We leave Edinburgh at an early hour for Ayr, the home of Burns. The morning was dark and gloomy with leaden skies. With our usual umbrella we rush about and take tram for Glasgow, change here, and off again for a 40 mile ride to the South-west to the little town of Ayr with its 25000 inhabitants. The country is not so picturesque as some sections, but we are thinking only of Burns.
“He seized his country’s lyre
With ardent grasp and strong
And made his soul of fire
Dissolve itself in song.”
Burns is to Ayr, what Shakespeare is to Stratford. His spirit seems to watch over the town and the atmosphere is full of Burns. The town looks just like the pictures, and we think of the poet’s description -
“Auld Ayr, wham neer a toon surpasses
For honest men and bonnie lasses.”
Just outside the station is the monument to Burns and all the shops are showing pictures, cards etc. and everything seems named for him or some of his characters.
Oh, how it rained and rained! But we just would not allow the weather to spoil our day. We visited the Tam O’Shanter Inn, with its dingy sign hanging above, which is claimed to be the identical place immortalized by the poet, in the story he tells of Tam’s merry night spent there. The we drove to Alloway Kirk - a half ruin, with ivy clinging to it, quiet, dignified and picturesque, and we tried to imagine the windows all ablaze and witches dancing inside, as the tipsy brain of Tam saw it on that midnight ride, through a terrible thunder storm, when he stopped his gray mare to look. Alloway Kirk is only a short distance from the “Banks and braes of Bonny Doon,” and the “auld brig” across the Doon over which Tam O’Shanter made his wild flight on the gray mare Maggie, is the center of interest, and only a little further on. The center of the stream is where the gray mare lost her tail so closely were they pursued by the witches. As witches are not supposed to be able to cross water, they had a tail for a trophy.
The real story of “Tam O’Shanter” is an interesting one and shows the power of Burns’s pen and imagination. “Tam O’Shanter was a Scotchman named Douglas Graham who was in the habit of coming home late on market days, tipsy, and receiving a sound scolding from his wife, who sat up “nursing her wrath to keep it warm.” On the night of this story, he expected to receive a double portion of wrath for he had lost all his money that day. Fortunately for him, his wife was superstitious and believed in witches etc. and it occurred to “Tam” to manufacture this story and tell her. She believed it and “Tam” was sent to bed without the scolding. And Burns has been able to make the whole world believe it ever since. We are told that he wrote the entire poem in one day. And the “Twa Brigs”! who has not heard of them or read the poem? How we wished it would not rain and that we could sit down in a shady nook on the banks of “Bonny Doon” and read some of the Burns poems, perhaps the one in the world-famous song, when he tells of his love disappointment.
“Ye flowery banks O’Bonny Doon
How can you bloom sae fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae fu’ O’care?”
The old home is a low stone house, with thatched roof, stone floor, few little windows, open fireplace, a bed built in a little recess, old clock, dishes, chairs etc. and a stable for cows all under one roof. The grounds are beautiful. The Museum contains many pictures, early manuscripts, post cards and interesting relics.
At the early age of 37, Burns life went out, from too much drink - leaving a wife and five children, the sixth being born after his death. In the Museum was a local newspaper giving this account of his death and calling upon the public for funds to help care for the wife and orphaned children.
When we returned to Ayr we strolled through the streets and noted many quaint things. Went into a bake-shop to investigate some peculiar looking cakes I saw and they proved to be cold pancakes there for sale! Nearly all the shops were closed for it was a half holiday. Showers with an occasional burst of sunshine, continued through all the afternoon. We had a long wait in Ayr for dinner.
On our return to Edinburgh we met a very agreeable man in our compartment - a University Professor, who kindly told us much that we wanted to know about Scotland, customs etc., etc. He said they made brooms of the heather and sheep and goats do not care to eat it.