“Time Rolls His Ceaseless Course”: Abbotsford House and Gardens

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“Time will rust the sharpest sword/ Time will consume the strongest cord/ That which molders hemp and steel/ Mortal arm and nerve must feel.”

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.

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“In listening mood, she seemed to stand/ The guardian Naiad of the strand.”

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.

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“Come fill up my cup, come fill up my can/ Come saddle your horses, and call up your men;/ Come open the West Port, and let me gang free,/ And it’s room for the bonnets of Bonny Dundee!”

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“To all, to each, a fair good-night/ And pleasing dreams, and slumbers light!”

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.

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“It is a strong castle, and strongly guarded; but there is no impossibility to brave men.”

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“And you may gather garlands there/ Would grace a summer’s queen”

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.

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“My dear, be a good man – be virtuous – be religious – be a good man. Nothing else will give you any comfort when you come to lie here… God bless you all.”

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.

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“Steady of heart and stout of hand”

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“Oh, young Lochinvar is come out of the West/ Through all the wide Border his steed was the best.”
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“If thou wouldst view fair Melrose aright/ Go visit it by the pale moonlight.”
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“I cannot tell how the truth may be; I say the tale as ’twas said to me.”
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“Her blue eyes sought the west afar/ For lovers love the western star.”

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“O Caledonia! stern and wild/ Meet nurse for a poetic child!”

12 Comments

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  1. An impressive estate! I love that the gardens are a little wild and not super neat – feels more natural. Your photos are superb.

  2. What a beautiful place. Thank you for this glimpse of it.

  3. I think the exquisite single white rose is appropriately a burnet or Scotch rose, Rosa pimpinellifolia, but do not take my word for it. The deep pink single rose is breathtaking. I want one. Gorgeous pictures.

  4. I’ve never visited these gardens but I would love too. They look so summery for Scotland in October. My Astrantia is long gone. Being sheltered and having plenty of rain has kept the flowers very happy. Your superb photographs have let us share the visit with you. Amelia

  5. I want to go and visit this garden! I agree about the style, and the photos are wonderful.

  6. I have never visited but you sure gave me a great insight into these beautiful gardens. Many thanks.

  7. We really loved your blog post Joanna – thank you so much for your lovely comments on the gardens. The gardens team was very excited to read it and see your photos as they put so much hard work into Abbotsford.
    Would you mind if we shared your post on our Facebook page? I’m sure many other people would love it as well. All the best

    • Hi Vanessa, thank you ever so much for your kind comments. I loved visiting Abbotsford and am very much looking forward to returning for another look in Spring as the gardens were so beautiful. I’d be most delighted for you to share my post on Facebook. Best wishes, Joanna.

  8. How delightful. I just love walled gardens and wish I had known about this one before I returned from Edinburgh. I would have been very tempted to visit it. Nevertheless you have presented it brilliantly with the mixture of the quotes and the flowers. A most delightful visit. Thank you (oh, and you could link this to my garden challenge this month as it fits the theme perfectly!)
    Jude xx

    • Link done! Thanks for reminding me. I was going to do this and then somehow forgot. Thanks for the compliments too. Perhaps one day the opportunity to visit Abbotsford will arise for you on a return visit to Scotland, and I can assure you that you won’t regret taking a look at this wonderful place.

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