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Scotland Alloway, the Birthplace of Robert Burns


Alloway, on the southern edge of Ayr, is popular with visitors as it was the birthplace of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. As well as the cottage he was born in, there is a very good museum (with cafe and shop) about his life and work as well as the Auld Kirk (the inspiration for the poem Tam o’ Shanter), the Brig o’ Doon and the Burns Monument. Although dating after Robert Burns, the parish Church is also worth visiting.

Alloway Map.jpg

The Museum and Burns Cottage are in the care of the National Trust for Scotland and there is a charge for entry. The other attractions are free.

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum was opened in 2010 at a cost of £21 million. It replaced a smaller building next to Burns Cottage which is now used as an education centre. It covers all aspects of Burn’s life, with original manuscripts of his poems, letters, lock of his hair and pistol he carried as an Exciseman.

Poet’s Path
Burns Birthplace is reached by a 5-10 minute walk from the museum along the ‘Poet’s Path’. The weather vanes lining the path depict scenes from Tam o’ Shanter.



There are also statues of characters from other poems. The Mouse is a "Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie"


Of course there has to be a haggis...


The Twa Dogs was a satirical poem a conversation between two dogs - Luath and Caesar.


The fox with the broken chain illustrates “On Glenriddell's Fox Breaking His Chain”



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Burns Cottage

The long low building on the main road, was built by William Burnes in 1757 and is a typical butt and ben cottage provided living space for the family and its farm animals under the same roof.


It had two rooms. The outer (butt) was the kitchen and main living area. The inner (ben) was used for best. It also included a byre used by the animals. The barn beyond was added later. It was thatched with reeds which were laid directly onto wooden slats between the main roof trusses.


Robert Burns was born in the cottage on 25 January 1759 and spent the first seven years of his life here before the growing family moved to a larger house a mile and a half south-east of Alloway. William Burnes let the cottage to various tenants until 1781, when the cottage and surrounding ground were bought by the Incorporation of Shoemakers in Ayr for £160. They leased it out for use as an alehouse. By the time of Burns' death in 1796, his fame was so great that a steady stream of visitors was visiting Alloway to see - and drink in - the cottage in which he was born.

In 1881, the trustees of the Burns Monument purchased Burns Cottage and spent the next twenty years restoring it to its original condition. Now fragments of Burns’s poems are inscribed on the inside walls.

The kailyard was used to grow vegetables (kail, carrots, onions and potatoes) to feed the family. At the far end was the stackyard where crops were dried before storing in the barn.

The barn was used for threshing as well as storage tools, hay and other crops.


Next to it is the byre with a cobbled floor, which housed the cows, pony as well as any sheep, goats or hens. Agnes, Burns’s mother, ran a small dairy business from the cottage.



The cow stalls contain examples of dairying and other equipment.


The ben or inside room was the ‘best room’ and is probably where Burns had his lessons from his tutor John Murdoch. It is sparsely furnished with a stone flag floor and a peg rug in front of the small fireplace


On the table are two bone books, including the pupil report card for Robert Burns, aged 6.


A large window allowed plenty of light in, although there is a small oil lamp on the wall by the fireplace.


Tableware was made of either pewter or bone.


The clock on the wall, probably reflecting the wealth of the family.


The butt or kitchen, was the main living and sleeping room for the house, with small cooking range in the fireplace and a box bed.



Burns was born in this bed and there are modern gown hanging up with the names of the four children born here and probably shared the same bed..



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The Auld Kirk

This was built in 1516, probably on the site of an earlier building, and was a ruin by the time Burns lived here. It was the source of many local legends and the stories of ghosts and ghoulies inspired the poem, Tam of Shanter.

It was a small simple church with a bell cote at the east end.


There are the remains of graves inside the nave. The mort safes in the chancel were placed over graves to deter body snatchers.


On the outside south wall is a seining bowl, an outside font where pilgrims and lepers perhaps could use the water to blessing themselves without going into the Church.


The building is surrounded by the old churchyard which contains many splendid tombs.



William Burnes is buried here. Although Agnes his wife is mentioned on the gravestone, she was buried in Bolton Churchyard, East Lothian.


This is a replacement of the original stone which was chipped away by souvenir hunters. On the back is the epitaph the poet wrote for his father.



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Burns Monument

In 1814, a group of individuals in Alloway formed the Burns Monument Trust, to build a suitable monument in Alloway as a memorial to his life and works. Seven hundred subscribers from across the world, contributed to the building costs of £3,247. The building was designed by Sir Thomas Hamilton and opened in 1823. It is on a hillside overlooking the river Doon and and is surrounded by landscaped gardens



On the ground floor is a round building with a cupola roof with a bust of Robert Burns.



Stairs lead to a viewing gallery, although many are now obscured by trees.


Brig o’ Doon


This is the high single arch stone bridge built around 1400, replacing a ford. It was rebuilt in the 1700s but the narrow roadway was unable to cope with increasing traffic and was replaced by a new bridge to the north.


It was originally planned to demolish old bridge but it was saved from demolition by popular demand. The best views are from the new bridge.


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Alloway Parish Church

The Auld Kirk had served as the parish church until its parish was joined to that of Ayr in the late C17th and the Auld Kirk fell out of use. When Alloway became a parish again in its own right, a new church was built in 1858, across the road from the Auld Kirk.


Inside, it is a small building cruciform building with plain walls and wood roof. The chancel is reached up a few steps.



The main reason to visit is for the beautiful stained glass windows. These illustrate how tastes and designs have changed over the last 150 years.

Two of the earliest and very traditional windows are found at the ends of the south (1877) and north transepts (1881).



The west window dates from 1890.


Again a traditional design, this window dates from 1922.


More modern is this window from 1969.


These two lovely windows were installed in 1996 and are very different with natural lansdscapes and nature.



The newest window dates from 2001.


The church is open daily from 11-3 by enthusiastic and knowledgeable stewards and is well worth visiting.

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