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Alloway and the Robert Burns connection

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Alloway and the Robert Burns connection

Other than the fact that Scotland's national bard Robert Burns (aka Rabbie Burns) was born here, there is not much in the way of historical significance to Alloway. Originally Alloway was a village and it became a suburb of Ayr in 1935. The 'town' if you want to call it that consists of a pharmacy, post office, flower shop, and a tea room on Monument Road (B7024) which is about a mile from Ayr. It's likely that Robert the Bruce rode through Alloway from his birthplace at Turnberry Castle down the coast on his way to Ayr. What was once farm and cattle grazing land around this area has been taken over by hundreds of houses, but they are off the main road and not visible. Let's focus on Robert and the real gems of Alloway.

Robert (1759-1796) and his seven siblings were typical children that had to help their father work the land when not in school. Robert and his brother Gilbert attended Alloway Mill School and later Ayr Academy in Ayr. His father employed tutor John Murdoch to teach them mathematics, spelling, grammar, as well as the bible. Murdoch seen something special in Robert and also taught him about poetry. That started Robert on his (short) lifetime of writing poems and also songs. The first two books that Robert read were 'The Life of Hannibal', and 'The History of Sir William Wallace'. Robert was a Freemason, and published his first edition of poems in 1786, and his second edition in 1787 by publisher William Creech of Edinburgh. Through this endeavour he became famous over all Scotland and eventually the world. After numerous flings and at least one illegitimate child he finally married jean Armour (1765-1834) in 1788 who gave him eight children. Robert became an exciseman which allowed him to get away from farming. Robert died in Dumfries in 1796 at age 37.

Burns Cottage was built by Robert's father William Burnes (original spelling) who married Agnes Broun in 1758 where they raised their family for the first seven years of Robert's life. William was a tenant farmer but the land in this area was 'sour' at the time and the family kept moving trying to find better soil to work. William continued to own the cottage after the family moved and sold it in 1781. It even became an ale house at one point. William died in 1784. Rooms were added on over the years but in recent times the cottage has been restored back to its original configuration. It is now the main tourist attraction of Alloway which welcomes visitors from all over the world to see what life was like in the cottage many centuries past.

A little ways east down the road, one will come to the Auld Kirk sitting up above street level. It's roofless now but the grounds are still well maintained. Williams father is buried here as marked by a rather large headstone. A replacement Kirk was built across the road and is still operational today as The Alloway Parish Church.

Next down the road is the Brig O' Doon House, the only hotel in Alloway. It's not a large venue but its a quality one. The tea room/bar is a cozy place for a cup of tea and some fresh scones. The hot chocolate with fresh cream and coconut is a chocolate lovers dream come true. The tea room even has tartan carpet. Walk east to the newer brig (1816) where you will get some very scenic shots of the 'Brig O' Doon' in all its glory. Walk back down into the garden of the hotel and take more up close photos of the brig. Sit on the bench and enjoy the serenity of the River Doon as it flows by and the sound of sheep grazing on the other side of the river.

The 'Brig O' Doon' (bridge over the River Doon) was made famous in Robert Burns poem 'Tam O Shanter' whereby a gentleman named Tam arrived at the Auld Kirk on his horse Meg after a night of drinking in Ayr. He saw the witches dancing and called out to them in a drunken stupor. They then chased him and Meg across the brig. Is it a true story, only tam knows and he's not talking. FYI - Robert's poem 'Tam O Shanter' is classified as a 'Tale'. The brig was built sometime in the late 1400's to early 1500's and spans around seventy feet across and a height of twenty-five feet above the river. It's a pedestrian only link between the district of Kyle (Alloway side) and the district of Carrick on the east side.

Across the roadway is 'Burns Monument and gardens' which was completed in 1823 for the sum of 3,200 British Pounds. It's made of sandstone and sits on a triangular base, and has a cupola supported by nine Corinthian columns representing the nine muses of Greek mythology.

Back on the main road one can either walk to 'Auld Nick's View' or drive up via 'Murdoch's Lone', both of which take you to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and gift store. This will round out your visit to Alloway and the 'Bards' connection.

Sources:

Wilson, Stuart Murdoch; Personal Visit, 2019

Marr, John S. and Sons, Glasgow; The Poetical Works of Robert Burns, Date Unkown, Sold for one Shilling.

Douglas, Hugh, Portrait of the Burns Country; 1968





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