New visitor experience launches in Walter Scott’s Garden

15th May 2024

A new interactive experience has been launched in Sir Walter Scott's garden at Abbotsford.

The experience offers visitors a range of multisensory storytelling opportunities, featuring light, sound, tactile and visual interpretation bringing Walter Scott's love of green spaces to life and telling the unique history of his gardens. It has been created inside the recently restored Pavilion glasshouse in Abbotsford’s walled gardens alongside its subterranean Furnace House previously closed to the public. 

The Pavilion glasshouse is at the heart of this experience and features Sir Walter Scott’s Botanical Cabinet as its centrepiece.

The cabinet offers twenty compartments containing an interactive handling collection for all ages with dedicated interpretation for adults and children. Each compartment is designed to offer a different story from the gardens over time, centred around the object it contains. Cabinet contents contain items such as replica seed packets, dinner invitations, a recipe tin containing 1820s Scottish dishes, and photo albums preserving Victorian views of the gardens.  

The Pavilion’s Listening Bench offers 30 minutes of high-quality audio content, featuring Scottish actors Maggie Service, Mark Bonnar and David Rintoul and contributions from Abbotsford staff and volunteers. Following on from the innovative Scott character audio created for the historic house, the Pavilion Listening Bench also features an immersive first-person audio stream scripted from Scott’s private journal, revealing the author’s battle with anxiety, depression and infirmity and the role that the gardens and estate played in supporting his mental wellbeing.  

The experience is designed to appeal to all ages and an activity table offers a flexible creative station for anyone who wants to write, draw, or compose during their time at Abbotsford, including activity sheets and supplies.  

In the Furnace House, the engine room that once created the conditions needed to grow tender or exotic plants and fruits such as hibiscus, lily of the valley and peaches in the Pavilion, visitors can now experience a 3-minute immersive soundscape. This audio reimagines this working space as it might have been for one of Abbotsford’s 1820s groundsmen. A series of spotlights accompanies the audio to illuminate features, helping visitors understand how the Pavilion’s heating system worked. A representation of the furnace occupies the original footprint of the historic structure.  

To realise these developments, Abbotsford has been working in a creative partnership with Kraftworks Scotland Ltd., Imagineear, and Cubit Design Ltd.  

Kirsty Archer- Thompson, Collections and Interpretation Manager at Abbotsford, said: “It has been a joy to work on bringing these structures back to life over the last eighteen months. Though the buildings are small in scale, they now contain a real treasure trove of garden stories from the past and present, just waiting to be discovered through a variety of different mediums.  

The Botanical Cabinet is a real personal highlight, as is the audio experience from Sir Walter Scott’s Journal, where visitors will have the chance to meet a very different version of the author than they might expect, a man who tends to his plants for the benefit of future generations and loses patience with his body as it misbehaves in old age. The rawness and emotion of it will, I hope, really resonate with people.  

I wanted the Pavilion to be a hub for the gardens that also offers people a chance to slow down, rest and reflect in a beautiful and inspirational setting – lingering isn’t just welcome, it’s actively encouraged. You can even listen to excerpts of Scott’s poetry about plants whilst sketching the gardens he designed.” 

A spokesperson for Kraftworks Scotland Ltd, said: “Kraftworks and our team were privileged to collaborate with the Abbotsford Trust on this project in Walter Scott’s gardens, at a cherished historic landmark. Together we launched an exciting interactive visitor experience to bring these buildings back into use. All works were carried out meticulously and conscientiously on this iconic venture.” 

A spokesperson for Kraftworks Scotland Ltd, said: “Kraftworks and our team were privileged to collaborate with the Abbotsford Trust on this project in Walter Scott’s gardens, at a cherished historic landmark. Together we launched an exciting interactive visitor experience to bring these buildings back into use. All works were carried out meticulously and conscientiously on this iconic venture.” 

This project was made possible with support from Fallago Environment Fund, The Finnis Scott Foundation, The Hugh Fraser Foundation, The Lennox Hannay Charitable Trust, The PF Charitable Trust, Wolfson Foundation and The Wyfold Charitable Trust. 

The Pavilion and Furnace House experience is a permanent installation now open at Abbotsford. Entry is included in tickets to Abbotsford at no additional cost. Abbotsford is open every day 10am- 5pm. Tickets available online at scottsabbotsford.com.