Sir Walter Scott died in the dining room of his house at Abbotsford on 21 September 1832 and was buried at Dryburgh Abbey. Scott's final years had been overshadowed by financial problems, but these did nothing to dim his status as what would today be called a literary superstar. His work had fired the imagination of a generation and he did much much to re-establish the idea of a distinctive Scottish identity at a time when "North Britain" was in danger of becoming indistinguishable from any other region of Great Britain.
Scott's celebrity status meant that Abbotsford became a place of pilgrimage for his fans soon after his death, and the house featured large in the tourist guides that were starting to appear as the Georgian era moved into the Victorian era. By the 1850s the house had been adapted specifically to cater for the increasing number of visitors.
Less than three miles from either Melrose or Galashiels, Abbotsford must certainly qualify as one of Scotland's longest standing tourist attractions. Those visiting included Queen Victoria on 22 August 1867. In 1883 the total number of over 1,500 visitors included 20 from the USA. Today's visitor is therefore following a very well established trail.
For modern visitors, Sir Walter Scott is a Scottish icon whose name and reputation is perhaps more widely known than his writing. It is worth remembering that Edinburgh would not be the city it is without the Scott Monument, dedicated to him, or Waverley Station, named after one of this novels. Today's Abbotsford is an essential stopping off point for anyone visiting the Scottish Borders. And when you come to Abbotsford you begin to understand why: a visit is an amazing journey back in time. (Continues below image...)
You catch your first glimpse of the house as you approach the very modern (and very large) wood-clad visitor centre. This seems to have settled into the landscape well, and offers plenty of room for a visitor reception, a shop, an exhibition area, and an upstairs cafe with balcony seating looking out towards Abbotsford. Like the house itself, the visitor centre is fully accessible.
From the visitor centre you head downhill towards the house, with the option to take in the large walled garden en route. When we first visited, access to the house was via a side entry into the basement level. Since a major refurbishment visitors have entered via the front door, giving a much better impression of what the house would have been like in Scott's day. Your first impression comes from the entrance hall, a room where suits of armour vie with sculptures for attention, all against a backdrop of wood panelling decorated with coats of arms. It is a room you are grateful you don't have to dust...
From here you embark on an anti-clockwise tour of the rooms on the ground floor of the house. Scott's study is a simply wonderful space: the sort of room you'd love to pack up and take home with you, complete with books around the walls at ground floor level and around a gallery.
The books on show in the study formed just a part of Sir Walter's collection of 9,000 volumes. You find the rest in the next room, the library, a vast space lined with books and offering superb views down to the River Tweed at the rear of the house.
The Chinese drawing room has, as the name suggests, a strongly Chinese theme, while beyond it is the spectacular armoury. Here the walls are full of artistically displayed firearms and other weapons, and reflect Sir Walter's passion for collecting artefacts from Scotland's history. As a result the Armoury contains guns belonging to Bonnie Dundee and Rob Roy, as well as Rob Roy's broadsword and dirk.
The dining room feels almost spartan after the other rooms, as it formed part of the family accommodation until the 1950s and had been given a more contemporary look. Apart from the paintings lining the walls and the decorated ceiling there is relatively little to distract the diners who would have gathered around the oak table, allowing them to focus on their food, and on the conversation that would doubtless have flowed freely with the wine. From the dining room you move into the exhibition room, and then the remarkable religious corridor and through it to the ante-room. This brings you back to the entrance hall.
Visitors can also explore the gardens and grounds surrounding Abbotsford, in addition to the walled garden mentioned above. The south court offers magnificent views of the house itself, while beyond a stone arcade lies the east court. Access is also possible to the beautiful chapel, at the west end of the house.
Abbotsford itself was very much the personal creation of Sir Walter Scott. He purchased a farm here on the banks of the River Tweed in 1811 and his family moved into a space which was barely large enough for them and for Sir Walter's already extensive collections of Scottish memorabilia.
Between 1817 and 1819 he oversaw a major extension to the original farmhouse, which included the addition of what now forms the dining room and armoury.
From 1821 to 1823 many more major changes were made. The original farmhouse was cleared away and replaced by most of the areas of the house whose ground floor is now open to the public. What emerged was a building that set a trend that swept right across Scotland in the middle 1800s, establishing "Scots Baronial" as a distinctively Scottish form of architecture.
In 1853, Sir Walter's descendents, the Hope Scott family, added what is now the west wing of Abbotsford, including the chapel. They also made other changes including better arrangements for tourists visiting those parts of Abbotsford that would have been known and loved by Sir Walter.
More changes followed in the current century. The new visitor centre opened in August 2012, and Abbotsford itself reopened to the public in July 2013 after a major programme of repair and refurbishment. The result of the changes has been to offer visitors a much improved experience, and to ensure that Abbotsford will be enjoyed long into the future. At the same time part of the west wing, now called the Hope Scott Wing, has been re-designed to accommodate groups of up to 15 on a self-catering basis. Abbotsford can also accommodate weddings and other events.