man in hat holds up book, silhoutted against a blue sky

Scotland’s Bard, Rabbie Burns, mibbie best kent as the wird-smiddie thit wrocht Auld Lang Syne, is focht ower the lenth an bridth o Scotland bi oniebody thit’s a claim tae cry him their ain.

He’s ours!

“He wis born in Alloway, in the Auld Cley Biggin” says this ane. “Abit they flittit tae Tarbolton” says anither. Anither stull claims him fir Mauchline:

“Hit wis here he pit thegither his first buik, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect!”

An then, ower the rammie fae Ayrshire, a clatter fae Embra. “Ay, but athoot us buyin oot aw the copies an coortin him he’d hae been tint tae Jamaica insteid o takin the gait tae Auld Reekie.”

“His faither wis fae Dunnottar,” peeps a vyce fae the Mearns. “An his rael nemm’s ‘Burnes’ no ‘Burns’!”

“Yees kin aw try tae chap him fir yer ain, but we got him in the end.” towls a mou fae Dumfries. “An we’v got him stull!”

black and white line drawing of head and shoulders of man in cravat

Noo, the hale o Scotland kin clamjamfry him as their ain. Tae be suithfae, fir the cheil thit screivit:

“That Man to Man, the world o’er,

Shall brothers be for a’ that.”

An wummin tae wummin, an man tae wummin, for aw that tae – we’v aw got a claim. Hooaniver fae May tae September 1787 the warld, an Scotland belangs tae Robert Burns!


1786 haed been a rambaleuch year fir Burns. He stertit oot wi his Jean Armour fawin pregnant an them getting mairriet, ainly fir her faither tae deny them an flit her fae Mauchline tae Paisley.

Haein been, as he seen hit, desertit, he’d a short affair wi Mary Campbell. Hit seems they’d decidit tae emigrate tae Jamaica thegither.

Tae pey fir this, Burns publishit his first buik o poems. Athin the month he wis the maist kenspeckelt name in Scotland. He reddit his affairs fir tae awa tae the Caribbean when he got telt o a letter fae ae Dr Blacklock, a weel respectit poet, sayin Burns wuid dae weel fir tae heich-fit hit tae Embra fir tae pit oot a saicont edition o his Poems.

open book with cover page announcing title 'poems chiefly in the scottish dialect'

First edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Image courtesy of Dumfries Museum. The book is on exhibition in Robert Burns House, Dumfries.

Shortly efter this he got a letter fae Greenock tellin him thit his Highland Mary, efter nursin her brither in his typhus, dee’d o the verra same. Burns moornt, an then, in November, he taen a len o a pownie an went furth o Ayrshire on the road tae Embra.

In Embra he wis talk o the toon, guest tae aw nummer o heich-heid-yins an at the best o aw soirées. The saicont edition o his Poems wis a muckle success! Publishit in the middle o April, Burns taen his chance an stertit his first tourie o Scotland on the 5th o May.

Burns on Tour

Editing Robert Burns For the 21st Century shows the route he took.

old map showing central and east coast scotland

Robert Burns’s Tour of the Borders, courtesy of The Centre for Robert Burns Studies

  • Embra tae Haddinton, Gifford an Duns.
  • Fae there he taen in Berwick, Eyemouth, Skateraw and Dunbar.
  • Then Traquair, Selkirk, Dryburgh and Kelso. Jedburgh an Wauchope.
  • Then throu Coldstream ower the border tae Wooler Warkworth, Morpeth an on tae Newcastle.
  • Fae there tae tae Hexham, Wardrew House, Longtown, Carlisle, ower the border tae Annan an on tae Dumfries.

Man’s Best Mare

Burns unnertaen this tourie o the Borders on the back o his cuddie, Jenny Geddes. Christent fir ae Jenny Geddes, a mercat tredder thit flung her stool at the heid o the meenister o St Giles cathedral, stertin the riot thit began the Wars o the Three Kingdoms!

He taen in Dryburgh Abbey, Melrose Abbey an nae doot Jedburgh Abbey efter bein grantit the Freedom of the Burgh of Jedburgh. He then taen the gate sooth tae Newcastle an alang the route o Hadrian’s waw, tho he didnae tak note at aw o the famous frontier.

A photograph of a ruined abbey on sunny day

O mair import, hit seems, wis events in Longtown. Whilst Burns wis oot seein the sichts, Jenny Geddes lowsit hersel, stertit grazin illegally an got hersel impoondit! The neist mornin, due tae his fame, Burns wis able fir tae get aw chairges agin puir Jenny drapt an she cantert free. On the note tae the Mayor Burns screivit:

Was e’r poet befitted,
The maister drunk, the horse committed.
Puir harmless beast! tak’ ye nae care,
Thou’lt be a horse when he’s nae mair.

The Westrin Heilands

old fashioned map showing central western scotland

In June Burns’s tourie took in Glesga, Greenock, Inverary, Arochar and Dumbarton

Jenny Geddes wis tae pley a big pairt in Burns neist tourie, that o the Westrin Heilands. Efter takin in Invarary an bein turnt awa fae the castle bi the Duke o Argyll, Burns, seeminly bealin, wis makin his wey doon Loch Lomond side.

Ae day, seeminly efter a wee drap or twa “No vera fou but gaylie yet.” Hissel an Jenny Geddes cam upon a heilanman gallopin alang the lochside. This wound up in a race alang the shore.

Bi Burn’s ain accoont, juist as Jenny taen the nose the ither fulla pult his horse asklent the racin line an baith pair horse an riders went heelster-gowdie intae the broom.

Burns maun hae been an affae sicht hirplin in tae Dumbarton heid tae tae in cuts an bruises tae get his Freedom o the Burgh. An tae think fowk wunner hou he didnae tak the three hunner an saxty five steps tae the tap o the rock o Dumbarton Castle!

Burns on Tour 2

Follow the route Burns took for his second highland tour with this interactive map.

black and white poster with drawing of a man and list of cities

Tourie Wi A Vengeance

Fir his third an langest tourie Jenny Geddes wis tae stey at hame, hit wis a carriage thit taen Burns north at the en o August. Hit’s here his Jacobite sympathies are maist reezit up. His veesit tae Stirlin castle struck him tae the hert. That nicht, wi his diamond pincil, he screivit, annent the Hanoverian monarchs, in the windae o James Wingate’s Inn:

An idiot race to honour lost
Who know them best despise them most.

The neist day he went back tae erase hit ainly tae fun hit’d awriddy been reportit in the papers!

Regairdless, he wis on tae Creiff. Here wis mibbie a meetin thit chyngit his hale life, he met wi the fiddler Neil Gow. They spake aw day aboot Scots sangs an fae here on in Burns devotit hissel chiefly tae collectin an writin hunners o wir best sangs.

Burns completit his tour back roon tae Embra, ne’er tae tack sic a journey again. A first cless poet afore he taen his touries sae muckle mair wis tae come drawin fae his experiences o takin Scotland as his ain.

Sae on the 25th o January, The Bard’s birthday, raise a gless an aince mair sing the sang the hale warld sings at the stert o ilka new year!

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

bottle of whisky in front of a window

Thanks to Dr Michael Dempster, Social Media Manager for the Scots Language Centre. The maps are from Glasgow University’s Editing Burns for the 21st Century page, where Burns’ tour journals appear in their first volume.


About Author


Guest Blog

From time to time we have guest posts from partners, visitors and friends of Historic Environment Scotland.