Burns Cottage - the family

Burns Cottage - the family

Old Kirk, Alloway

Old Kirk, Alloway


Burns Cottage, the first home of Robert Burns is located in Alloway, South Ayrshire, Scotland. It was built by his father, William Burness in 1757. Burns, Scotland's national poet, was born there on 25 January 1759. It is a simple two-roomed clay and thatch cottage and has been fully restored to become part of Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. The museum has a bust of Burns by Patric Park. The cottage has had a number of uses, including a spell as a pub, run by a Mr Goudie from Riccarton who saw the opportunity to exploit Burns's developing reputation. At first therefore the cottage was not greatly valued. The Suffragettes recognised its importance, having once endeavoured to set the cottage alight. In 1818, the English poet John Keats took a trip to Scotland to visit the home, years after Burns' death in 1796. Before Keats arrived, he wrote to a friend that "one of the pleasantest means of annulling self is approaching such a shrine as the cottage of Burns — we need not think of his misery — that is all gone — bad luck to it — I shall look upon it all with unmixed pleasure."


Burns was born two miles (3 km) south of Ayr, in Alloway, the eldest of the seven children of William Burnes (1721–1784), a self-educated tenant farmer from Dunnottar in the Mearns, and Agnes Broun (1732–1820), the daughter of a Kirkoswald tenant farmer. He was born in a house built by his father (now the Burns Cottage Museum), where he lived until Easter 1766, when he was seven years old. William Burnes sold the house and took the tenancy of the 70-acre (280,000 square metre) Mount Oliphant farm, southeast of Alloway. Here Burns grew up in poverty and hardship, and the severe manual labour of the farm left its traces in a premature stoop and a weakened constitution.


He had little regular schooling and got much of his education from his father, who taught his children reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and history and also wrote for them A Manual Of Christian Belief. He was also taught by John Murdoch (1747–1824), who opened an "adventure school" in Alloway in 1763 and taught Latin, French, and mathematics to both Robert and his brother Gilbert (1760–1827) from 1765 to 1768 until Murdoch left the parish. After a few years of home education, Burns was sent to Dalrymple Parish School during the summer of 1772 before returning at harvest time to full-time farm labouring until 1773, when he was sent to lodge with Murdoch for three weeks to study grammar, French, and Latin. By the age of 15, Burns was the principal labourer at Mount Oliphant. During the harvest of 1774, he was assisted by Nelly Kilpatrick (1759–1820), who inspired his first attempt at poetry, "O, Once I Lov'd A Bonnie Lass". In the summer of 1775, he was sent to finish his education with a tutor at Kirkoswald, where he met Peggy Thompson (b.1762), to whom he wrote two songs, "Now Westlin' Winds" and "I Dream'd I Lay".


Burn's Cottage. You can see where Burns and his family lived, side by side with their farm animals, ate their meals together, read by the fireside’s crackle and where Burns got his earliest schooling. The walls of the cottage have been artfully daubed with fragments of his verse and a braw selection of Scots words, such as ‘hawkie’ and ‘crambo-jingle.’ Outside is the small farm where Robert tended the crops alongside his father and brother Gilbert. The Cottage spent a good part of the 19th century as a private residence for rent and an alehouse, before being restored to its former glory by the Alloway Burns Monument Trust in 1881. Don’t Miss the tiny box bed which Robert shared with his three siblings. The kitchen area is brought to life with a spooky rendition of Tam o’Shanter, recreating the atmosphere of the house where Burns first had his imagination fired.


Burns Monument and Gardens. Less than 20 years after Burns’ death, a committee of his strongest supporters were busy making plans to memorialise the man. The result is this 70-foot high Grecian-style temple, designed by Sir Thomas Hamilton, complete with nine pillars representing muses from Greek mythology. The monument was funded by subscriptions and finished in 1823. There is no admission fee for the monument and gardens, but they still raise funds today to help conserve this mighty memorial for everyone to enjoy. Inside the monument there’s a three dimensional model of the many other Burns monuments across the world, showing the Bard’s global fame. The statue house displays especially animated sandstone likenesses of Souter Johnnie and Nance Tinnock, crafted by self-taught sculptor James Thom. Climb up the Monument’s external staircase to take in the view and then enjoy a stroll around the landscaped gardens.


Also known as ‘the Auld Brig’, Brig o’ Doon is the original 15th century cobblestone bridge over the River Doon, which provided the setting for one of Burns’s most famous works. It’s the bridge which Tam o’ Shanter crossed on horseback, fleeing from the witches and warlocks on his tail who were unable to follow him across water. The narrow, arched footbridge is such an iconic landmark that it even features on £5 Scottish notes. Today it’s a popular spot for tour groups, photographers and wedding parties to gather and take in the unspoilt scenic views of the Ayrshire countryside. Poet’s Path. This attractive pedestrian pathway connects Burns Cottage with the main Museum site, complete with creative ironwork signage crafted by Timorous Beasties and bordered by attractive seasonal plantings. There’s plenty of wonderful environmental art to spot along the way. Look out for Kenny Hunter’s cast iron mouse and Jake Harvey’s larger-than-life granite haggis!


Alloway Auld Kirk. The 16th century church was already a ruin by Burns’s time. Burns chose the kirk’s weathered gable-ended frame as the spot where Tam first spies the capering witches and warlocks who gave him chase. You can visit the graves of Burns’s father William Burnes and sister Isabella Burns Begg. Many of the gravestones carry intricate carvings, including Burnes, whose inscription was penned by the bard himself. Other notable people buried here include Lord Alloway and Charles Acton Broke. He was the son of Rear Admiral Sir Philip Bowes Acton Broke, the first man to defeat and capture an American ship.


The Museum. Start off by watching the short welcome video by Curator Sean McGlashan and then wander through to immerse yourself in Burns’s world. Listen to his words, handle objects connected to the man, play games that unravel his mysteries, enjoy visual artworks and examine the many books and manuscripts written in his own hand. Main Exhibition. A self-guided space where you’re free to explore the work, life and legacy of Burns, with interactive games and quizzes for all age levels. Of course the exhibition also displays many of Burns’s most iconic works, in both book and manuscript form, complemented by an array audio and visual aids, to help interpret them for today’s visitors. Among some of our greatest treasures are the Kilmarnock Edition, the annotated Scots Musical Museum, and William Burnes’s Bible which records the date of Burns’s birth. The exhibition is dotted with iconic artworks, including portraits by Alexander Nasmyth and Archibald Skirving, alongside paintings of Mauchline Holy Fair and David Roberts’ pastoral view of the Burns Monument and Brig o’Doon. In the main entrance hall opposite the shop, there’s a space dedicated to showcasing temporary exhibitions, where they unearth special items from their collections alongside historic and contemporary artworks inspired by Burns. There are many fascinating personal items and souvenirs on display too. See if you can hunt down Burns’s portable writing kit, the cast of his skull, a pair of pistols Burns used in his work as an excise man – and even a lock of the poet’s hair. Play some tunes on the Burns Jukebox, learn where he stood on the hot political issues of the day and leave a note on the trysting tree. See just how they’ve built a faithful picture of his facial features, do some forensic foraging into how Burns died and get your own shadow portrait made on site. Every hour the museum bursts into life with an audio visual extravaganza of his poems and songs.


Robert Burns Birthplace Museum has been deliberately designed to be easy to get around. The two main sites (Burns Cottage and the Museum) are connected by the Poet’s Path, a 500 metre-long pedestrian walkway. On busier days, their volunteers run a regular electric shuttle along it. Both the Museum and Burns Cottage (in the Education Pavilion building next door) have accessible toilets. There is disabled parking and level access at Burns Cottage and the Museum. The Poet’s Path is also level, while the Burns Monument Gardens can be accessed by wheelchair users. Guide dogs are welcome throughout the site. Exhibition, education areas and meeting rooms are fitted with induction loops. Wheelchairs are available for any visitors who need them. The more historic parts of the site, such as the Auld Kirk, Brig o’ Doon and Burns Monument, have uneven steps and surfaces. Staff will be delighted to help all visitors get around and get the most from their visit. There is a shop and the Bard's Bakery and Cafe.


Location : Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Murdoch's Loan, Alloway, Ayr KA7 4PQ

Transport: Ayr (National Rail) then bus (361, 8). Bus Routes : 361 to the cottage or 8 and X77 to the museum.

Opening Times : Daily, 10:00 to 17:00

Tickets :Adults £9.00;  Concession £7.00

Tel. : 01292 443 700