3rd Jun 2020
I grew up near Ayrshire, in close proximity to Robert Burns’ childhood home, so I was brought up with a great interest in Literature and Scottish Heritage from an early age.
I became interested in Scott later in life, and, after moving to the Borders, became fascinated by the landscape which so inspired him. I am also very keen on opera, and many people don’t realise how huge an influence he was on operatic compositions – there are over fifty operas based on his works! The more one reads and learns about Scott, the more one realises that his legacy can be felt almost everywhere. For example, who knows that Scott was the instigator of river protection, by starting the Tweed Commission? First protected river.
I used to come to Abbotsford years ago, when you could see Dame Jean working in the beautiful walled garden. After she died no one was quite sure what would happen to the house, so I decided to volunteer after the big re-opening in 2013, to do my part in helping to maintain this iconic building.
I have always been an active person, so my decision to volunteer at Abbotsford stemmed both from my personal interest in Scott, as well as a desire to contribute to the preservation of Scott’s legacy.
Also to meet new people! Although my background is in education, I think that volunteering is less about educating and more about sharing – especially one’s enthusiasm.
In the summer I give guided tours of the house and or the garden, always exciting – meeting people from round the world as well as groups from the UK. I also work as a house steward, welcoming it’s visitors and providing them with information and stories should they ask. Some visitors are more well - known than others – Lucy Worsley for example!
In the closed season my role is completely different – working with the Heritage and Engagement team to make sure that the objects in the house are cleaned and preserved. I love the sense of connection to the past you get by being up close with the objects that Scott touched and used.
I’m also part of the archive team, looking through and helping to catalogue all the bills, letters etc. of the family through the generations. Really satisfying. Being nosey helps too!
Walter Scott and his family were very sociable people, so many visitors – like today from all round the world as well as the nearby locality. I love that continuing that social aspect – working with, engaging with, meeting new people all brings such joy.
If ever asked about what I most admire about Scott, I would say it’s his humanity, and his deeply ingrained belief that ALL people were/are equal. Because of that, I would say that one of my favourite things about him is the fact that in the Entrance Hall he has two replica skulls on the mantlepiece –on one side the skull of a young commoner [ John Shaw] who fought at the battle of Waterloo in 1815 . On the other side the replica of King Robert the Bruce, who had the famous victory at Bannockburn in 1314.
But what is “so Scott” is the fact that he gave them both equal status – the king and the commoner sharing a place of honour – I think it’s an image that sums up Scott’s sense of egalitarianism.