The Sir Walter Scott Trail

Driving Route

The Sir Walter Scott Trail


Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh in 1771. The son of an Edinburgh lawyer, he was descended from the Scotts of Harden.

When he was eighteen months old, he contracted polio which left him permanently lame in his right leg. He was sent to Sandyknowe, his grandfather's farm next to Smailholm Tower to recuperate. As his health improved, he wandered around after an old illiterate shepherd who nevertheless had a great number of old stories and bits of ballads which he could recite. This gave Scott his first enthusiasm for the folklore of his ancestors and his love of the Borderland.

In due course, Scott attended school without achieving any high grades. He read Law at the University of Edinburgh and was admitted to the Bar, mostly on his father's reputation for he showed no great promise except that he had a remarkable memory.

Whenever possible he would return to the Borders and spend his time 'exploring every rivulet to its source' in pursuit of fragments of ancient ballads This consuming interest was to be the basis of his first important work The Minstrelsy of The Scottish Border.

In 1799, Scott was appointed Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire, an office which required little attention but which allowed him time to concentrate on ballad collecting in the hills of Ettrick, Yarrow and Liddesdale. For a time, he commuted from his home at Lasswade to his occasional duties in Selkirk with lodgings at Clovenfords Inn as required. In 1804, he rented Ashiestiel and lived there until 1811 when he bought the land of Clartiehole which he renamed Abbotsford. At Abbotsford, he built the house of his dreams, a home for his family and a place where he could receive his many visitors 'as a Border laird", for few eminent people visited Scotland without calling on him.

Scott made his literary reputation as a poet with The Lay of the Last Minstrel, The Lady of the Lake, Marmion etc. As a novelist he found even greater fame with the Waverley series. He wrote at tremendous speed; Guy Mannering was written in six weeks and the final two novels in that series were completed in twenty-six summer afternoons'.

Scott needed to write quickly for the simple reason that he needed the money.

In his affluent years he had added to Abbotsford House and acres to the estate as and when he could. He was involved commercially with the publishers Ballantyne. When that firm failed causing the subsequent failure of the publishing firm of Constable, Scott was left owing a considerable sum of money. Rather than declare himself bankrupt, he resolved to write his way out of debt. It was under these circumstances that his later works were written.

When he died in 1832 at the age of sixty-one, he had largely cleared the debt Abbotsford is almost exactly as he left it and his literary heritage has been an inspiration to the rest of the world.

99.5mi / 159.5km
Total climb:
8,430ft / 2,570m
Total descent:
8,430ft / 2,570m
Towns along route:
Kelso, Galashiels
Our best efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of data, however the data and geographic information contained along route lines and on maps should be used for informational purposes only.

What you'll see


Towns & Villages

Start in Kelso town where Scott stayed at Rosebank (now renamed Waverley Lodge) with his aunt and attended Kelso High School.

Smailholm Tower - Kelso

Ancestry, Buildings, Historic Buildings, Monuments & Statues, Ruins

Follow the Historic Scotland signs to the tower and you pass through the farmyard of Sandyknowe


Towns & Villages

Lying in the narrow valley of the Gala Water, Galashiels is one of the most popular towns in the Scottish Borders.

Newark Castle - Selkirk

History & Heritage

From Selkirk, take the A708 Yarrow road and, after three miles, on the other side of the valley you will see the ruins of Newark…

Traquair House - Peebles

Visitor Attractions

After returning to the Gordon Arms Hotel, turn left on to the 8709 for Innerleithen and Traquair

St Ronan's Wells Visitor Centre - Innerleithen

Museums & Exhibitions

Innerleithen was a noted spa in Scott's lifetime.

Ashiestel House - Peebles

History & Heritage

Ashiestel House on a high bank on the other side of the river. This was Scott's home from 1804 to 1811

Clovenfords Hotel - Clovenfords

Bars & Pubs, Restaurants

Clovenfords where a statue of the great man stands before the inn (now Clovenfords Hotel)

Old Gala House - Galashiels

Castles & Stately Homes, Museums & Exhibitions

Galashiels has many associations with Scott.

Abbotsford - Melrose

Visitor Attractions

Sir Walter's dream house

Melrose Abbey - Melrose

Visitor Attractions

St Mary's Abbey, a monastery of the Cistercian order in Melrose, the proximity Abbotsford and Chiefswood - home of daughter and her husband meant that…

Leaderfoot Viaduct - Melrose


The Leaderfoot Viaduct is sometimes known as the Drygrange Viaduct.

Scotts View - Melrose

Scenic Views

The lookout was known to be one of Sir Walter Scott's favourite places to come and reflect.

William Wallace statue - Melrose

The statue is not visible from the road but there is a small parking space and it is a short walk through the trees to…

Dryburgh Abbey - St Boswells

Visitor Attractions

Sir Walter Scott lies here with members of his family and amongst the people of the Borders which he loved so well.