Happy birthday to Sir Walter Scott

It is 250 years to the day since Sir Walter Scott was born and the Scottish Borders are buzzing with commemorative events for the writer and advocate.

Born in Edinburgh, Scott grew up at Smailholm Tower, about five miles from Bemersyde and became a close friend of the Haigs, as his father was. One of his ancestors was Margaret Haig born in 1592 who married James Haliburton Of Dryburgh.

The antiquity and romance of Bemersyde appealed to Scott greatly: Russell, in his history of the Haigs of Bemersyde in 1881 wrote, “There was that attaching to the place which could not fail, in one so constituted, not only awaken his interest but to stir his imagination. Round the family and their old ancestral home, the fanciful superstitions of the district had thrown a veil of mingled mystery and wonder, and not a peasant or a peasant’s child but could repeat the prophetic utterance of Thomas the Rhymer: ‘Tyde what may betide, Haig shall be Haig of Bemersyde’.”

Scott himself remarked in 1817 when visiting Bemersyde with Washington Irving, “There seemed to him almost a wizard spell hanging over it, in consequence of the prophecy of Thomas the Rhymer, in which in his young days he most potently believed.” Washington Irving wrote Rip Van Winkle later that year.

In autumn 1831 the artist Turner came to stay with Scott with the purpose of making drawings to illustrate Scott’s poems. Having visited Smailholm Tower and Dryburgh Abbey the party, Scott, Turner and Scott’s son-in-law took luncheon at Bemersyde in “one of the quaint vaulted apartments of the old tower.”

Sir Walter Scott died the following September and, having been laid to rest in Dryburgh Abbey (an entitlement resulting from his Haig ancestors), his cortège took the route back to Abbotsford climbing the road at Bemersyde hill. As had been their custom every Sunday, the horses stopped at the top of the hill of their own accord. (It was the custom when carriages went up steep hills, the inmates would lighten the load by getting out and walking uphill). This is the origin of the viewpoint now known as Scott’s View which looks over the Tweed from Bemersyde Hill to the Eildons beyond.