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Issue 18 - In the footsteps of Scott

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 18
January 2005


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In the footsteps of Scott

John Hannavy picks sites linked to the great Scottish poet and novelist, Sir Walter Scott

The Chatelaine of Abbotsford, Miss Jean Maxwell-Scott, took a few minutes to decide which key from the massive keyring would open the elaborate cabinet, but eventually she retrieved the 160 year old Visitor’s Book. Opening it on the page for October 24th 1844, there was the signature I had been looking for – William Henry Fox Talbot, one of four people to visit the house that afternoon.

Fox Talbot was the father of modern photography. He invented the idea of the negative from which multiple prints could be made, and he was also responsible for the world’s first photographically illustrated publications.

His visit was one of the highlights of a photographic journey to Scotland, during which he visited and photographed many of the places associated with the life and work of Sir Walter Scott. Scott is also my inspiration – as he has been for generations of writers and photographers – so this new series of mine, travelling through Scotland in the footsteps of Scott, is merely bringing up to date a tradition as old as
photography itself.

Talbot’s pictures were used in his 1845 publication Sun Pictures in Scotland. Some of mine will be used in my forthcoming book Great Photographic Journeys.

Abbotsford has been photographed regularly ever since Talbot’s day, and great Scottish photographers such as James Valentine of Dundee, and George Washington Wilson of Aberdeen, published extensive series of views of the place in the 1860s and 1870s.

Visitors in those days could not only buy prints, but books of Scott’s work illustrated with images associated with his life.

My journey started at Abbotsford, the house Scott bought in 1811, and in which he died 15 years later, before moving on to St. Boswell’s and the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey where, beneath the roof of the north transept, he lies buried.

From then our route turned north to Edinburgh where the Scott Monument dominates Princes Street. 160 years ago, when Fox Talbot visited the city, the monument was still under construction. The marble statue of Scott at the foot of the monument was carved in a studio across the road from the construction site, from a 20 ton block of carrara marble.

It had been carried by ship to Leith, and brought to Princes Street on a cart pulled by a team of 20 horses. The sculptor was Sir John Steel.

But this series will be about much more than Scott’s home and his monuments. Scotland’s majestic landscape, and its great buildings, pervade all of his novels and his poetry, and are brought to life in his words.

The beautiful landscape of the Trossachs is the rich and colourful backdrop for several of his works, so many of the places we will visit over the coming months can be found there.

Loch Achray, the setting for several scenes in The Lady of the Lake, is just one of the many places of outstanding beauty that any tour of Scott Country should include.

“So swept the tumult and affray
Along the margins of Achray
Alas! thou lovely lake! that e’er
Thy banks should echo to the sound of fear.”