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Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns

It might have been composed more than 200 years ago but for me, Robert Burns’s “My Luve is like a Red, Red Rose” is the most beautiful of love songs: “And I will luve thee still, my Dear,/ Till a’ the seas gang dry./ Till a’ the seas gang dry, my Dear,/ And the rocks melt wi’ the sun…” Long sigh. Emotions go into meltdown. I especially like Eddy Reader’s version.

Last night Nigel and I went to our first Burns Supper in Lochranza Village Hall. Robert Burns was born, oldest son of a poor farmer, in 1759. He never visited Arran but must often have looked across to its soaring peaks from Ayrshire. However, he wasn’t a Wordsworth, finding his inspiration in the hills; it was from human society that Burns drew his creative power. He loved the lasses and they loved him back making him the father of about thirteen children in all, both to his wife and several other young women. And today there are few places in the world that do not know his song celebrating human bonds: “Auld Lang Syne”.

A Burns Supper involves a meal, speeches and recitals. There is a very specific order to the ongauns (procedures). The main addresses include: “The Toast to the Haggis”, “The Toast to the Lassies” and “The Immortal Memory”. I heard plenty of old Scots words I don’t know, but it’s not difficult to pick up the gist. The main speaker of the evening, Robbie Glen, ex- Glasgow prison officer, had the audience in stitches but also mused at one point how, in England, when Shakespeare’s birth and death day both fall on St.George’s Day i.e. April 23rd, the date can just be allowed to pass by without a party lasting weeks!

The meal began with cock-a-leekie soup then the haggis, bashed neeps and champit tatties (mashed turnip and potato) main course. This is actually very healthy eating, and very tasty too - though don’t ask about the parts of animals in the haggis if you’re squeamish. Wooley’s of Arran oatcakes, Arran cheeses and shortbread with Arran Distillery Robert Burns whisky rounded off a delicious and warming winter evening supper.

The new Burns Heritage Centre at Alloway near Ayr is one of the most lively, interactive museums I’ve ever been to. The centre’s director believes that had Robert Burns been alive to day he would have been a rock star! It’s well worth a visit and not far from the ferry to Arran.

Looking towards the Scottish Mainland coast from the cliffs above Laggan Cottage.

Paisley Abbey

As the crow, or the seagull, flies, Arran is not many miles from Glasgow, yet the waters of the Clyde make it seem worlds away with its peace, wild beauty and quirky island traits. This is not to say that there are not many interesting places to stop and explore on your journey to Arran through the urban sprawl of the Central Belt.

Last weekend I visited Paisley for the first time. It’s close to the M8 and Glasgow Airport, and, though famous for its beautiful patterned shawls manufactured in its mills in the 18th and 19th centuries, it is not mentioned in many tourist guides. I particularly wanted to visit Paisley Abbey. Its origins go back to 1163, making it steeped in the Scottish past.

Once inside the Abbey I was fortunate enough to coincide with organ practice. Several local volunteers were devotedly cleaning and polishing, and just being available to share their knowledge of the abbey’s history. In Scotland’s formative years as a nation, the abbey was close to the pulse of power and politics. It was founded by Walter Fitzalan in 1163, who was the first hereditary High Steward of Scotland. It’s also more than likely that William Wallace was educated at the abbey.

Like many old churches, it has a palpable sense of suspended time. As you tread softly from the west end of the nave to the east window you walk through ecclesiastical architecture from 1163 to the present day. Daylight streams colourfully through the gorgeous stained glass windows and there is so much fine detail in the wooden carvings and sculptured stone that it must be difficult to focus attention on a sermon!

On my return home I googled Paisley Abbey for more information. I was somewhat taken aback to discover that even churches get star ratings out of five on the Internet these days! It seems to me that a grander scale is required for a beautiful building that has stood for almost 900 years, survived religious reformation, and held so many human hopes, loves and griefs within its ancient walls.

If you pay Paisley Abbey a visit, it’s easy to find parking spaces nearby and you can have a break in the cafĂ© in the cloisters. The Abbey is also the venue for many musical events throughout the year.

Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me at Paisley Abbey. Instead, here is a picture of Lochranza’s little Kirk of St.Bride’s which celebrates its 300th anniversary this year.