My bright and sunny Borders day trip was originally going to consist of a trip to Melrose Abbey, a clear link to the last Loose Ends destination, Dunfermline, through Robert the Bruce. On the train down to Tweedbank, however, I got a suggestion to go to Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott, historical and not far from Tweedbank. I was soon off the train and setting off on foot for Abbotsford, passing through a housing scheme and by a pleasant pond with ducks, swans and a tree-filled island in the middle.
After paying in, my first stop was the visitor centre which was interesting in its way, a nice blend of text, pictures and objects. It didn’t shy away from talking about the financial difficulties Scott had later in his life or indeed that he was an arch-Tory, being virulently against the 1832 Reform Act. Being a Hibs fan myself, I was just glad reference wasn’t made to a certain football team named after one of Scott’s novels (or really a dance hall named after one of Scott’s novels), Heart of Midlothian.
The visitor centre would have been enough for me since I’m not really a fan of big hooses but it was good manners to go down to the house. I was handed a state-of-the-art audio guide which I ditched whenever possible since I’m a reader by instinct and inclination. What the audio guide did yield, and one of the battalion of volunteers elaborated on, was a link with Dunfermline, namely wood on the walls of the entrance hall that came from the Abbey when the newer church was built in 1818. The entrance hall was fine, a riot of suits of armour, heraldic crests and other yad Scott collected over his life, including a plaster cast of Robert the Bruce’s skull, another connection to Dunfermline where most of his remains are buried.
Next door was his study, a proper old-fashioned room lined with books on two levels. That would have been worth the admission money alone, if not for the library. I think I started drooling when I got in there. It was huge with bay windows looking out over the Tweed. I spent a good while in there, perusing the books, most with Scott’s cipher and portcullis motif on the spine, then peering out towards the river. The audio guide informed me it was the most substantial writer’s library in the world and I could believe it. It is the most glorious room and like when I went to Trinity College Dublin, I considered building a little fort and never, ever leaving.
Before I left there were diverting displays about Scott’s often fraught friendship with JMW Turner and his career as a lawyer and sheriff at Selkirk. I could easily have found connections between Abbotsford and other places through those but not this time. It’s through the library, the ultimate node of accumulated knowledge, and there are a few old libraries in Scotland, Innerpeffray and Leighton’s Library to name but two. But as I left Abbotsford, thoughts turned to a library I’ve meant to explore more for a while and it’s why the next Loose Ends trip will be to the Museum of the Year finalist Glasgow Women’s Library.
Thanks for reading. The next instalment of Loose Ends follows next week.