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Rambles Through the Land of Burns
Chapter 9


THE HOTEL AND SHELL PALCE--THE AULD BRIG O’ DOON--THE NEW BRIG AND ITS PETITION--VIEW FROM THE HEIGHTS IN ITS VICINITY--NEWARK CASTLE--GREENAN CASTLE--THE RETURN

It has been said that a toothache would speedily bring to earth the loftiest flight of the philosopher, and certainly hunger and fatigue would speedily dispel the enthusiasm one feels when visiting celebrated places. There is no use denying it, a good inn or hotel is occasionally essential, and I never stood in greater need of the comfort one or either affords than I did on the occasion of my visit to the banks of Doon.

The hotel referred to in last chapter was completely crowded with excursionists, and it was not without considerable jostling that I managed to get into a room, where, despite an atmosphere of tobacco smoke and the music of a party who persistently sang--

“Landlady count the lawen,
The day is near the dawin:
Ye’re a’ blind drunk, boys,
And I’m jolly fu’.”

I managed to enjoy the rest and refreshment which my long walk had rendered necessary. My stay was short, but before leaving I paid a visit to “The Shell Place,” as a small grotto in the grounds of the establishment is termed. It is a curiosity in its way, being clad on the inside with countless shells and decked with mirrors, I which the visitor finds his form reflected again and again; but beyond the chair made out of the prolific rafters of Alloway Kirk, it contains nothing of interest. The garden, however, is delightfully situated between the Old and New Brigs o’ Doon, and commands an excellent view of both structures.

Turning the corner of the hotel, I strolled down to the Auld Brig, which is only some five minutes’ walk from the Monument gate. On my right lay the carefully enclosed grounds of the hotel, and on my left those of the monument; and in front the “banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon,” blooming as fresh and fair as they did when Burns wandered by them or

Walked in glory and in pride,
Following his plough upon the mountain side.”

Visitors sauntered in the path as if unwilling to bid adieu to the fascinating scene, but one happy chap, reclining on the verdant bank with his arms about his dearie, I really envied, for all appearance he was so absorbed in love-making that he cared not although

“Worldy cares and warldly men
Should a’ gae tapsalteerie.”

The road makes a rather abrupt turn towards the bridge and rises steeply over its arch, but it was not until it was neared that I discovered that the strains of a fiddle, and peals of merriment which smote my ear, proceeded from its centre-- yea, from the spot where Maggie

“Brought aff her maister hale,
But left behind her ain grey tail.”

Sure enough a group of lads and lasses were busy going through the intricacies of a Scotch reel, and as the arm of the musician played “jink and diddle,”

“They reeled, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit,”

and gleefully danced to the notes of his instrument. As I approached the fun grew “fast and furious,” and it was with the utmost difficulty I kept my legs from flying into the air like those of a jumping jack, so influenced were they with the surplus music of the party. But it came to an end, and by the way of finale the mirth-loving throng struck up “Ye banks an’ braes o’ bonnie Doon,” which I think was never sung with greater effect, for Echo took up the strain and beautified the melody. Leaning upon the parapet of the bridge I watched the placid water rippling over the pebbly bottom of the stream, and was soon oblivious to all save the superb scene through which it flows.

Above the old bridge the scene has lost none of its beauty since the time of Burns, but below it has undergone a very great alteration indeed. The new bridge--a handsome structure, some hundred yards distant--has been erected, and every building, save Alloway Kirk, is comparatively modern. But notwithstanding this radical change, the whole locality remains a picture of unsurpassed loveliness.

The auld brig o’ Doon is a narrow, inconvenient structure of one lofty, well-turned arch, and is chiefly interesting as the closing scene of Tam o’ Shanter’s adventure with the witches.

“Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stane o’ the brig;
There at them thouthy rail may toss,
A running stream they darena cross.
But ere the key-stane she could make,
The fient a tail she had to shake;
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle--
Ae spring brought aff her maister hale,
But left behind her ain grey tail:
The carlin cluaght her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.”

James Paterson, in his account of the parish of Maypole,states that this bridge was erected by Bishop Kennedy in 1466, but other equally trustworthy authorities affirm that its age is unknown. From the high sweep of its arch, however, and the appearance of its masonry, and the fact that the Burgh of Ayr contributed towards having it repaired 300 years ago, there is every reason for supposing that it was reared at a very early date. In 1810 the Trustees of the roads in the County of Ayr agreed to erect a new bridge across the Doon, and demolish the ancient structure, but the very mention of this act was sufficient to rouse the indignation of the admirers of Burns and produce a movement for its preservation. “The old bridge, ”it was represented, “boasts a very high antiquity, and is considered one of the finest in Europe, being in height and span equal, if not superior, to the Rialto at Venice. It  also forms an interesting feature in that exquisite picture of his native sc enery drawn by Burns in his ‘Tam o’ Shanter.’ The cottage in which he was born, Alloway Kirk, and the auld brig are objects which give such a charm to the landscape in the eye of the stranger who has read and admired  the writings of Coila’s Bard that the annihilation of any of them would prove the object of general regret.” Under these impressions a subscription was set on foot with a view to raise a fund to purchase the preserve the venerable edifice, but not the following appeal from the pen of the Rev. Hamilton Paul had the desired effect:--

“Unto the Honourable the Trustees of the Roads in the Country of Ayr,
the petition and compliment of the Auld Brig o’ Doon.

“Must I, like modern fabrics of a day,
Decline unwept, the victim of decay?
Shall my bold arch, that proudly stretches o’er
Doon’s classic stream, from Kyle’s to Carrick’s shore,
Be suffered in oblivion’s gulf to fall,
And hurl to wreck my venerable wall?
Forbid it! every tutelary power!
That guards my keystane at the midnight hour.
Forbid it ye who, charmed by Burn’s lay,
Amid these scenes can linger out the day!
Let Nannie’s sark, and Maggie’s mangled tail,
Plead in my cause, and in that cause prevail.
The man of taste, who comes my form to see,
And curious asks, but asks in vain for me,
With tears of sorrow will my fate deplore,
When he is told ‘The Auld Brig is no more.’
Stop them, O stop the more than Vandal rage
That marks this revolutionary age,
And bid the structure of your fathers last,
The pride of this, the boast of ages past;
Nor ever let your children’s children tell
By your decree the ancient fabric fell.

“May it therefore please your honors to consider this petition, and grant such sum as you may think proper for repairing and keeping up the Old Bridge of Doon. (Signed) “_______________For the Petitioner.”

The gentleman to whom the petition was presented explained that they had no powers to expend public money on a disused road, but being amused with the novel document, they subscribed handsomely towards having the bridge repaired and preserved. The old structure is used by foot passengers, and is in excellent preservation, and, to every appearance, will prove as durable as its usurper.

The goal of my journey being attained, I lingered in its vicinity and

“Roved by bonnie Doon
To see the rose and woodbine twine.”

“but pleasures are like poppies spread.” Train time was but three hours distant, and a long road lay between me an the railway station at Ayr. There was no help for it though, so I reluctantly left the classic scene, and with a fond adieu to its numerous fascinations, entered the road along which Tam’s tailless mare galloped after making the prodigious spring that carried its rider beyond the vengeful clutch of Cutty-sark and the horde of witches in her wake. It is hard to determine the course this road pursued when Burns traversed, but, at this date, it sweeps round a gentle curve at no great distance from the bridge and joins the new road to Maybole at a toll-bar, from which there is a splendid view of the woods of Newark Castle and the rugged chain of hills which rise abruptly from the vale. The old toll-keeper was enjoying his afternoon pipe at the door of his cot in the most complaisant manner, and was not the least diffident to converse. He proved racy of speech, and well acquainted with  the district; but our conversation was abruptly brought to a close by the approach of a company of young men with  japanned tin cases slung over their shoulders, who stopped to examine a plot of weeds in the taxman’s triangular garden. It was evident that they were amateur botanists, so, to watch their operations, I accompanied them fully half a mile along the road, but failed to increase my stock of botanical knowledge despite their efforts to make me comprehend the technocalities of the science. I love wild flowers, and can at all times see beauty in a worthles weed, but I can see no reason why the classification, construction, and properties of plants should be conealed from the illiterate in a mist of to them unintelligible terms. Still, without much scientific knowledge,

“God’s wondrous power the mind can read,
In valley, mountain, plain, and hill;
While in the humblest wayside weed
We may perceive His wondrous skill.”

Taking leave of this little company, I commenced my homeward journey, and from the height, almost unconsciously attained, behind one of the most beautiful and picturesque prospects ever witnessed. In the foreground lay Alloway Kirk, the Monument, and the Auld Brig o’ Doon; a little further on, The Cottage; and between them and the town of Ayr--which is seen to great advantage--the space appeared dotted with elegant mansions, snug cottages, and embowering trees. To the left, the Frith of Clyde gleamed round the dark hills of Arran like a sea of molten silver, and stretched away in the distance until its waters seemed blended with the fleecy clouds. To the right, the distant hills of Cumnock and Muirkirk were mapped out; but the scene must be seen to be appreciated, and I trust that every reader who visits the Monument will not leave the locality before ascending these rugged heights.

A brisk walk brought me back to the toll-bar. From it I moved in the direction of the new Bridge, and turned down a shady avenue to the left. The walk is a lonely one, and in many parts literally canopied with foliage. Here I passed Newark Castle, a charming residence nestling in a perfect bower of wood at the foot of the range of hills already mentioned. It is greatly modernized, and is memorable as the place where Queen Mary passed the night after the disastrous battle of Langside.

Although travel-worn, I trudged cheerfully onward, and soon arrived in a commodious highway running parallel with the shore. To the west was the beautiful bay, and north and south an extensive track of coast scenery; but the most prominent, and in my eyes the most picturesque, object on the  landscape was the shattered remnant of Greenan Castle frowning from a cliff on the verge of the watery waste. It being but a field’s breadth from where I stood, the temptation to  pay it a visit was so great that I instinctively yielded to the impulse and sought the lane leading to the farmsteading in its vicinity. The approach was a little circuitous, but when it was traversed I bounded down the embankment, and boylike watched the rippling waves of the fast receding tide as the rolled backward and forward in apparent anxiety to lave my weary feet. The splashing of the oars of a passing boat, and the merry laughter and shouts of a company of children on the sands, fell like music on my ear as I gazed upon the deep, and on the ruined stronghold frowning from the edge of a high and almost perpendicular rock by my side. The scenery was beautiful, but to enjoy it fully I climbed a verdant slope and began to stray over some grass-covered foundations near the shattered remant of former greatness. Approaching the edge of the precipice on which the ruin stands, I passed through a low doorway and entered a vault-like chamber with an arched roof, but neither in it nor in another ruined apartment at the top of a wrecked staircase did I find anything to reward my intrepidity. In fact, my blood ran cold when I looked through an arrowslit in the back wall, and beheld the chasm over which the fabric hangs.

Very little is known regarding Greenan Castle. Over the door of the tower the letters “J.K.,” and the figures “1603” are still descernable; but that an older building occupied the  site is evident from the stronghold being mentioned in a grant of the Doon Fisheries, which was drawn up during the reign of William the Lion. The following verses are selected from an address to the old pile which may be found in a meritorious volume of verse published in Ayr in 1841:--

“It frowns upon the steep
Like a monarch frey and grim,
To its feet the mighty deep
Bears a never failing hymn;
And proudly o’er the billow,
Looks the tower the sunshine through,
When the sailor on his pillow,
Dreams of home and love so true.

‘I have heard the rude winds railing
O’er the bosom of the sea,
And the mariners assailing
In their mischief-making glee;
But disdainful through the haze,
While the drift flies gloomy past,
And the frightened seaman prays,
Frowns the ruin on the blast.

“Old Time, with heedless hand,
In the city and the wood,
Strews oblivion’s darkest sand
O’er the lovely and the good;
And they moulder on the hill,
And they fade within the heart,
But the ruin lingers still,
Though the fair and young depart.”

From Greenan Castle I passed down to the shore and walked sharply towards Ayr--the tide being far out and the sand firm and pleasant to walk upon. At the confluence of the Doon I was brought to a standstill, for to cross dry-shod appeared impossible, and to go round by the Low Bridge was to take up too much time. However, I got over the difficulty and the river together by wading across with my boots and my stockings suspended across my shoulder at the end of my stick, and after a lengthy but pleasant walk reached the Low Green--a large level park in which games of cricket and foot- ball were progressing with great spirit. Thence I passed the County Buildings and hurriedly sought the Railway Station, but not a moment too soon, for I had no sooner procured a ticket and taken a seat than the train moved off. The journey to Kilmarnock was as free from incident as such journeys generally are; so, courteous reader, we will start together in next chapter, and in fancy accompany each other in a ramble to the farm of Lochlea and other places in the vicinity of Tarbolton.


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