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