of books, weapons, artefacts, porcelain and paintings that confirm am insatiable curiosity in the world at large and Scotland in particular.
His contributions to the world of literature are only matched by the legacy he left for his beloved Borders.
Scott was the first English-language author to have a truly international career in his lifetime. The Waverley Novels, as Scott’s 26 novels came to be called, were the world’s first bestsellers. Waverley earned Scott ten times as much in its first year as Jane Austen earned for Pride and Prejudice in her entire lifetime.
Scott’s novels paved the way for the great popular novels of the Victorian age, influenced Pushkin and Tolstoy as well as George Eliot and Dickens, and earned him the money to buy land, plant trees and to build Abbotsford.
His works were translated into over 30 languages and avidly read from Scandinavia, Italy and Moscow to the American frontier and his literary reputation introduced him to the great men of his time. He developed friendships with Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron, Washington Irving and Wellington.
The Prince Regent conferred a baronetcy on him in 1818 and, when he became George IV, encouraged Scott to orchestrate the first royal visit to Scotland for over 150 years. This was a visit that saw Scott reinvent tartan and the gathering of the Highland Clans.
Scott’s influence on Scotland’s literary and cultural heritage is immense. From his image on many Scottish banknotes to the names of his novels and literary characters taking pride of place on the country’s streets and buildings such as Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, not forgetting the impressive Scott’s Monument which sits on the capital’s Princes Street.