This month we focus on Edinburgh and the Lothians: discovering the story of explorer Isobel Wylie Hutchison, Edinburgh's own Gossip Girl and the best walks in the area
The Victorian era was not altogether kind to women. Not having the vote, obediently sitting in the domestic sphere, or walking down the church aisle in the name of ‘marrying well’ seems outlandishly far removed from the contemporary world to which we are accustomed. For Scottish Arctic explorer and botanist Isobel Wylie Hutchison, the future was more or less paved out, and it took great courage to step outside of these traditional realms and accepted norms.
Born in 1889 in Carlowrie Castle, West Lothian, Isobel was the third of Thomas Hutchison and Jeannie Wylie’s five children. The castle was built by her grandfather, who had been a successful wine merchant and Provost of Leith. His wealth allowed him to privately educate the young Isobel, and he also passed many hours teaching her about gardening and botany.
Carlowrie’s rambling grounds provided the ideal setting to nurture her wildly adventurous spirit. Her grandfather died before the castle’s completion in 1855 but left behind a beautiful David Bryce-designed mansion which Isobel would call home for 93 years and in which her character was forged.
Aged ten, Isobel’s father died, a momentous event which was closely followed by the death of two of her brothers – one in the First World War, the other in a freak climbing accident in the Cairngorms. She tried to dull her grief by walking long distances: she would walk from Edinburgh to John O’Groats, or head south to London, with her spells in the great outdoors bringing her solace. Although her father left her a trust that left her financially independent she was also sustained both mentally and financially by her success in poetry and writing – well into her twenties she wrote for the popular magazine ‘The Scribbler’, kept diaries and wrote papers about her rambling.
Having witnessed her sisters settle down into marriage, it is said she was not taken by the idea of being tied down. ‘I think it would have put a lot of men’s noses out of joint not being married back then,’ said Andrew Marshall, current owner of Carlowrie Castle who also grew up on the estate. ‘In those days it would have been frowned upon not to be married, so you can imagine the pressure she must have had on her. But that’s what makes her unique. She was quietly confident in her abilities and was certain of her purpose in life’.
Jo Woolf, writer in residence at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, agrees. ‘She wanted to go out and see the world,’ she said. ‘She had this very strong attraction for the lands of the