The Burns Country – Scotland

” WHATEVER is that’ It sounds like singing! ”

Barbara stood still and listened. It certainly was music which floated down the hillside to where Mrs. Pitt and the others were wandering, close to the river Doon.

High above the river bank, with its all too modern tea gardens, crowded on that Saturday with tourists and holiday makers, stands the Burns Monument; soon discovering that the music came from that direction, Mrs. Pitt led the way up the steep path.

They found it impossible to go inside the little memorial building, for the room was thronged. Men and women were gathered about the statue of Burns, singing with deepest feeling, ” Ye Banks and Braes o’ Bonnie Doon.” It was a most unexpected scene. Here were people of the working-class,—women pale and bent by toil, men with hard, seamed faces—all of whom had forgotten their burdens, and were putting their whole souls into this tribute to the beloved poet. Heads were uncovered, faces turned upwards in joy, or bowed to hide quick tears ; no one thought of ridicule, no one failed to join in the chorus. The verses finished, caps were tossed high, and three rousing cheers given for ” Rabbie ” Burns ; then the people went back to their picnic parties by the river.

Mrs. Pitt was openly wiping away her tears, Betty was in the midst of a frantic search for her handkerchief, and even John’s voice was a bit husky as he said abruptly, ” Come on back to the Auld Brig.”

” This is where the witches caught hold of Tam’s horse’s tail, isn’t it? ” Betty’s eyes were dancing once more as she remembered the poem which she had re-read only the evening before.

” The witches had stopped dancing in the auld kirk, you know; their lights all went out suddenly, and they started to chase poor Tam, who was riding his horse, Meg. Tam was trying to reach the middle of this high old bridge,—just where I’m standing this very moment. He thought that no witches could cross running water, you know. I love the way the poem tells it, though !

They loitered some time on the big new bridge, from which is a charming view of the old bridge, its high arch spanning one of the prettiest, clearest streams imaginable, flowing between banks of ferns and wild flowers. John, as usual, was trying for a photograph, and, the day being somewhat cloudy, the sun came out but once in a while. Not for some minutes did it touch the ” auld brig, but John stood patiently waiting, camera focused and bulb in hand. Finally, during a bright ray of sunshine, the shutter clicked; then, with a grunt of satisfaction, John told them, ” That picture’ll be a corker, all right !

The haunted ruin of old Alloway Kirk stands only at a stone’s throw from the river; the walls alone remain of this famous scene of the witches’ revels.

” It was unroofed and fast going to decay, even in Burns’s time,” Mrs. Pitt told them.

They say, don’t they, that in storms the witches even nowadays dance in the kirk while Tam rides by? ”

” Honestly, it isn’t so very hard to imagine witches in there! ” and Betty shuddered a bit.

” No, I should say not ! What Tam ought to have done was to have ridden for his life when he saw the red lights and those fellows dancing. I’d have hustled my horse back to the town, in-stead of staying to watch ‘em. Tam was a fool ! ”

Here was some proof of the genuine horror of Tam’s situation, if even John confessed that his courage would have failed him under similar circumstances. He was not afraid of most things, but he would take no chances whatever with witches, if he were riding a horse with a long tail !

In the tiny, neglected graveyard lie Burns’s father and mother. An old man with a wooden leg and a marvelous plaid necktie pointed out these graves, and recited ” Tam o’ Shanter ” with remarkable expression and gesture. They had much trouble in escaping from him to follow the main road to Burns’s birthplace.

Quaint and old-fashioned in its whitewash and thatch, this typical Scotch ` clay bigging ” now stands on the main street of Ayr, along which trams and motor cars persistently thunder. Entering by a wicket at one end of the house, where he duly pays his twopence, the visitor, comes upon a distressingly formal and geometrical flower garden; on the right is a low building, serving as a museum, where are exhibited many manuscripts and relics of Burns. Having examined these, they crossed the yard and went into the cottage itself, passing first through the byre and the stable, in which some rude stalls still remain.

” They lived rather near the cows and horses, didn’t they? ” remarked Barbara, as she stepped across the threshold into the ” room.”

Beyond the stiff ” room ” is a tiny entry, from which ‘opens the kitchen, the principal living-room, in which the poet was born.

This probably looks very much as it did in that winter of 1759 when a violent storm is said to have torn away the roof of the hut, and forced the mother to seek shelter elsewhere for herself and her baby. There is still a curtained box-bed, a little whitewashed fireplace, some old chairs and tables, a tall corner clock, and a rack well stocked with blue china.

While they waited for the tram, Mrs. Pitt told them a little about Robert Burns.

” His father, you know, was a gardener,” she began, ” and worked on a gentleman’s estate ; the family left here when Robert was but seven years old, moving to a cottage on his employer’s land. They seem . always to have been unfortunate, and their small savings dwindled away. They moved to another farm at Tarbolton, and, not long after this, the father died, so that Robert, the eldest of the seven children, became responsible for the care of the family and the running of the farm. He always found time for writing poems, though, poems of the humble life with which he came in contact; and about this time the poems were published in book form. This Kilmarnock edition, of which Burns himself paid all the expenses, was so successful that a famous Edinburgh publisher was soon found. His work continuing to be in demand, Burns felt himself in better circumstances, and even lent a sum of money to one of his brothers. With his wife and children he moved to Ellisland Farm, where he spent his happiest days. ‘ Tam o’ Shanter ‘ was written during this time. I shall take you to Ellisland, I think. But Burns’s money was soon exhausted, and he was obliged to move his family into the town of Dumfries, where he held the position of government exciseman at a salary of seventy pounds a year. It was at Dumfries that he died, as you’ve read. Wasn’t it a commonplace life for a poets ”

” Why, it’s as bad as Stratford, isn’t it? ” cried John, when the tram had carried them back to Ayr, about two miles away. ” Every single thing is called Tam o’ Shanter, or Souter John, or Burns. There’s a window full of postals of all of ‘em; here’s a sign telling you you must drink ` Souter John Tea ‘ ; and down there’s an inn with Tam over the doorway.”

” Yes, it even claims to be the very inn at which Tam was drinking on that eventful night in his career. They’ll show you the chair and the cup that he used. Fancy ! ” Mrs. Pitt was leading the way towards the river, where they saw the ” Twa Brigs o’ Ayr.”

Burns has written a delightful poem about these old bridges ; in his time the new bridge had just been finished, and stood beside its rival, which dates from the fifteenth century. In Burns’s opinion the new structure possessed such undue pride that it one day remarked to its comrade :

“Will your poor, narrow foot-path of a street, Where twa wheel-barrows tremble when they meet, Your ruin’d, formless bulk o’ stane and lime, Compare wi’ bonnie brigs o’ modern time?”

But the auld brig, sure of its ground, answered promptly:

“I’ll be a brig when ye’re a shapeless cairn! As yet ye little ken about the matter,

But twa-three winters will inform ye better.”

” And the auld brig’s prophecy was a true one,” added Mrs. Pitt, for the new bridge was long ago rebuilt, while the old one still stands in its accustomed place.”

Soon after this, however, they discovered that Burns’s name is not the only celebrated one connected with Ayr; William Wallace had been there, too. The great square Wallace Tower occupies the site of an old Tolbooth, in which the hero was once imprisoned.

” Wallace had been outlawed, you remember, because he had killed three English soldiers who were attempting to carry away some trout from his basket. Although it was dangerous, Wallace stayed not far from Ayr, and frequently came into the town on market days. They held their markets in that wide square by the station. Betty, an old historian tells us that Wallace used to delight in finding a strong man (an Englishman, of course) who was boasting of his prowess, and against whom he could try his own marvelous strength. Occasionally Wallace killed a man, and then he had to fight his way out of the town. At length Percy sent eighty men from the castle to preserve the peace, and they one day caught Wallace and conducted him to the old Tolbooth, where he was fed upon barrell heryng and watter.’ ”

” Hard luck for him when he’d been catching trout ! ” put in John sympathetically.

” Oh, but it was hard to put down Wallace,” continued Mrs. Pitt. ” When his strength was gone, they thought him dead, and threw him over the Tolbooth wall; but an old nurse of his found him, and got him away to Newton-on-Ayr, where she soon nursed him back to good health.”

That afternoon they’ hired a motor car and went south to the ancient town of Maybole, now a place of glorious memory only. Once the town residences of the lairds of Carrick lined its streets where, even to-day, one sometimes finds interesting houses; there is a square clock tower, and a portion of Maybole Castle, with its quaint windows and carvings. This old building is now the Estate Office for the Marquis of Ailsa, and Mrs. Pitt went in to inquire for a permit to see Culzean Castle.

Luckily we are here on the one day when visitors are admitted,” she said, when she came out again. ” John, tell the chauffeur we’ll start on now, and that we want to stop a moment at Crossraguel Abbey and at Kirkoswald.”

The abbey dates from the thirteenth century, but is not particularly noteworthy, except for one unusual feature, a square, battlemented tower. They were more interested in the little ruined kirk at Kirkoswald and its tiny burying-ground, in which they soon found the graves of Tam o’ Shanter and Souter John, the sho-maker and Tam’s friend.

” But why does it say Douglas Graham? ” inquired Barbara innocently. It had never occurred to her that Tam had any other name.

They had a delightful ramble through the beautiful grounds of stately Culzean Castle. Barbara in particular was all the time in raptures over the many varieties of roses, the vines and trees wonderfully trained against old brick walls, and the hothouses, in which they saw splendid grapes and figs. On and on they went from one inclosed garden to another. It would seem as if they must have come to an end, but there was always a picturesque iron gate or wicket through which one was lured by glimpses of more smooth lawns and gay flower-beds.

They sat for some time in a little round rock garden with a trellis and a tiny pool in the center. No one molested them; they were unbelievably free to go wherever their fancy led.

My ! ” cried John, all at once, ” that Marquis, or whoever you call him, must be mighty easy ! We could walk off with whole slews of his flowers and pick heaps of his grapes, if we liked. I haven’t seen but one or two gardeners, and they’re ‘way back near the house.”

Culzean Castle is built high on the rocks above the water, and underneath are great caves,—caves of which Burns has written. Mrs. Pitt declined to explore these passages, or to allow the others to do so, when she heard that they were infested with rats.

One of the caves is called The Piper’s,’ ” said she, ” and some think that it extends underground as far as Maybole, six miles away. In olden times the fairies lived there, and when mortals entered, they were never again heard from. A daring man once ventured in with his bagpipes; he was traced for some distance by the sound of his music, but he never came out again into the daylight.”

” Can I play golf tonight? ” inquired John, when he heard that Turnberry Point had famous links. And he did actually play one game before having dinner at the elegant new Station Hotel, to which they had come to spend that Sunday. Apart from the links, a fragment of a castle upon a rocky headland, and this huge new hotel, there is nothing at Turnberry except a magnificent ocean view, with the steep, rocky island of Ailsa Craig in the foreground.

The following morning they set out to find the ruined castle, birthplace of Robert Bruce; crossing the rough fields of the links, they tramped along the cliffs, always watching for the turrets of a castle. They grew tired, and at last began to retrace their steps. When they came once more to the little white lighthouse, they discovered a few bits of crumbling ruin, hardly to be distinguished from the rocks themselves.

” Poor Bruce ! ” said Betty, dropping down upon the grass by Mrs. Pitt’s side, ” he wouldn’t like to see his old castle now.”

” It must have been a fine place once upon a time,” mused Mrs. Pitt. Here Bruce spent his childhood. His mother was Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, and granddaughter of Duncan, first Lord of Carrick. Having lost her first husband in the Crusades, the lady planned to marry whom she chose, even if she were a royal ward. One time when out hunting, she met a, strange knight, liked his handsome face and courtly manner, and invited him to join her train. Coming from such a lady, the request was practically a command; it was, therefore, very surprising to have it refused. The Countess, somewhat angry, ordered her men to surround the knight, and to take him a prisoner to Turnberry Castle. There, since he did not make love to her, the lady thoughtfully undertook the wooing herself. Of course, you have guessed that the knight was Robert de Bruce, and that their little son was Robert, the Bruce. Upon his mother’s death, the boy be-came Earl of Carrick, and, when he was beginning his great career, he very naturally looked to his native Carrick for support. After the famous incident of the industrious spider and its many-times-destroyed web, which occurred when Bruce was in exile in Ireland, he returned to Scotland, full of fresh courage. Coming directly to Carrick, his first great victories were won here.”

” And now you can’t find his castle unless you hunt for an hour,” said Barbara, as they avoided the golf balls on their walk to the hotel,