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Walks in Burns Country
Kirkgate
Approx 2 miles


Follow the steps of Robert Burns, 'The National Bard of Scotland'

As drawn up by The Burns Howff Club of Dumfries (Approx 1mile, 1.6km)

This walk which starts at the Fountain at the junction of High Street and English Street, could be called a Robert Burns/Hospitals walk, as it covers places which are either connected with the National Bard or the Dumfries and Galloway Infirmaries and Hospitals. There have, incidentally, been four Infirmaries since 1776.

So, let us move off in a Southerly direction down High Street and almost immediately we find, through one of Dumfries's many closes, Robert Burns favourite howff or place of resort or concourse - the Globe Inn. This ancient hostelry dates back to the year 1610, and still stands as it was, with the same romantic atmosphere. The stables have now been incorporated with the Inn but many of the other rooms still remain as they were in Burns' day. Robert Burns was a frequent visitor to the Globe Hotel, as it was in his day, even writing some verses, probably with his diamond ring, on the window panes. These can still be seen today. Full of Burns' artifacts, the Globe Inn is well worth a visit from all lovers of Robert Burns and members of the staff will be only too pleased to show visitors around.

Moving further South to the junction of High Street and Shakespeare Street, we see Burns Street opposite on the left. The house in Burns Street, which previously was Mill Vennel and later Mill Street, was where Robert Burns spent the last years of his life. The accommodation in the Wee Vennel, Burns' first house in the area, was becoming increasingly inadequate with the arrival of a daughter on 21st November, 1792, and Burns decided to move to the house in Mill Vennel. The poet's eldest son, Robert Burns, Junior, furnished an interesting account of life in Mill Vennel, indicating that the self-contained house, whose rental was 8 per year, was of a kind then occupied by the better class of burgess:- 'My mother and father always had a maid-servant, and sat in their parlour. That apartment, together with two bedrooms was well furnished and carpeted; and when good company assembled, which was often the case, the hospitable board which they surrounded was of a patrician mahogany. There was much comfort in the house, not to be found in those houses of ordinary citizens; for besides the spoils of smugglers, the poet received many presents of game and country produce from the rural gentlefolk, as well as occasional barrels of oysters from Hill, Cunningham and other friends in town; so that he was as much envied by some of his neighbours, as he has since been pitied by the general body of his countrymen'.

Jean Armour continued to reside in the Mill Vennel home until her death 38 years later. One cannot think of Jean Armour without Burns' lovely song coming to mind: -

'Of a' the airts the wind can blaw
I dearly like the west,
For there the bonie lassie lives,
The lassie I lo'e best.
There wild woods grow, and rivers row
And monie a hill between,
But day and night my fancy's flight
Is ever wi' my Jean.'

In 1944, the transfer of responsibility for the maintenance of the house was handed over to the local Council, and a curator, Mr. Tom McCrone, appointed.

Next to Burns' house in the Mill Vennel stood the Ragged School, the premises for which adjoined the poet's residence. Associated with the school there was an Industrial School, to which juveniles convicted of petty offenses were sent - the children at both the Ragged School and the Industrial School usually numbered around one hundred. Food for body and mind was supplied to them.

Very close to where Burns' House stands, in Burns Street, was, in the 1770's, the site of the first Dumfries Infirmary.

We now continue South and cannot fail to see St. Michael's Church appearing before us. Robert and Jean Burns were members of this Church while they resided in the Mill Vennel, and their pew is marked to this day with a commemorative plague. It is the original parish church of Dumfries, and, although little is known of its early history, it can safely be asserted that the foundation is one of great antiquity. Indeed, the site was almost certainly sacred before the advent of Christianity. It appears that a Christian Church has stood on the site for more than 1,300 years.

Following the practice of the day, King William gave the Church of Dumfries and its dependent chapel, dedicated to Saint Thomas Becket, to the Abbey at Kelso.

It is not known how many buildings have stood on St. Michael's Mount, Dumfries. From a petition sent to the Papal Curia in 1427, we learn that the Greyfriars Monastery, which stood in the centre of the town, 'is desolate, collapsed and destitute in its houses and has been burned by the English enemies and the Wars long-raging in these parts'. St. Michael's was not only the site of the Parish Church, it also formed the Southern part of the town's defenses, commanding the main road from the South into the burgh. Any Church at the time of the Wars of Independence would not have been stoutly built and would almost certainly have been despoiled.

There is a belief that the old St. Michael's was the last Church in Scotland in which High Mass was said at the time of the Reformation. A century later, popular support tended to be for the Covenanters, and the Rev. William Veitch, M.A. (1640-1722), was one of St. Michael's ministers who suffered much persecution for his adherence to the principles of the Covenant. After taking part in the Pentland Rising, he was imprisoned and condemned to death, but escaped to England. He was called to be minister of St. Michael's in 1694 and gave distinguished service for 21 years. A beautiful pair of solid silver Communion Cups, which he gifted to the congregation in 1705, are still in regular use at Communion Services. The Church has had a long history, at times exciting and at other times merely of interest, but the most important item of history is that, over a millennium, men and women have found within its walls that peace, strength and certitude which comes from a Faith quietly and diligently practised.

In St. Michael's Churchyard, of course, is the Mausoleum built to commemorate Robert Burns, Scotland's National Bard. Also in the graveyard are buried some 40 or 50 of Burns' contemporaries and friends, and a plaque, following a project organised by the Dumfries Burns Howff Club, denotes the location of those.

As we leave St. Michael's Church and prepare to go further South and up St. Michael's Street, we see, on the opposite side of the road, Moorheads' Hospital. 'Quite a lonely building it is, as you can perceive, with an air of the antique, and, on the whole, not unprepossessing in its outward aspect. It was erected in 1753 by the bequests of James Moorhead, merchant, Dumfries, and of his brother-german William Moorhead, who, for some time before his death carried on business at Carlisle. Their considerate design being to found a home for persons of both sexes, belonging to the burgh, who had seen better days, and for the maintenance, guardianship and education of some orphans. The number of residents is usually about forty, of whom generally two-thirds or more are adults, and both classes are lodged in the house, supplied with comfortable clothing, wholesome diet and medical attendance. Provision is also made for their spiritual improvement by weekly prayer-meetings in the house, and by, free seats in St. Michael's Church opposite'. This description of Moorheads' Hospital was written by William McDowall, a Dumfries historian of the nineteenth century, and today Moorheads' is run as a home for the elderly, under Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council, and still provides an excellent home for those requiring such a place. Therefore the wishes and desires of the Moorheads has been maintained.

Passing up St. Michael's Street and continuing, after the roundabout, on to Nithbank, we see flats on the right, and this was where the 'second' Dumfries Infirmary stood. On the 13th of May, 1807, a charter from the Crown incorporated the contributors to the Infirmary into a body politic under the name of the Governors of Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary - the governors consisting of benefactors to the extent of twenty guineas or more, paid within two years, who thereby became governors for life, subscribers of not less than one guinea annually, and the two physicians, the two surgeons and the Treasurer for the time being. For the first fifteen years, the medical officers were paid nothing for their services, except a small allowance of five shillings a day, granted by the Government for military patients. For the year ended 11th November, 1865, the death rate was only 6.2. It was at this Infirmary in1846, that the first anaesthetic was administered by means of 'an apparatus hastily improvised by Dr. Fraser'. There seems to be every reason to believe that this, the second Infirmary in Dumfries, was the pioneering hospital in anaesthetics.#

In September, 1869, the foundation of a new Infirmary (seen on the opposite side of the road - on the left going South along Nithbank) was laid with due pomp and ceremony. The building is in the Northern Italian style of architecture. A central block, three storeys high, with wings of two storeys, form the front elevation. The main central doorway is flanked by pilasters, carrying, on the second floor, two gigantic emblematic figures - the protecting divinities of the house -from the chisel of Mr. John Currie. All the windows in the centre and wings are fully architraved, while the large one in the main block is covered by a pointed gable, crocketted, and capped by fleur-de-lys. There have, since the erection of the main building, been added detached blocks, originally for the treatment of infectious diseases, the accommodation of nurses and a building temporarily utilised as a sanatorium for consumptives. The building, which is now Nithbank Hospital, has been converted, following construction of a new Infirmary, for the treatment and care of the elderly.

Still walking in a Southerly direction, after approximately 100 yards we come to what is known as the 'three road ends'. We take the middle road. A little further on, Castledykes Park is on the right - once, in the time of Robert the Bruce, the site of a castle. Nearby the park was a sandstone quarry, with the entire area now a most beautiful park which is well worth visiting.

Twenty or so yards before the park entrance-gate, is an entry on the right, to the house where the person who is buried in the original grave of Robert Burns, Mrs. Agnes Perochon, resided. Subsequent to the removal of Burns' body from its original resting- place to the Mausoleum, the plot was given by Mrs. Burns to a respected friend, Monsieur Perochon, whose wife was the daughter of the poet's kind patroness, Mrs. Dunlop; Mrs. Perochon, in accordance with her dying wish, was laid in the tomb of her mother's friend. On the monument in St. Michael's Churchyard, there is the following inscription:- 'Sacred to the memory of Agnes Eleanor Dunlop, wife of Joseph Elias Perochon, the only daughter and worthy representative of Sir Thomas Wallace of Craigie, Bart., who died the 16th October, 1823. Also in memory of Anne, daughter of Alexander Cunningham, Esq, and widow of Anthony Dunlop, Esq, who died 17th February, 1854'. Jean Armour wrote to Mrs. Perochon on the 2nd February, 1816:- 'Much already do I owe to your disinterested friendship; and while a generous public are anxious to do justice to the genius of my husband, by building so superb a monument to perpetuate his memory, you have paid the last tribute of your regard by so warmly interesting yourself on behalf of his widow and children. In this you follow the example of her whose virtue you inherit, and who highly distinguished Mr. B. by a friendship which formed one of his first enjoyments'.

Our walk during the past one or two hundred yards has meant that we have travelled alongside a high hedge on the left. Behind this hedge is the present Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary and residencies of which we will get a much better view later on in the walk.

A further fifty yards up the Glencaple Road we come, on the left, to the Main Gate of the Crichton Royal Hospital. Founded in 1839, the Crichton Institution for Lunatics, as it then was, was funded under the direction of Mrs. Elizabeth Crichton by means of a vast fortune amassed by her husband, a man with Sanquhar origins. The pioneering policies of Dr. William Browne, the first Medical Superintendent, led to dramatic productions, organised, directed and produced by the patients from 1843. Also the 'New Moon Magazine', the first hospital magazine in the world, written monthly by patients - all copies of which, from 1844 to 1937, are today part of the Crichton Royal Museum collection. The Museum also holds part of what was the second hospital library, dating back to the 1840's. Occupational, recreational, social and art therapies were being practised here at least 150 years ago. Maintaining the use of local red sandstone, the building of houses or wards, each one with a view, to accommodate the various categories of patient, proceeded apace. In addition to an artesian well, brand new farm buildings, an electricity generating station, a Church, a new gardens scheme, a major new recreational and therapeutic centre, as well as extensive outdoor facilities, were all created according to the highest specifications, thereby establishing one of the most splendid institutions in the world, and now covering over 1,000 acres.

As we enter in at the Main Gate, we see Dumfries and Galloway Infirmary on the left, but, following the main Crichton road about 45 degrees to the right, we enter the Crichton Royal complex. On the right is a magnificent garden and rockery, which is well worth a stroll through. We proceed along the road, turning left at the side-road up to the magnificent Crichton Church, built in 1897. The inside of the Church, equally splendiferous, may be seen on an enquiry being made at the Museum. Carrying on, in an Easterly direction behind the Church, we are confronted with Easterbrook Hall immediately in front of us - Dr. Easterbrook being one of the Medical Superintendents of the twentieth century. On the left of Easterbrook Hall and facing us, is the Crichton Museum, which, again, is worth a visit. The museum was opened by Prince Charles in 1989, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of this hospital.

Having visited the Museum, we now proceed out of the grounds of the Crichton via the gate visible on our right as we leave the hall. This brings us out on Bankend Road, and turning left, we make our way back to the town once more.

As we walk along, the ground on both our right and left is Crichton Royal ground and houses for their staff. We also pass, on our right the Crichton Social Club and Golf Course. The latter is a nine-hole course and was built for the use of patients and staff alike.

Further on we get an excellent view of the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary on the left. It is a hospital of over 400 beds, built on the site of a previous Crichton Golf Course, and opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1975. The present Infirmary which, it has already been said, is the fourth to be erected in Dumfries together with the other hospitals in the area, supports the British Medical Association's assessment that the Dumfries and Galloway Health Board was 'the best Hospital Board in the country'.

And so on, we walk down the brae and come again to the 'three road ends'. This time we go down Nithbank and re-trace our steps along St. Michael's Street, but this time, instead of going down Burns Street, we carry straight on down Nith Place.

In Nith Place, on the right, was the dwelling-house of Gabriel Richardson, a Provost of Dumfries in the nineteenth century and a great friend of Robert Burns. The house was, until recently, occupied by descendants of Mr. Richardson, who carried on a large business as a brewer, and at the time when he used to be visited by his distinguished guest, was a leading Councillor of the Burgh. From 1791 to 1796, the poet frequently spent a few hours of a Sabbath evening at Mr. Richardson's fireside, besides looking in occasionally on weekdays. On one occasion, when the conversation at the family circle turned upon the transitory nature of all mundane things, Burns, having taken from his pocket the diamond pen which he usually carried about with him, said he would furnish beforehand a fitting epitaph for his host. He then, on one of the tumblers with which the festive board was furnished, inscribed the following lines:

'Here brewer Gabiel's fire's extinct.,
And empty all his barrels;
He's blest, if as he brewed he drink -
In upright virtuous morals.'

Carrying on down Nith Place, we again come to Shakespeare Street, with the High street just across the road on the right. About fifty yards up this Street and we're back at the fountain, with the waters still rolling from mountain springs.


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