Burns in the Borders
The 25th of January is Burns night, a time when people all over the world gather together to commemorate the life of perhaps the greatest ever Scot, Robert Burns. It is a night where we celebrate Scottish traditional food and drink and the magic of the poetry of our National Bard.
A Burns Supper can be as intimate and simple or as elaborate and formal as you like. It is an occasion steeped in ritual ceremony but also a way of connecting Scottish people all around the world regardless of class or background. Whether you are having a haggis supper from the chippie with a can of Irn-Bru or a 5 course feast accompanied by 20 year old whisky then raise a glass, recite a few lines and remember the eloquence of this great man and what he stood for.
Robert Burns lived with his wife and family at Ellisland Farm in the Borders for four years in the late 18th century. It was while living here that he composed some of his most well-known work including his epic poem Tam o’ Shanter. The farm is now a museum and visitor attraction providing a wonderful insight into Burns’ life and times. Guided tours of the farmhouse and museum, where you can see a collection of his original writings and possessions, are available all year round. Glendow is an 18th century Drovers Inn less than half an hour’s drive away, a great place to soak up the history of the area and the scenery that inspired Burns so much.
For inspiration of a different sort you could visit his favourite pub in the village of Dumfries, where he lived after giving up farming at Ellisland. The Globe Inn has a window on which you can still see a poem that Burns scratched into the glass, and his old chair is still at the bar. One word of warning though, if you sit on it you have to either correctly recite a line of his poetry or buy everyone at the bar a drink. Berryburn is a stunning Victorian villa just half an hour south, perfect for romantics marrying at Gretna Green.
The Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh is dedicated to the lives of three of the foremost Scottish writers, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. Among other artefacts in this fascinating museum you can see Burns’ original writing desk, manuscripts and a rare plaster cast of his skull. Denfind House is just up the coast, a relaxing place to unwind after a day spent absorbing the history and culture of the big city.
Although in later years he was to work as an excise man, Burns was not averse to a dram or two himself. For a taste of the finest that this country has to offer then a tour of a distillery is a must. One of the best kept secrets in the Scottish malt whisky world is Bladnoch, located near Wigtown. After a recent bankruptcy this 200 year old distillery, the most southerly in Scotland, has been re-energised with massive amounts of investment by its new Australian owner. In a market dominated by Speyside and Islay malts it is refreshing to see a resurgence in the not so well known but distinctive lowland whisky that this distillery made its reputation producing. Knockbrex Castle is located just up the coast from here and offers a majestic venue for your Burns Supper with space for 22 in the great hall.
Once established as a poet, Burns would undertake a number of journeys around Scotland. He described these walking tours as “a slight pilgrimage to the classic scenes of this country”. The journals which Burns kept during these tours have now been edited and published along with interactive maps which show the exact route that he would take. One of his biggest trips was around The Borders and into Northumberland and with the aforementioned map it is now relatively simple to recreate his journey while reading his notes and musings on his surroundings.
This tour started in Edinburgh and East Lothian, before turning south and crossing the border then heading back to his home in Ellisland Farm. For an appropriate place to tarry a while on your journey then the 19th century splendour of Gateshaw House is on the route and provides ample inspiration and exclusive comfort.