If you are a fan of historical and romantic novels, you may be familiar with the works of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), one of Scotland’s most famous and prolific authors. His classics, Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Waverley, and many others, brought him a good deal of fame and fortune, and with his riches he bought a large piece of land on the banks of the River Tweed, near Melrose in the Scottish Borders, where he gradually built a large, romantic house in place of the farmhouse that initially stood there. He also designed a set of beautiful gardens, and that of course was what brought me to Abbotsford on a brilliantly blue, sunny day in October.
The gardens consist of three garden ‘rooms’: the South Court beside the house, the sunken Morris Garden to the east, and the Walled Garden beyond that, reached through a stone archway. The South Court and Morris Gardens, while prettily laid out with topiary and lawns edged with roses, verbena and alchemilla, play only a supporting role to the Walled Garden, which is where the most impressive planting is in place. This is where food would once have been grown to feed the family and many visitors to the house, and today there are still many fruit trees and vegetables grown among the flowers.
The garden is laid out on a grid, with a wide, central path leading to the glass house, built to resemble a jousting pavilion.
Among the flowers growing in the Walled Garden, happy marriages are made between ammi and crocosmia, nerines and hostas, asters and astrantias, roses and clematis, and the persicaria glowing brightly before a white-lichened stone wall.
The gardens appeared neat and well looked-after, yet not too neat (like the best gardens) and overflowing with life and vigour; the plants and bountiful wildlife were repaying in full the care and attention of the gardeners.
I could have spent a lot longer wandering the straight paths, admiring the fruit trees, clouds of ammi, and glimpses of the castle over the walls.
The River Tweed runs at the bottom of the estate, and looking back up to the house you could see what a grand scale it was built on, and evidence of the whimsical and haphazard building plan that Scott pursued over the decades, gradually replacing the old farmhouse with sections of the new house, a few rooms at a time.
Scott went on a year-long tour of Europe just before he died. Throughout his trip he was dogged by ill-health, and he longed to come home to Abbotsford and gaze upon the River Tweed once more. His wish was granted, and shortly after his return home, he died in one of the rooms that looked out across the valley to the river running steadily below.
Scott’s life was one of the most extraordinary achievement, resulting from decades of industrious work and dogged ambition. He gained immense importance and popularity, and his novels have captured the hearts and imaginations of generations of readers. Part of his legacy remains in Abbotsford House and its wonderful gardens, and a better afternoon could not be spent visiting them.
Abbotsford House lies in the Scottish Borders, and is a 20 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride from Tweedbank Station. The train to Tweedbank, which runs along the recently opened Borders Railway, departs (appropriately) from Edinburgh’s Waverley Station and the journey takes a short hour through spectacular scenery. The cost of a return is about £11.20 per adult at the time of writing.