Magazine article The Spectator

Thecountry of Sir Walter

Magazine article The Spectator

Thecountry of Sir Walter

Article excerpt

THE BUILDINGS OF SCOTLAND : THE BORDERS by Kitty Cruft, John Dunbar and Richard Fawcett Yale, £29.95, pp. 841, ISBN 0300107021 . £23.95 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Although the Scottish Borders contain some of the most picturesque and unspoilt scenery in the British Isles, with the country houses along the Tweed putting up a fair show to rival the châteaux of the Loire, the region often tends to be overlooked, whether by English tourists heading for the Highlands or by ambitious Scots steadfastly coming south to rule over us.

Therefore this ninth volume in the admirable Buildings of Scotland series, founded by the late architectural historians Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and Colin McWilliam, is especially welcome. Indeed it should serve more than any other book since the heyday of Sir Walter Scott to open our eyes to the romance and beauty of the old counties of Berwickshire, Peeblesshire, Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire.

For it was, of course, Scott more than anyone else who shaped the identity of the Borders. The Laird of Abbotsford showed that the region was far from a mere frontier zone. The varied topography embraces wide expanses of windswept upland (so much for 'the Lowlands'), as well as wooded valleys and stretches of fertile river plain. But the absence of any city or large town, coupled with the wondrously low density of population (today about 107,000 inhabitants in some 1,820 square miles) gives the Borders a predominantly rural quality to which architecture must respond.

While full justice is done to the ruins of the great Border abbeys, such as the delectable Dryburgh, where Scott is buried, as well as to the celebrated castles like Neidpath, Sir Walter's beloved 'ain house' rightly receives the full five-star treatment. Abbotsford is hailed as 'one of the most famous houses in the world; the archetype of a literary shrine and the crucial house in the popularisation of the Scottish Baronial Revival'. (Incidentally, I prefer 'Scotch Baronial'; 'Scottish' seems a bit twee and Morningside-spinsterish. ) The authors are to be congratulated on a phenomenal achievement in recording an extraordinary range of buildings, from mills to Modernist structures, farmsteads to Arts & Crafts villas, parish churches to fishing lodges. All the entries on houses I have visited myself struck me as excellent.

For example, Traquair is nicely summed up as 'the epitome of traditional Scottish Domestic architecture'. Its great charm stems from the fact it has been neither classicised nor baronialised. At Thirlestane, 'the spectacular interiors are a mixture of Caroline and Victorian, the two styles marrying surprisingly well'. …

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