Britain at its best: Exploring the delights of Ayrshire
Britain at its best: Exploring the delights of Ayrshire, from its regal Georgian terraces to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum (and the cafes that serve haggis and Irn-Bru)
- Rob Crossan ‘makes himself comfortable’ at the Fairfield House Hotel in Ayr
- With the hotel as his base, he visits the poet Robert Burns’ birthplace – Alloway
- He admires the ‘looming’ monument to the poet and the cobbled Brig O’ Doon
For a man who once wrote ‘Och, git oota ma pus, ya bawbag! Jings!’ (or ‘Get out of my face, you testicle’ in modern English) the monument to Robert Burns feels almost unduly elegant.
The memorial — set amid apple and monkey puzzle trees and red riots of Japanese maple in the landscaped gardens next to the cottage of his birth — is a looming 70ft-high Grecian-style temple.
Built in 1823, nearly three decades after Burns’s death at 37, it has nine pillars representing the muses of Greek mythology.
The memorial and landscaped gardens at Robert Burns’ birthplace in Alloway, Scotland
Local hero: Burns was born in 1759, the eldest son of a tenant farmer named William
Climb the stone steps to the platform and you’re rewarded with views over the kirks [churches], fields and squat cottages of the Ayrshire village of Alloway on Scotland’s south-western coast.
I wonder what Burns would have made of it. It’s somewhat at odds with his ‘man of the soil’ image and his bawdy poems that speak of sex, haggis, booze and the occult. The Scottish Bard was born in 1759, the eldest son of a tenant farmer named William whose gravestone still stands in front of a ruined kirk near the memorial.
The Burns cottage is maintained in something approaching its original spartan state, with the stables, grain store and hearth giving us a feel for the frugal conditions in which Rabbie was raised.
It’s a miracle that the cottage still survives at all given the many fires that have destroyed the thatched roof, a failed bid by suffragettes to blow it up, and the visit of a drunken John Keats who, after a row with the boozy caretaker, wrote some verses he said were ‘so bad I cannot transcribe them’.
Also in this quiet village is a modern Burns museum that displays first editions, portraits and even his stationery.
There’s also the cobbled Brig O’ Doon, the bridge across which, in his Tam o’Shanter poem, Burns’s protagonist and his horse Meg are chased by fearsome witches after a drinking binge in Ayr goes badly wrong.
Ayr itself, just a ten-minute drive away, seems far too genteel for a Tam-style binge now. The regal Georgian terraces hark back to the town’s era as a major port, and the promenade is of colossal dimensions.
Robert Burns’ father’s gravestone still stands in front of the ruins of the Auld Kirk, pictured
‘The Burns cottage (pictured) is maintained in something approaching its original spartan state,’ says Rob
Return London Euston to Glasgow trains with Avanti West Coast from £75.90 return (avantiwestcoast.co.uk). Doubles B&B at the Fairfield House Hotel (fairfieldhotel.co.uk) from £90. Find more information at visitscotland.com.
Here, pale yellow sands are licked by the bone-chilling waters of the Firth of Clyde, as the Isle of Arran looms when the clouds clear beyond.
I make myself comfortable in the Fairfield House Hotel, with its high-ceilinged rooms, chandeliers, dark wood fittings and red armchairs, as the wind howls outside.
Later, I walk past the esplanade to the Blue Lagoon cafe in the centre of town for a traditional Scottish supper of haggis and chips plus a can of Irn-Bru.
The dish of offal and oats that Burns eulogised in his Address poem is an acquired taste, though a faint hint of spice (nutmeg and pepper?) offers a satisfying tang. Burns gave the greatest description of haggis, of course. It’s reassuring to know that it’s still possible to eat as much as you want of the meal he described as ‘warm-reekin’, rich!’ on his home turf.
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