Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was born in Edinburgh where he lived for a good part of his life. But he also had homes for extended periods in the Scottish Borders, even before establishing himself at Abbotsford which he built beside the river Tweed near Melrose.

Sir Walter Scott's Border Homes

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Sandyknowe Farm


Scott's first period living in the Scottish Borders was when he was sent in 1773 to live in the rural Scottish Borders at his paternal grandparents' farm at Sandyknowe, adjacent to the ruin of Smailholm Tower after a childhood bout of polio. Even though he returned to Edinburgh to be educated, he was a frequent visitor to Sandyknowe, absorbing the folk-lore and culture of the area. The drawing of Sandyknowe farm and Smailholm Tower is by J.M.W. Turner.

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After qualifying as a lawyer at Edinburgh University, from 1798 to 1804 Scott spent his summers in a cottage (which had a roof partially thatched) on the edge of Lasswade, six miles south-east of Edinburgh on the river Esk. He brought his wife Charlotte to the cottage after their honeymoon in 1798. Many of his friends had homes nearby and Scott also entertained a number of literary guests, including, James Hogg, "the Ettrick Shepherd" and William and Dorothy Wordsworth in 1803. It was at Lasswade that Scott began his writing career translating verse and drama from German and writing his own first original ballads. One of these, 'The Gray Brother', celebrates the countryside around Lasswade. It was also at Lasswade that he wrote the opening verses of The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Lasswade Cottage is now an A listed historic building and named Barony House; in 2008 it was being sold for "offers over £1.5 million".


In December 1799, Scott became Sheriff Depute of Selkirkshire The post only required his presence from mid-July to mid-November which allowed him to continue to live for the rest of the year in Edinburgh. Initially Scott based himself at an inn in Clovenfords while performing the job of Sheriff Depute. Eventually he decided it would be advantageous to live in the summer in Selkirkshire. So he leased a house called "Ashesteil" (sometimes spelt "Ashiestiel"). He moved there is 1804. It had belonged to Scott's uncle William Russell and had originally been an old Border tower, part of which is still enclosed in the centre of the house. A west wing had been added, turning it into an oddly shaped three-cornered building. The tower had been protected to the north by the Tweed and to the east by a deep ravine.

It was at Ashesteil that Scott wrote The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, and The Lady of the Lake which established his literary fame. Ashestiel itself is immortalized in the letters to friends which preface each of the six cantos of Marmion, where Scott describes the effects of the changing seasons upon its scenery.


Ashestiel also saw Scott begin the next phase of his literary career with the first draft of Waverley in 1805



After the financial problems created by his publisher, the impoverished Sir Walter Scott moved to live permanently in his custom-built house which he named Abbotsford near Melrose - see Places to Visit - Abbotsford for an extended description of this estate. Fortunately (or prudently), the house was in his son's name and so could not be seized by creditors. Sir Walter Scott set about creating books that eventually allowed all his debts to be paid off by the time of his death in 1832.

Painting of Sir Walter Scott in the Scottish Borders by Sir William Allan