Mauchline is a characterful little town in East Ayrshire with a long and varied history. It is the home of Mauchline ware the famous wooden souvenirs and the only curling stone factory in the world, however the main reason many people visit here is the strong connections to Scotland's National Bard, Robert Burns.
Mauchline is mentioned in every Burns trail and with good reason. He spent four important years here from 1784 to 1788 and during that time he experienced many highs and lows including
I had never been to Mauchline before and decided this week that it was time to visit the area of Scotland that inspired many of my favourite Burns poems. The day I visited it was bucketing with rain which meant that I didn't manage to enjoy a full walk around the town, however there was still plenty to do and my first stop at the free Burns House Museum was a warm and welcome shelter from the wet deluge outside. A 20 minute video about the Bard's life during the period he resided here was an informative introduction to the complicated life of the poet. The museum is situated in a building where Burns and his wife Jean Armour spent some time living and features a recreation of the room they lodged in. The museum also houses Burns artifacts and even has a listening snug where you can relax and enjoy his poems. There has been alot of thought put into this museum and it's exhibits and the fact that it is free makes it an ideal starting point when visiting the town.
There is no doubt that Mauchline capitalises on it's links to Robert Burns and this is reinforced by the blue plaques that can be seen dotted all over the town. They form a walking trail and a map can be picked up at the museum. While some of the places are of interest I personally feel that they have gone a little overboard with them as some have the most tenuous of links!
When you come out of the museum, cross the cobbled street to the churchyard where you can find the final resting place of many of the characters that inspired his poems, friends and family and sadly where four of his children are buried. Again blue plaques mark graves of interest and there is a leaflet with a map to help navigate your way around.
With the continued monsoon style weather it was time to find shelter again and Poosie Nansie's Inn, made famous by 'The Jolly Beggars Cantanta', seemed an interesting refuge. It certainly looked the part from the outside but on the inside I was welcomed with a typical no frills bar and felt quite disappointed. However, what was initial disillusionment soon turned into the highlight of the day. The barman and a couple of locals that were propping up the furniture quickly worked out that we were out of town 'tourists' with an interest in Burns. They began to regale us with fascinating tales about the poet, their own colourful life stories and sharing some general local knowledge. I couldn't help but think that they were exactly the type of larger than life local characters that Burns would have wrote about were he alive today and wondered if much has really changed in Mauchline since the poet lived there.
Then the barman gave us a key and the three local conspirators urged us to open the locked door opposite the bar. Not quite sure what to expect I entered the small room beyond with trepidation. The room turned out to be the original kitchen of the Inn with the 18th Century furniture and crockery still in situ. Artifacts from the period decorated the room including a clock made by 'Clockie' Brown, a well-known Mauchline Clockmaker and friend of Burns. There were more modern additions including electricity and Burns memorabilia but on the whole walking through the door genuinely felt like walking back in time. I've visited many 'preserved' historical rooms and houses over the years but I don't quite recall feeling the atmosphere I did here. Although it is widely agreed Burns never entered here and only ever looked in the windows, it still provides an authentic glimpse into life during that period. Looking through the visitor book there were no more than 20 signatures for this year and as hidden gems go this definitely qualifies.
Before leaving Mauchline I paid a quick visit to the statue of Jean Armour. There are no pictures of her from youth and this is only an impression of what she may have looked like but it seems fitting that there is a tribute to the local lass that remained with Burns through the good and bad and despite his many affairs.
To finish off the day, I continued 5 miles down the road to the village of Tarbolton to visit The Batchelors' Club run by the National Trust for Scotland. Sitting in a modern housing scheme this little thatched building looks out of place and unlike Mauchline it is hard to imagine what the area would have looked like over 200 years ago. The restored house is where Burns went for dancing lessons, founded a debating club and became a Freemason. You are taken around the small building by a tour guide and given a talk about the various activities Burns took part in during his time here. To be honest there is not much to see here and I didn't feel the visit added much to my day. As a member of the NTS I got in for free and I had some time to spare so I didn't mind but otherwise I wouldn't really suggest going out of your way to visit this attraction and would recommend spending more time in Mauchline instead.
Robert Burns lived in various places throughout his life and each area has their own attractions and tributes to the poet. Mauchline offers something different, it feels authentic, the town is steeped in Burns history and much of it is still visible today. The local characters in the pubs certainly still exist and many of the buildings have been preserved, along with secret rooms! On a wet and gloomy day, walking on the slippery cobbles in the place that provided him with much inspiration, where he loved and lost, and where many of his friends still remain, for the first time I felt a real personal connection with Scotland's National Bard.
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