AREA FO­CUS

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

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

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

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