Day Five - Drive to Keswick - Crawick Multiverse and Robert Burns House in Dumfries  

return to 2019 UK trip index

return to mdimage site index

Breakfast at Crofthead Farm was terrific, and the owners gave us a half-dozen fresh eggs to take south to the rental house, in Keswick, England, today's destination.   

In the breakfast room we met a pleasant Scottish gentleman and his wife, who I think have stayed here before. During breakfast, the B&B owner & cook came out and started to make fun of the gentleman, of his longish hair, and the Owner introduced the gentleman to the four of us as "Robert Burns' older brother." 

It was utterly ludicrous & hilarious, and the visitor laughed the most, and seemed genuinely appreciative of this (obvious) display of Scottish affection. 

Before the trip my wife & I had both read Naked Scotland, An American Insider Bares All, by S. Blyth Stirling, clueing us in to this odd affection/ insult thing in Scottish daily life. The author writes that you will know when your Scottish friends start to like you, because you'll suddenly be the target of all the barbs. 

The gentleman, unperturbed, then resumed talking with us. He & his wife stay here on an annual fall visit to attend a Classical Music competition, a three-day event, in Ayr. So, the owner was after all just glad to see a regular customer. 

note - you can enlarge any part of a picture by left-clicking in and then out again.

Tarbolton sunrise view of town from bedroom window back yard why the eggs are so good

Robert Burns did not have an older brother, but there is a Burns connection at Tarbolton, because his family had a farm here, an unsuccessful one.   

More important, when Robert & his younger brother Gilbert were in their early 20s, they formed the Bachelor's Club in a modest two-story building at the main crossroads in Tarbolton, which is still here & is tour-able, a worthwhile Burns shrine, in original condition.   

The Club was a sort-of debating society for young men from the area, most of whom were self-taught at home, or, had attended some school during the 1770's.  In this respect, Robert & Gilbert were well-read & educated, thanks to their Father's amazing influence as well as the tutors he hired.  

About Scottish Poet Robert Burns's musical background - his mother Mary Browne was said to have a beautiful voice, and, she was from a musical family with roots in traditional Scottish songs & ballads. Young Robbie grew up hearing traditional ballads, including bawdy songs, sung almost every day of his childhood. 

His earliest biographers give a ton of credit to his Mom & her widowed relative Betty Davidson, who helped around the house for years, because they planted the musical seeds in R. Burns which led to his becoming a virtuoso musicologist of Scottish traditional music. 

When Robert Burns was in his 20s, having achieved some success as a Poet, he fondly wrote that Betty Davidson "Had, I suppose, the largest collection in the county of tales and songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies, elf-candles, dead-lights, wraiths, apparitions, giants, enchanted towers, dragons, and other trumpery."  (ref. is at the bottom of page) 

The two large books he published consisted of original poetry and re-worked traditional songs. Robert Burns had a talent for improving old lyrics & tunes.

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was first & foremost a farm kid, and his family struggled year in & out, but never did well, always living in debt, at the edge of poverty. His earliest biographers wrote that Burns' health was probably compromised at a young age, due to back-breaking toil.  He was, after all, the oldest boy, expected to do more on the farm, and Scottish winters are often harsh.  More on him below...

) Dumfries & Galloway map

On the way to England we stopped at Sanquhar, and, at the Burns House in Dumfries. At the lower right is Carlisle, England.

It was one of the longest driving days of the trip, and we enjoyed stopping part-way to walk around Crawick Multiverse, a 55-acre landscape sculpture by Landscape Architect Charles Jencks, an American, from Baltimore. Chas. Jencks created a fabulous array of artistic landscapes around the world during his career.      

The one page handout for this site says that Jencks used stone "in the megalithic monument tradition."  His "north-south" line is a 400-meter long avenue, flanked by 300 boulders. 

Site history: the local landholder, the Duke of Buccleuch (traditional chief of the Scott Clan) in this century wanted to remove a 30-year old landscape eyesore, which used to be an unproductive open-cast coal mine. He also wanted to create jobs in the nearby village of Sanquar. The Duke spent a million pounds for site restoration and "the renowned artist, theorist, and designer Charles Jencks created the Multiverse, only using materials found on site, including thousands of boulders." 

A Docent in a visitor trailer told me the Duke's plan worked, because the economics of the village did improve. She's from there and has a natural resources degree, working full time. She said four other locals also work here full- or part-time. She added that more tourists book in-town overnight stays and stop to eat at local restaurants. This is an attractive rolling-hills part of Scotland, of course with many walking trails.     

We spent about two hours here, wandering around.   

note - you can enlarge any part of a picture by left-clicking in and then out again.

    Cosmic Collisions  
  the 'north-south' line    
    the Multiverse ahead is the Omphalos, the center of the world
  Andromeda & Milky Way galaxies up close  
    above the Multiverse an incredible place

Burns House in Dumfries

Our next stop was at Dumfries, Scotland, to see a house where Robert Burns (1759- 1796) and his family lived. The modest red brick house was Burn's last home and he was most content here, finally earning a salary sufficient to avoid having to farm.  Robert and his dedicated wife Jean Armour raised a few children here.   

Having published two important books of poems & ballads, Burns was widely read & appreciated, but intellectual property rights were primitive & he never profited from his writings, although his publishers and printers certainly did.  Both times, he didn't expect his books to be popular, so he sold his publishing rights for very little, seems to be the story.   

In his 30s, Burns was given a Government job as an Excise Agent, working from Dumfries. Excise men had to patrol & try to thwart smuggling along the Atlantic coast, as well as shut down & arrest operators of illegal distilleries some miles south, in Cumbria, England, where the Lake District is, an unrealistically large territory to be responsible for.   

Mid-winter when two of his older field staff became ill, Robert Burns had to fill in, mandating long hours on horseback, six days a week, no matter the conditions. An excessively long & treacherous winter in 1795-6 ruined his health. Robert Burns came down with rheumatic fever and died in July, 1796, at 37.  

Hard to believe such a poor, humble, and short-lived poet would become the Scottish Bard, and that 200 years later, his poems & ballads would have been translated into at least 50 languages. Burns would scoff at the idea that people around the world would someday sing (or mouth the words to) his most popular song, Auld Lang Syne, to see out the old year, and to see in the new year......it turned out to be his masterpiece.

River Nith at Dumfries falls by the old bridge umbrellas downtown where we found a great little lunch cafe w/good coffee
  Burns House a modest space his faithful wife, Jean Armour   
Burns' weapon as a government excise agent   Burns' hand-writing    

Leaving Dumfries, we headed southeast to England, stopping at a Tesco grocery in Carlisle, where we loaded up on groceries for a one-week stay at a "self-catering" home at Keswick, in the Lake District. 

We arrived at Keswick in late afternoon. After unpacking & settling in, we drove a few minutes to a car park & walked into town, along a creek, at dusk, finding a bridge to the center of town. We had a 6 pm walk-in Friday night dinner at the Royal Oak Hotel, a classy & crowded place, toasting again to the overall success of the trip, so far. 

It felt good to land at a house and once more we were in a country setting, near Keswick, a mountain town, quiet at night.  

return to 2019 UK trip index

return to mdimage site index

Reference for all Robert Burns info:The Bard, by Robert Crawford, 2009, Princeton University Press.