One of the places where we rarely go bird watching is around the Ayrshire coast so today we decided to go to Ayr. High tide was 13.15 so we planned to arrive at around 11.00 to allow for a walk along the beach before high tide.
The weather was cloudy and a bit cold, but despite this, it was quite busy on the beach and surrounding play areas. People were still buying ice creams and sitting at the tables outside the cafe’s drinking latte’s, despite the cold wind. The only difference from the summer was that they were all wrapped up!
Unfortunately, the bird life was very disappointing and was mainly gulls. As the tide comes in, many birds can be see at the water’s edge looking for food.
We walked along the beach from the Esplanade to the Belleisle area in the hope of seeing more birds, but were disappointed.
Not wishing to go home empty-handed, so to speak, we decided to spend the remainder of the day visiting the birthplace of Robert Burns and his museum in Alloway, Ayr. Robert Burns was born on 25 January 1759 in Alloway, Ayr and died on 21 July 1796 in Dumfries in the south of Scotland. He is the national bard of Scotland and his works are widely known throughout the world.
There were quite a number of people on the beach and two windsurfers who were packing up for the day. In the distance the Heads of Ayr could be seen, but the islands of Arran and Cumbrae were obscured by the mist.
Robert Burns Cottage
It is possible to walk part of the way along the beach to the Belleisle area of Ayr and turning left past the golf course to reach at the Cottage. It is a pleasant walk of about 3 miles and not very strenuous. The Cottage is a small white-painted house with a byre, barn, kitchen and parlour and is maintained by the National Trust for Scotland.
For anyone interested in social conditions in rural Scotland in the 18th century, the cottage gives a good indication of the living conditions at this time. It is a solid building, unlike many of the houses being built today. The byre, barn, kitchen and parlour are all set out as they were in Burns’ time and the original fabric of the building has been maintained.
There is a small interactive display when entering the cottage and the sounds from the past from the various rooms be heard.
Ayrshire’s Link to the West Indies
The Belleisle and Roselle areas of Ayr were called after slave plantations in the West Indies. Robert Burns accepted a job to help manage a slave plantation in the West Indies but never went there.
Ayrshire made good money out of the slave economy. Ayrshire’s society included a number of rich West Indian plantation owners made fortunes overseas by exploiting slaves and bringing them back to their Scottish households during the lifetime of Burns.
What is surprising is that Burns himself considered taking employment as a plantation manager in the West Indies before making a decent living for himself in Scotland. Burns was all for equality and this not seem like a job which Burns would be attracted to.
Scots Wha Hae
Burns was also proud of being Scottish and if alive today would probably be a Scottish Nationalist fighting for the right to an independent Scotland. His song ‘Scots Wha Hae’ (Scots, Who Have) was written by Robert Burns in 1793, in the form of a speech given by Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. This was one of the most spectacular battles of the Scottish Wars of Independence against the English as it secured the future of the throne for Robert Bruce, King of Scots.
‘Scots, wha hae wi Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome tae yer gory bed,
Or tae victorie.
We spent about 20 minutes at the cottage before walking the short distance to the new Burns Museum. This was only opened in January 2011 and has a number of interesting items belonging to Burns, as well as providing an insight into his life.
The short walk is made more interesting by taking the Poet’s Path as there are some bronze statues of a mouse and fox, as well as weather vanes telling the tale of Tam O’Shanter.
Burns was a prolific writer and his works have been translated into numerous languages. Considering the times in which he lived, he was an educated man and was able to write in Scots as well as English. He was also an animal lover and cared for the welfare of domestic and wild animals as can be seen in his poem ‘To a mouse’.
Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
Burns Museum – Eco Friendly
The eco friendly museum is heated by technology which uses heat from 2 m below the ground to provide the building with most of its heating requirements. It is home to the most important Burns collection in the world to give visitors an insight into the life and legacy of this world renown poet and writer.
The museum building is made from locally-sourced timber. The external wall panels are filled with recycled paper (cellulose) for excellent thermal insulation and to allow the release excess moisture to escape to the outside environment.
The museum has low levels of light to minimize the fading which can occur with normal levels of lighting. It is divided into areas relevant to the poet’s life including his writings, his family heirlooms, religion and education and his family life and legacy. His writing desk is in the museum, his ink pen and original documents are also there.
Many interactive items are there for adults and children to enjoy. Sit on the stool under the pulpit and the voice of a minister will sound giving you a stern talking to for any demeanours.
In the Presbyterian Church, parishioners who strayed from the teachings of Christ and the Church were made to sit at the front and receive this public dressing-down. Things like drunkenness, not obeying the Sabbath and petty crime were not tolerated.
Burns family were Presbyterians and the Church played a very big part in his life. His family Bible, communion coin and mother’s hymn book are all in the museum. The Presbyterian Church was the main church in lowland Scotland (after the Scottish Reformation in 1560 severed all ties with the Papacy) and the Church and the teachings of the Bible had a major say in all aspects of life.
While there we went on the guided tour of the museum and learned a lot about the poet and his writings.
The museum also has a shop and cafe which provided some refreshments at the end of the visit. A cup of tea and a scone were a welcome end to the visit and at 16.45 it was time to make tracks back to Ayr and catch the train home.
It was too late to see the Brig O’Doon or Burns Monument, but we did nip across the road from the Museum to see the Auld Kirk before walking the 2 .5 miles back to Ayr.
It had been a great day – bird-watching of a sorts, walking on the beach and visiting the home of Scotland’s best known poet. What more could you ask for?
Address:Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Murdoch’s Lone, Alloway, KA7 4PQ
Car: A77 trunk road, 40 minutes drive from Glasgow.
Train: Half-hourly train service from Glasgow to Ayr. Local bus service to Alloway.
Cycle: National Cycle Route 7 and the Ayrshire Coastal Path Network are connected to Alloway by short local routes.
1 April – 30 September, daily, 10am – 5.30pm
1 October – 31 March, daily, 10am – 5pm
NTS member Free
Family (2 adults) £20
Family (1 adult) £16