Over the last year or so, every time I passed the new set-up at Abbotsford House, I craned my neck to check the progress of this prestigious re-make of Sir Walter’s place.
It is now one of my big resolutions to stop by one day and do the rubber neck number just to see how it went, although one of the sketchy excuses I might use for not doing so is a reluctance to share the experience with the thundering herd that is tourism.
I would be so glad to be able to see what has been done to remedy the near dereliction of the joint, but that would probably mean a departure from the official route to check out all the nooks and crannies I once explored in search of intruders real or otherwise.
Sadly, without the formidable presence of those remarkable ladies Jean and Patricia Maxwell Scott, for me Abbotsford House will remain but an empty shell. These formidable sisters maintained Abbotsford in a dreamy timewarp for many years, although everyone knew one day it would all have to end.
I have read that there were raised voices regarding the glaring absence of any suitable reference to Sir Walter’s time as Selkirk’s Sheriff Depute, but to be honest, although in Selkirk this part of the life and times of Sir Walter Scott has considerable significance, it really should be studied as a part of the whole life of this remarkable bloke.
Given his survival beyond infancy was in considerable doubt due to the early onset of polio, and the lasting effect this had on his general health, it is a wonder Walter Scott managed to achieve so much in a short life of 61 years.
In Scotland there is a disappointing tendency to place certain of our late citizens on pedestals of ill-deserved romantic fame, often to the point where anyone who takes the trouble to carry out a serious and accurate retro look at some of these heroes might soon discover they would not have been too comfortable with them living in their street.
Who would like to chap on William Wallace’s door at 3am to ask him to turn down his stereo? Or maybe to ask Robert Burns to give the wife a hand with making the beds? Would you buy a used car from Rob Roy McGregor?
But having said that, I know of no like fault with Sir Walter Scott, who apart from being a poor business man, and subject to that common failing of being his own best character reference, played a major part in reinventing the Scots nation at a time not long after the Jacobites and their false leaders had brought upon it such total disaster with their nationalistic aspirations.
At this point it might be pertinent to mention the depressing tendency for Scottish history to repeat itself.
Including all aspects of Sir Walter’s varied and occasionally odd lifestyle in a single exhibition is not an easy matter. I suppose anyone making a start on the job might well draw up a list of features in an order they would consider in terms of priorities.
For me his gathering of so many Border ballads and poems was possibly a cornerstone of the way modern Scots view themselves and their country. There was romanticism to the works, which made them eminently readable, although in many examples the light touch of Scott’s pen transformed some pretty doleful stuff into a world of fantasy not well blessed with facts. I do not regard that as a fault, a little literary licence here and there is in keeping with the subject matter don’t you think?
In his day, Scott did not enjoy total approval among his peers; significantly one of them, Samuel Cramer described Scott as a ‘dusty exhumer of chronicles’, which suggested more than a touch of jealousy, which is only to expected when it is accepted that Scott was, in fact, one of the first English language authors to be of international importance.
In his heyday, Scott seemed to have a magic touch, many of his ploys succeeded so well that he became a household name; whatever Scott was or was not, he could do PR very well.
Given his part in the recovery of the Scottish Crown Jewels, stage managing the state visit of George IV in 1822, and even raising a semi-private militia to resist a threatened invasion by Napoleon, Scott showed himself to be a consummate showman who could lay on a public event, which, of course, depicted him as the hero of the hour. It set him up in a style that carried him through years of virtual bankruptcy, illness and enterprises, which persists to this day.
In the Scottish style, you need to be a big hitter to get your face on the banknotes, a recognition achieved by very few over the years.
And now we need to do something about establishing a favourable link between Sir Walter Scott and the Royal Burgh. With the old Sheriff Courthouse exhibition well placed in the Market Place, anyone arriving in Selkirk town centre cannot miss the Scott link, but we do need something to firm up the Abbotsford angle.
I sometimes wonder if a dedicated public footpath between Selkirk Market Place and Abbotsford is possible; it would be a pleasant walk of a few miles which could be largely routed away from the A7 via the two redundant bridges, and in itself would serve to provide some motivation to repair the crumbling north bridge before a collapse is inevitable.
No matter what comes of such moves, great care must be taken to produce something other than a crude device to attract tourism; the 21st century UK holidaymaker is far removed from the 1950’s Butlins style mass, they have a greater interest in the whole deal in their leisure locations and being asked to stump up for anything the locals won’t touch with a barge pole is doomed to failure.
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Weather for Selkirk
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 22 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 8 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 9 mph
Wind direction: North east