Episode 29L – Bonnie Scotland Tour Day 13: Robbie Burns and …. Kennedys?

Imagine you were a farmer named Tam who had just sold your cattle at market and then proceeded to spend all the money you made at the local pub drinking beer and cheap whisky with your buddies. Imagine further that this was far from the first time you’d done this, and that your long-suffering spouse was waiting at home to knock you over the head with a rolling pin when you rolled in drunk and broke AGAIN. What kind of story would you make up to escape their wrath? How about happening upon a beautiful young witch in her cutty sark (short shift), the devil, and a bagpipe-playing dog all involved in a macabre dance around a grisly cauldron at the local church and having to run for your life to get away from them? How about offering as proof the fact that your poor horse had lost its tail to the witch as you crossed the keystone of the bridge and narrowly escaped her dragging you into the afterlife?

That’s the story told in Robbie Burns’ poem “Tam O’Shanter” as explained by the bard himself, reincarnated as our guide at the Robbie Burns Birthplace and Museum in Alloway near Ayr.

When glimmering thro’ the groaning trees
Kirk Aloway seemed in a bleeze
Thro’ ilka bore the beams were glancing
And loud resounded mirth and dancing

What a fun morning! We followed in Tam’s footsteps from the pub, to the auld kirk, and finally across the cobbles of Brig o’Doon (the bridge over the river), encountering a few “wee beasties” along the way. “Robbie” also told us about his childhood home and some of the inspirations for his most famous poems. Now that we’ve eaten at least 10 different versions of Haggis AND been entertained by Scotland’s national poet, I’m feeling a wee bit Scots myself (Ted already legitimately is).

Clockwise from top left: our guide “Robbie Burns”; Robbie’s birthplace; Brig O’Doon (bridge over the river); the Burns Monument

In the afternoon, we took in our last castle of the tour: Culzean (pronounced “cull-ane”) Castle, built in 1777 by architect Robert Adam at the direction of its owner David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassilis, who used it basically as his 58 room bachelor pad. The estate, incorporating 40 buildings, was the clan’s summer home for subsequent Earls and Marquises. It was built to show off the family’s wealth and power, and it really does.

Top: castle exterior. Bottom: fountain court with palm trees

Since the castle was continuously owned by the Kennedy clan until it was turned over to the Scottish National Trust, the furnishings and artwork are original, making them even more impressive to see.

The entry hall holds the largest collection of fired guns in the world, 716 flintlock pistols, along with more than 300 swords and 90 plus bayonets, all artistically displayed. Though the castle was built as a fortress, it was never attacked.
L: our guide in the dining room with its ornate rug. R: the dining room ceiling that looks like plasterwork but that is actually papier-mâché!
The round entertaining room boasts an ornate rug, gorgeous ceiling, and portraits of many of the Marchionesses. Here we learned the price of 18th century female beauty: early death from the effects of makeup made from a combination of white wax, lead, mercury and arsenic. Less deadly but equally creepy were the false eyebrows of the day made from mouse fur. Yecch.
After the 12th Earl of Cassilis was promoted to 1st Marquis of Ailsa (the island of Ailsa Craig, where all the granite for curling stones used worldwide is quarried), the Marquis’ wife became known as Lady Ailsa. In her boudoir, the frieze around the ceiling depicts opium flowers; opium was a common ladies’ sleep aid.

After the castle tour we were shuttled to the gardens, where the Head Gardener gave us a tour of the garden highlights. Of the castle’s 650 acre property, about 120 acres are managed gardens. Including the head gardener, there are 7 gardeners and 4 groundsmen who look after it all.

The entire property was designed to be “picturesque in motion”; elements are made to be discovered like hidden treasures as opposed to being obvious at first glance. Even the castle itself is seen to best effect through one of the arched gates.

Although the 2 glass houses look the same age, the one on the right is Victorian era and holds hand-pollinated peach trees, while the left was built in 2000 and holds a vinery with assorted heirloom varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, and grapes, as well as horned melons. Also in the picture are members of our tour group, each trying to get the best view of all the wonderful plants surrounding us.
The multi-stemmed cedar is now only the second largest in the world, since 2 stems had to be removed a year ago.
The north wall garden provides fruit and vegetables for the castle’s four restaurants.

Our day ended with an unexpected twist. We were to have dinner at the Enterkine Country Retreat in Ayrshire, but half an hour before we arrived the entire estate lost power when a harvesting machine took out their power line. In an amazing feat of customer service, they sent their chef, prepped dishes and extra staff to a sister property nearby. When our coach arrived at the Kail-Yard Restaurant in Torbolton, a piper was there to greet us with “Scotland the Brave”. We were treated to a classic Scottish dinner incorporating haggis, Scottish beef, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes).

L: Me with the piper. R: Look at what they did with humble neeps, tatties, and haggis! There’s even whisky sauce!!

Tomorrow is a free day in Glasgow. I’ll share that day and a few final notes after we get back to Canada.

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