A NOTEBOOK and a pen which once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte and a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair were some of the artefacts viewed by the Prince of Wales when he paid his first visit to Abbotsford House, near Melrose, this week.
As well as the private visit to Abbotsford to hear about the £10m project to turn the home created by novelist Sir Walter Scott on the banks of the River Tweed into a major international tourist atraction, Prince Charles was also in the Borders to reopen Greenlaw Town Hall, itself refurbished in a £2million renovation scheme.
At Abbotsford, Prince Charles – who uses the title Duke of Rothesay whenever in Scotland – was welcomed by staff and trustees and was taken on a tour of the house and gardens.
He was informed about major development work, due to start this month, which will see the creation of a new modern visitor centre, car park and tourist accommodation.
.As well as historical items collected by Scott, the prince viewed the writer’s 9,000-volume collection of books.
The prince’s arrival at the grand house was delayed by about 20 minutes, but he still spent an hour-and-a-half touring the property and talking with staff.
Abbotsford Trust chairman Lord Sanderson believes Abbotsford will become an international showcase for the legacy of one of Scotland’s most famous sons.
And he commented: “We’re extremely pleased that His Royal Highness took the time to visit and hear more about our work on this important project.”
Trust chief executive Jason Dyer told TheSouthern it had been a memorable occasion for all concerned.
“It was absolutely wonderful to see the prince here at Abbotsford,” he said.
“I think that is an indicator that Abbotsford is important not only nationally, but internationally.”
Mr Dyer said the prince had asked questions about both Sir Walter and the house he built.
“He was very interested in what everyone had to see and seemed really taken with Scott’s collections inside the house.”
Mr Dyer told us that Abbotsford’s popularity, which had declined for a number of years following the first Gulf War in the early 1990s and then the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001, was now on the rise again, with 30,000 visitors last year.
“I think a large part is to do with the fact that, while Scott has long been regarded as very important overseas, it is only now that he is coming to the attention of more and more people in his own country.
“More people are beginning to recognise the contribution he made to Scotland’s national identity,” explained Mr Dyer.
Among those meeting the prince was Abbotsford’s longest-serving member of staff, senior guide Jean McWhinnie, from Darnick. At Abbotsford since 1977, she said the prince had been a pleasure to talk to.
“Basically we just chatted about visitor numbers and why they had declined for a while.
“The prince was very interested in what he was told. We also had to be on our toes because among the guests was the prince’s old English teacher – Sir Eric Anderson – who is a noted authority on Scott.”
Asked if she had been nervous beforehand, she said not at all. “They’re just people – the same as everybody else.”
Head gardener Bill Hughes was on hand to show the prince round Abbotsford’s extensive grounds.
Mr Hughes, who comes from Earlston, has been head gardener for the past eight years.
“There’s no question the prince knows his stuff when it comes to gardening,” he told TheSouthern.
“I was very nervous – worrying that he was going to ask me the Latin name of some plant that I wouldn’t be able to remember!
“He was interested in how Scott had laid out the gardens. He also mentioned that the box hedging was looking very well and asked when I was planning to start clipping it this year.”