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Rambles Through the Land of Burns
Chapter 1


ON THE ROAD TO AYR--THE DAISY--SCENERY IN THE VICINITY OF KILMARNOCK--CRAIGIE CASTLE--BARNWEIL HILL--SYMINGTON--THE CRADLE-LAND OF BURNS--THE BRAMBLE--A PECULIARYLY SITUATED MONUMENT--A LUDICROUS ADVENTURE--MONKTON

Intent upon a pilgrimage to the cottage wherein the immortal poet, Robert Burns, first saw the light, and the interesting places in its immediate vicinity, I left Kilmarnock one beautiful summer morning before its inhabitant were stirring, and having crossed the Irvine by the new bridge at Riccarton, held onward, regardless of "the lang Scots miles" which lay between me and the goal of the journey. Nature was newly waken from the slumber of night--the sun poured its exhilarating rays from the radiant east, and in its strength was quickly dispelling the vapoury mist which hung over the river and floated lazily across the fields, as if reluctant to depart and allow the god to quaff the pearly drops of dew which decked the grass and hedges. A solemn stillness--which was occasionally broken by the distant lowing of cattle and the chirrup of a lightsome bird--pervaded the scene, for the village was wrapt in slumber, a slumber fated soon to be broken by the deep-toned bell in the church spire calling the labouring poor to renew the turmoil of life. As the gate of the domain which surrounds Caprington Castle was neared the scene became more romantic and grand, for the estate of Treesbank, with its manor-house peering from the bosom of its woods, came in view, as also Craigie Hill and the rugged chain of eminences running east. At Peace-and-Plenty the miners were preparing for toil, and several smoked their pipes with a gusto which showed how they enjoyed the beauty of the flowers which decked the little plots in front of their dwellings, and the glorious sunlight which the burrowing nature of their employment would shut from their gaze. One sturdy fellow gifted me a "posey," but its radiant gems were not so dear to my heart as the simple daisies and buttercups which grew by the dusty wayside and spangled the fields in its vicinity--for, as I trudged along, they were scattered here and there in little clusters, and nodded in the breeze as if courting attention. The daisy has ever been a favourite with poets and children. Chaucer in his quaint way tells that he loved it, and Wordsworth does the same, but Montgomery sings of it so sweetly that a stave or two from his house deserves quoting:--

"This small flower to nature dear,
While moon and stars their courses run,
Wreathes the whole circle of the year,
Companion of the sun.

"It smiles upon the lap of May,
To sultry August spreads its charms,
Lights pale November on its way,
And twines December’s arms.

"The purple heath, the golden broom,
On moory mountains catch the gale,
O’er lawns the lily sheds perfume,
The violet in the vale:

"But this bold flow’ret climbs the hill,
Hides in the forest, haunts the glen,
Plays on the margin of the rill,
Peeps round the fox’s den.

"Within the garden’s cultured round
It shares the sweet carnation bed,
And blooms on consecrated ground
In honour of the dead.

"The lambkin crops its crimson gem,
The wild bee murmurs on its breast,
The blue fly bends its pensile stem
That decks the skylark’s nest.

"’Tis Flora’s page in every place,
In every season fresh and fair,
It opens with perennial grace,
And blossoms everywhere.

"On waste and woodland, rock and plain,
Its humble buds unheeded rise;
The rose has but a summer’s reign,
The daisy never dies."

Like other wild flowers, the daisy was a favourite with Burns. In the one that "died to prove a poet’s love" on the farm of Mossgiel he saw his own fate portrayed.

"Even thou who mourn’st the daisy’s fate,
That fate is thine--no distant date;
Stern Ruin’s ploughshare drives, elate,
Full of they bloom,
Till crushed beneath the furrow’s weight
Shall be thy doom."

It may be added that botanists class the "bonnie gem" in the order of compositoe, or composite-flowered plants, because each head or gowan is composed of a cluster of distinct but minute flowerets, each of which consists of a single petal--a fact doubtless which will astonish many young readers; but let them, when next out for a ramble, pluck one, and it will be found that none

"But He that arched the skies,
And pours the dayspring’s living flood,
Wond’rous alike in all He tries,
Could rise the daisy’s purple bud,

"Mould its green cup, its wiry stem,
Its fringed border nicely spin,
And cut the gold embossed gem,
That set in silver gleams within.

"Then fling it unrestrained and free,
O’er hill, and dale, and desert sod,
That man, where’re he walks, may see
At every step the stamp of God."

About a miles beyond the miner’s dwellings referred to the road rises over an eminence named Spittalhill, and as the pedestrian nears the summit he has a capital view of Kilmarnock and its surroundings, and also of a vast track of country along the coast--indeed, I was so much charmed with the prospect that I leaned on a fence and earnestly gazed on the tranquil landscape unmindful alike of the fleeting moments and the melody of a skylark-which rendered the air musical with its morning lay. Beyond the height a long vista of road came in view, but before entering it I paused beneath the shade of a gigantic willow which casts its broad arms over the roadway, and admired the rhododendrons and laurels, and their more majestic companions--the larch and spruce firs, which line the pleasant drive to Coodham House, the residence of W.H. Houldsworth, Esq. The fragrance was delightful, but the trees bending over the monotonous stone wall by the side of the footpath seemed to beckon me to their shade, and I hastened onward. Beyond Bogend Toll the country opens up, and on the summit of an eminence called Barnweil Hill the Wallace Monument stands boldly out from a belt of wood; while to the north, in a hollow near some rising ground, the ruin of Craigie Castle raises its shattered form on the plain. It was long the residence of a branch of the Wallace family, but on their removal to the castle of Newton-upon-Ayr it gradually got out of repair, and its sculpture-decked halls ultimately succumbed to the ravages of time and decay, and now, with the exception of two gables and some portion of side walls, vaults, and ramparts, it is one mass of weed-covered debris. A stone, bearing a curious heraldic device, was found amongst the ruins some years ago, and may be seen in the wall of an out-house on the adjacent farm. It is well worth the attention of the curious, and the necessary deviation from the highway will be amply repaid.

The Wallaces of Riccarton and Craigie were a family of considerable note in Ayrshire, and being a branch of that which gave birth to "The Knight of Ellerslee," Burns makes mention of it in a stanza of "The Vision," when referring to Sir John Wallace, a memorable lord of the domain, who was second in command at the battle of Sark:--

"His country’s saviour, mark him well:
Bold Richardton’s heroic swell.
The Chief on Sark, who glorious fell
In high command;
And he whom ruthless Fates expel
His native land."

This hero, although borne from the field severely wounded, died of his wounds in the Castle in the 59th of his age, and his body is interred in the now almost forgotten family vault in Craigie churchyard.

The hill of which the monument stands is said to derive the name of Barnweil, or Burnweel, from the circumstances of Sir William Wallace laconically remarking--"The barns o’ Ayr burn weel," as he pause in his flight on its summit to view the flames he dexterously raised. An excellent view of Ayr is obtained from the site of the monument, but unfortunately for the tradition the district bore the descriptive Celtic term Barnwiel, or Barnwield, long before the days of Wallace--therefore, as the author of the History of the County of Ayr pertinently remarks, the statement is nothing more than "an unsupported vulgar tradition."

Beyond "the half-way"--as a roadside public-house and favourite halting place between Kilmarnock and Ayr is termed--I passed the road leading to Symington, a sequestered commercially-forgotten village which nestles beneath the shade of some old trees a short distance from the high-way. The little place possesses a curious old church and burying-ground of considerable historic interest, but other-wise calls for little notice.

A mile beyond Symington the road makes a sudden descent, and the pedestrian unexpectedly encounters an excellent view of the cradle-land of Burns--indeed, I stood enraptured and mutely gazed on the scene. Away in the distance lay the hills of Carrick--hills on whose brown bosom it may be safely inferred the boy-poet sported, and "pu’d the gowans fine," for it was under their shade he first saw the light. More near, and "in a sandy valley spread," Ayr nestled among green fields and patches of woodland, interspersed with gentlemen’s residences, near the broad-bosomed Frith, at a point where it bends into a fine bay. As my eye wandered over the delightful scene, it rested on the Castles of Newark and Greenan, and ultimately on the ruggedly grand heights of Arran, behind which, there is little doubt, the bard of Coila often watched the red sun go down, and that too after having industriously plied the  flail on the threshing floor, or followed the plough on the braeside of Mount Oliphant.

After enjoying this imperfectly-described scene, I renewed the journey, and having passed the plantation which encircles the mansion-house of Rosemount, reached a wood-fringed pasture field in which a herd of Kyle cows were contentedly browsing. There was nothing remarkable in the scene, so far as the cattle were concerned, but a monument of an ancient weather-beaten appearance, partly concealed among trees on a neighbouring height, excited my curiosity to such a degree that I determined to examine it, and for that purpose entered a traffic-worn path in proximity to the wood in which it was embowered. The wild roses with which the hedge was decked, and the bramble bushes trailing their long prickly stems on the grass, looked luxuriant, and called to mind the joyous days of boyhood and the well-known lines of Ebenezer Elliot, which I give out of genial sympathy with their spirit:--

THE BRAMBLE.

"Thy fruit full well the school-boy knows,
Wild bramble of the brake!
So, put thou forth thy small white rose;
I love thee for his sake,
Through woodbines flaunt and roses glow
O’er all the fragrant bowers,
Thous need’s not be ashamed to show
Thy satin-threaded flowers;
For dull the eye, the heart is dull,
That cannot feel how fair,
Amid all beauty beautiful,
Thy tender blossoms are!
How delicate thy gaudy frill!
How rich thy branchy stem!
How soft thy voice, when woods are still,
And thou sing’st hymns to them.
While silent showers are falling slow,
and ’mid the general hush,
A sweet air lifts the little bough
Lone whispering through the bush!
The primrose to the grave is gone,
The hawthorn flower is dead,
The violet by the moss’s grey stone
Hath laid her weary head;
But thou, wild bramble! back dost bring,
In all thy beauteous power,
The fresh green days of life’s fair spring,
And boyhood’s blossomy hour.
Scorn’d bramble of the brake! one more
Thou bidst me be a boy,
To gad the thee the woodlands o’er
In freedom and in joy."

When near the plantation I opened a field gate, held along the side of a tall hedge, and entered a beaten track running zig-zag among the trees. It was an "eerie" place, for the solitude was only broken by the rustling leaves and dry grass under my feet, and the occasional flutter of a startled bird; but I held on, and soon reached the object of my search, which proved to be a massive pyramidal block of masonry surmounted by an urn, and embellished with Corinthian pillars and emblematic devices. Being void of an inscription, there is nothing to tell its purport, but I afterwards learned that it covers the burying place of the Dalrymples of Orange-field--a now extinct family--and was erected in 1748 to commemorate ex-Governor Macrae, a gentleman whose curious history forms the subject of another chapter.

After examining the pile, I found my way to the verge of the plantation, vaulted a fence, and traversed a field, as it appeared to be the most convenient mode of reaching the highway. Near its centre, I paused to examine a ruined pigeon-house, which serves in its wrecked state as a shelter for cattle--a circumstance of which I had ample proof, for a cow rushed out as I was about to enter, and nearly upset me in its hurry. In am not altogether certain as to whether the animal of myself was most frightened, but if anything, the balance of terror was in my favour--for, in the excitement of the moment, it was mistaken for a sumptuous individual with whom it is not safe to have dealings. However, I soon recovered, and without further adventure reached Monkton--a humble agricultural village, containing no object of interest beyond its ruined ivy-mantled church and grass-covered burying ground; but if its commercial prosperity had equaled its antiquity, then it would have been a busy place indeed. So early as 1163 the church and village were in existence. In that year the church and lands were, along with the church of Prestwick, gifted to the monastery of Paisley by Walter, the son of Allan, first High Steward of Scotland, and lord of the northern portion of Kyle. Monkton then bore the name of Prestwick, but shortly after coming in the hands of the friars it was termed Prestwick Monachorum. In course of time, however, the name again changed, and it began to be called "Monktoun," from the circumstances, as many suppose, that a religioushouse existed in the village. But it is not altogether certain that such was the case, for no reference is made to it in any work on the monastic institutions of Scotland, nor does the oldest inhabitant remember of seeing or hearing of the ruins of any building which tradition averred the monk occupied. However, it is nevertheless probable that the Abbot of Paisley would have a bevy of the brotherhood stationed in the district to superintend the possessions of the institution and to look after the interests of mother church; for it is a well-known fact that they were well acquainted with agriculrure and the construction and management of corn-mills. There is nothing of interest connected with the village, and the parochial registers (which only date back to the  beginning of the last century) throw no light upon its history; but it is evident that hard drinking and moral lapses were the besetting sins of the inhabitant somewhat less than a century ago. This is not at all surprising, however, when it is known that along the whole Ayrshire coast smuggling was extensively carried on, and that Monkton was a noted seat of the contraband trade. The suppression of a traffic fraught as it was with such immoral tendencies, was as great a blessing to the people of Monkton as it was to the inhabitants of every town and village engaged in it. In course of time its pernicious influences were entirely removed, and the villages of to-day, as a rule, are both sober and industrious. The population last census amounted to 467, but from the appearance of the hamlet one would scarcely think it so large. The parishes of Monkton and Prestwick have been united since the beginning of the seventeenth century, but the object of the union cannot at this date be ascertained with any degree of certainty.


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