I thought I’d share a wonderful day out, spent in Ayrshire on the trail of Robert Burns – Scotland’s national bard.
We’d stayed overnight at the pretty Dumfries & Galloway town of Portpatrick and decided we were in no great rush to cut our adventures short and head straight home the next day.
On our way to Portpatrick we’d seen numerous signs for Soutar Johnnie’s Cottage so we headed there to check it out. For those of you familiar with 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 the poem like a raving madman. I remember him leaping around the lecture theatre, arms flailing as he recited it, word perfect from memory – I was mesmerised.
Souter Johnnie’s Cottage is located in Kirkoswald where Burns attended the village school. With a ruined kirkyard and thatched roofs the village has a real old world feel to it. Souter Johnnie clearly 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 poem mates 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 hadn’t even realised 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 enjoy a good skinful (drinking binge) together, just like their literary immortalisations.
Before exploring Alloway we stopped for some lunch. We found a nice little tea room, aptly named Poet’s Corner and enjoyed our lunch al fresco. With reports of snow up north we felt smug basking in April sunshine with our sunglasses on. Later, well fed and with a much needed caffeine fix we set off back on the trail of Rabbie Burns.
Our first stop was Burns’ birthplace opposite Poet’s Corner. Although the town was busy the outside of the cottage was delightfully people free. It was great being able to snap the famous cottage without muttering about people wandering into the 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.
After admiring Burns Cottage we meadered along Poet’s Path which features some wonderful 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!
It’s a wonderfully atmospheric place which 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.
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 towards the key stane on the brig with them hot on his heels. You’ll likely 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 as lucky – although she escaped with her life, she left her tail behind in the grasp of 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.
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.
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 …………