Human creativity is a remarkable thing. It has the power to reinvent history, to layer a new story over old stones. If Robert Burns had never stood in the graveyard of Kirk Alloway and been inspired to write his famous poem Tam O’ Shanter, the spot would likely have been noted as nothing more than just another romantic site in Burns’ home town.
He placed Tam at the edge of the scene, watching until he could not keep himself from calling out with passion for one of the witches. The fires suddenly extinguished and the witch Nannie took up the chase of a very humbled and frightened Tam.
Today this Kirk yard, which in the summer is beautifully adorned with dancing light and shadow thanks to the surrounding lushness of tall leafy trees, is one of the must-see locations for any Burns fan. His father is buried here, and although his mother's name is also marked on the stone, her body is buried in Bolton in West Lothian.
None of the original furniture remains, however the rooms have been recreated to some extent, in order to help demonstrate the kind of life Burns’ family would have led.
The parlour is the most inviting room, with its fireplace, spinning wheel and nursing chair, as well as small embellishments like a wooden-handled paddle on the windowsill, an early tool for literacy instruction on which is written the alphabet and the Lord’s Prayer.
In one corner of the small room, hanging above a bed made of wood and a lumpy, straw-stuffed mattress, hang four small night gowns, lit up with white lights. Each night gown is embroidered with the name of one of the Burns children born in the cottage between 1759 and 1764. It is a silent, eerie sight, ghosts from childhood who can never leave the place they first came into the world.
When visiting Alloway it is impossible to miss the Burns Monument, a massive columned work that was built in 1820 and which is situated in the middle of a charming garden.
After that all the beautiful subtleties of the other Burns’ sites, this structure can seem a little brazen and out of place. Burns’ work was often so of the earth, paying homage to the average man of the fields, and the monument doesn’t quite match that tone.
There is so much to see around Alloway, including several other rural sites highlighted on this map from the Burns National Heritage Park.
In 2009, 250 years after Burns’ birth, The National Trust for Scotland began a major redevelopment of the park, which includes the building of a new museum, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.
No journey through Ayrshire can be complete without at least a short stop in Alloway. Not only can you spend many relaxed hours wandering a quaint and thoroughly beguiling village, but the magic of visiting an area of such vast cultural importance for Scotland is something that will stay with you for years to come.