PLENTY of people have left their mark on Scottish history, but in the grand scheme of things there’s only a chosen few considered significant enough to be worthy of a monument.

William Wallace has his tower overlooking Stirling, whilst Robert Burns also has a monument commemorating his achievements in Edinburgh.

But only Sir Walter Scott, author of some of Scotland’s most popular and widely read novels, can claim to have a 200-foot piece of architecture dedicated to him situated right in the heart of the country’s capital.

For many tourists flocking to the city, the Scott Monument will be one of the first things they see when they step out of the train station.

It’s practically impossible for them to escape Scott’s presence given the chances are they’ve just walked out of Waverley train station – named after the central character from the author’s 1814 novel of the same name. They might even find themselves wandering on Ivanhoe Crescent, named after the 1819 work. Yet, for someone so influential, his name is perhaps not as widely recognised today as say a Robert Burns or Robert Louis Stevenson.

“I think the thing with Scott is he is everywhere so people don’t realise they’ve encountered him. You get money out of the bank and it has Scott on it,” says Professor Alison Lumsden, the director of research at the University of Aberdeen’s Walter Scott Research Centre.

“People don’t realise they’ve encountered him the way they have Burns for example.”

Sir Walter Scott’s work practically made Scotland’s world-renowned tourist industry

Lumsden says the centre is working on developing materials for schools for upper primary and lower secondary aged pupils designed to make them aware of Scott, particularly his poetry.

“He was taught in schools in the 19th century and to be honest I don’t think it did him many favours. It put some people off him for life,” she says.

The project isn’t so much about getting youngsters reading Scott, which Lumsden admits isn’t “designed for children”, as it is making them aware of his influence.

“I don’t think you get children reading Tam O’Shanter in schools but they still know who Burns is, so it’s about getting them interested in the ideas Scott’s work raises and how he still has an impact today,” she adds.

“I don’t think we’re going to see children reading The Lady Of The Lake,” she says, laughing.

Tomorrow marks 251 years since Scott’s birth. During his peak years, he was the superstar of his day, says Lumsden.

Edinburgh-based historian Eric Melvin agrees. “He was an absolute colossus. He was the most widely read author in the 19th century writing in English,” he says.

Around 12,000 copies of Rob Roy were printed – an eye-catching figure for the time Scott was writing – and they sold out within two weeks. Proofs of his work were sent to America and translated into several languages across Europe. He published 26 novels which are still studied and admired today as well as several pieces of non-fiction, including a study into demonology and witchcraft.

Images in Scott’s work led to a widespread desire from many to visit Scotland, including Queen Victoria, says Melvin. Scenes in some of his novels, not least those set in the Highlands, describing all the wonders of nature which could be found there effectively served as written advertisements.

“His stories and images were carried across the world by so many people. He practically gave us the modern tourist industry,” Melvin adds.

His work touched millions and played a crucial part in constructing a literary form which still holds to this day. Scott was the first author to develop the idea of historical fiction which sees heroes and heroines inserted into a crucial period of history. Waverley takes place in the midst of the Jacobite rebellion whilst The Heart Of Midlothian takes the Porteous Riots – a series of violent protests following the death of a smuggler – as its backdrop. Iconic artist JMW Turner even came to paint scenes based on what he had read in Scott.

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“He was a visual writer. I think people can visualise the scenes and so his descriptions of Scotland were very appealing to people,” says Lumsden. “Those images of Scotland then became very much part of how Scotland is constructed in people’s imagination and it led to a lot of graphic art which was portable in a different way,” she adds.

“He was so foundational for how the novel developed. He’s given us an important legacy about how we understand history in that it’s not just about Bonnie Prince Charlie because there were normal people caught up in the Jacobite rising. We forget how revolutionary an idea that was,” says Lumsden.

Despite his popularity, Scott wasn’t afraid to take on the establishment. His view of the Act of Union is one which resonates amongst many today. It reads: “The interests of Scotland were considerably neglected in the treaty Union and in consequence the nation, instead of regarding it as an identification of the interests of both kingdoms, considered it a total surrender of their independence.”

Lumsden also admits that Scott’s romantic view of the Highlands is not one that everyone is necessarily on board with. “Scott’s legacy is complicated. Some people would say that what he gives us is just a romantic version of the Highlands and that maybe has not always been loved and some have wanted to move beyond that.”

Sir Walter Scott’s work practically made Scotland’s world-renowned tourist industrySir Walter Scott has left a lasting legacy on the Scottish arts

Following Scott’s death in 1832, a debate ensued as to how his life should be recorded. “His reputation was well deserved,” says Melvin. “I think it says something about how he was perceived that they ended up building a monument dedicated to him,” he adds. “All designs were initially rejected for the monument and then an entry was received from someone called John Morvo, but this was actually a pseudonym for George Meikle Kemp,” Melvin explains.

Kemp was a self-taught carpenter from the Borders but wasn’t a recognised architect so the establishment were “shocked at the decision to go with the design”, he adds.

The eventual gothic structure was heavily influenced by Melrose Abbey, close to where Scott was living in Abbotsford. John Morvo had been the architect working on the preservation of the abbey which was where Kemp got the idea for his pseudonym.

Work started in 1840 but the architect would eventually die in a drowning accident in 1842 and so never lived to see the work, which was completed in August 1846.

It remains pride of place in the middle of Edinburgh and at the time was the tallest monument in the world (it is now the second tallest behind the Jose Marti Memorial in Cuba) dedicated to an author.

They might not know it, but if you ask someone to describe Scotland to you, chances are it’s an image constructed from the mind of Scott.

Lumsden adds that despite the scale of academic research dedicated to the author, there’s one thing we shouldn’t forget: “He was just a brilliant storyteller.”