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Robert Burns, world renowned poet and song writer, was born in Ayrshire in 1759 and died in Dumfries in 1796. He is remembered most fondly probably because of his all-too-human qualities of loving wine, women, song and often partying a little too hard.
At Ellisland , near Dumfries, you can visit the farm where Robert Burns and his greatest love, Jean Armour, struggled to make a living. The couple then moved into Dumfries, where Burns worked as an excise man during which time he wrote over 300 poems and songs at his house on Mill Street (now named Burns Street – Robert Burns house ). You can visit this house today, where you will find the poet's signature is scratched onto a window, and you can view the room where he died in 1796, aged just 37 years old.
Burns is known to have journeyed from Dumfries to Ayr, and this walk is often termed the ‘Burns Trail’. If you find it marked on maps, it seems to bypass the Glenkens, but we know that Burns did indeed spend some time in the area and much appreciated its beauty and spectacular scenery.
In 1793, Burns stayed at Kenmure Castle as a guest of John Gordon, who later became the eighth Viscount Kenmure. The poet’s friend from Dumfries, John Syme, accompanied him on his tour of Galloway, of which this was a part, and is quoted as saying that: “…I can scarcely conceive a scene more terribly romantic than the castle of Kenmure. Burns thinks so highly of it, that he meditates a description of it in poetry.” Syme goes on to say that Burns had a great interest in the spot a few miles from the castle on the bank of the Ken where Lowe had composed Mary’s Dream (link to Burns page on poets and song).
The viscount was said to be on friendly terms with the poet, and had Dr Robert Trotter, celebrated author of ‘Galloway Gossip’, act as Robert Burns’ tour guide to the parish.
Trotter entertained Burns with local anecdotes including the story of Adam Forester. Forrester was Laird of Knocksheen, a farm in the Garroch Glen, and the story goes that Adam, having left the pub in the inn at Midtown which was managed by a woman by the name of Luckie Hair, was making his way home around midnight when a series of strange events transpired...
He mounted his white horse and headed past the kirk on his way home. Surprised to see light coming from the church windows, he peered inside, only to see women – presumed to be witches – dancing, and these women included Luckie Hair, landlady of the inn. Adam couldn’t resist a comment, as it is said he had a glint in his eye for the lady, so he shouted something along the lines of “Are you there, Luckie Hair?”. Suddenly the lights went out and shouts of “catch him!” rang out.
Forrester set his horse in the direction of home and galloped across the ford. His pursuers waded after him and chased him up Waterside Hill, continuing to gain on him. He realised that he could not outrun them so dismounted and with his sword inscribed a circle in the ground around him and his horse, telling his pursuers ‘in the name of God’ not to overstep the circle.
They waited outside the circle until dawn, at one point managing to catch his horses tail and cut it off as it had overhung the circle – the horse’s tail is said to have never grown back... Forrester’s sons and grandsons after him made a point of annually renewing the circle scored into the ground, and if you look carefully the circular mark on Waterside Hill can still be seen today (link to http://www.garrochglen.com ).
This story was later transformed by Burns to a situation in Alloway for his well-known poem Tam o’ Shanter.
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