The birthplace of handsome, charming Robert Burns and the setting of one of his most famous poems, ‘Tam o’Shanter.’ A must see village for fans of the great man but also well worth a wander if in Ayrshire. Gardens, parks, a Poet’s Pathway, a thatched cottage…..Alloway is what we call in Scotland a ‘douce wee place.’ Very tidy, well to do and attractive – and probably knows it:) Add in the Burns’ layer of fame and it makes for a fine half day out.
Alloway is a pretty conservation village just two miles from Ayr and 40 mins south of Glasgow. I usually park (free) at the Robert Burns Birthplace Centre and explore from there.
The Centre houses a museum with an excellent exhibition about Scotland’s Bard, the Ploughman Poet, who was born and raised in Alloway in 1759. The Museum is full of memorabilia, really absorbing. Rabbie Burns is also known in Russia as ‘the people’s poet.’
There is a huge café on site – very cafeteria like in scale – but it serves excellent scones, perfect fuel before setting out to enjoy of this very interesting, attractive small village.
The Poet’s Path connects the Centre with Burns Cottage and the village itself. This short pedestrianised walkway is lined with sculptures from the poems themselves and weather vanes depicting key scenes.
It’s a well restored cottage indeed with its thatched roof and cream walls, quite a sight in the middle of the village.
I was lucky to visit when a guided tour by a costumed volunteer was going on and it really brought the place to life, offering a fascinating insight into Burns’ upbringing and the hard life lived in those times. There are only two rooms to tour, plus a stable area, all very low ceilinged and dark. But it is well furnished and the bed he slept in (was born in) is still there, as is some of the furniture of the day. At school, Burns was not judged to be as able as his older brother – his report card, on display, has a ‘could do better’ ring to it! How wrong they were! School was attended only after chores in the fields were completed.
Alloway’s short main street, dominated by the cottage, is the heart of the village which has a couple of small shops, a post office and café. It’s a smart wee place and the houses around the wider area are very well to do and often quite grand.
Opposite the Burns Centre is the atmospheric Auld Kirk, built in 1516.It’s the site where Tam, under a full moon, spied the witches and goblins in their wild celebrations, all overseen by Old Nick himself. These ancient ruins must be a very spooky place at night! To me, the kirk is best seen on a gloomy winter’s day when the branches of the trees reach out long spindly witches fingers over the old stone walls. In summer, the only sound may be the wind rustling through the leaves or moaning around the church itself. Easy for the imagination to play tricks! Burns’ own father is buried here and his headstone is etched with a dedication by the Bard himself.
A minute’s walk away, the 19th century Burns Memorial Garden is filled with flowerbeds and little walkways, a delightful place to stroll. At the top is a Memorial to the poet, one of many throughout Scotland.
Below the gardens lies the 16th century Brig O’Doon – the stone bridge across which Tam rode his horse in terror to escape an evil witch in hot pursuit.Witches cannot cross water but she managed to pull off poor Meg’s tail at the last moment.
My parents, when courting many moons ago in the 1950s, carved their initials on this bridge, as have hundreds of other sweethearts over the years. Burns, I think, would have approved, as someone who celebrated romantic love and lust. He enjoyed many liaisons himself including fathering 12 children by 4 different women!
Between the old bridge and the new 19th century bridge, sits the very pretty Brig O’Doon hotel with its long narrow gardens bordering the river.
It’s well worth walking the mile or so down past Burn’s Cottage to Rozelle Park, a very pleasant public space and home of an interesting small Art Gallery.
Rozelle House and The Maclaurin Gallery were built in 1760 and the former has a permanent collection of Alexander Goudie’s arresting and impressive oil paintings of scenes from ‘Tam O’Shanter.’ They are brilliantly done, capturing the other-worldly, funny, wild and at times terrifying images in the poem on a huge scale.
The Maclaurin itself hosts regular art exhibitions, offering much needed inspiration, given the hours I spend frustrated at trying to achieve something in oils and pastels. There is a pleasant tearoom in the mansion house complex with views over the lawns and woodland.
And that as they say is that – Alloway in a nutshell.
A place of pilgrimage for lovers of Burns’ wonderful , wise, beautiful and sharp observations on life and love, as relevant today as they were 240 years ago. He wrote in ‘ the language of the heart and spoke to all, soul to soul.’
The Ploughman Poet should have the last word; here, on the transitory nature of happiness:
‘But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, it’s bloom is shed;
Or, like the snowfall in the river,
A moment white, then melts forever.’
(From Tam O’ Shanter)