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Rambles Through the Land of Burns
Chapter 3


Upon re-entering the highway, I turned my face towards Ayr. In the distance lay the somewhat scattered village of Prestwick, with its roofless barn-like church topping a mound in its vicinity, while westward the heights of Arran towered from the glistening Frith in all their rugged grandeur. The coast here is studded with barren sand-hills, and were it not for a few scattered villas along the shore the scene would be monotonous and dreary in the extreme. Notwithstanding this, the landscape to the east of the road is verdant and the soil productive, but there is nothing to engage the attention of the pedestrian, save the mansion house of Orangefield--a residence already referred to--which stands a short distance off the road. It was long the residence of James Dalrymple, the friend and correspondent of Burns, who, it will be remembered, introduced the bard to his cousin James, fourteenth Earl of Glencairn, and subscribed for ten copies of the first edition of his works. Robert Chambers describes him as having been "a warm-hearted, high pulsed man, enthusiastically given to masonry and an occasional scribbler of verses," and adds that it was he who furnished Burns with the pony on which he rod to Edinburgh. From a letter to Gavin Hamilton, we learn that he stood high in the estimation of the poet, and that he interested himself in his affairs in the same enthusiastic manner as Mr Aitken and the few patrons who took notice of his early poetic days. This stay of struggling genius was the last of the Dalrymples of Orangefield, for being a fast liver, his requirements swamped his fortune, and the estates was sold. Since then it has passed through several hands.

A short distance beyond Orangefield, I paused on a substantial stone bridge which crosses the Pow Burn, and leaning over the parapet watched the minnows sporting in the clear shallow stream. By its side stands the very handsome church of the united parishes of Prestwick and Monkton, which forms a conspicuous object on the landscape. Near to the same structure stood the humble residence of Thomas King, a well-known village character who held the office of sexton in Monkton churchyard for the long period of thirty years. Thomas is now over eighty, and from the infirmities of age is no longer able to wield the mattock and spade. When young, however, he was a great pedestrian, and made long journeys, but the chief event of his life was a visit to London. The journey being performed under peculiar circumstances, it continued the subject of gossip in the district for the proverbial nine days, and afterwards became a theme for the muse of Robert Fisher, a Prestwick bard. As the verses flow smoothly, and have a homely ring, they are subjoined:--


I mind when a boy o’ an auld-fashioned house,
Whaur twa bodies leev’d that were wonderful’ douse,
Beside a wee burnie sae cleanly an’ trig,
That wimpled it way ‘neath the Auld Pow Brig.

It was built in a kind o’ semi-circular form,
An’ had lang stood the beating o’ mony a storm;
Wi’ a bonny wee garden, a coo and a pig,
They leev’d happy as kings at the Auld Pow Brig.

Tam was blythe as a king, tho’ a king just by name,
Was prood o’ his weans an’ tidy wee dame;
He ance started for London, drove though’t in a gig,
Wi’ the rent o’ the house at the Auld Pow Brig.

His wife was neither to bin nor to haud;
She really imagined that Tam had gane mad;
She vow’d when she got him she’d kame his auld wig,
And learn him to leeve at the Auld Pow Brig.

I mind o’ these scenes, though I then was but wee,
Aye runnin’ for grozets wi’ ilka bawbee;
And the lads and the lasses dances mony a jig,
In the lang simmer nichts, at the Auld Pow Brig.

But the house is aw’a, and wifie is gane,
And puir auld Tam noo is sad and alane;
An’ nocht marks the spot, but the bonnie lea rig,
Whaur stood the wee house at the Auld Pow Brig.

Crossing the road, I entered the unenclosed common, and directed my steps to the old church of Prestwick and soon arrived at the burying-ground by which it is surrounded Seeing a group of children playing at "hide and seek" among the grave stones, I vaulted the low wall and began to explore this rugged unkept place of burial, for it is sterile and bleak in appearance, being unadorned with shrubbery and totally exposed to the chill sea breeze.

The roofless sanctuary in it centre has no feature of interest, but notwithstanding this great antiquity is ascribed to it. It was dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and granted along with Monkton Church to the Monastery of Paisley by Walter, the son of Allan, the first High Stewart of Scotland. After the Parishes of Prestwick and Monkton were united it fell into disrepute, for the minister of the latter place of worship only preached in it every third Sabbath. This arrangement the Court of Teinds brought to a close by erecting the commodious church noticed above. Upon its completion, Prestwick Church, like its sister fabric in Monkton, was gutted and unroofed, and left like a gaunt skeleton to battle with  the elements, and as such its bare walls remain a prominent object on the landscape, and are seen to advantage from road, rail, and sea.

When wandering among the graves I deciphered many a stony page, read many a holy text and disjoined couplet containing sage advices and moral lessons, but cannot say that any curious or remarkable inscription came under my notice. One stone, announcing that it is "IN MEMORY OF CAPTAIN JOHN BOGG OF THE BRIG MERCUARY OF GREENOCK, WHO WAS LOST OF AYR THE 3RD OF NOVEMBER, 1807," tells a woeful tale of the sea--a tale whose incidents are by far too often repeated in this era of rotten ships. Many stones to the memory of Prestwick freemen stud the sandy soil, but the most interesting to be met with art those which are said to cover the graves of Knights Templar. They are weather-worn and decayed, but bear no inscription, save a rude tracing of something resembling a cross. In the records of the Burgh of’ Prestwick repeated mention is made of Templar lands, and of sums of money derived from them which were paid yearly to a person named "Sanct John of Irvine." From this it is probable not only that knight of the order were at one time located in the district, but also that the tradition has some foundation in fact.

From the Churchyard I passed up a respectable, closely-built street, and soon arrived in Prestwick Cross, which is situated on the highway between Prestwick Cross, which is situated on the highway between Kilmarnock and Ayr.

Prestwick, or the Priest’s Village, as the name signifies, is a pleasant little place, with a Council House, and very many substantial houses and neat villas of recent erection. Although situated on the highway within two and a half miles of the county town, and close to a line of railway, it has little to boast of in the way of trade, and in the meantime is only famous for the excellent quality of its kail plants. Its future, however, is promising, for it is gradually growing in importance as a fashionable watering place. Like Monkton it owes its origin to its church or other religious house erected in its vicinity, but as what time it sprang into existence is unknown.

The charter erecting it into a burgh or barony--which was renewed by James VI. at Holyrood, 19th June, 600--expressly states that it was known as a free burgh or barony 617 years previous to that date. Now this borders on the fabulous, for it brings its erection back to the year 983, a period "far beyond the epoch of record," as Chalmers shrewdly remarks. "The lands of the burgh," says the same writer, "extend to about 1000 Scots acres, and are divided among thirty-six freemen or barons, [*In the olden times a freeman was a vassal in earnest. By a statue dated October, 1561, it was enacted that "ylk freman of this burgh (Prestwick) at has hors, at thai haf ryden geyr with ane sadly, brydyll, gak, steyl bannet, and ane slot staf, or ane pow ax, suerd, and buckler."] as they are called, each of whom possesses a lot of arable land, and a right of pasturing a certain number of sheep and cattle upon the common. None of these can sell their freeholds but to the community, who have a right to sell them again to whom they please. The magistrates have power to regulate the police of the burgh, and a jurisdiction over the freemen for enforcing the recovery of small debts. Though they have the power of committing a freeman to prison, they cannot lock the doors upon him; but if he comes out of the prison without proper liberation by the magistrates, he loses his freedom or baronship in the burgh." By the renewed charter the freemen were privileged to elect annually a provost, two bailies, a treasurer, and several councillors, to grant franchises to several trades, and to hold a weekly market, as also a fair on the 6th of December, the feast of St. Nicholas, the patron of the burgh.

The records extends as far back as 1470, and throw considerable light upon the history of the place, and more especially upon privileges enjoyed by freemen, but lengthy extracts would be out of place here.

The original number of freemen is still kept up, but the freeholds have decreased, and at this date do not exceed 700 acres. It is almost needless to add that the privileges so long enjoyed with immunity are now valuable only on account of their antiquity.

The cottages skirting the highway have a remarkably tidy appearance, and look so snug with their gardens and flower-plots that town folk are almost tempted to break the tenth commandment by coveting their neighbor’s house. The good people of Prestwick, however, render the violation unnecessary by offering to let apartments for a given term, as numerous little cards peering from the folds of snow-white window curtains testified. The locality, if not the most picturesque, has at the least the advantage of being salubrious, for the children were rompish and rosy, and every countenance beamed with health. Reaching new Prestwick, which is just a continuation of the old village, I was thoughtlessly pushing onward when the words "Kingcase Cottage" caught my eye. Surely, said I, the ruins of the lazarhouse and the well, whose waters were as potent to cure leprosy, must be at hand. Turning into a rugged unkept road on my right, I tapped with my stick at the door of a humble cottage. After some delay a woman made her appearance, and with the frankness of an old  acquaintance informed me that the well and the "pickle ruins," as she termed the remains, lay on the brae face behind her dwelling; but lest I should not conveniently find them, she singled out a boy from a group engrossed in a game of marbles to be my guide. He proved a nimble chap, for he darted round the corner of the house and led the way up a steep wire-fenced path until he came to an opening. "There," said he, pointing to an old well and a pile of stones lying in a field to the west. "There, there it’s," and before I could either tender thanks or offer a gratuity, darted off at the top of his speed to continue the game of "knuckle down." Finding myself alone I approached the well, which is about a stone-throw from the path referred to , and found it enclosed with rude masonry. Stepping down to its brink I drew a drinking cup from my coat pocket, and lifting a dripping bumper of the pure liquid, heroically drank to the memory of King Robert the Bruce, for tradition tells how that monarch was cured of a leprous disease by imbibing its waters. The draught proved cool and of excellent quality, but the flavour was greatly enhanced by the addition of a little brandy and a snack of bread and cheese.

From the well a dozen paces brought me to the "pickle ruins," or, in other words, the meager remnant of Kingcase Hospital. As a ruin it is of no interest, and only consists of a portion of a side wall and some loose masonry, amongst which dock-weeds and long grass luxuriantly flourish. Finding nothing worthy of attention I sat down on a portion of the grass-covered foundation and began to gaze from the elevated position upon the village and fertile district beyond. No tree or shrub adorns the site of this ancient institution or relieves the monotony of the scene in its immediate vicinity. The soil all around is composed of dry loose sand, upon which it is difficult to walk; but, notwithstanding its barren appearance, a great portion is under cultivation and excellent crops are raised upon it, as was evident from the fine grain waving in more than one field on the occasion of my visit.

"At Kilcase, which is now called Kincase or Kingcase, on the coast of Kyle, in the Parish of Prestwick," says Chalmers, "there was founded an hospital for leprous persons, which was dedicated to St. Ninian. Tradition relates that the founder of this establishment was King Robert Bruce, who was himself afflicated with leprosy, the result of hard fare, hard living, and hard work. This hospital was endowed with  lands of Robertloan, which is now called Loans, in Dundonald parish, with the land of Sheles and Spital Sheles, in Kyle-Stewart, and with other lands which cannot now be specified. As the foundation charter of this hospital does not exist, it cannot be ascertained what number of person were originally maintained in it. It appears, however, to have been governed by a guardian or prior, and it had a chaplain. In the reign of James II., Wallace of Newton acquired the lands of Spittal Sheles which belonged to this hospital, as the name implies, and the hereditary keeper of governor of the hospital and lands belonging to it. In 1515-16 all these were resigned by Hugh Wallace of Newton in favour of his brother Adam. After the whole property of this hospital was thus granted away, the only revenue that remained to it was the feu-duties payable from the lands, in this manner granted in fee-farm; and these, amounting to 64 bolls of meal and 8 merks (Scots) of money, with 16 thrives of straw for thatching the hospital, are still paid. For more than two centuries past this diminished revenue has been shared among eight objects of charity in equal shares of eight bolls of meal and one merk (Scotch) to each. The leprosy having long disappeared, the persons who are now admitted to the benefit of this charity are such as labour under diseases which are considered incurable, or such as are in indigent circumstances. The right of appointing these belonged to the family of Wallace of Craigie for a long time, and was purchased about 1790 [in 1787] by the Burgh of Ayr, which still retains this patronage. The old hospital, which existed in the better days of this charity, has long been in ruins. In the description of Kyle by Robert Gordon, in the reign of Charles I., he mentions the chapel of this establishment, and says that the persons admitted to the charity were then lodged in huts or cottages in the vicinity."

Reference is repeatedly made to Kingcase Hospital in the record of the Burgh of Prestwick. From thee it is evident that leprosy was much dreaded, every precaution being taken to keep the inmates apart from the general community, and fines and imprisonment were in many case inflicted upon persons brought before the "burro court" for visiting the institution.

When the building became ruinous is not exactly known. From the following entry in the above-mentioned records it appears to have been tenanted so late as 1740:--"24th May, 1740.--William Alexander, in King’s-case, applys for the liberty of a yeard as now inclosed by their allowance formerly, and a piece of ground for the house he presently possesses southward to the Coall road. The freemen allow the same during his life, and allow the same to Elizabeth Shearer, his spouse, in case she survive him, and live in the hospital of Kingcase altenarly; for which they agreed to pay two shilling sterline yearly."

There is popular juvenile tradition connected with Kingcase well, which states that King Robert the Bruce when afflicted with leprosy wandered about the country. When skulking in the neighborhood of the then very small village, it avers, he thrust the shaft of his spear into the sand and lay down beside it to rest his weary limbs. Having slept some time he rose to resume his wandering, but when  he withdrew his weapon to his surprise a stream of pure water issued from the indentation. Kneeling, he drank copiously, and shortly thereafter became whole. Attributing the cure to its benefits, he built and endowed the hospital, and also as a mark of royal favour erected the village into a burgh, and endowed it with the track of land lying between the Pow Burn and the river Ayr.

The tradition may be take for what it is worth, as also the popular idea that the hospital was founded by Bruce; but it just probable that it existed before his day, for Blind Harry tells how Sir William Wallace and his uncle, Sir Ranald Crawford, made a halt at it when on their way to Ayr to attend "the Black Parliament."

From the ruin, the tradition-hallowed well, I returned to the wire-fenced path and followed it course to the highway.

From New Prestwick to Ayr the roads runs in an almost straight line, studded here and there with neat cottages and comfortable, capacious mansions. Numerous pedestrians and vehicles passed and re-passed, and several pleasure-seekers from Kilmarnock drove along in holiday glee, and at Tam o’ Shanter speed. Holding on the even tenor of my way, I soon reached the outskirts of Ayr, and at "Tam’s Brig" stopped to dust my travel-stained boots and apparel before entering Newton. The bridge referred to crosses a lie of railway, and from it one commands a fine view of the county town and its environs. But here I will take leave of the reader, and devote next chapter to a descriptive and historical sketch of the town of Ayr.

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