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On the Trail of the Bard continued...

The year after moving to Lochlie, Burns’ father became embroiled in a dispute with his landlord which was to precipitate the family’s next move. Fearing the worst, Burns and his brother agreed secretly to lease another farm.

Three years later, the Court of Session decided in favour of William Burnes, but he was to die less than three weeks later. The rest of the family promptly moved three miles away to Mossgiel farm, near to Mauchline.

Burns was to meet his future wife, Jean Armour, at a dance in Mauchline. Jean, to the horror of her family, fell pregnant out of wedlock to Burns, and the building where they would live together is now a museum.

Close by is Poosie Nancie’s Hostelry, Burns’ ``local’’ at the time. Successive owners have renovated its interior to provide home comforts, but discreetly enough not to spoil the atmosphere in the old fashioned public bar.

It was here that Burns witnessed the wild drinking sessions which inspired his cantata The Jolly Beggars. He and his close friend John Richmond joined a group of lawless vagrants as they downed ale and sang till the rafters of the building shook.

``So sang the Bard and Nancie’s wa’s
Shook with a thunder of applause,
Re-echoed from each mouth!
They toom’d their pocks, they pawned their duds,
They scarcely left to coo their fuds,
To quench their lowin’ drouth.’’

Fortunately, today’s traveller will find more civilised company in Nancie’s, local worthies who are never short of a story or two about its historic patron.

The village of Mauchline has its own tribute to the poet in the shape of the Burns Monument, a majestic tower devoted to his memory, but while he lived there his complicated love life was to make him the subject of public indignation.

In 1784 he admitted to being the father of a child born to Elizabeth Paton, a local farm worker, but rather than follow the accepted code of conduct of that time, he refused to marry her.

Two years later Jean Armour was to bear twins by Burns and he agreed to marry her. Jean’s parents had other ideas, however. They were so furious that Burns had impregnated their daughter out of wedlock that they forbade the union and sent her to stay with relatives in Paisley.

The distraught Burns, who at this time became romantically involved with yet another woman, Margaret Campbell, made plans to work as an estate bookkeeper in Jamaica in an attempt to leave his troubles behind him.

But the emigration plans were abandoned after a twist of fate that was to change the course of Burns’ life. In July of 1786 ``Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect’’ was published in Kilmarnock. Such was the popularity of what is now known as ``The Kilmarnock Edition’’ that Burns postponed his emigration plans and set about arranging for the publication of a second edition in Edinburgh.

On November 27 he set off on a borrowed pony to meet publishers in Edinburgh. The voyage to Jamaica was never to take place: Burns had set out on an alternative journey which was to earn him world wide fame and the title ``Scotland’s Bard.’’




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