Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, was born here on 25 January 1759, still celebrated as Burns’ Night. The thatched cottage has been preserved as a museum. The Brig o’ Doon mentioned in ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ spans the river. A monument in the nearby gardens was erected by Boswell’s son in 1820. South of Alloway is Mt Oliphant farm where Burns moved at the age of 6; his first education was at Alloway School.
Arran is famous for its association with Robert the Bruce, who landed at Lochranza (‘the loch of safe anchorage’) in 1306 and later sheltered in King’s Caves near Blackwater. The island is roughly 20 miles long by 10 miles wide, and from Goat Fell in the north (its highest point at 2866ft) there are magnificent views of the Clyde the Western Isles and the coast of Ireland The Isle of Arran Heritage Museum is at Brodick, on the east coast, the most important village. Its15th-century castle overlooks Brodick Bay.
The Second Keep three miles west of this mining village was the Boswell family home until 1772, when the father of James Boswell built Auchinleck House, designed partly by the Adam brothers. It was here that the American scholar Chauncy B Tinker discovered the London journal which describes Boswell’s first meeting with Samuel Johnson; Boswell was buried in Auchinleck church in 1795.
Ayr, a fishing harbour, port and major resort, is best known for its associations with Robert Burns who was born at Alloway. He was baptised in the Auld Kirk at Ayr. The Tam o’Shanter Inn which Burns knew as a brewhouse is now a museum containing many relics of the poet. A statue of Burns stands in the town square.
Robert Louis Stevenson took the name of this small resort for his novel The Master of Ballantrae. This was Kennedy country, and many of their castles are in evidence, such as the ruined Ardstinchar Castle, visited by Stevenson in 1876, and further up the valley, Knockdolian and Kirkhill Castles. Just south of Ballantrae are the beautiful gardens of Glenapp Castle. Nearby a small mid-19th century church has been restored in memory of the Hon Elsie Mack lost flying the Atlantic in 1928. Seven miles north east on the beautiful coast road in Kennedy’s Pass.
Now a seaside resort with sandy beaches, this town at the mouth of the River Girvan, looking out across the Firth of Clyde, grew up round a small fishing port. There is a well-known whisky dlstillery in the town, and boat trips can be arranged to see the lonely 1114ft-high rock of Ailsa Craig. Lying to the west, 10 miles out to sea, it is home only to lighthouse keepers and thousands of seabirds. South of the town a beautiful coastal road to Ballantrae negotiates the dramatic Kennedy’s Pass.
A royal burgh located where the River Irvine joins the sea, Irvine and nearby Kilwinning have been paired to form a ‘seaside new town’, the first in Great Britain. In the centre of Irvine are the ruins of Seagate Castle which Mary Queen of Scots Visited in 1563. Robert Burns lived here between 1781 and 1783, working briefly as a flax-dresser in the Glasgow Vennel area. Several misfortunes attended Burns’ time in Irvine. He suffered from pleurisy and fire destroyed all his possessions. The Burns Club was inaugurated in 1826 and has since been converted into a museum. Across the Garnock and Irvine estuaries is the Ardeer explosives factory, one of Britain’s major production centres for high explosives. The site was chosen in 1873 by the Swedish chemist and inventor of dynamite, Sir Alfred Nobel, who initiated the Nobel Prize.
It was in Kilmarnock that Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, published his first collection, Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect; his intention was to raise enough money to emigrate to Jamaica, but the success of the book persuaded him to remain. A copy of this first edition and an extensive collection of original manuscripts are contained in the Burns Museum, a Victorian tower built to commemorate the poet. The Dick Institute includes displays of archaeological and geological interest, a collection of small arms, a children’s museum and an art gallery. Dean Castle contains exhibitions of European arms and early musical instruments, and there is a nature trail in the extensive park. A famous name connected with Kilmarnock is that of Johnnie Walker a grocer in King Street until he bega to blend whisky in 1820.
Souter Johnnie’s Cottage, a thatched 18th-century house, was once the home of John Davidson, the Village cobbler (or ‘souter’) of Burns’ poem ‘Tam O’Shanter’; Tam O’Shanter himself lived here. He was Douglas Graham of Shanter who supplied malted grain to a brew house in Ayr. Life-size stone figures of the two and their friends stand in the garden of the cottage, now a Burns’ Museum.
Robert Burns lived with his family two and a half; miles north west at Lochlea until his father’s death in 1784. In 1788, he began his married life in the building now named Burns’ House in Mauchline. Gavin Hamilton, the friend at whose house the ceremony took place, is buried in the churchyard – and so, too, are some of the poet’s children. Mauchline is mentioned in several of Burns’ works, and you canstill take a drink at Possie Nansie’s Tavern. The Memorial Tower contains a Burn Museum.
Apart from Robert Burns, Mauchline is famous for it’s curling stones.
Maybole used to be the capital of Carrick the southern division of Ayrshire. It was also the stronghold of the redoubtable Earls of Cassillis, heads of the Kennedies. 28 baronial mansions have existed in the area, but only one survives the restored 17thcentury ‘Castle’ in the High Street, which was originally the Earl’s town house. Two miles south west of the town are the ruins of 13th-century Crossraguel Abbey. 5 miles north east on the road to the fishing village of Dunure is a phenomenon known as the ‘Electric Brae’, where the road appears to descend when in fact it ascends.
East of Kilmarnock along the River Irvine are the three lacemaking and muslin towns of Galston, Newmilns and Darvel, where Dutch and Huguenot immigrants settled in the 17th century. Sir Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin was born in Darvel in 1881.