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The early-19th-century house at Abbotsford is set on steep grass terraces overlooking the River Tweed. There are three courtyard gardens attached to it. One is a sloping walled garden, with wide herbaceous borders and a gothic conservatory. There is surviving early-19th-century parkland and woodland on the estate.

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Type of Site

A picturesque country seat and estate developed from an earlier farming landscape in the early 19th century, and which acquired fame as a popular visitor attraction through its strong association with Sir Walter Scott.

Location and Setting

Located immediately to the south of Galashiels, Abbotsford is a large designed landscape that encompasses nearly all of Sir Walter Scott's former estate, including associated properties at Huntlyburn and Chiefswood. The wider setting is the broad valley of the Tweed, a densely settled region characterised by the smooth, large-scale landform of the surrounding hills and the confluence of the meandering river with the Ettrick and Gala Waters. Abbotsford House itself, located towards the north-west of the designed landscape, occupies a gravel escarpment above the south bank of the Tweed and is surrounded by its core gardens, park and estate buildings. Views from here extend west across the river towards Gala hill and Touting Birks Hill, while longer-ranging views stretch north east along the Tweed corridor. Recent housing development around Galashiels is partially screened by the summer foliage of shelter-belts, but is otherwise visible from this, and other parts of the designed landscape.

Beyond the core area around Abbotsford House, estate woods and farmland extend towards the south and south east over undulating ground distinguished by two minor east-west ridges and the higher ground of Cauldshiels Hill. Minor roads follow the ridge-lines and link up with other tracks that ultimately connect the higher plantations and irregularly shaped fields with both Abbotsford and the farms below. To the east, the Huntly Burn flows from the higher ground towards the Tweed, passing close to Huntlyburn House and Chiefswood, which is surrounded by its own secluded gardens and woods in the extreme north eastern part of the designed landscape. Above, the upper slopes are characterised by large forestry plantations and the important archaeological site of Huntlyburn earthworks, scheduled as an ancient monument of national importance.

The boundary of the designed landscape has undergone recent revision (2004). Formed by the north bank of the Tweed, field boundaries, minor roads and the edges of woodland plantations, this boundary now encompasses some 559 hectares (1381 acres) and includes all of Scott's former estate except for Broomilees Farm and the area now occupied by the Borders General Hospital. Some contiguous tracts of land outwith the original estate, including the areas around Abbotslea Plantation, Mossbrae Plantations and Cauldshiels Loch in the south-west, have been included within the boundary on the basis of their evident similarity of design and the likelihood that Scott bore some influence on the plantation structure.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Abbotsford House, designed and built for Sir Walter Scott in 1817-24, is recognised as the prototype for the Scottish Baronial Revival. Developed on the site of a pre-existing farmhouse, it is the product of imaginative ideas put forward by Scott and a number of his friends, associates and advisors, with William Atkinson serving as executant architect for much of the work. With 2-storey whinstone and ashlar façades, the house features a courtyard wing to the south-west, a larger north-east wing with Baronial porch and a distinctive, picturesque roofline formed by crow-stepped gables, tall chimneys and pepperpot turrets. A further wing and Catholic Chapel were added later in the 1850s. Ornamentation in the quadrangular south courtyard derives from the embellished entrance gateway, a mounting block, or 'louping on stane', in the form of Scott's favourite dog, an eclectic array of stone sculpted artefacts on the courtyard walls, a multi-faced sundial, and a fountain, said to incorporate the bowl of the Old Mercat Cross of Edinburgh. The south courtyard, east courtyard (walled garden), and kitchen garden effectively form three distinct, enclosed garden spaces. The latter was built in the 1820s with brick-lined walls alongside a Gardener's Cottage c.1819 and contains a neat Gothic conservatory designed by Scott with help from the Darnick builder, John Smith. The courtyard plan stable block, c.1816-20 with later modification, stands to the west of the house and is now in poor repair. To the north-west (garden side) of the house, the prominent ice-house and game-larder was built into the north garden terraces c.1851. Topped by a viewing platform, this structure incorporates an earlier ice-house and features doors on two levels, castellated balustrades at terrace level and an ingenious seat over an air-vent. A rubble outbuilding and possible pig-sty are located within the mid 19th-century west court, a walled service court to the south-west of the house that features gas retorts on either side of the entrance-way. Notable architectural features near the foot of the drive meanwhile, include the ashlar-coped boundary wall, which runs parallel to the road, a two-storey gate-lodge bearing the inscription, 'IN.THE.LORD.IS.MY.HOPE.I.R.H.S. 1858', and closer to the west court, a 19th statue of Edie Ochiltree on a slab plinth. To the east of the designed landscape, Chiefswood House by John and Thomas Smith of Darnick in 1820-1, is a 2-storey, 4-bay gabled villa that partly incorporates an earlier 18th-century cottage. The adjacent, roughly rectangular walled garden features rubble walls and a low coped wall to the south with decorative cast-iron railings. A single-arched bridge spans Huntly Burn to the south-east of the house, while the nearby Monk's Well features a piece of carved stone believed to have been taken from Melrose Abbey by Sir Walter Scott. Huntlyburn House is another early 19th-century house, first constructed by John Smith c.1810 with subsequent earlier-mid 19th century and late 20th-century additions. Associated features include a walled garden and piend-roofed cottage and the remains of a former stable block with mounting block and adjacent U-plan double cottages.

Drives and Approaches

There is only one principal approach drive to Abbotsford. From a gate lodge on the main road, the drive ascends the bank to the north-east, with the house remaining out of sight until the terminating forecourt in front of the 1850s wing.

Paths and Walks

Paths and rides lead southwards from the terraces and forecourt to the woodland of Under Thicket and the haugh parkland. A timber bridge forms an underpass for a lower path close to the end of the terrace, while the Under Thicket paths connect up to allow a circular route through the woodland, with the option of returning via the riverside flood bank or across the haugh. A further yew-lined path, now virtually unused, leads into the woods just opposite the gate-lodge. While the paths around the house were maintained as private, Sir Walter Scott promoted free access to those paths and rides that traversed the wider estate and plantations during the 19th century (Lockhart 1878, vol.2: 535). In addition to the long and circuitous route to Huntlyburn and Chiefswood, paths headed upslope to Cauldshiels Loch, Rhymers Glen and Haxel Cleuch, where the 1838 plan depicts 'Sir Walter Scott's Ride' and 'Mr Charles Scott's Ride' on either side of the minor burn valley (1838, David Wilson). Few of these paths remain accessible or in use apart from part of the track to Cauldshiels Loch, which now forms a section of the long-distance Borders Abbey Way.


The low-lying haugh on the Tweed floodplain forms the only area of parkland at Abbotsford, lying between the house and river and stretching south for just over half a kilometre. There is a fairly minimal cover of mature parkland trees here, planted in groups in front of the terraces and to the south, framing views of the Tweed. Scott records establishing large rootballed trees here in 1814. Today, the older specimens comprise oak, sycamore and a single old Wellingtonia, together with a younger birch. Recent restocking in the opening years of the 21st century has introduced further sycamore, lime, beech, oak, horse chestnut, ash and Scots pine, and one intrusive purple sycamore. The haugh is grazed by horses.

The woodlands at Abbotsford were mainly established by Sir Walter Scott in the early 19th century. While the composition of many of the plantations has changed, their essential structure endures. Thick shelter belts enclose large, irregular estate fields and more sizable plantations extend along the upper hill slopes. Scott took a close interest in both the aesthetics and the logistics of forestry and he was praised not only for choosing to plant the better land, against common practice, but also for planting with the lie of the land so as to enhance landscape views (Lockhart 1878, vol.2: 571). Today, Scott's own records and accounts from this period comprise an important historical resource for understanding the chronology and nature of the planting programmes, especially given the subsequent changes to the woodland cover. With the exception of some pine, spruce, and larch, used in nurseries and for shelterbelts, much of the original planting was of hardwoods. Today, the balance has shifted, with many of the plantations transformed through the introduction of conifers, unchecked regeneration or conversion to the spruce monoculture typical of commercial forestry. Haxel Wood and Mars Lee Wood, for example, now form large coniferous forestry zones. Surviving remnants of Scott's planting, however, may still be seen in the Home plantations around Abbotsford and the woods of Under Thicket, where the species mix includes impressive specimens of oak, beech, lime, sycamore, ash, Scots pine, and yew. Similarly, the woodlands around Chiefswood contain a decent number of attractive mature beech, sycamore and oak among the younger trees.

The Gardens

There are three main enclosed gardens to the east of Abbotsford House: the courtyard, walled garden and kitchen garden. The courtyard, originally an arrival court rather than a garden, was laid out in its present form during the 1850s. Beyond the gravel circulation area adjacent to the porch, it comprises a simple lawn with gravel paths and a centrepiece formed by a fountain and circular piece of grass. Historic photographs show that planting beds once radiated out from the fountain, and their faint outlines are still visible in the grass today.

Apart from this series of sheltered gardens, there is an area of lawns and terracing to the west and north-west of the house which affords views over the river Tweed. In the early 19th century, this area featured a grass bank from the Gate Lodge to the gardens, planted with trees by Scott in order to screen the house, and an oval bowling green, laid out by Scott in 1818 between the present ice-house and stables. The existing banks were modified in the 1850s by the Hope-Scotts who commissioned the construction of steeper and more defined earthworks, and who planted ornamental trees and shrubs, which were further supplemented in 1930-50. This area has now been cleared of overgrown shrubbery to re-open a walk and views to the house.

Chiefswood House is also surrounded by attractive, well-maintained gardens that retain much of their historical structure. The front lawn, with an unusual topiary yew, is fringed by the surrounding mixed woodland. To the south, a walled enclosure, with cross-axial paths, features fruit trees and an intricate pattern of box hedged compartments and an array of rose bushes. A further kitchen garden is cultivated to the north.

Walled Garden

The walled garden, or sunken garden, is also relatively simple, laid out as a lawn with grass banks, perimeter paths, and oval-form topiary yews at the corners and path ends. An herbaceous bed lines the north wall on the former site of Scott's vinery, removed during the 20th century; while wall shrubs and climbers such as cotoneaster and ivy grow along the other walls. A sundial stands at one end, while a statue of Morris, the excise man from the novel 'Rob Roy', stands at the other, placed there after Scott's death in 1832. To the east, the adjacent, rectangular kitchen garden occupies higher ground, and presents the most horticultural interest. Retaining its traditional 19th-century layout with perimeter paths and a central, worn-grass path between the gate and the Gothic conservatory, this garden features box-edged compartments and fine, well-maintained herbaceous borders along the central axis. While the walls are currently under-stocked, other compartments retain shrub roses, and some vegetables, fruit trees and bushes.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

The gardens are open between March and September.


Abbotsford is two miles west of Melrose. For details see:


The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Reason for Inclusion

Abbotsford is among the most significant designed landscapes in Scotland, renowned for its historical and artistic importance as the creation of prominent writer and poet, Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). The house itself is of major architectural importance and is recognised as the forerunner of the Scots Baronial Revival, while the wider estate contains a scheduled ancient monument and extensive woodlands that enrich the wider Tweed valley landscape.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Early 19th century (1812-25), with mid-19th-century additions (1850s)

Site History

The landscape design at Abbotsford was created during the early 19th century by the renowned literary figure, Sir Walter Scott, (1771-1832). Its present form can be attributed to phases of land acquisition and construction from 1812 to the 1820s, and the ambitions, ideas and practical expertise of Scott himself. There is a significant quantity of documentary evidence relating to the development of the house and grounds and research continues to shed light on the history of Abbotsford (e.g. Brown (ed.) 2003).

Sir Walter Scott and his family first moved to a farmhouse and a 100 acre plot north of the Tweed in 1812. This was a farming landscape largely devoid of trees apart from some old remnant woodland in the higher tributary gullies and a few shelterbelts established by the previous owner. Over the next eight years, Scott acquired much of the surrounding farmland and set about transforming the landscape with a design that included a new mansion and garden grounds, extensive woodland plantations and an array of more romantic-sounding names: Clarty Hole became Abbotsford, the farmhouse at Toftfield was renamed Huntlyburn and Burnfoot Cottage became Chiefswood, remodelled as a pleasant summer residence for Scott's daughter and their family.

Sir Walter Scott's character and interests bore a strong influence on the emerging design. The blueprint for Abbotsford House itself, for example, was guided not by the ingrained classical fashion of the day, but by the author's own taste and the ideas of his acquaintances and advisors. Criticised by some contemporaries, such as Shepherd, who considered it a 'a heresy in building' (1831: 67), Abbotsford House, with its irregular facades and picturesque embellishments, went on to become the prototype of the highly popular revived Scots Baronial style. Scott also went against the grain in landscape and garden aesthetics. In later essays and reviews, he was critical of prominent figures such as William Kent and Capability Brown, and their adherents in Scotland. He particularly regretted the banishment of the garden away from the house in contemporary landscape improvements where in effect it became a ''clumsy oblong, inclosed within four rough-built walls, and sequestered in some distant corner where it may be best concealed from the eye..' (Scott 1828: 310). His three enclosed courtyards and gardens at Abbotsford, arranged on two sides of the house, reflect the older system of yairds or walled gardens abutting the house or castle, planted for ornament and produce before the era of Brownian influence in Scotland.

Across the wider landscape, woodland planting was a high priority from the outset. Although Scott employed a general factotum by the name of Tom Purdie, who oversaw much of the labour, Scott took a passionate personal interest in the location, form and practicalities of the plantations. From 1819 he compiled a record of the new woodland cover (the Sylva Abbotsfordiensis memoranda), and whenever other commitments allowed, Scott joined Purdie in seasonal tasks; no doubt a welcome release from writing, legal work and social engagements. Similarly, Scott gave thought to the species mix and form of the hedgerows planted around the fields and along the roads (Lockhart 1878, vol 1: 362), and shared wisdom with neighbouring landowners, which led to a certain continuity of design across the estate boundaries.

Flocks of admirers and visitors were drawn to Abbotsford both during Scott's lifetime and, even more so, after his death in 1832. Abbotsford gained popular currency as a landscape initially 'sterile and barren', that now resounded with picturesque names and features, and which was rich in historical and literary associations, revived or forged by Scott (Duncan 2007: 65). Real archaeological sites in and around Abbotsford helped Scott to re-map the landscape and evoke a more distant past with new names such as 'Roman park' and 'Roman planting', while the upper reaches of the Huntly Burn was promoted and more widely accepted as the legendary haunt of medieval prophet, Thomas the Rhymer.

While the house and core area were retained by Scott's descendents, who made provision for the large numbers of summer visitors, the rest of the estate was sold in response to the financial difficulties that had troubled Scott's final years. The 1850s witnessed a flurry of activity, with Scott's granddaughter and family, the Hope-Scotts, instigating additions to the house and improvements to the gardens. The property subsequently passed down through the family into the late 20th century, mainly through the female line. The last direct descendents, sisters Patricia and Dame Jean Maxwell Scott, devoted themselves to promoting Abbotsford as a visitor destination during the second half of the 20th century until their deaths in 1998, and 2004 respectively.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland

  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Fountain Bowl, the statue of Morris
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Gothic Conservatory, Game Larder and castellated Tower
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Included in listing for house: Buildings and ornaments
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Screen from Melrose Abbey Mounting Block
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Stables and two Cottages entrance Lodge, Courtyard Walls


  • Conservatory
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Game Larder
  • House (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Gateway
  • Sundial
  • Fountain
  • Courtyard
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Stable Block
  • Icehouse
  • Terrace
  • Gate Lodge
  • Statue
  • Railings
  • Ornamental Bridge
  • Burn
  • Approach
  • Drive
  • Plantation
  • Topiary
  • Herbaceous Border
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public


Electoral Ward

Melrose and District



Related Documents
  • CLS 1/897

    Designed Landscape Conservation Management Plan - Digital copy

    Peter McGowan Associates

  • CLS 1/898

    Designed Landscape Conservation Management Plan: Figs 1 & 4-11 - Digital copy

    Peter McGowan Associates

  • CLS 1/899

    Designed Landscape Conservation Management Plan: Figs. 2&3 - Digital copy

    Peter McGowan Associates