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Burns Heritage Park

Scots national bard Robert Burns is renowned the world over and as people toast his work on Burns Night, Lorraine Wakefield visits his birthplace and the Burns National Heritage Park.

Almost since the time of his death in 1796 the birthplace of Robert Burns in the leafy village of Alloway, Ayr has been a place of pilgrimage for thousands of visitors each year.

The Burns National Heritage Park was established five years ago to bring the Burns cottage and museum, the ruined Kirk Alloway, Burns monument and the Brig O’Doon, which are all situated within a small area, under one umbrella.

At the same time the visitor centre was revamped to create the Tam O’Shanter Experience which uses the latest audio visual technology to bring Burns to life for today’s visitors.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors make the trip to Burns National Heritage Park each year and January is one of the busiest times as people across the country and around the world prepare to celebrate the national bard on Burns Night.

"People have been coming here since the 18th and 19th century as obviously the cottage has always been there although it was changed into a pub then bought back again", explained Carol Turner administration and marketing manager of the Burns National Heritage Park.

"We have had between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors annually over the past five years and it is very much a mixture with Scottish, English and foreign visitors."

"During January we also hold living history events, with actors playing Burns himself and his youngest sister Annabella in Burns cottage talking about their lives when they were children, which is designed for school groups."

"We get Robert Burns in as an actor because he can interact with the children and talks to them in everyday language.  I think the children sometimes don’t realise that Burns was a child too who had to live in a house and do all the normal things children had to and more as he had to work in the fields. It is much more down to earth for the children so they can connect with him more," she added.

At Burns cottage visitors are met by the man himself who welcomes you into the tiny auld clay biggen and takes you through the different parts of the cottage talking about his life and how working in the Ayrshire countryside inspired his works.

Joined half way through the tour by his sister Annabella the two then reminisce about their lives in days gone by and regale visitors with excerpts from Burns’ famed poems.

The actors captivated their young audience and older visitors alike with their tales and period costumes but even when they are not at the cottage visitors can enjoy an audio tour through the byre, parlour and kitchen.

Adjacent to the cottage is the Burns Museum which houses an important collection of original Burns manuscripts and other artefacts, sculptures, books and paintings which provide further knowledge and appreciation of Burns.

Curator John Manson has looked after the cottage and museum for nearly 20 years and he is still amazed at the worldwide interest in Burns with orders for haggis and other Burns Night provisions coming from as far away as Malaysia.

On leaving Burns cottage visitors can take a short walk to the ruined Kirk Alloway and graveyard,   the setting for perhaps his best known poem Tam O’Shanter  where the witches and warlocks danced and the nearby Brig O’Doon where he made good his escape on his trusty mare Meg.

From the Brig O’Doon a walk through the beautiful gardens, past the Grecian style Burns Monument opened in 1823, leads to the Tam O’Shanter Experience for the final part of the heritage park visit.

The first theatre at the Tam O’Shanter Experience gives an introduction to Burns with a short film narrating the story of his life and a brief overview of some of his poems and ballads before visitors move through to the second theatre.

Here the poem Tam O’Shanter is shown in a filmed dramatisation complete with lightning and thunderclaps and the sight of Tam heading off into the dark night alone on his horse really sends a shiver down your spine.

The Tam O’Shanter Experience also houses the Taste of Scotland restaurant which every January 25 hosts a traditional Burns Supper that is always a full house with people keen to celebrate the bard.

Although January is one of the busiest times for the Burns National Heritage Park it is open all year round, attracting most of its overseas visitors during the summer months, and even more than 200 years after his death the popularity of Burns and his work shows no signs of waning.

More information about Burns National Heritage Park is on the website at http://www.robertburns.org


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