Sir Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott gained worldwide celebrity not only for his poetry but also for his historical novels, the first being "Waverley", a tale of the Jacobite Rebellion 1745.
Writing in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Scott is credited with being the originator of the historical novel, and his romantic portrayal of Scotland combined with the orchestrated visit of George III of Edinburgh in 1822 helped to rehabilitate Scotland following the Jacobite rebellion. Tartan - once banned - became integral to Scotland’s identity.
Queen Victoria’s visit to Scotland early in her reign was partly due to Scott’s novels.
Sir Walter Scott came to the Borders from Edinburgh as a child for the good of his health. He spent much of his early childhood at nearby Smailholm where his grandfather farmed.
Returning to Edinburgh for his education, studying in classics he met Robert Burns when he was 15 years old. Burns was then 27 years old. A keen unionist, Scott disapproved of Burn’s politics but loved his poetry and carried on the work of Burns by preserving the Scots language.
The son of a lawyer, Scott was apprenticed to his father and subsequently become an advocate, returning to the Borders as Sherriff depute for Selkirk, publishing poetry before embarking on the novels for which he is famous.
Growing up in the Scottish Borders at nearby Smailholm Tower, Walter Scott was a close friend of the Haigs of Bemersyde as was his father before him. One of his ancestors was Margaret Haig born in 1592 who married James Haliburton Of Dryburgh.
The romance of Bemersyde greatly appealed to Walter Scott. His son-in-law, Lockhart, described Bemersyde in 1831 as "ancient residence of the most ancient family now subsisting on Tweedside".
Russell, in his history of the Haigs of Bemersyde in 1881 wrote, "But its antiquity was not the sole claim which Bemersyde had upon the affections and veneration of Sir Walter Scott. 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."
This prediction, which had floated in various forms about the Borders for hundreds of years was sufficient in the popular belief to ensure, as it had already for many long centuries insured, the stability and permanency of the house of Bemersyde. Many other of the prophet’s sayings were still current among the people, and to each and all of them a large and liberal credence was given; but to none did the popular faith cling to tenaciously as too this: for were not the place and family still there to point to in testimony of its truth’
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.
Scott completed the building of Abbotsford House near Melrose in 1824 and attended church at Mertoun near Bemersyde every Sunday.
The financial crash of 1825 brought Scott to bankruptcy and he set about writing to clear his debts.
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 cortege 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.