Friday, April 19, 2013

Sir Walter Scott and Abbotsford

Sir Walter Scott
Image source: Getty
I am not one to read books on the best seller lists or ones that are shortlisted for literary awards. But, I came across the short list for this year's Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and in an effort to expand my horizons I decided to read one of the finalists. 

My library had the ebook of Toby's Room by Pat Barker and within seconds I downloaded it onto my Kindle Fire. The historical period is World War I.  Let's see. The main character is Elinor, an art student, who in a burst of rebellion wears a low-cut red dress to a family dinner. Her mother is hyper-critical of Elinor but in a burst of maternal sharing tells Elinor that Elinor's older brother Toby was a twin. His twin sister died in the womb months before his birth. Then, in a burst of incest, we have Elinor and Toby having a night of sex. All within the first 30 or so pages.


So much for expanding my horizons. I returned the book.

Moving on. The reason the Walter Scott Prize list caught my eye was because on my first trip to England and Scotland I visited Abbotsford House, the home Sir Walter Scott designed and built in Melrose, Scotland on the banks of the River Tweed.

As was my way, when the tour bus unloaded its passengers, I turned and headed the opposite direction. It is difficult to have your own experience with a place while attached at the hip with fellow travelers. While they all followed the tour guide like little lambs, I found myself wandering alone in the paneled halls and rooms of the house. Of course, Scott's study furnished with his writing desk and chair along with many, many books was of special interest to me.

Sir Walter Scott's Study, Abbotsford House

Eventually, I strolled into the dining room and was met by the cutest white Skye Terrier. As I was making its acquaintance a woman carrying a large vase of flowers entered the room. We got to talking and it turns out she was Patricia Maxwell Scott, a descendant of Sir Walter's who had inherited Abbotsford in 1954. She was decorating the table with the flowers as there was to be a reception held there that evening.

I was so in awe of actually meeting a relative of Scott's that I have no memory of the particulars of our conversation. Just that we had one. I hope I didn't gush too much.

According to Abbotsford House website, Sir Walter had his bed moved to the dining room shortly before his death so he could look out over the River Tweed and that is where he died.

I see that Abbotsford House is now in the hands of The Abbotsford Trust and has been undergoing a very costly renovation. It is scheduled to reopen in July 2013.

I must admit I have not read a single Scott novel but I feel as if any one of them would be more entertaining than the one I abandoned that was shortlisted for his prize.


  1. I tend to enjoy myself a bit more when I wander about on my own as well, Belle. I can ask my own questions and seek my own counsel, I guess. I would love to see Abbotsford House and will check out the link to the website when I have a bit more time. Lovely post.

    1. Penny, I do so enjoy wandering about on my own. I never would have met the Ms. Scott if I had been tethered to the others in the group. A fortuitous event and a happy memory to have. Glad I could share it.