Crowds return as book festival begins a new chapter at Abbotsford

The Borders Book Festival will be held at Abbotsford in November as crowds return to the event. Photo: Lloyd Smith.The Borders Book Festival will be held at Abbotsford in November as crowds return to the event. Photo: Lloyd Smith.
The Borders Book Festival will be held at Abbotsford in November as crowds return to the event. Photo: Lloyd Smith.
Crowds return to the Borders Book Festival this year, and to celebrate, a huge cast of celebrity authors are being assembled to enthral local literary enthusiasts this November.

And for one year only, to mark the 250th anniversary of Sir Walter Scott’s birth, the event will take place in the grounds of his home, Abbotsford.

The full line-up of more than 60 events was announced yesterday (September 29), when tickets went on sale for the six-day festival, which runs from November 2-7.

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There's a former prime minister and other political leaders, crime-writing royalty, rugby legends, comic geniuses, historic writers and, of course, several authors of children's books, making it a real family event.

Writer Alexander McCall Smith. Photo: Kirsty Anderson.Writer Alexander McCall Smith. Photo: Kirsty Anderson.
Writer Alexander McCall Smith. Photo: Kirsty Anderson.

Ace crime writers Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Christopher Brookmyre and Denise Mina will be on hand to take their avid readers into their worlds.

Legendary wordsmiths Hilary Mantel and Alexander McCall Smith are also paying a visit.

And on the political spectrum, former leaders Ed Balls, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband will take to the stage.

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This is the first live Borders Book Festival since 2019, after the Covid-19 pandemic effectively cancelled the 2020 annual event last June, although a series of online chats with various authors were well received by the event’s many fans.

Crime writer Val McDermid. Photo: KT Bruce.Crime writer Val McDermid. Photo: KT Bruce.
Crime writer Val McDermid. Photo: KT Bruce.

The magnificent venue for 2021 allows the extraordinary array of events to go ahead whatever the Scottish autumn weather may bring, whilst ensuring that all Government Covid-19 guidelines are strictly adhered to without detracting from the sense of excitement at the return of the festival after such a turbulent 18 months.

The house and visitor centre will remain open for visitors attending the festival to be able to enjoy as well.

Alistair Moffat, festival director, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be welcoming the book-loving public back to the Baillie Gifford Borders Book Festival this year, even more so in light of everything that the last 18 months has thrown at us.

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“The festival will feel a little different this year: we are swapping the warm, sunny days of June for the autumnal beauty of November; and the iconic Harmony Garden for the magnificent home of Sir Walter Scott, Abbotsford.

Monty Python legend Michael Palin. Photo: John Swannell.Monty Python legend Michael Palin. Photo: John Swannell.
Monty Python legend Michael Palin. Photo: John Swannell.

“It seems totally fitting in this year of the 250th celebrations of Scott to be welcoming a host of great authors to his home, but, on a practical note, holding the Book Festival at Abbotsford also allows us to ensure that the festival is Covid-safe and that our audiences, whom we have missed so much, can come and enjoy everything we have to offer with peace of mind.

“We very much look forward to returning to Harmony Garden in June 2022, but, for now, we are thrilled to have so many wonderful authors joining us at Abbotsford for six days of unbridled literary pleasure.”

There really is something for everyone, including sports fans, with guests including rugby stars Gavin Hastings, Finlay Calder and Jim Telfer, the voice of cricket Henry Blofeld and Berwickshire-based footballing great and telly pundit Pat Nevin will be talking about his autobiography The Accidental Footballer.

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Tickets are available via Citizen Ticket, at or on 0131 290 2112.

Crime writer Ian Rankin. Photo: Hamish Brown.Crime writer Ian Rankin. Photo: Hamish Brown.
Crime writer Ian Rankin. Photo: Hamish Brown.

Top political journalist Robert Peston will discuss his explosive new thriller The Whistleblower, delivering a timely COP 26 round-up; Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband will consider their respective manifestos to fix the most pressing problems the world currently faces; and Strictly Come Dancing sensation and keen cook Ed Balls will share his very personal autobiography Appetite: A Memoir of Recipes in Family and Food.

Further delights await with travel and television phenomenon, and, of course, Monty Python legend, Michael Palin on the story of the ship Erebus; history doyens Jonathan Dimbleby on how Hitler lost the war, and Neil Oliver talking about his tome The Story of the World in 100 Moments.

Festival favourite Rory Bremner will, as ever, be providing his famously cutting impersonations; there’s appearances from Richard Holloway and James Naughtie; as well as Selkirk's own Allan Massie with his fictionalised account of the life of Sir Walter Scott, The Ragged Lion; and Andrew Greig on his acclaimed new historical novel Rose Nicolson.

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Michelle McLeod, Sponsorship Manager at Baillie Gifford, said: “It’s exciting to see the festival return to live events, in such a fitting location, with an impressive cast of writers and thinkers.

"We are very much looking forward to enjoying all that the festival has to offer, all situated in the spectacular grounds of Abbotsford.”

The move to Abbotsford for this year is all part of the estate’s programme of events commemorating the special anniversary.

Hilary Mantel. Photo: Els Zweerink.Hilary Mantel. Photo: Els Zweerink.
Hilary Mantel. Photo: Els Zweerink.

Giles Ingram, Abbotsford’s CEO, said: “Abbotsford is delighted to be welcoming the Baillie Gifford Borders Book Festival to the home of Sir Walter Scott, especially as we celebrate the 250th anniversary of his birth.

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"The authors and visitors to the festival will be able to experience the wonderful home and setting that inspired Scott to become Scotland’s greatest storyteller and inspires writers still.

"It is fitting that in Scott’s anniversary year, our commemorations include the opportunity to celebrate the literary heritage we enjoy today.”

The Baillie Gifford Borders Book Festival is delighted to welcome the Financial Times as its new media partner, and this year’s festival programme will include FTWeekend events addressing some of the biggest political and economic issues of the day – Afghanistan, defining Scottishness and Englishness, and the question of a Scottish sovereign currency – with some of the brightest minds from the worlds of journalism, politics, economics, diplomacy and academia including Gavin Esler, Ailsa Henderson, Sebastian Payne, Sir John Kay and Tom Tugendhat MP.

The 12th prestigious Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction will be celebrated with an event with 2021 winner Hilary Mantel, who took the £25,000 prize in June this year for her book The Mirror and the Light.

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The ever-popular Family Book Festival will return on Saturday and Sunday, November 6 and 7, with a packed programme of author events and outdoor activities for children aged 3-12.

Bestselling author and illustrator Kristina Stephenson will be in her Museum of Marvellous Things, where, with a little help from puppets, songs and boundless imaginative energy, the impossible can happen.

The Borders’ very own acclaimed and addictively entertaining Alan Windram – who burst onto the scene with his Mac and Bob books – is on hand with stories, singing and robot dancing as he reads his latest One Button Benny adventure.

Blue Peter Award-winning author Pamela Butchart will offer a feast of fun exploring her book A Monster Ate My Packed Lunch!

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There will also be outdoor walking, drawing and writing workshops with talented duo, illustrator Jill Calder and author Justin Davies; an outdoor walking tour of discovery for all the family in Where’s Watty?, inspired by Sir Walter Scott himself; and a relaxing colouring session with Eilidh Muldoon, whose The Colouring Book of Scotland features Abbotsford.

The book festival also welcomes the continued support of title sponsor Baillie Gifford and Key Sponsor McInroy & Wood, as well as Cullen Kilshaw, Saltire Roofing & Building Ltd, Davidson Chalmers Stewart, DM Hall, and the ongoing funding of Scottish Borders Council, Creative Scotland and many other loyal supporters.

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