Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Rambles Through the Land of Burns
Chapter 17


“I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet  cannot all conceal.”

It is delightful to stroll along a hedge-bordered country road on a radiant summer day, listening to the hum of the treasure-ladened bee and the song of the lark.  It is truly exhilarating, and I never enjoyed Nature’s beauties to greater advantage than I did when walking from Kilmarnock to Newmilns.  The road I selected is not only secluded, but one of the old sort, winding over heights and through hollows in a manner very pleasing to the pedestrian who has an eye for the picturesque.  Any little toil, therefore, which I encountered on the way was amply repaid by the extensive and beautiful prospects obtained from the heights, and especially of that district,

“Where Loudoun Hill rears high its conic form,
And bares its rocky bosom to the storm.”

After a walk of two miles or so I reached the river Irvine at a point where it sweeps round a curve and rushing along its channel through some beautiful scenery, again emerges and passes triumphantly on its way to the sea.  For a short distance the road winds along its bank, but is soon diverges and rises over the brow of a steep hill on which stands a handsome villa.  Behind it, in a beautiful holm on the bank of the stream, is an ivy-mantled, ruined cottage, which was at on time the residence of Thomas Raeburn, the Ayshire hermit--a personage whose eccentric habits and peculiar appearance will not readily be forgotten.  His story is as curious as it is brief.  It appears that he inherited the house and a few acres of land from his father, but, strange to say, the small property was surrounded by that of other people, and there was no road into it unless one which skirted a field belonging to a neighbour.  In course of time the neighbour closed the road, but Raeburn, under the impression that “use and wont” constituted a right, sued him for a restitution of the privilege of passing through his ground, and, as might have been expected, lost the case.  The result of the trial preyed upon his mind and mad him morose and gloomy. He declared that he had been harshly dealt with, and vowed that he would neither shave his beard, cut his hair, nor renew his clothing until justice was done him, and this vow he solemnly kept until the day of his death.  His hair grew long and matted, and his beard, likewise unkempt, hung in tangled masses down his breast.  His clothing, too, soon lost its identity, and became so patched and darned that it was ultimately a manner of difficulty to discover an original piece of any garment.  His strange appearance naturally attracted many visitors, and in course of time a favourite rural walk with the young people of Kilmarnock was to his residence and back, for he was no recluse, but made all comers welcome.  To accommodate such he dealt in lemonade and ginger-beer, and occasionally in a more stimulating beverage, although his infringement of the excise law did not go unpunished.  He was parsimonious in his habits, lived sparingly, and drank nothing but water when better cheer could not be procured at the expense of others.  He made many attempts at with in private conversation, of which the following are said to be fair samples:--Upon being asked if his cloak was with the town, he replied--”No, it’s twa mile and a half aff’t.” If a visitor asked for a light for his pipe, he was generally told that “There’s no as muckle fire I’ the house as wad licht a pipe, buy ye may licht your tobacco.”  Upon being asked if he was ever drunk, he replied--”There’s naebody wi’ a throat bi enou’ to swallow me.”  He had a strange influence over animals, and more especially over the songsters of the grove.  Often he go into his garden for the gratification of visitors and call the robins from the trees to perch on his beard and take crumbs from between his lips.  He was never married. An old woman kept house for him and managed his dairy, for he had several cows, and was famed for making cheese of excellent quality.  He died in June, 1843, in the seventy-fourth year of his age, and the money he so avariciously gathered was divided amongst relatives who speedily put it into circulation, and his plot of ground now belongs to a cattle dealer in Newmilns.

Above the ruined residence of the Ayrshire hermit are Milton Mill, and the miller’s house and garden, beautifully situated on the bank of the stream, and beyond them Grougar Row, a collection of miners’ dwellings.  One obtains occasional glimpses of Galston and the moors beyond it as he plods onward, but there is little else on the landscape to attract attention, and the river is soon lost sight of by a sudden divergence of the road.

The first place of consequence reached is Loudoun Kirkyard, an ancient place of burial surrounded by a wall and a row of somber-looking trees.  It nestles in a picturesque nook by the wayside at a point where a burnie jinks beneath over- hanging bushes and steals under a rude bridge with a gurgling sound which seems to say--

“Men may come, and men may go,
But I flow on for ever.”

The iron gate being securely chained and padlocked, I sought and gained admittance by a wicket in a cottage garden hard by.  The secluded spot is small, unkept, and the memorials of the departed few and scattered.  In its centre stands a shattered gable and a portion of the old kirk called the “queir,” which is kept in repair on account of it having been the sepulchre of the Loudoun family for nigh four hundred years.  It is a venerable square block with a sloping roof, and is embellished with the Loudoun arms and other curious devices, and also has a small barred window through which the coffins of the defunct barons are seen.  Here lie the remains of the gifted but unfortunate Lady Flora Hastings, who is said to have died of a broken heart on account of a cruel and umerited slander which was raised against her by one of the ladies of the bedchamber to H.R.H. the Duchess of Kent. Had her detractors heeded the advice of Burns--

“Gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman”-- 

she would not have been “a flower plucked in its bloom.” She was an accomplished poetess, and shortly after her death --which occurred at Buckingham Palace in July, 1839--her poems, which are distinguished by much purity of thought, sweetness, and grace, were collected and published.  Indeed, as an able reviewer remarked, “such a deep love of the beautiful, the exalted, and the holy reigns through them all that it is impossible to repeal the conviction that her actions accorded with her words, and that her words gave but the utterance to the calm and sinless feelings of her heart.”

There is a curious old stone at the door of the queir worth attention.  It states that it is “IN MEMORY OF MATHO FULTUN, MAISTER MASON-ANE RICHT HONEST MAN WHO DIED IN THE YEAR OF GOD, 1632.” According to the semi-obliterated inscription of rising at the Resurrection.  Within a few yards of it, and near to the gable of the old kirk, is the grave of the “Scottish Milkmaid,” Janet Little, author of a small volume of poetry which never gained any great or lasting popularity, but who is now well known as the poetical correspondent of Robert Burns. The plain slab, which marks the spot, bears the following in yet legible characters:--


Janet belonged to Ecclefechan and came to Ayrshire to serve in the capacity of a domestic servant in the family of Mrs Hendrie, daughter of Mrs Dunlop, the distinguished friend of our poet, when she resided in Loudoun Castle.  Having met with a copy of the Kilmarnock edition, she was so captivated by it that she conceived a partiality for Burns, and wrote him a poetical address, of which the subjoined is part:--

“Fair fa’ the honest rustic swain,
The pride o’ a’ oor Scottish plain;
Thou gi’es us joy to hear thy strain,
And notes sae sweet;
Old Ramsay’s shade revived again
In thee we greet. 

“Lov’d Thalia, that delightful’ muse,
Seem’d long shut up in a recluse;
To all her aid she did refuse
Since Allan’s day;
Till Burns arose, then did she choose
To grace thy lay. 

“To hear thy sang all ranks desire,
Sae well you strike the dormant lyre;
Apollo with poetic fire
Thy breast does charm;
An’ critics silently admire
Thy art to charm. 

“Caesar and Luath weel can speak--
“Tis pity e’er their gabs should steek,
But into human nature keek,
And knots unravel;
To hear their lectures once a week
Nine miles I’d travel. 

“In the latter part of March (1791), Burns had the misfortune to come down with his horse and break his right arm. Janet Little, the poetical milmaid, had come to see him, and was waiting at Ellisland when the bard returned in the disabled state to which he had been reduced by the accident. She was related in simple verse her own painful alarm when the sad intelligence resounded through his hall, the sympathy with which she regarded the tears of his affectionate Jean, and the double embarrassment she experienced in greeting at such a crisis the illustrious poet whom she had formerly trembled to meet al all.”

Little else regarding Janet is known.  The cottage where she resided is within a stone-throw of the Kirk yard, and from this is appears that she married and settled in the district after quitting the service of Mrs Hendrie.

Near Janet’s grave there is a handsome monument to the memory of the late Rev. James Allan, minister of Loudoun, =and a very chaste stone which Mr. Robert Mackie has raised to the memory of his sister, Janet, who died at Loudoun Cottage, 24th September, 1872, in the sixty-third year of her age.  With the exception of these, and a humble slab com- memorating “THOMAS FLEMMING OF LOUDOUN HILL, WHO, FOR HIS APPEARANCE IN ARMS IN HIS OWN DEFENCE, AND IN THE DEFENCE OF THE GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO THE WORD OF GOD, WAS SHOT IN AN ENCOUNTER AT DRUMCLOG, 1ST JUNE, 1679, BY BLOODY GRAHAM OF CLAVERHOUSE.”  there are no stone of special interest, but several may be found decked “with uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture,” which implore “the passing tribute of a sigh.”

Beyond Loudoun Kirk the road is very beautiful and the scenery most sylvan and picturesque. From the height which the road attains before entering the policies of Loudoun Castle, there is an excellent view of Galston, nestling sweetly on the bank of the river Irvine at the foot of a range of uplands studded with farmsteads and patches of woodland, which Burns refers to in the opening stanza of the “Holy Fair,.” Although it cannot be called flourishing, it is at least a comfortable country town, with some four thousand inhabitants, but there is little in it to stay the feet of  a rambler--its antiquities being few, and its building lowly.  Its chief objects of interest are its church--which stands above the town and is a prominent object for a great distance--and Barr Castle, an old square tower at the top of one of its streets.  It also boasts a “boss tree,” as the rotten hollow stump of a gigantic willow is termed.  The tradition regarding it is that Sir Wm. Wallace concealed himself in its branches when pursued by a detachment of Southern soldiers, a statement which verges on the probable, for from its girth it is of seemingly great age.   The old tower possesses no history.  It is said to have been the residence of a powerful family name Lockhart, and that the reformer, John Know, addressed the people of Kyle from one of its windows.  It was a favourite haunt of John Wright, a gifted bur erratic local genius, who made some stir in literary circles in his day.  In some verses which he addressed to it, he says:--

“Proud edifice! no annals tell
What thou hast brooked, what thou hast been,
Who reared thee in this lovely dell,
What mighty baron--lord, I ween,
Of hardy Kyle; no bordering tower
Possessed more independent power.”

Amongst the many excellent things John wrote is a song entitled “Kiss the goblet and live,” which I am almost tempted to reproduce.  Unfortunately for him, he kissed it to often and died in the prime of life, and had it not been for the generosity of a few friends would have filled a pauper’s grave.

The quaint byroad which we have followed from Kilmarnock terminates at the sylvan avenue leading to Loudoun Castle, the magnificent residence of the Loudoun family. The present Earl succeeded to his mother, the late Countess of Loudoun, who took up the Scotch title at the death of her brother, the Marquis of Hastings.

The grounds are thickly wooded, and contain many beautiful aged trees.  Indeed, in the vernal season of the year, the woods and braes around this famed residence are unsurpassed for grandeur, and are in every way worthy of the compliment which the poet Tannahill paid them. To John, fourth Earl of Loudoun, belongs the merit of having made the scenery what it is, for he not only devoted himself to improving the estate in many ways, but planted upwards on one million trees which he brought from various parts of the globe.

Passing up the shady avenue I soon arrived in front of the Castle, which may be described as combining the gracefulness of modern architecture with the massive strength of early times. One battlemented square tower was erected in the twelfth century, and another, which overlooks the entire building, in the fifteenth.  To these antiquated structures Sir John Campbell, who was created Lord Chancellor in 1642, made an extensive addition, and in 1811, the whole was augmented by a large and stately portion which gives to the pile quite a palatial appearance. The interior is fitted up with great magnificence, and the walls of several apartments are literally covered with finely-executed portraits of the Loudoun and Rowallan families.  Many of these pictures are dimmed with age and recal to one’s mind stirring events of the good old times when plain speaking and hard blows were in fashion, and when the four feet of cold steel which dangled by every gallant’s side settled differences and enforced arguments.  A picture of Charles I., which is disfigured and patch-looking, is associated with an incident worth relating.  It appears that the troops of Oliver Cromwell visited the Castle, and that a company of officers, when straying through its rooms, stopped before the king’s picture, and out of contempt for his majesty made thrusts at it with their swords by way of joke.

The library is said to contain over 10,000 volumes, and very many ancient manuscripts and curious documents.

It may be added that few families can boast a more honorable pedigree, or a more lengthened possession of their property, than that of Loudoun.  Indeed, the whole line, or rather lines, of the noble house have been distinguished for deeds of patriotism and valour.

A notice of this beautiful domain, be it ever so brief, would be incomplete without some reference to the old yew-tree which grows beside the castle wall.  Although ages have fled, and generations of men have passed away since it was planted, it spreads its umbrageous boughs over the lawn, and seems as likely to withstand the blast as any tree on the estate.  One of the family charters was subscribed under its deep shade in the reign of William the Lion, and when Scotland and England became united, Lord Hugh Campbell chose the same place to sign the deed.  It is also memorable for the trifling incident of James, second Earl of Loudoun, having addressed letters to it, when secretly communicating with his lady during the period of his banishment.


was the manner in which they were inscribed, and there is little doubt that they reached the hand intended.

There are many pleasant rambles to be had amongst “Loudoun’s bonnie woods and braes,” and not the least of them is from the Castle to Newmilns by the private road. When traversing it I was delighted with the bosky scene. At one part the rustic way passes a stripe of woodland, and is overshadowed by the foliage of stately trees; at another, it merges into the open glade, and winds along a verdant bank, or dips into a dell where some tiny streamlet murmurs among the brackens, and ultimately pursues a zig-zag course until it reaches the brow of an almost perpendicular height over-looking the picturesque hamlet.  For a reason which will be apparent, I left the sequestered roadway at a point where it is crossed by the Hag Burn, and turned into a bypath which skirts the stream as it bickers through a beautifully wooded glen.  On the one hand a dark wood stretches away towards the Castle, and on the other a steep slope--almost a cliff-- which is clad with trees, and tangled masses of briar and bramble rise from the path in wild grandeur.  To ascend this cliff is a work of some little difficulty, but it can be managed from several points by planting the foot in ledges or on jutting pieces of rubble and holding tightly to roots which curl and twist in fantastic shapes, or to tufts of long hardy grass which grow here and there within reach.

When the laborious ascent is made, the intrepid rambler will have the gratification of standing on the site of the Old Castle of Loudoun--a building anterior to any portion of the present magnificent structure, but of which nothing remains save shattered fragments of masonry and portions of the foundation, which are partly covered by the moldering dust of centuries, and clad her and there with ivy.  Curiously enough, the history of the ancient stronghold is wrapped in the shadow of night, and all that tradition has preserved regarding it is the simplest statement that it was burned by the clan Kennedy. This may have been, for it is an historical fact that a deadly feud existed between the Campbells of Loudoun and the Kennedy’s of Carrick about the year 1527, and that the Earl of Cassillis was slain during a foray which the former made into the territory of the latter.  Also, that in retaliation, and to avenge this nobleman’s death, the Kennedy’s devastated the district of the Campbells, and characterized their raid by deeds of rapine and blood.  The stronghold of the hostile chieftain would most probably be attacked, and therefore it is within the range of passivity that this Castle of the Campbells succumbed at that period.

A ballad, which was at one time popular in the district, ascribes the destruction of the Castle to “Adam o’ Gordon and his men,” but there is nothing to bear out the statement. The following descriptive extract, however, is not without interest:--

“Out then spake Lady Margaret,
As she stood upon the stair--
The fired was at her goud garters,
The low was at her hair--

“’I would gie the black,’ says she,
‘And so would I the brow,
For a drink o yon water
That rins by Galston town.’

“Out then spake fair Annie,
She was baith jimp and sma’.
‘O row me in a pair o’ sheets
And tow me down the wa’.’

“O hold thy tongue, fair Annie,
And let thy talkin’ be.
Four thou must stay in this fair castle,
And bear thy death with me.’

“’I would rather be burnt to ashes sma’.
And be cast on yon sea foam,
Before I’d give up this fair castel,
And my lord so far from home.

“’My good lord has an army strong,
He’s now gone to the sea,
He bade me keep this gay castle
Sae lang’s it would keep me.

“’I’ve four-and-twenty braw milk lye
Gangs on yon lily lee,
I’d give them a’ for a blast of wind
To blaw the reek from me.’ 

“O pittie on yon fair castle,
That’s built o’ stone and lime,
But far mair pittie for Lady Loudoun,
And all her children nine.”

The bosky bypath winds along the bank of the wimpling burnie and terminates in the highway at no great distance from the quaint village of Newmilns, and near to “the Hag Brig turn” where the late Rev. Dr. Lawrie “guddled in the burn, and was late for the schule in the morning.”  Some boys engaged in the same pastime--or possibly in the more questionable on of bird-nesting--made the woods echo with  shouts and peals of laughter in such a manner that a pair of jays jabbered round the summit of  a tall fir tree, and a flock of crows wheeled about in evident alarm.  A blackbird ruffling out his feathers on a rail also uttered a loud cry at the unusual sounds and fled to the security of the thicket, and the warblers drinking from the stream with dainty sips as though its waters were the richest wine followed his example.

The highway which connects Galston with Newmilns--and in which the lane traversed terminates--is draped with hanging boughs, and fringed on the one hand by the grounds of Loudoun Castle, and on the other by stripes of plantation trhough which the waters of the Irvine gurgling sing a continual farewell to “Loudoun’s bonnie woods and braes” as they roll on to the mighty deep.

As one nears the village, and just at a point of the road where  a turn brings it into full view, a snug tree-embowered old-fashioned looking house with a lawn in front stands on a height a little to the left.  Below the second floor windows in the following hieroglyphically inscription, which may be intelligible to some readers:--”OL. 1768. M.C. JEHOVAH, IJ REH.” The place is called St. Margaret’s Hill, and the residenceis that of the Rev. John Roberson, minister of the  parish of Loudoun; but for years it was that of the Rev. George Lawrie, D.D., the early friend and patron of Robert Burns.  Robert Chambers describes him as having been “a remarkably fine specimen of the old moderate clergy of the Scottish establishment--sensible, upright, kind- hearted, and with no mean taste in literature.”  By what means this worthy clergyman and Burns became acquainted I have been unable to learn, but one thing is certain, no person was received with greater cordiality at St. Margaret’s Hill than the poet.  “The first time Robert heard the spinnet played upon,” says Gilbert Burns, “was at the house of Dr. Lawrie…………………Dr. Lawrie has several daughters; one of them played; the father and mother led down dance; the rest of the sisters, the brother, the poet, and the other guests, mixed in it.  It was delightful family scene of our poet, then lately introduced to the world. His mind was roused to a poetic enthusiasm, and the following stanzas were left in the room where he slept:--

‘O Thou dread Power who reign’s above,
I know Thou wilt me hear;
When for this scene of peace and love
I make my prayer sincere!

‘The hoary sire, the mortal stroke,
Long, long be pleased to spare!
To bless his little filial flock,
And show what good men are.

‘She who her lovely offspring eyes
With tender hopes and fears,
Oh, bless her with a mother’s joys,
But spare a mother’s tears.

‘Their hope, their stay, their darling youth,
In manhood’s dawning blush;
Bless him, thou God of love and truth,
Up to a parent’s wish!

‘The beauteous seraph sister-band,
With earnest tears I pray,
Thou knowest the snares on every hand,
Guide Thou their steps away!

‘When soon or late they reach that coast,
O’er life’s rough ocean driven,
May they rejoice, no wanderer lost,
A family in Heaven!’”

It is recorded that Burns was a good dancer, and on this occasion “kept time admirably;” also, that he remarked to the fair musician that she knew the magic way to a poet’s eart.

This entertainment took place during the most melancholy period of the poet’s history.  Being driven to despair by the consequences of his imprudence, he was about to relegate himself from his native land and seek a home in the West Indies, or at least an asylum, in the hope that fortune would smile and enable him to atone for past erros.  When he bade his honored family farewell, he most likely crossed the Irvine at a point opposite their residence, and ascended the slopes of Lanfine, which at the time, and long after, were nothing more than a range of barren, bleak uplands, and steered his course to Mossgiel.  “In his way home,” says Professor Walker, “he had to cross a wide stretch of solitary moor.  His mind was strongly affected by parting for ever a scene where he had tasted so much elegant and social pleasure, and depress by the contrasted gloom of his prospects.  The aspect of nature harmonised with his feelings. It was up, and whistled through the rushes and long spear-grass which bent before it.  The clouds were driving across the sky; and cold pelting showers at intervals added discomfort of body to cheerlessness of mind.”  As he plodded onward, doubtless “holding fast his guid blue bonnet,” his melancholy thoughts shaped themselves into verse, and despite his ungenial surroundings, he composed what he considered to be “the last song he should evre measure in Caledonia.” Here it is:-- 


“Tune--’Roslin Castle.’

“The gloomy night is gathering fast,
Loud roars the wild inconstant blast;
Yon murky cloud is foul with rain,
I see it driving o’er the plain;
The hunter now has left the moor,
The scattered coveys meet secure;
While here I wander, pressed with care,
Along the lonely banks of Ayr.

“The autumn mourns her ripening corn
By early winter’s ravage torn;
Across her placid azure sky
She see the scowling tempest fly:
Chill runs my blood to hear it rave;
I think upon the stormy wave,
Where many a danger I must dare,
Far from the bonnie banks of Ayr.

“’Tis not the surging billow’s roar,
‘Tis not that fatal deadly shore;
Though death in every shape appear,
The wretched have nor more to fear!
But round my heart the ties are bound,
That heart transpierced with many a wound,
These bleed afresh, those ties I tear,
To leave the bonnie banks of Ayr.

“Farewell ol Coila’s hills and dales
Her heathy moor and winding vales,
The scenes where wretched fancy roves,
Pursuing past, unhappy loves!
Farewell, my friends! farewell, my foes!
My peace with these, my love with those,
The bursting tears my heart declare;
Farewell the bonnie banks of Ayr!”

Dr. Lawrie was a sincere friend of Burns.  He seems to have gently scanned his youthful follies, and to have esteemed him for his talents and many good qualities which constituted his generous temperament.  According to J.G. Lock- hart, he gave him “much good counsel, and what comfort he could, at parting; but prudently said nothing of an effort which he had previously made in his behalf.  He had sent a copy of the poems (the Kilmarnock edition was then published), with a sketch of the author’s history, to his friend, Dr. Thomas Blacklock of Edinburgh, with a request that he would introduce both to the notice of those persons whose opinions were at the time most listened to in regard to literary productions in Scotland, in hope that, by their intervention, Burns might yet be rescued from the necessity of expatriating himself.  Dr. Blacklock’s answer reached Dr. Lawrie a day or two after Burns had made his visit, and composed his dirge; and it was not yet too late.  Lawrie forwarded it immediately to Mr. Gavin Hamilton, who carried it to Burns.”  In that letter Dr. Blacklock characterizes the perusal of the poems sent him as “one of the finest and perhaps one of the most genuine entertainments of which the human mind is susceptible, and breaths words of approbation and encouragement which must have lighted up the gloomy surroundings of the poet like a gleam of sunshine.  Let him describe his circumstances:--

“’Hungry ruin had me in the wind.’”

says he.  “I had been for some days skulking from covert to covert, under all the terrors of a jail, as some ill-advised people had uncoupled the merciless pack of the law at my heels.  I had taken the last farewell of my few friends; my chest was on the road to Greenock;…………..when a letter from Dr Blacklock to a friend of mine overthrew all my schemes, by opening new prospects to my poetic ambition. The Doctor belonged to a set of critics for whose applause I had not dared to hope.  His opinion that I would meet with encouragement in Edinburgh for a second edition fired me so much that away I posted for that city, without a single acquaintance or a single letter of introduction. The baneful star that had so long shed its blasting influence in zenith for once made a revolution to the nadir.”  “Blacklock received him,” says a celebrated writer, “with all the ardour of affectionate admiration; he eagerly introduced him to the respectable circle of his friends; he consulted his interest; he emblazoned his fame; he lavished upon him all the kind- ness of a generous and feeling heart, into which nothing selfish or envious ever found admittance.”

It is scarce necessary to add that before he was many week in Edinburgh his society was courted by the polite and the learned, and sought after by individuals moving in the most elevated circles of society.  In short, he became the lion of the season, and had the second edition of his poems published under the most favourable auspices.  “The attentions he received during his stay in town from all ranks and  “were such as would have turned any head but his own… …………  He retained the same simplicity of manners and appearance which had struck me so forcibly when I first saw him in the country, nor id he seem to feel any additional self-importance from the number and rank of his new acquaintances.”  No, his sterling common-sense told him that he had but lately left the stilts of the plough and was fated to return to them again.  In replying to a letter which he received from Dr. Lawrie during the meteor-like blaze of reputation which he experienced, he says “I thank you sir, with all my soul, for your friendly hints, though I do not need them so much as my friends are apt to imagine.  You are dazzled with newspaper accounts and distant reports; but, in reality, I have no great temptation to be intoxicated with the cup of prosperity.  Novelty may attract the attention of mankind a while--to it I owe my present éclat--but I see the time not far distant when the popular tide which has come to a height, of which I am perhaps unworthy, shall recede with silent celerity, and leave me a barren waste of sand to descend at my leisure to my former station.”  He expresses himself in like manner to Mrs Dunlop and others--but there, space is beginning to fail, and so will the reader’s patience if I digress at this rate.

A few steps beyond the garden gate of the old and new almost classic manse of Loudoun, the respectable and ap- parently flourishing village of Newmilns comes into view.  It is beautifully situated in a narrow vale through which the river Irvine flows, and from which broad hills ascend on each side.  On the right are the wooded slopes of Lanfine, and on the left the green braes of Loundoun; while in the far distance, at the top of the hilly pass in which the village nestles, is  Loudoun Hill looming heavily against the sky.  The scene is one of extreme beauty, and if transferred to canvas would form a striking picture.

I have no intention of going so far as Loudoun Hill in this ramble, but I can assure the reader who wishes to undertake the journey that he will be amply repaid for the toil and trouble encountered by the extensive and interesting view from its summit, including the scenes of decisive struggles which assisted, in a great measure, to secure Scottish independence.  Near its eastern base Sir William Wallace and a handful of co-patriots attacked and routed a troop of English soldiers who were conveying waggon load of provisions from Carlisle to Ayr, and near the same spot, in May, 1307, Bruce gave the Earl of Pembroke battle, and with six hundred followers is said to have defeated six thousand trained Englishmen.  These associations are brimful of interest, but one which remains to be mentioned gives the locality, if possible, still greater interest. On a fair Sabbath morning in June, 1679, a sentinel, in the garb of a peasant, who was stationed on the top of the hill, sprang from the green sward on observing a company of horse men crossing the heights from the direction of Strathven, and having fired off his carbine, ran towards a group of worshippers on the plain. “We had met,” says one of the assembly, “not to fight but to worship the God of our fathers.  We were far from the tumult of cities--the long dark heath waved around us, and we disturbed no living creature save the peesweep and the heather cock.”  When it became known the Claverhouse and a detachment of troopers were approaching, the preacher, who had been telling his hearers

“How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed;
How He, who bore in Heav’n the second name,
Had not on earth whereon to lay His head,”

hastily concluded his discourse, and said:--”I have done. You have got the theory--now for the practice.  You know your duty.  Self-defence is always lawful.”  The little company being armed, they formed themselves into lines under various leaders, and waited the approach of the foe--first, however, taking the precaution of sending away their women and children.  Refusing to lay down their arms and deliver up their ringleaders.  Claverhouse cried--”Their blood be upon their own heads,”  and sounded the attack.  The battle Drumclog then commenced and waged fiercely for some time.  The following wonderfully graphic account of this engagement is taken from a letter penned by Claverhouse:-- “They were not preaching, but had got away all their women and children.  In the end they, perceiving that we had the better of them in skirmish, resolved on a general engagement, and immediate advanced with their Foot, the Horse following.  They came through the loch: the greatest body of all made up against my troop: we kept our fire until they were within ten paces of us:  they received our fire and advanced to the shock: the first they gave us brought down the Cornet, Mr. Crawford, and Captain Beith; besides that with a pitch- fork they made such an opening in my roan horse’s belly that his guts hung out half an ell, and yet he carried me off a mile, which so discouraged our men that they sustained not the shock, but fell in disorder.  Their Horse took the occasion of this, and pursued us so hotly that we had not time to rally.  I save the standards, but lost on the place eight or ten men, besides wounded; but our dragoons lost many more.  The town of Stra’von drew up as we were making our retreat, and thought of a pass to cut us off; but we took courage and fell to them, and made them run, leaving a dozen on the place.  What these rogues will do yet I know not, but the country is flocking to them from all hands.  This may be counted the beginning of the rebellion, in my opinion.”

In the words of Hugh Brown, a poetical native of Newmilns, and author of “The Covenanters,”

“The lover of freedom can never forget
The glorious peasant band--
His sires that on Scotia’s moorlands met,
Each name like a seal on the heart is set--
The pride of his Fatherland." 

Newmilns is a very nice rural town.  The houses are mostly small and plain, but pleasant looking and free from squalor.  Weaving is the staple of the place, and the inhabitants--some 3000--are mostly engaged in it.  Male and female take to the loom as naturally as duck to water, but I cannot help expressing regret with Hew Ainslie “that any bonnie Ayrshire lass should be condemned to make her bread by thumping and kicking.” However, it is only the probationary state with them, for, like their sisters in Darvel, they generally exchange the “box and bobbins,” when married, for a “baby and a blanket.”

Possibly Newmilns had its origin from grain mills erected on the bank of the river.*  About the centre of its quaint, old-fashioned looking main street a massive square tower may be seen in a courtyard which possesses several interesting associations.  It was at one time a residence of the Loudoun family, * [*Sir Hugh Campbell of Loudoun had a charter of the lands of Newmilns, with the mill and granary, dated 4th October, 1533.--PATERSON’S AYSHIRE FAMILIES. **The master of Loudoun died in March, 1612.  His latter will was made at “the Newmulnes, the sevint day of Merche.”  His lady also died the same month and year.  Her latter will was made also at “Newmylnes, the penult day of Merche.” They seem thus to have resided at the tower of Newmilns.--Ibid.] and at another the headquarters of Captain Inglis, a notorious scourge of the Covenanters.

The writer of the Loudoun article in the Statistical Account is mentioning the tower says--”In one of the expeditions of Inglis’s troops in the search of conventicals, eight men who were discovered praying in the Blackwood, near Kilmarnock, were taken prisoners.  One of them, it is said, was immediately executed, and the soldiers in mockery kicked his head for a football along the Newmilns public green.  Inglis was about to shoot the others when it was suggested to him that it would be prudent to get a written order from Edinbugh for their execution.  The seven men in the meantime were confined in the old tower.  But while the troop was absent on one of its bloody raids, with the exception of a small guard, a man name Browning, from Lanfire, with others who had been with him at Aird’s Moss, got large sledge hammers from the old smithy (still in existence), with which they broke open the prison doors and permitted the Covenanters to escape.  John Law (brother-in-law to Captain Nisbet) was shot in this exploit, and is buried close to the wall of the tower.  The dragoons soon went in pursuit of the prisoners, but they had reached the heather, and where no cavalry could pursue them.  The soldiers, however, having ascertained that John Smith of Croonan had given the runaways food went to Smith’s house, and meeting him at his own door shot him dead!  Within a short period his grave was to be seen in the garden of the old farmhouse.”

Tradition states that only one soldier played football with the martyr’s head, and that he shortly afterwards fell from the top of the tower into the court below and broke his neck.  There is a tablet in the gable of an old building to the memory of the man shot which bears the following inscription:--


“Cause I Christ’s prisoners relieved
I of my life was soon bereaved,
By cruel enemies with rage,
In that encounter did engage;
The martyr’s honour and his crown
Bestowed on me!  O high renown!
That I should not only believe,
But for Christ’s cause my life should give.”

Near the old tower is “The Institute,” as a handsome two-storied building is termed which Miss Brown of Lanfine pre- sented to the inhabitants.  It contains a library, a reading and a recreation room, and has a very nice bowling green attached.  Close by also is the Parish Church, a more handsome edifice than is often met with in country towns. The late Rev. Dr. Norman Macleod preached in it for some time as minister of the parish, and by the side of its pulpit there is a beautiful monumental marble tablet to his memory, which the church officer will be glad to show visitors.

The churchyard is small and unkept, but contains many interesting monuments.  When pensively wandering over its uneven sward I stumbled upon the family burying-place of Dr. Lawrie, the friend and patron of the poet Burns.  The tablet covering his grave bears a very just estimate of his character.  Here is the inscription:--


“He discharged the duties of his ministerial office with a judgment and firmness of mind which no situation could shake.  His piety was exemplary and sincere, devoid of all ostentation.  He was an able scholar, and learned divine. His temper cheerful and steady.  His heart warm and affectionate.  Kind and hospitable to strangers, sincere and hearty in friendship, and fulfilled the duties of husband and parent with the most indulgent and tender affection.”

By his side rests son and successor, Archibald, a man of great worth.  He had twelve children--four sons and eight daughters.  One son died in infancy, but the others rose to  distinction, and proved themselves worthy of such a parent. The late Rev. Dr. Lawrie, M.D., professor of surgery in the University of Glasgow.  Francis R.H. Lawrie entered the army in 1822, and retired as Major in 1846.

The churchyard bears ample evidence that the inhabitants of Newmilns shared the struggle for civil and religious libert. A plain slab bears the following:--


This martyr was born in Newmilns about the year 1627.  When Claverhouse was advancing against the Covenanting army at Drumclog, a message was despatched to Hardhill to appraise him of the fact and induce him to join the little band.  Although he had suffered much from prelatic persecution, he mounted a horse at once and rode with all possible speed to the scene of action, merely stopped on his way through Darvel to induce John Morton, the village blacksmith, to accompany him and assist with his brawny arm to discomfort the foe.  Both were of immense service to the Covenanters, for they fell into their ranks in time to take part in the successful charge which decided that fate of the battle.  In the thick of fight, the smith encountered a dragoon entangled in the trappings of his wounded horse, and was about to dispatch him, but being moved by the man’s piteous appeal for mercy, he disarmed him and led him from the field a prisoner.  Many of the Covenanters, however, were less humane, and demanded the dragoon’s life, but this the smith strongly objected to, and declared that whoever touched  a hair on his head would suffer, and having given the man quarter he would defend his life at the risk of his own.  None feeling inclined to cross swords with the resolute blacksmith, he was allowed to have his own way, and to this day the dragoons’s sword is preserved by his descendants in Darvel.

Besides the above, there are rude memorials of Covenanting time to the memory of John Gebbie,  John Morton, and others.  Gebbie fought a Drumclog, and was carried off the field mortally wounded, and, like the mighty Nelson, died with the shouts of victory ringing in his ears.  Morton was shot by Claverhouse at the same engagement.

After spending a reflective hour in the churchyard, and enjoying a look through the town, I sought out the terminus of the Galston branch of the South-Western Railway.  Near it is the scene of Ramsay’s popular song, “The Lass o’ Patie’s Mill.”  The mill is modern, and occupies the site of the erection which graced the bank of the Irvine in Ramsay’s day, but the field wherein the rustic beauty was making hay when she attracted the attention of the Earl of Loudoun is still pointed out, and although one hundred and fifty years have passed since the event the stranger still stops by the brink of the stream and enquires for the song-hallowed scene. The story is well known.  It appears that the poet and the Earl were riding along the highway when it occurred to the latter that the comely appearance of the “lass” would form a fit subject for Allan’s muse.  At the suggestion the bard lagged behind, composed the ditty, and produced it the same afternoon at dinner.  The train being due, I bade “Loudoun’s bonnie woods and braes” a fond and somewhat reluctant farewell, and in a short time reached Kilmarnock, for a seven mile journey is a mere nothing in these days of railways and telegraphs.

Return to Book Index


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus