Sunday Evening Reflection: The Road to Abbotsford

Abbotsford is a historic country house in the Scottish Borders, near Galashiels, on the south bank of the River Tweed. It was once the home of Sir Walter Scott, poet, historian and biographer.

Abbotsford came under the care of The Abbotsford Trust in 2007 – a charitable trust created following the death of Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott, the last descendant of Scott to live at Abbotsford.

I sensed Sir Walter Scott’s presence in every room and every pathway. Millions from all over the world have visited Abbotsford over the years. The Trust’s care and attention to detail throughout the house is evident which added to the memorable experience.

A writer, storyteller and seminal figure in the establishment of the historical novel genre, Sir Walter Scott wrote 27 novels in about 15 years, writing 3 all in 1819 alone. He especially appreciated the oral traditions of the Scottish Borders, taking pains to collect all the stories he heard. And when he was not writing, he was busy serving as a Clerk of Session for the Scottish Court, and as a Sheriff.

Sir Walter Scott died on 21 September 1832 on a temporary bed that had been set up for him in the dining room at Abbotsford. It was ‘a glorious autumn day, with every window open, and the ripple of the Tweed over its pebbles distinctly audible in his room’. His children were with him when he passed away, and ‘his eldest son kissed and closed his eyes.

60 Thoughts

    1. I am delighted that you joined me at Abbotsford, Elisabeth. These photos were taken in 2015. We travelled from Edinburgh to Melrose by train – trains are always relaxing and enjoyable. It was a spring day with both clouds and sunshine. Don has read every one of Sir Walter Scott’s books so this was a very special time for him. Joan Dunnett, the author of “Tides of Change” read every one of Sir Walter Scott’s books as well, some of them twice. So you can imagine the great discussion they had when we created Joan’s podcast.

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    1. What I have learned in the past months of COVID-19 is that I have never been a tourist in Vancouver. I have lived here for many years and yet I have not taken time to visit some of our important sites. In the coming months, I’m going to focus on Vancouver as a tourist. Should be interesting!!! We were to have been on your side of the world in the last week of August and the first week in September, but life has twists and turns. Thank you for stopping by and for your comments – very much appreciated.

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    1. Thank you, Shehanne! I especially appreciated the introduction of the uilleann pipes in the music, which are considered the national bagpipe of Ireland, although the music is labeled as a Scottish adventure song. Did I mention that my son is a bagpiper, but of the Scottish variety? He was in several bands when he was younger, which required that he practice at home. We live in a condo so you can imagine how noisy a bagpipe can be! YIKES! We would close the windows and hope for the best. Thankfully, our neighbours were gracious and understanding. He has moved on to his university studies, but the bagpipes are still with us waiting for him to follow the call of the bagpipes once again.

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      1. Gosh!!!! That is wonderful. I had a pupil whose husband played and she said it fair cleared the spiders!!! I think the music you chose had that timeless Celtic quality and the Irish are who true Scots identify most closely with that way.

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    1. I agree, Mandy. Sir Walter Scott wrote about real people and their lives; he gave us hero’s and heroines, adventures, tragedies and redemption. Besides bringing us the historical novel, he was influential in so many other areas. I read that he persuaded the government not to drop Scotland’s own bank notes. In 1822, he organized the visit of George IV to Edinburgh, a memorable event considering this was the first British monarch to appear in Scotland since James I. Many believe that he launched the Highlands as a tourist destination. I didn’t include this quote in the video because of lack of time, but I really appreciate this one: “Will future ages believe that such stupid bigotry ever existed!” Sir Walter Scott

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  1. Rebecca, that was a wonderful wander down memory lane. Not only of Sir Walter Scott, but, of the era, the architecture, the romance. Your video brought the energy of a stability known to those of that social standing, financial status, and intellectual capacity. You certainly have a way of producing an effect to mimic the time.

    As for Sir Walter Scott. What a prolific writer he was. Not that I have read any of his writings. However, I have used many of his quotes without knowing I was, indeed, quoting the voice of a master of words.

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    1. You and me, both, Carolyn. I have used his words over and over without knowing exactly the context. My husband has read everyone of Sir Walter Scott’s books. This winter, I am meeting up with Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott. I read that “Although Rob Roy is an adventure, it also paints a portrait of the brutal reality of 18th century Scotland, and due to the polices problems of the time, Rob Roy was initially published anonymously.” Every age is mired in complexity and uncertainty. Perhaps that is why is it important to read Sir Walter Scott. Thank you so much for your comments and for your visit – very much appreciated.

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    1. I am amazed the way in which the archives are presented, Liz, which is a testament to the care and attention of the trustees. The spirit of Sir Walter Scott lives in Abbotsford. The storylines flows easily between rooms and into the garden. What I found interesting was the a hallway that held information on Robert the Bruce. All afternoon, I felt that wonderful feeling that comes when I enter a library or den filled with books. So many stories waiting. I am going to undertake Rob Roy this winter. (Deep breath)!!!

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  2. Fantastic “Sunday Evening Reflection,” Rebecca! As your post notes, Scott’s work has been criticized by some (including Mark Twain), but I’m a big fan. “The Heart of Midlothian,” “Old Mortality,” “Ivanhoe,” “Rob Roy,” “Quentin Durward,” etc. — all great, absorbing novels. I’d love to visit Abbotsford someday.

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    1. Thank you Dave! This is to add to our discussion about writers and politics. This year, I decided to read Rob Roy (yes another novel – you really started me on a novel tangent!!! ) In my pre-research, I came across this intriguing fact that: “The story of Rob Roy takes place during a turbulent time in Scotland’s history, just prior to the Jacobite rising of 1715. Although Rob Roy is an adventure, it also paints a portrait of the brutal reality of 18th century Scotland, and due to the political problems of the time, Rob Roy was initially published anonymously.” It seems writers must document their time. They are the ones who tell the story. My most favorite of all Sir Walter Scott’s quotes is from Ivanhoe; “For he that does good, having the unlimited power to do evil, deserves praise not only for the good which he performs, but for the evil which he forbears.”

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      1. Great comment , Rebecca — including your take on Walter Scott’s expertise as an historical novelist and that terrific quote from him (he of course had many)!

        “Rob Roy” is a fascinating book in a number of ways — its historical elements, its vivid characters, etc. And Rob Roy is in some ways not even the main character in the novel, though his name is the book’s title and the movie version with Liam Neeson made Rob Roy the undisputed star of the story.

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  3. Dear Rebecca,
    thank you so much to introduce Scott here. We are the proud owners of an edition of 43 beautiful volumes from 1847 gilt edged. We love this edition published 15 years after his death but we think Scott’s style didn’t age well. At least we find his works kitschy and mawkish. Goethe, Poe and Scott were contemporaries – but what a difference! Scott the conservative and Poe and Goethe much more modern.
    We wish our dear Canadian friends all the best, keep well, big hugs and lots of love and fairy dust
    The Fab Four of Cley
    P.S.
    The podcast about the colours has arrived. Thank you 🙏 🙏 🙏 I will listen to it this afternoon and I will give you a feedback. Oh dear, I am so excited!

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    1. What an extraordinary collection, Klausbernd – 1847 and gilt edged!!! Unbelievable. I am going to read Rob Roy this coming winter so have stocked up on tea because I want to read this slowly. So many amazing writers lived during this time of transition. (I have just started to read Faust) What I found interesting was that Sir Walter Scott, unlike many men of the time, liked and appreciated the works of Jane Austen. And then I found this great quote by Jane Austin that made me laugh out loud. “Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. — It is not fair. — He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. — I do not like him, and do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it — but fear I must.” Jane Austen, Jane Austen’s Letters. I also read that Sir Walter Scott gave up poetry after reading Lord Byron, because he thought that he could never reached Byron’s level of mastery. I find that the back stories and biographies of these writers add to the fun of reading their stories. I am thrilled that you joined me on TTT – we are on a grand adventure. Many many thanks. Lots of love and many hugs to my dear friends, the Fab Four of Cley. 🤗🤗🤗🤗

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      1. Dear Rebecca,
        we own another Scott-edition, the Border Edition from 1900. We cannot remember how we got these Scott editions. This edition has hand cut pages therefore we kept it. We only have one other edition with pages like this, a first edition by John Irving’s “Until I Find You”.
        Doing this podcast about colour with you and Don was so much fun and the result is great. Thanks again! 🙏 🙏 🙏 🙏
        We are sending lots of love to our dear friends in Vancouver
        The Fab Four of Cley
        🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

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      2. Thank you so much for sharing your insights on colour! Your words, “Every colour has its personality and a different impact on us. Colour sends out a vibration like every person does. This vibration interferes with that of its onlooker” opened my eyes to a fresh understanding of how colour influences our lives, decisions and preferences. Looking forward to many more conversations. Sending back lots of hugs and love to our dear friends The Fab Four of Cley!!!

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    1. I agree, Julie, the National Trust and other trusts like the Abbotsford Trust are dedicated to preserving the past and remembering the stories. I just read that work is currently ongoing to catalogue Abbotsford’s extensive archive of family letters, diaries, photographs etc. Right now, I’m going through my father’s photos and papers and have found that archiving and remembering is a complex task. Once digitized, how do we store the original. And is there an emerging technology that will require us to transition out of digital? Fast forward to the present, how many keep diaries? Write letters? I admire people who can keep a diary because you must live the day and then record the day. I agree the way Sir Walter Scott left the world was profoundly moving. I felt the tears come when I read this passage…

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    1. I loved that passage and envisioned the scene on a peaceful day of sunshine. “Is death the last sleep? No, it is the last and final awakening.” Sir Walter Scott. Hugs and more hugs coming your way!

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  4. What a lovely home for an author’s inspiration and what a peaceful place to pass into that great awakening. I’m ashamed to admit to never reading any of Scott’s works themselves. Any suggestions where to start? 🙂

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    1. I have not read any of Sir Walter Scott’s books either, so we are in excellent company. I read a 2010 Guardian article by someone who had never read any of his books either. So she went up to Edinburgh International Book Festival to find out where to begin The consensus was that Rob Roy is the place to start for “aspirant Scott readers.”https://www.theguardian.com/culture/charlottehigginsblog/2010/aug/17/classics-scotland. Winter and tea is awaiting our arrival!!

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  5. Rob Roy it is then! As the article suggests, I’m learning to appreciate a slowness in both novels and film. The unfolding of plot and character are well suited to winter, tea and cozy fireside. Hugs & more hugs!

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  6. Thank you for this outstanding essay, so much to learn from the things you have included. The photos are beautiful too, and the quotes you have chosen say so much about the man. I appreciate the dedication of his family though the years to care for his beautiful home and yard. The statue has preserved his likeness. Abbotsford, even the name, is well remembered and we have the name close by. At first glance, I thought you were writing about our place close by.

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    1. I am going to look into the origins of why the name Abbotsford was chosen for a city in British Columbia. I am certain that there is a connection to Scotland, just like there is to the name Simon Fraser University. And then we have the BC’s capital, Victoria, which has links to Queen Victoria. The memory of our day at Abbotsford remains ever refresh. It was early spring and the tulips were in bloom. Grateful to those who gave us the camera.

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      1. Yes, what would we do without our cameras. I remember my parents’ camera, the trips to the camera shop to buy film and to have them developed. Lots easier now, that is if we know how to take good subjects!

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  7. If and when I should return from the world of Sir Walter Scott, this world I’ve just now discovered thru you’re accessing this magnificent visit, I will once more be indebted to you, my dear Rebecca, and gladly so…!

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    1. Thank you, my dear friend, for your dedication to the creative spirit. We live in the midst of uncertainty (when has humanity ever encountered certainty?) More than ever we need art, poetry, stories, dance, nature to provide a sense of wellbeing. Your poem “Another Place – a state of mind” says it best:

      “In time I’ll reach
      Another place,
      But for the while
      I reason find
      A musing space,
      Where vibrant minds
      Thus so feeds mine,
      Proclivity holds
      Sufficiently to bind,
      Until we so attain
      A state of mind,
      To be sustained
      Held in other place!”

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      1. Rebecca… you are indeed a most special person, with a matching memory. I wrote this eight years ago, without ever changing a word a comma or a period. One the few I could not find to disturb. Who knows, maybe I’m already there, another place, though surely in another state of mind…
        Thank you dear friend for touching me with your acknowlegements, kindness and attention, all of without which a scribbler like me would malfunction…

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    1. Wasn’t that a great quote!!! I started a biography of Jane Austin, which I want to finish, one day! What I have read so far confirms that Jane Austin was not afraid of sharing her opinions, freely and openly! Reading about writers is a wonderful way in which to understand their writing. Thank you for stopping by and for your comments – always very much appreciated.

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    1. So glad you joined Sir Walter Scott and me at Abbotsford. I agree – I think he must have been a lovely person. I especially like his thought on poetry: “Teach your children poetry; it opens the mind, lends grace to wisdom and makes the heroic virtues hereditary.” I am looking forward to meeting up with your heroes!!!

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    1. The buckets are one of my favourite photos. There is a sense of risk and safety embedded in each of the three buckets. Why three, I have often wondered as I have seen the three fire buckets before in other galleries. It will remain a mystery….

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  8. How very interesting, and a lovely story. You’re right – he has long disappeared from popular culture, though his writing was part of my high school years. I hope he was a lovely man – you kinda want to!

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    1. Don, my husband read Sir Walter Scott, but alas, I have not read one. I have seen the movies but they are not the books. So this winter, I am looking forward to meeting up with Sir Walter Scott!! Thank you for connecting and sharing a comment – very much appreciated!

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