You are viewing an archived web page captured at 01:22:09 Sep 03, 2017, which is part of the National Records of Scotland Web Archive. The information on this web page may be out of date. See all captures of this archived page. Archived web pages you visit here may leave cookies in your browser. These are not owned, controlled, or used by NRS. NRS do use cookies, including Google Analytics, to monitor site usage and performance. These can be managed in your browser settings. Find out more about cookies.
Loading media information

Accessing Scotland's Past

  Walter Scott in Kelso  
* * * * *
  Sites relating to Sir Walter Scott  
* * * * *

Although Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) is better associated with Abbotsford and Edinburgh, where he lived and worked for many years, and the monument built to commemorate his life, the 'wizard of the north' was well-known throughout the Borders, and not least in Kelso.

Scott's family had several connections with Kelso. His great-grandfather owned a house at No 3 Simon Square for many years. It appears that the people of Kelso knew this gentleman as 'Beardie', a nickname given to him for his prodigious beard. From Scott's own writings, it seems his ancestor was an ardent Jacobite, and narrowly escaped the gallows on one occasion because of his politics. With the end of the Jacobite cause at Culloden (1746), 'Beardie' took a solemn vow never to shave again, until a Stuart once more occupied the throne.

Although born in Edinburgh, Scott lived at the family farm of Sandyknowe for the first six years of his life as he seems to have been a sickly infant, suffering from a form of infantile paralysis. At the age of six, Scott returned to live with his parents and siblings in Edinburgh.

Scott returned to the Borders when he was 12, residing with his Aunt Janet in Kelso for about six months. Her house, a small cottage near the banks of the River Tweed, is now better known as Waverley Cottage. Kelso, with the combination of its picturesque setting and a tangible sense of history, made a deep impression on Scott. Later in life, Scott recalled his time there with some fondness, writing that it was 'the most beautiful, if not the most romantic village in Scotland'.



Kelso, Shedden Park Road, Rosebank 
Kelso, Shedden Park Road, Rosebank Lodge & Gatepiers 
Roxburgh Parish Church and Churchyard 
Kelso, Woodside House
Kelso, Roxburgh Street, Walton Hall 
Kelso, Maxwell Lane, The Knowes, Waverley Lodge 
Kelso, Coal Market, 3 Simon Square 


During his stay, he attended the Grammar School, which adjoined Kelso Abbey; the abbey ruins and its surrounding graveyard served as an unusual form of playground. It was here that he first befriended James Ballantyne, a local printer's son. Ballantyne would later become Scott's business partner and publish many of Scott's novels, an arrangement that ended with disastrous consequences.

Another of Scott's friends was Robert Waldie, who resided at Hendersyde Park with his mother. The young Scott spent many happy hours exploring their library and was apparently free to borrow books from their collection at any time. In the autumn of 1783, Scott left Kelso to enrol at Edinburgh's Old College.

During his time as a student and then as a newly qualified lawyer, Scott was a frequent visitor to Kelso, usually calling upon his uncle Robert who lived at Rosebank. At the time, the house stood in countryside to the east of the town. During these holidays Scott travelled widely throughout the Tweed valley and beyond, gathering stories and songs, many of which featured in his writing. One of the most famous characters in the district was a wandering beggar named Andrew Gemmels, who had previously been a dragoon for many years in the British Army. Local anecdotes paint Gemmels as a figure known to all, able to stop at any house and ask for food, shelter or a little money. It seems more than a few were afraid of him, as he seems to have had a satirical, biting wit. Scott seems to have known Gemmels fairly well, and immortalised him as Edie Ochiltree, the celebrated gaberlunzie in 'The Antiquary'. Andrew Gemmels died at the remarkable age of 106, and is buried in the churchyard of Roxburgh parish church.

Lady Diana Scott, another relation, lived at Woodbank house, now on the eastern outskirts of Kelso. It seems 'Lady Di', as she was known to many, did much to help her kinsman's fledgling literary career by making introductions to those she thought could assist him.

In later years, Scott's friend and printer James Ballantyne built Walton Hall, a single storeyed fishing lodge at the northern end of what is now Roxburgh Street in Kelso. Built in Neoclassical style, the building has many elegant interior features, such as engraved fingerplates on its doors, intricate chimney-pieces, and a colonnaded dining room where guests would have been entertained. Unfortunately, Ballantyne's health deteriorated and he died in 1821 before Walton Hall was completed.

  Links to external sites   Walter Scott  |  Walter Scott Digital Archive  
  Accessing Scotland's Past