Places: Old Mortality

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1816

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 1679

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Western Scotland

*Western Old MortalityScotland. The main backdrop of the novel. For Scott, this region of Scotland was the geographical heart of the radical Covenanter tradition in Scottish history, and he was intensely interested in and deeply knowledgeable about this area, its people, and its history. Most of the places in the novel illuminate aspects of western Scotland and of the Covenanter rebellion which grew out of the west country of Scotland and which tore the country apart in 1679. On a more specifically symbolic level, Scott describes western Scotland as divided between bleak and empty moorland to the north and a fertile and richly productive valley to the south. For Scott, these two areas of western Scotland symbolize the fanaticism and violent division of the Scottish past and the order and rationality of Scotland’s future in the eighteenth century. The novel is about the place where these two forces clash at the end of the seventeenth century.


Tillietudlem (TIHL-ee-TUHD-lehm). Ancient Scottish castle characterized by its great central tower and sturdy battlements that is the home of the Bellendens. Scott based Tillietudlem mainly on his firsthand knowledge of the ruined castle of Craignethan. Although Tillietudlem is itself fictional, the popularity of Scott’s novel was so great that the Caledonian Railway established a station called Tillietudlem in the 1860’s to accommodate those passengers who insisted on seeing the “real” Tillietudlem. In the novel itself, the castle is in part a symbol of the deeply felt Royalist faith of the Bellenden family. For Lady Bellenden, Tillietudlem is a holy place because Charles II once had breakfast there. Tillietudlem stands in the novel with its proud tower looking down, in every sense, on the wild Covenanters whose fanatical Presbyterianism leads them to rebel against Charles II. Despite this, Tillietudlem and the feudal faith it represents are surrounded by conflict and rebellion, and throughout the novel it is a place caught in the middle of strife, under siege, and threatened by both war and legal fraud. The trials of Tillietudlem become Scott’s main way of showing the cost of civil unrest.


Milnewood. Home of Henry Morton, the novel’s protagonist. Whereas Tillietudlem represents the Royalist cause, Milnewood is a symbol of moderate Presbyterianism and moderate Scottish nationalism. Relative to Henry Morton, Milnewood has other symbolic values. Early in the novel, he lives at Milnewood, but more or less as a poor relation. For Henry, Milnewood is scarcely more than a prison of frustrated potential. In the last chapters of the novel, Henry returns from exile to his old home, and Scott explains that even after his marriage to Edith Bellenden, when he has in essence outgrown his home, he celebrates an annual feast at Milnewood. Morton’s frustrations and achievements as a maturing character are reflected in his relationship to Milnewood.

*Loudon Hill

*Loudon Hill (LOWD-en). Scene of the Covenanter victory over the Royalist forces of Claverhouse. This battle represents the finest qualities of the Covenanter rebels, in part because their knowledge of and military skill in using the landscape, their sense of fighting for their own country, and the contrasting failure of the Royalist forces to understand either the place of battle or the country in which they are fighting, dramatize the Covenanter rebellion as a nationalist struggle.

*Bothwell Bridge

*Bothwell Bridge. Scene of the greatest battle in the Covenanter uprising, in which the rebels are decisively defeated. Scott describes the battle and its aftermath with great power, revealing the brutality and cruelty of both Covenanters and Royalists, and of war in general. At the end of the novel, Henry Morton returns to Bothwell Bridge ten years after the battle to find it a place of peace and rural beauty. Scott thus uses Bothwell Bridge in 1679 and 1689 to symbolize his central theme of the horrors of war and the joys of peace.

Black Linn of Linklater

Black Linn of Linklater. Hiding place of the insanely fanatical and violent John Balfour of Burley. This strange, secret, and eerie place is a perfect reflection of Balfour himself. Its dark and secret cave, its raging waterfall, and its frightening and gloomy chasm mirror the inner torments and fierce depths of one of the novel’s greatest characters.

BibliographyBarrett, Deborah J. “Balfour of Burley: The Evil Energy in Scott’s Old Mortality.” Studies in Scottish Literature 17 (1982): 248-253. Analyzes the character in the novel who, more than any other, fails to affirm a positive code of conduct.Dickson, Beth. “Sir Walter Scott and the Limits of Toleration.” Scottish Literary Journal 18, no. 2 (November, 1991): 46-62. Argues that although Scott struggles to understand the Cameronians, it is clear throughout that he also disapproves of them and does not regret their passing.Fleischner, Jennifer B. “Class, Character and Landscape in Old Mortality.” Scottish Literary Journal 9, no. 2 (December, 1982): 21-36. Landscape, a prominent element in many of Scott’s novels, is often overlooked. Sees landscape in relation to the social and moral standing of major characters.Humma, John B. “The Narrative Framing Apparatus of Scott’s Old Mortality.” Studies in the Novel 12, no. 4 (Winter, 1980): 301-315. Explores the problem of landlord, Pattieson, Cleishbotham, and editors as commentators upon the narrative.Whitmore, Daniel. “Bibliolatry and the Rule of the World: A Study of Scott’s Old Mortality.” Philological Quarterly 65, no. 2 (Spring, 1986): 243-262. Bibliolatry is excessive veneration of the Bible, a term the Cameronians would have found objectionable in its presumption. Illuminates the clash within the novel between church and state.
Categories: Places