Seeking Tam on the Burns Trail, Alloway
I thought I’d share a fun day out we spent in Ayrshire, following in the footsteps of Robert Burns on the Burns Trail, Alloway and beyond.
We’d spent the night at the pretty Dumfries & Galloway town of Portpatrick and were in no rush to cut our adventures short and head straight home the next day.
Kirkoswald home of Tam’s cronie Souter Johnnie
On our way to Portpatrick we’d seen signs for Soutar Johnnie’s Cottage so we headed there to check it out. For those of you who know the Burns classic Tam O’Shanter, you’ll recognise Soutar Johnnie as Tam’s drinking cronie.
I’ve loved the tale of Tam O’Shanter since childhood. I was always drawn to stories of creepy, otherworldly beasties rather than those about adventuring, posh kids who drank lashings of ginger beer. As a student I was taught Scottish Literature by a wonderful eccentric called Professor Jack. He used to recite Tam O’Shanter from memory as he leapt around the lecture theatre, arms flailing. He was a joy to watch.
Souter Johnnie’s Cottage is located in Kirkoswald where Burns attended the village school. With a ruined kirkyard and thatched cottages the village has an old world feel to it. Souter Johnnie obviously wasn’t expecting us as we arrived to find his house closed, despite the barrage of signposts which had lured us there. Thankfully it was only closed temporarily for renovations.
Undeterred, we decided to check out the old ruined kirk and cemetery instead. ‘Maybe he’s in here?’ I suggested, and I was right. Not only was he in there, he was in great company alongside his literary buddies Tam O’Shanter and Kirkton Jean. We also found Robert Burns’ grandparents and his old school master buried there.
And at his elbow, Souter Johnny,
His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony;
Tam lo’ed him like a vera brither –
They had been fou for weeks thegither!
That at the Lord’s house, even on Sunday,
Thou drank wi’ Kirkton Jean till Monday.
I wasn’t aware that the characters in the poem were based on real people, so I was delighted with this new discovery. Apparently, the real Tam O’Shanter and Souter Johnnie loved nothing better than visiting the town of Ayr on market day to have a fair skinful (drinking binge) together – just like their literary immortalisations.
Burns Cottage – Burns Trail, Alloway
After Kirkoswald. we headed to Alloway where Burns was born in 1759. Before exploring the Burns Trail, Alloway we stopped for some lunch. We found a nice little tea room, aptly named Poet’s Corner and ate our lunch al fresco. With reports of snow up north we felt smug basking in April sunshine with our sunglasses on. Later, fed and with a much needed caffeine fix we were ready to explore on the Burns trail, Alloway.
Our first stop was his birthplace opposite Poet’s Corner. Although the village was busy, outside Burns Cottage was delightfully people free. It was an unexpected surprise to be able to snap the famous cottage without muttering about people wandering into shot!
The wee dug mentioned that Burns wasn’t the only famous, handsome laddie to have been born in Ayrshire, as he too had been born there. We were a little surprised to find that after featuring in the Historic Scotland spring 2016 magazine, and appearing on some Visit Scotland billboards in London he now considered himself to be as famous as our national bard.
Poet’s Path – the Burns Trail, Alloway
After admiring Burns Cottage we meadered along Poet’s Path which features Tam O’Shanter weather vanes and statues inspired by other Burns works.
Soon the Wee White Dug came face to face with THE moose and he was not best pleased. He puffed up his chest and gave it his best yappy, terrier bark. The moose didn’t flinch so the boy changed tack, deciding that it probably hadn’t seen him after all. He tiptoed by with the stealth of a ninja, grumbling about how he’d be making a call to Rentokil Pest Control!
Alloway Auld Kirk – The Burns Trail, Alloway
After humongous moosegate we visited the Alloway Auld Kirk. This is where Tam watched the witches dance as Auld Nick played the fiddle. It’s also where you’ll find the parents of Robert Burns buried.
It’s such an atmospheric place, and it really brings the poem to life. I could almost hear Tam, lost in the moment crying out “weel done, Cutty-sark” before very quickly regretting it.
Brig o’ Doon – The Burns Trail, Alloway
And our next stop? – where else but the Brig o’ Doon. Brig is the Scots word for bridge and the River Doon is the river that flows under this famous literary brig.
Having angered the witches by interrupting their hellish ceilidh, the terrified Tam flees on horseback towards the key stane on the brig with the witches hot on his heels. You probably know that witches can’t cross flowing water, so if Tam reached the key stane he was safe. Tam was lucky that night, he made it to the key stane and escaped the otherworldly terrors in hot pursuit. His trusty mare Meg wasn’t quite so lucky. Although she escaped with her life, her tail was left behind. Torn from poor Meg an angry witch.
Casper practiced some fast running on the Brig o’ Doon and felt that he’d definitely have reached the key stane with his tail intact. We didn’t ever bother to humour the ridiculous notion that he could run faster than a horse.
Burns National Monument – The Burns Trail, Alloway
Our last Burns themed visit of the day was to the Burns National Monument & Memorial Gardens. The gardens were a riot of cheery Spring daffodils.
After a lovely stroll around the gardens it was time to head homewards. And so ended a wonderful day exploring Kirkoswald and the Burns Trail, Alloway.
Ayrshire is a beautiful region with lots to see and do. If you’re interested in reading more about it you may enjoy this other Ayrshire inspired post.
It’s only fitting that I end with a quote from the great man himself.
O Scotia! my dear, my native soil! For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent; Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content.
Until next time …………