Touring Robert Burns’ Scotland

Auld Lang Syne is sung the world over at midnight on New Year’s Eve, ringing in the New Year with tradition and song. But few people outside the Robert Burns Society may know what the song means or who wrote it.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne

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Robert Burns – Scotland’s Most Famous Poet

Before it was a song, Auld Lang Syne was a poem written by Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns, in 1788. It means “days gone by.” You probably know other Robert Burns poems and don’t even know it.

“My love is like a red red rose…”

“The best laid schemes of mice and men…”

Yes, that’s Robert Burns.

Indeed, Burns is considered the most influential Scotsman to have ever lived.

Robert Burns Birthplace in Alloway Scotland

Whether you fly into Glasgow or Edinburgh, you will need to rent a vehicle to visit the places where the Burns story is told. His birthplace in Alloway, Ayrshire, is much as it would have been when the Burns family lived here. To keep themselves warm, the family lived with cattle under the same roof, although in a room separate from the living space. It felt warm and cozy.

The museum, however, is all 21st century. Eight of his poems are illustrated and dissected in both 18th century Scottish and modern English. Among them are all five verses of Auld Lang Syne. Bet you didn’t know there were five verses. And yes, it’s a sing-along. All that’s missing is a glass of champagne, party hats and confetti.

With gardens and various outdoor displays, as well as the museum, you’ll want to spend all day here. The museum’s café is a brightly lit space with windows overlooking a lovely garden. Look closely at the windows. They are embellished with words from Burns’ poems. Burns was known for inscribing his poems on glass using a diamond point pen.

The menu includes soup and sandwiches, but if you’re going for an authentic experience, order the haggis. To the uninitiated, haggis is a common dish in Scotland that consists of the ground up internal organs of a sheep, boiled in its own stomach then served as a sausage using its own intestines. I almost gagged typing the description, so no, I didn’t try it. I just… No.

Robert Burns’ Home at Ellisland Farm

Robert Burns wasn’t very successful as a farmer, but he loved the quiet beauty of his home at Ellisland. He built the house with his own hands and wrote more than a quarter of his work here, including Auld Lang Syne. The River Nyth, little more than a babbling brook in places, is just behind the property. A beautiful path allows visitors to stroll in the exact footsteps where Robert Burns walked and wrote.

The Ellisland Farm is about 10 miles from Dumfries. Robbie and Jean had nine children, including twins before they were married. Although Burns fathered at least six more children by other women, history tells us the couple were very much in love and happily married.

Robert Burns’ Home in Dumfries Scotland

Scotland’s most famous poet and his large family lived in Dumfries from 1793 until his death on July 21, 1796. The house is in pristine condition. Although it was closed for renovations when we visited, you’ll want to check out the Globe Inn, a little pub in a dark alleyway where Burns spent many an evening. You can sit in the same chair where Burns himself sat.

But truly the most beautiful spot is the St. Michael’s Church in Dumfries where the Burns family worshipped and where the National Poet of Scotland and his family are buried. There’s been a house of worship on this spot since the 11th century, but this particular structure was built in the 1740s. Take a peek inside for the beautiful Willis organ and stained-glass windows featuring Robert and Jean, installed at the 250th anniversary of Burns’ birth.

The cemetery that surrounds the church is a thing of ghost stories. Moss covered gravestones, weathered and tilting, jumble together in a history of this community. A neat gravel pathway allows visitors to explore with reverence and find their way to the large Italianate Mausoleum in the back corner.

Fans from around the world gather here, leaving flowers, pens and notebooks and other trinkets celebrating their old friend they never met. It’s a place to lift a cup of kindness yet in days of auld lang syne.

Listen to Auld Lang Syne