I blogged some time back about Red Rose White Rose in which, shortly before the Battle of Flodden, James IV’s Queen Margaret and his mistress, Janet Bairars contemplate what their future will hold if their King is killed in battle. The scripted readings by the two women are interspersed by 16th century music played on authentic instruments by Richard and Vivien Jones, two members of the Galloway Consort.
Last weekend we were privileged to perform in Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s home near Melrose in the Scottish Borders – and even more wonderful, the performance, to a full house, was in his magnificent library, surrounded by his books.
Abbotsford has re-opened this summer after a major programme of repair and refurbishment. A new visitor centre has been built which has an exhibition about Scott, a shop, restaurant and wonderful views over the gardens to the house. The house itself is jam-packed with a truly astonishing collection of historical artefacts. Scott was an avid collector and the entrance hall is crammed with suits of armour, spoils from Waterloo, a clock once owned by Marie Antoinette and even the wood panelling is from the Auld Kirk at Dunfermline. In fact, if were alive today he would probably be put in jail for stealing antiques – peepholes in the yew hedge against a boundary wall are full of ancient stones Scott ‘acquired’.
Whether or not you are a reader of his work (and a visit to Abbotsford is sure to make you want to try some of his novels) you can’t help but admire this man who decided to pay off his publisher’s debt – the equivalent of £20 million – by writing. He said: “My own right hand shall do it.” By the time he died in 1832 he was better known than any of the Romanticists – and outlived most of them – with a truly international reputation. His work influenced Dickens, Pushkin, George Eliot and Tolstoy. And he was able to buy an old farm house and transform it into his idea of how a baronial country manor should be.
He was a writer but, looking round his fabulous library, it was clear he was also a reader and someone who loved books.
The house and gardens are open seven days a week – do visit if you get the chance. The website is at www.scottsabbotsford.co.uk/visiting-abbotsford