I seem to be one sent into the world to see, & observe… the joy of my heart is to ‘study men & their manners, & their ways.’
As an eventual fan of Rabbie Burns – it took me a few years to penetrate the Lowland Scots, upon which moment I found myself amazed by his beuaty & genius – I was very much looking forward to a walk around Mauchline. As the childhood home of my Glasgow friend – who’d recently guided me about her city’s West End – she’d very kindly offer’d to take me on a ‘wee donner’ about the place.
There’s a really handy carpark in the centre of Mauchline, surrounded by trees, at the corner of which is a signpost pointing to the ‘Burns House Museum’. Take this passageway, which will lead you by a gloomy, 15th century castle house called Abbot Hunter’s Tower.
You are now in pure Burns country, connected to the period of life when a poet is in his mid-twenties, when his mojo is raging & his muse is booming. Mauchline has the honour to be the domicile of Burns during this period, one in which he’d meet his soul mate, Jean Armour. The actual site of this is mark’d out by one of the cool blue plaques scatter’d about the heart of Mauchline, like the one marking the house of Gavin Hamilton, right beside ‘Abbot Hunter’s Tower.’
After the Hamilton house there’s a plaque marking the site of ‘Ronald’s Ballroom’ where Burns first met Jean, then a little later on a lovely timeless cobbl’d village scene which show’d the the now married couple’s first home, which lies just across the road from an old village old pub call’d Nanse Tannock’s. It was so evocative of the period & easy to imagine Rabbie staggering the several footsteps home after a night singing songs in the inn.
Here are a few verses of my own, composed in Standard Hubbie in 2009 – the Homecoming year – which form part of a biography in verse of Rabbie Burns you can read in totality here. Unfortunately the Jean-Mauchline rhyme doesn’t quite work, but when I composed the poem in 2009 I’d never even heard of Mauchline, let alone understood its phonetics
Bless Rabbie’s sparks of nature’s fire,
All twas the learning he’d desire
& tho’ he drudg’d thro dub & mire
With ploughs & carts,
His muse, tho’ hamely in attire
Touch’d people’s hearts.
He wove his rhymes through thankless work,
Or blanking out the Sunday kirk,
Or in romantic woodland walk
By Aire & Doon;
His style; fourth verse, fourth prose, fourth talk,
Fourth lover’s croon.
Tis said all poets need a muse
To lead their souls to finer views
Of love & life, so they can lose
Dull minds in beauty;
Far prettier than psalmic pews
On solemn duty.
Now Rabbie with a lass does clash,
His wee dog cross her wash does dash,
On them did CUPID lightning flash
For young amour;
Pretending not to gie ane fash
This both ignore.
They met again that Halloween,
“Hello, I’m Rab,” “Hello, I’m Jean,”
The loveliest in all Mauchline,
With tempting lips & rougish een
& breasted well!
At first Rab thought her wee young thing,
But then he heard an angel sing,
Watching her nimble, sma’ feet spring
To beat & fiddle,
So up he join’d her in a fling,
Arms flung a-middle.
Rab woos his Jean with course romance,
Delighted by his staggish dance,
Excited by his countenance,
& dark complexion;
When clapping snapp’d the cailedh-trance
Lips made connection
A stone’s throw from the Burns museum is Mauchline Parish Kirk & its graveyard brimming with the mortal remains of many of the very real people who appear’d in Rabbie’s poetry, including Mary Morrison, whose gravestone reads; “In memory of Adjutant John Morison, etc., etc.; also his daughter – the poet’s bonnie Mary Morison – who died 29th June, 1791, aged 20; and his second spouse etc.”
‘Mary Morison’ was the finest of his early songs, written prior to The Kilmarnock Volume, but not included and only sent to George Thomson on 20 March 1793.
|“O Mary, at thy window be,It is the wish’d, the trysted hour!Those smiles and glances let me see,That make the miser’s treasure poor.How blythely wad I bide the stoure,A weary slave frae sun to sun,Could I the rich reward secure,The lovely Mary Morison.|
The kirk was also behind the Gestapo like sessions, where Burns paid off his ‘irregular marriage’ by donating a guinea to the poor of the Parish, & Gavin Hamilton got told off for digging potatoes on a Sunday.
Its now time to continue with our walk, beginning by stepping out onto the main road from the kirkyard. Directly across the way is Poosie Nancies, a drinking establishment from Burns’ time, with one room kept just as Burns would have seen it. Its also the place where my friend’s dad, Matthew Welsh, would take up residence at the bar every weekend ordering vodka mixed with soft drinks, & having a wee bet. Its also the scene of Burns’ Jolly Beggars cantata.
Facing Poosie Nancies, turn right & follow the road a while until on the right hand side you come to a natural spring drinking fountain, rendered ‘unsuitable’ after centuries of use by a health-mad council. It tasted alright for me! At this point, take the left turn – ie the road which the fountain faces. This will take you passed KAY’S, the only curling stone makers in Scotland.
From Kays keep following the bending road through houses. At one point a great expanse of green opens on the left. The road the drops downhill & passes under a railway bridge. Just after this you’ll see an entrance on your left to Mauchline’s modern graveyard. Its up to you if you want to explore it. We did as my friend’s dad, Matthew, had only recently passed away & was buried there last year.
I’ve reviewed Matthew’s poetry for The Mumble, & was deeply moved by collection of a couple of hundred poems he’d been working on in the twilight of his life. He had intended to sell this poetry collection locally, to raise money for a local charity. Sadly, he passed away, but his family have distributed his book across Scotland, fanning his first flames of a posthumous fame that are kindling fires of appreciation in those who love both poetry & Scotland. Here’s one of the poems;
Live Long & Prosper
A hiv mind when we wis younger men,
We went pub-crawlin’ now an’ then.
Aff tae the dancin’, we wid go,
We wis quite hansome, I’ll huv ye know.
We wis always winchin, a bonny lass,
Dancin’ roon the hall, wi’ a wee bit class.
We’d arrange a date, fur Saturday comin’,
But wance again, we wid get, the blin!
Noo we’re aulder, retired folk,
In a basin, oor feet, we off’in soak,
Then tae a pub, fur a seat an’ a heat,
An’ a blether wi’ mates, we sometimes meet.
O’ times gon past oor memories tell,
Man, auld age disnae come itsel’.
Good lifes tae you, long may you live,
As good a life, as your life can give.
An’ so this poem comes tae an end,
Tae Mauchline folk, awe the best, I send.
An drink wi’ me, tae times gon past,
Us Mauchline folk are here tae last.
Back on the main road, keep going downhill a while until another road peels off to the right – take this. Altho’ not now at Mossgeil Farm – which Burns & his brother tenanted on the move to Mossgeil – there is still a certain timelessness to the fields which inspired one of Burns’ most famous poems, To A Mouse, & its immortal first two stanzas;
Wee, sleekit, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
Follow the road a while as it left turns & rights turns. You’ll eventually see the main road ahead. At this point enter your field to your right & aim for the tope left hand corner of the field where you will reach the main road. Alternatively stick to the roads, tho the traffic’s a bit fast.
Passing under the railway bridge brings you to a pallet gate on your left – take this & enter another big field. If you aim in the direction of the Burns National monument – the tall building which stands sentinel over the area – you’ll come to a fence at something of a play park. Hop over the fence.
For the final leg of the walk follow the path left from the park until you reach some kind of fenced off waterworks hole. Immediately to the right of this is a short, steep path which takes you into delightful woodland. Now simply follow the paths back to the carpark.