Covering Scotland Commemmorative Stamps

Robert Burns
Tours across Scotland

West Lothian
Stirling 1
Stirling 2



After the adulation of Burns first visit to Edinburgh and the publication of the first Edinburgh Edition of his poems, he decided to embark upon some tours to become better acquainted with his native Scotland. He wrote to Mrs Dunlop that he wanted to make leisurely pilgrimages through Caledonia; to sit on the fields of her battles; to wander on the romantic banks of her rivers; and to muse by the stately towers or venerable ruins, once the honored abodes of her heroes.
This notion was strengthened by his newly formed resolution to collaborate with James Johnson in the work of collecting the national songs of Scotland.

That I for poor auld Scotland's sake
Some usefu' plan or book could make
Or sing a sang at least.

The poet bought a mare which he claimed belonged to the Rosinante family. He named it Jenny Geddes after the lively dame, who in 1637 threw a stool at the Bishop's head during a service in St Giles.

He was armed with introductions and invitations in every district through which his route lay.

He covered the Borders and into England eventually coming to Annan and on into Dumfries where he was made an Honorary Burgess on 4th June 1787. He journeyed home to Mauchline by way of Sanquhar.

It was a supreme moment in his life. It is said that his mother welcomed him with the simple, heartfelt exclamation " Oh Rabbie, Rabbie!" He had been away for 6 months. He had left without much money and his prospects uncertain but now he had returned famous throughout Scotland and with many honours bestowed upon him.


At this point Burns was uncertain of his future, he was at a crossroads in his life. Within ten days of arriving home, he mounted his faithful mare Jenny Geddes and set off for the West Highlands.
It is assumed that Burns was collecting subscriptions for the Edinburgh Edition on this tour and that he was accompanied by Dr George Grierson and Mr George Gairdner of Ladykirk.
The farthest extent of the tour was Inveraray, seat of John Campbell, 5th Duke of Argyll. It was unfortunate for Burns that the committee of the British Fisheries Society, of which the Duke was President, was meeting at Inveraray prior to selecting Tobermory as a new fishing port in the Island of Mull. The result was that the castle was full, the local inn was crowded with guests and Burns got very poor service. He vented his wrath by scratching on one of the window-panes.

There's naething here but Highland pride
And Highland scab and hunger
If providence has sent me here
'Twas surely in an anger.

From Inveraray, Burns and his two companions rode by way of Clachan, Cairndow, through Glen Kinglas to the summit of the Rest and be Thankful, Arrochar and Tarbet on Loch Lomond. At Bannachra our travellers became ensconced in a party which certainly brightened Burns mood.

There was Scottish dancing and singing until the ladies retired at 3 a.m. when a punch bowl was filled. This kept them going till 6 a.m. when they all went outside to pay homage to the sun as it arose over Ben Lomond.

Presumably after some sleep, they spent that same day sailing on Loch Lomond, prior to dining that night at Arden.
After leaving Arden, Burns and Jenny Geddes had an impromptu race with a highlander which left Burns in a sorry state because of a fall. Burns appeared to be winning until Donald wheeled his horse and brought them down. Donald ended in a hedge and Burns recived a skinful of cuts, bruises and wounds.
They reached Dumbarton by way of Balloch and Renton.
On 29th June, the magistrates of the town presented the poet with his Burgess Ticket.

Dumbarton is proud of its association with Robert Burns. It also has the distinction of being one of six Scottish Burghs which made Burns a freeman during his life. The other five are Jedburgh, Dumfries, Linlithgow, Lochmaben and Sanquhar. His Burgess Ticket is a treasured relic, preserved in the council's archives.
Highland Mary's two nieces are buried in a little churchyard at Renton.

West Lothian

On 25th August 1787 Burns began the third and most impressive of his tours. He covered over 600 miles and set off with William Nicol, an irascible Edinburgh schoolteacher. They travelled in a two wheeled chaise, Nicol being an indifferent horseman.

Their journey took them through Corstorphine, Kirkliston and Winchburgh to Linlithgow where they were impressed by the ruin of the old palace. They saw the room where Mary Queen of Scots was born and also the old Gothic church. After dinner they visited James Smith, a friend of Burns from Mauchline with whom he had kept in touch and who was now resident in Linlithgow.

Linlithgow claims to have made Burns a freeman, the date of his Burgess ticket being 16th November 1787
Burns did not sign the roll and there is no evidence to support him being in Linlithgow on that date.


They spent the night at Falkirk in the Cross-Keys Inn where he used his diamond pin for the first time by inscribing a few lines on the window.
Sound be his sleep, and blythe his morn etc.

They then visited the tomb of Sir John de Graham and Camelon.
At Carron they were refused admission to the ironworks, not surprising really as it was a Sunday.
Burns scratched on a window pane of the inn at Carron
We cam' na here to view your warks
In hopes to be mair wise etc

Continuing on past Larbert, Dunipace and Denny, Herbertshire Castle and Denovan House. They lunched at Auchenbowie House prior to moving on to Bannockburn where they saw the house in which King James 3rd was murdered. They were impressed by the battlefield and examined the borestone where Robert the Bruce had planted his standard. Throughout his tours he picked up fugitive melodies and verse fragments. He heard and noted down the ancient Scottish tunes, not the least of which was Tutti Tatti, the battle march of Bruce's men at Bannockburn which would later become Scots Wha Hae.

It is interesting to note that when the National Memorial to William Wallace decided to open a Hall of Heroes, it was Robert Burns who was the first person to have his bust placed. The unveiling was accompanied by the singing of Scots Wha Hae.
Having seen Stirling Castle and the ruinous state of the Great Hall where the Scottish Parliament had frequently met Burns scratched on the window pane of what is now known as the Golden Lion Hotel

Here Stuarts once in glory reigned
And laws for Scotland's weal ordained
But now unroof'd their palace stands
Their sceptre's sway'd by other hands
The injured Stuart line is gone
A race outlandish fills the throne
An idiot race, to honour lost
Who know them best despise them most.

Burns left Nicol in Stirling and went to the river Devon and Rumbling Bridge before going to Harvieston for dinner. The next day he came back along the foothills of the Ochills, passing the Devon, Forth, Teith and Allan rivers, collecting Nicol on his way past.
When he collected Nicol, the schoolmaster took him to task about the danger of recording such a bold libel against the reigning family so Burns took out his diamond and added further aggravating words

Rash mortal, and slanderous Poet! thy name
Shall no longer appear in the records of fame
Dost not know that old Mansfield, who writes like the Bible
Says - the more 'tis a truth, sir, the more 'tis a libel?

We shall hear more of this episode when Burns returned to Stirling later in the year.
Burns picked up the chorus of My Harry was a Gallant Gay from an old woman in Dunblane and added the verses. This tune is connected to the gallant 42nd regiment or Black Watch.
Dunblane also has a further connection with Burns. When working for the excise in Dumfries, his name was put forward for promotion, but he died before taking up the post.

It is now an established fact that if Burns had lived until January 1797 he would have been promoted and in August of that year he would have become the Supervisor at Dunblane. His salary would have been handsome and Burns would have had more free time to devote to his writing.


28th August 1787. Robert Burns and Willie Nicol, his travelling companion left the environs of Stirling and continued northwards through Strathallan and on to the Roman camp at Ardoch. They crossed the Earn, passed Auchtertyre and Comrie to Aberuchill and then to Crieff where they spent the night.
The next morning took them through Glen Almond, Ossian's grave, Loch Freuchie and Taymouth Castle.
At Dunkeld they saw the ruined cathedral and Dunkeld House then continued on to Aberfeldy.
He composed The Birks of Aberfeldy while standing under the falls of Moness.

Bonie lassie, will ye go
Will ye go, will ye go
Bonie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldie?

Coming by way of Logierait to Dunkeld where there was a memorable visit with Neil Gow, the famous fiddler and composer, we can only imagine how happy the talk would be between these two lovers of Scottish music and song.

Killiecrankie produced another memorable song, while on the way to Blair Atholl, where he was hospitably received in the castle by the Duke and Duchess. He was entertained in great and brilliant society and met Robert Graham of Fintry, a friendship which turned out to be most useful in later life as Robert Graham was Commissioner of Excise for Scotland.
Nicol began to fume at having to play second fiddle and demanded that they continue their journey.

The Duke and Duchess of Atholl were so pleased to have Burns company that they sent a servant to bribe the driver of the chaise to pull off one of the horse's shoes in an effort to delay his departure.
The driver refused and Burns missed the chance to meet Henry Dundas, the shadowy dictator of Scotland who was expected at any minute.

But leave, they did, and travelled on to Aviemore by way of Dalnacardoch, Dalwhinnie, Pitmain, Craigow Hill, Ruthven Barracks, and Rothiemurchus. After breakfast at Aviemore on 3rd September they went on to Strathspey and dined with Sir James Grant, an office bearer of the Highland Society and a Member of Parliament. Later that day they reached Dulsie, 12 miles south-east of Nairn where they slept.

Tues 4th Sept. They travelled along the Findhorn visiting Cawdor Castle and saw the bed in which King Duncan was reputedly murdered by Macbeth. They dined at Kilravock Castle before continuing onwards to Fort George and Inverness where they lodged at Ettles Hotel.

From Inverness they visited Loch Ness, General Wade's Hut, the Falls of Foyers and Urquhart Castle. Burns was now suffering fatigue but managed to dine with Bailie William Inglis, Provost of Inverness and his family at Kingsmills House.

After visiting the battlefield at Culloden they breakfasted at Kilravock Castle, dined at Nairn and slept at Brodie Castle. On Fri 7th Sept they crossed the Findhorn and visited Forres to see the site of the Pictish Sueno's stone. They breakfasted at Elgin and visited the Cathedral before crossing the Spey where they separated.
Burns went to Castle Gordon where he was warmly welcomed by the Duke and Duchess. He dined with them and was asked to stay, but he was concerned about Nicol who was waiting impatiently at Fochabers Inn. When a belated invitation was extended to Nicol he rejected it furiously and insisted on pressing on - with or without the poet. Burns was left with no choice so he reluctantly entered the carriage.

They spent the night at Cullen, breakfasted at Banff and visited Duff House where they were shown round before continuing on to Newbyth and Buchan to spend the night at Old Deer. Sunday saw the pair at Peterhead and Slains Castle. At Ellon they had hoped to visit George Gordon, the Third Earl of Aberdeen, but were denied access. They spent the night in Aberdeen.

At Stonehaven Robert met many of his relatives spending some time with them before proceeding to Montrose via Laurencekirk, the Howe of the Mearns and Craigo.
Thursday was breakfast in Auchmithie, with a sail along the coast to the Geary Pot and other caves. They landed at Arbroath visiting the ruined Abbey before travelling on to Dundee and Broughty Castle then down the Carse of Gowrie to Perth arriving on the 14th September.They visited Scone, Scotland's ancient capital and the palace where the Kings of Scotland were crowned and Castle Gowrie, scene of the notorious conspiracy against James 6th, before returning to Edinburgh.
They had covered about 600 miles.

Although the main purpose of the visit was to collect fragments of songs and tunes with forgotten words, Burns renewed acquaintance with many of the nobility whom he had met in Edinburgh on his previous visit there. He also met a lot of new friends some of whom became lifelong correspondents.

It is an interesting thought that Burns did more than most to unite Scotland into one country.
The land beyond the Highland line spoke a different language and had a formidable literary and musical tradition of its own. The pen may be mightier than the sword. William Wallace had fought to restore the throne to the rightful king and Burns believed that any king should uphold and champion liberty, as he believed Robert the Bruce had done.
Burns chose as best he could to speak for the whole nation.

Back to Stirling. On 4th October this time accompanied by Dr James McKittrick Adair and on horseback again, they came through Linlithgow to Carron and the ironworks.

In Stirling he went to the room of the inn where he had scratched some lines on the window and which were causing some excitement in many quarters and some trouble to the author. He broke the pane with the butt end of his riding-switch, but meanwhile the epigrams had been copied into travellers' notebooks and widely circulated.

Burns and Adair went on to Harvieston House where they had to stay for a few days because of bad weather.
They visited Mrs Catherine Bruce of Clackmannan a 95 year old lady who claimed descent from King Robert and who insisted on knighting them with a two handed sword belonging to her illustrious ancestor.

At Dunfermline they visited the ruined abbey. In the church Burns knelt and kissed the flagstones which he believed covered the tomb of King Robert the Bruce.

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