A tour through Scotland with Sir Walter Scott

By The University of Edinburgh

A story from the Centre for Research Collections

The best-selling poems and novels of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) transformed Scottish tourism. No longer an experience for the elite, his works have brought both British and international visitors to places all over Scotland. 

Almost 200 years since his death, tourists continue to visit the places immortalised in his stories and those preserved in his memory.

Sir Walter Scott, Bart by Sir Henry Raeburn; John HorsburghThe University of Edinburgh

Storied places

The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) brought tourists flocking to the Scottish Borders, and particularly to Melrose Abbey. Scott’s lines 'If thou would'st view fair Melrose aright, | Go visit it by the pale moonlight’ gave rise to a ritual of visiting the ruins after dark.  

Melrose Abbey, Roxburghshire by David Roberts; Joseph Clayton BentleyThe University of Edinburgh

Buried in the monastery is the heart of Robert the Bruce, the King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329.

St Mary’s Loch, celebrated in Marmion as ‘lone St Mary’s silent lake’ was another popular destination.  

St Mary's Loch & Dryhope Tower by John Fleming; Joseph SwanThe University of Edinburgh

The publication of The Lady of the Lake (1810) is a crucial moment in the discovery of the Highlands by British and overseas tourists. An overnight success, it immediately brought many visitors, book in hand, to the Trossachs.  

Lady of the Lake by Richard Westall; Francis EngleheartThe University of Edinburgh

The picturesque Ellen’s Isle in Loch Katrine was named in honour of the poem’s heroine, Ellen Douglas. 

Loch Katrine by Horatio McCulloch; Thomas PickenThe University of Edinburgh

Scott’s first novel, the anonymously published Waverley (1814), brought an influx of visitors to the Highlands and gave existing historical attractions, like Stirling Castle, a new romantic glamour.  

Stirling Castle by George Cattermole; Edward RadclyffeThe University of Edinburgh

Today costumed characters at Stirling Castle mingle with visitors to bring the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots to life.

With its vivid descriptions of the West Highlands, Rob Roy (1818) had the greatest impact on the tourist industry. 

Its hero, Francis Osbaldistone, is shown here crossing Loch Lomond in a scene re-enacted by many visitors.   

Loch Lomond by Henry Melville; Robert SandsThe University of Edinburgh

The Edinburgh setting of The Heart of Mid-Lothian (1818) brought tourists to Scotland’s capital. Here they visited established attractions like the Castle and Holyrood Palace.  

They also visited more unusual sites like St Anthony’s Chapel, the scene of a sinister nocturnal encounter in the novel.

St Anthony's Chapel by Edward Finden; George BarretThe University of Edinburgh

Located on the north side of Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park, the ruins offer excellent views over North Edinburgh, Leith and the River Forth.

Monuments to his memory

The Scott Monument in Edinburgh’s Princes Street, opened in 1846, is the largest monument ever erected to a writer. 

The Monument is the first sight that greets visitors emerging from Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, itself named in Scott’s honour.  

The Scott Monument by David Octavius Hill; Robert AdamsonThe University of Edinburgh

There are 287 steps to the viewing platform at the top of the Monument, from where visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside.

Scott’s country home of Abbotsford near Melrose was designed to showcase the writer and his work. Even during Scott’s lifetime, it attracted many visitors.   

This early engraving feature members of Scott’s family, providing a curious public with a glimpse of Scott’s domestic life.  

Abbotsford, the Seat of Sir Walter Scott, Bart by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd; Thomas BarberThe University of Edinburgh

Filled with mementoes of his literary career, and preserved as it was when Scott died, Abbotsford became a model for many later displays in writer’s houses. 

The Study, Abbotsford by John Valentine and SonThe University of Edinburgh

The "Scott tour" traditionally ended with a visit to his tomb in the picturesque ruins of Dryburgh Abbey in the Scottish Borders.  

This engraving shows Victorian visitors paying their respects at the author’s grave. 

Sir Walter Scott's Tomb, Dryburgh Abbey by William Banks and SonThe University of Edinburgh

Although Scott had an ancestral right to be buried at the Abbey, many commentators agree that he deliberately chose it. The site was both reminiscent of his own works and appropriate for a romantic poet with a passion for antiquities. 

The Edinburgh University Library’s Corson Collection of Sir Walter Scott Materials includes nearly 7,000 books and over 10,000 artworks. You can find out more about them through the Walter Scott Digital Archive

West End of Loch Katrine by John Fleming; Joseph SwanThe University of Edinburgh

Credits: Story

Story by Dr Paul Barnaby, Scottish Literary Collections Curator, University of Edinburgh Centre for Research Collections.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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