Posted by: christinelaennec | November 18, 2013

Expanding my vocabulary: the Robert Burns Birthplace

The Dafter and I recently had a great day out, long-planned and long-awaited.  I dropped her off at the house of a friend in Ayrshire, where (fortified by white bread and chocolate for energy) she had a wonderful couple of hours.  I, meanwhile, went to visit the Robert Burns Birthplace in Alloway.

Flowerbed sculpture, Robert Burns Birthplace museum.  Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

Flowerbed sculpture, Robert Burns Birthplace museum. Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

It’s more than just a museum, and I could easily have spent an entire day there if I’d had the time.  I was very impressed with what I saw.  What struck me immediately, and throughout my visit, was how the Scots words of Burns’ poetry was at the forefront.  The verse in the flowerbed sculpture above is, I believe, from “To a Mouse”:

Wee sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie
What a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need not start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!

 

The museum itself is only one part of a large compound, which includes the cottage where Burns was born, the original Brig o’ Doon, the Auld Kirk, a memorial garden and other things beside.  I walked down to the Auld Kirk, past beautifully golden birch trees:

Beautiful "birks" / birch trees.  Robert Burns Birthplace, Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

Beautiful “birks” (birch trees). Robert Burns Birthplace, Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

As my own girl was having a good giggle with her friend, I enjoyed watching these teenage boys playing in the leaves and the lower branches of the trees.  I think young people get a very hard rap these days – there are plenty of really great teenagers around.

Boys playing in the fallen leaves, Robert Burns Birthplace museum.  Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

Boys playing in the fallen leaves, Robert Burns Birthplace museum. Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

The Auld Kirk is where Tam O’Shanter encounters the witches, and even on a bright day, I didn’t feel enticed to go inside to investigate!

The Auld Kirk, Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

The Auld Kirk, Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

But I found the gravestone of Burns’ mother and father very touching:

Robert Burns' parents' grave, the Auld Kirk, Alloway, Scotland.  November 2013.

Robert Burns’ parents’ grave, the Auld Kirk, Alloway, Scotland. November 2013.

Back at the museum, I found more words everywhere I went, even before going inside:

Beside the entrance to the Robert Burns Birthplace museum.  Alloway, Scotland, 2013.

Beside the entrance to the Robert Burns Birthplace museum. Alloway, Scotland, 2013.  Daimen-icker = rare ear of corn; cranreuch = hoar-frost; cauld = cold; stibble = stubble; bughtin = milking?; owsen = ? (possibly oxen?).  The source for my ‘translations’ is the Concise Scots Dictionary.

I enjoyed the museum, and could have spent a very long time there looking at all the original documents, background information and objects associated with Burns’ life.  The National Trust has a good website for the Robert Burns Birthplace, including interactive pages related to the collections, and if you’re interested in Burns, you might find them interesting.

Inside the museum; Robert Burns Birthplace, Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

Inside the museum; Robert Burns Birthplace, Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

The written commentary mixed standard English and Scots in an entertaining (to me) way.  For example, the sign on the exhibit covering the well-known ‘Auld Lang Syne’ said:

Ane o Robert’s greatest hits, this classic sang aboot freenship and pairtin is noo sung oot-through the warld, especially at New Year.  Auld lang syne is sung in mair Hollywood movies nor ony ither sang forby Happy Birthday.

And in the section covering some of Burns’ more bawdy writing, you read:

Robert didna intend aw o his love poetry for the lugs o weemen. … If ye’re easy affrontit, luik awa noo.

I tore myself awa(y) from the museum and went for a cup of coffee.  I felt almost as if I’d suddenly been transported to Oregon!  There was something about the wooden beams and the views out into the trees:

Words along the window/walls of the coffee shop.  Robert Burns Birthplace, Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

The coffee shop, Robert Burns Birthplace, Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

Even there, you are wrapped around by Burns’ words:

Scots words on the windows of the coffee shop.  Robert Burns Birthplace, Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

Scots words on the windows of the coffee shop. Robert Burns Birthplace, Alloway, Scotland, November 2013.

I very much enjoyed a bit of time to explore things, and to sit and think (or not think!).  And then it was time to go fetch my bonnie lassie.  She had had a wonderful afternoon, and wasn’t too badly knocked back by her big afternoon in the days that followed.  Certainly the time with her friend was a huge boost to her morale.  She’s been making slow progress since her setback in August – but progress nonetheless.

Check back in the next few days, because I am going to do a little Burns-related giveaway.  Happy start of the week, everyone!

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Responses

  1. Wonderful photos! Robert Burns, the Ploughman Poet, is my favorite poet. Thank you for the link to the museum, and you’re right, the coffee shop could have been in Oregon.
    Enjoy your day!

  2. by that fall colors and leaves on the ground – reading words as you walk here and there – would make for a lovely day — fun to try to read those words myself and i am so i need a poor job of it — in any case it was a tempted… be safe.
    hugs

  3. We visited the Burns museum a couple of years ago with our grandson and we all had a great time. Its very hands on and suitable for children as well as adults. We visited in summer and sat outside the coffee shop with our own picnic at one of their picnic tables. It’s been very well done hasn’t it. I’m glad your daughter is making progress too, lang may it continue!! x

  4. I very much enjoyed a bit of time to explore things, and to sit and think (or not think!).
    That’s great to hear, and good to hear positive news of The Dafter. I am 99.9% sure that there was actually minimal time spent not thinking, but rather it was time in which you were liberated to allow your thoughts to wander and find their own path, rather than being driven down a road dictated by their surrounding situation. May such occasions abound!

  5. Ah, this post makes me so ‘homesick’ for South Ayrshire!

  6. I was there just a couple of weeks ago and lunched at the Brig O Doon.

  7. Beautiful scenery with the golden trees ( and happy teenagers), the stone buildings, lovely lyrical words, and beautiful timber framed lobby that does look straight out of the Pacific Northwest. My very favorite movie, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ends with Burns lovely words put to music. Glad to hear The Dafter had some girly time with a friend and you had some time to enjoy some pleasant reverie. Wonderful photos. Hugs xo Karen

  8. A highlight of my Buckie grandmother’s later years was a trip to the Burns museum. Not as well developed as it is now, it was nevertheless a place of pilgrimage for her, having grown up in a poor fishing family whose home held two books – the Bible, and poetry by Burns.
    Just a pity that Burns is being ‘appropriated’ by a certain political party in Scotland these days! No speech complete without a validation from Burns.

    So glad you had a good day out and that the Dafter had a good day and lots of happy memories to sustain her afterwards.

  9. I’ve been wanting to visit this place for a while now, but I didn’t realise there was so much to it. I’m very glad you enjoyed yourself, and that the Dafter had a lovely time too. The coffee shop looks good. 🙂

  10. We were also in Ayr at the weekend, but our entertainment was at the Gaiety theatre, saved recently from the local council’s cost-cutting attempt to shut it completely. Maybe they contributed too much to the Burns Visitor Centre. I visited that with my parents & the children not long after it opened. Very beautiful. I discovered I was not that fascinated by the artefacts in the centre, however well-displayed, but the setting and the cottage and the monument grounds were delightful.

  11. Thankyou for your beautiful pictures and words Christine. I often read your blog, and am fascinated by your take on Scotland as an viewed through the eyes of an American woman. However, a comment earlier by Occasional Scotland made a point that I couldn’t leave unchallenged.

    I attended an Ayrshire primary school in the 1970’s and an Ayrshire secondary school in the 1980’s and was never taught a single word of Robert Burns’ works. Not a single word. Therefore to object to Burns’ poetry being “appropriated by a certain political party” (which I presume is a reference to the SNP) is surprising.
    Burns’ work is for everyone and can be quoted by anyone who thinks it relevant to their cause. Don’t forget that “A Man’s a Man for a’ That” was sung by all poltical parties at the opening of the new Scottish Parliament in 1999. The song speaks of “the man o’ independent mind” – a concept that the Unionist parties would rather people of modern Scotland didn’t think too closely about!!

    Sorry to rant on Christine – I’ll haud ma wheesht now (and no, I’m not a member of the SNP in disguise!)

    Sandra.

    • I have enjoyed reading this post and all of the comments here, especially since I was born and brought up in Ayr, just a couple of miles from the museum. I was at school in Ayr in the fifties and early sixties and we certainly were taught all about Burns. We were aware that he was especially popular in Russia because he wrote about the condition of the common man. I can remember in the late fifties playing in Burns Cottage with my brother when a group of Russian men came in to see the place and we were quickly ushered out. I later learned that Krushchev was one of the party though I have no way of verifying that story. Whatever nationality, whatever political persuasion, Burns’ poetry is a great leveller.

  12. So glad you both had a good day out. And in lovely sunshine, too.
    I would think Burns is there to be quoted by anybody who wants to. He used to be much appreciated in the former Soviet Union! Brotherhood of man, and all that – and of course woman too.

  13. Glad you both had a good day out and I agree about the tearoom feeling like it could be somewhere in Oregon. I also agree about teenagers; I know a few great ones myself.

  14. I am ashamed to say that I have never been there but would love to see it. You have whetted my appetite.

  15. I have always wanted to visit this place, Christine – thank you for bringing us along! ❤

  16. Oh this sounds like such a wonderful day out for both of you!! I am so glad to hear this. Robert Burns birthplace was once place we didn’t get to — we got to all the other “author’s places” that we had studied except his. Oh well. I did find, on our last day in Stirling, a lovely china bread plate with his birthplace on it so that satisfied me that I had a connection at least. 🙂 It will have to be on the list for another time 😉

  17. Your post prompted me to explore Burn’s life and work a bit more…I had forgotten what writing he is best remembered for, and I am fascinated to realize how much his life is celebrated. I love the setting of the museum you visited, and yes the view from the window could be right here in Oregon 🙂

  18. What a fun and exciting museum! The window view could be northern California…..or here in the pine forests of Appalachia!

  19. Dear All,
    Thank you so much for these rich and thoughtful comments! I was particularly pleased that people agreed that the coffee shop was very like Oregon / Northern California / Appalachia. Places with wood and trees!

    I was interested to read people’s thoughts on how Burns’ poetry is being appropriated, or not. It seems to me that one could “use” his poetry to support any number of points of view.

    As I visited the Robert Burns Birthplace, I wondered what tourists who don’t perhaps have an in-depth knowledge of English would make of it, but I’m sure it would still give them something.

    oldblack, I once read about a lady who was over 100 years old, but still very sprightly. When asked the secret of her longevity, she said, “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.” Just sitting is pretty difficult for me, so I try to do it from time to time! As you say, your thoughts are then led by other things that you’re open to around you. A pleasure.


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