Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns loved the Scottish Highlands so much that he penned a poem about them in which he professes “my heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go”. While he’s been a long time dead (228 years, to be exact, aged just 37 at death) the memory of this larger than life character lives on here, most notably in the Burns Night celebrations on his birthday, 25th January.
In fact, based on his writings and what we know about him, this is what we reckon he’d be doing if he visited the Cairngorms on holiday today:
Heading for the Snow-Capped Mountains
In his poem, he also talks about how he finds it hard to leave the highlands, especially the mountains “high-cover’d with snow”. So, we are pretty sure you’d find Burns signing up to a winter skills course at Glenmore Lodge.
It’s also likely you’d find him doing a lowland stroll in the “straths and green vallies below” and the “forests and wild-hanging woods”. He even bids an affectionate farewell to the “torrents and loud-pouring floods” showing that he is no fair weather poet. He’d, we surmise, be of the thinking that “there is no bad weather, just bad clothing” and, so, you’d probably see him popping into Tiso’s to stock up on sensible attire.
Watching the Wildlife
In the same poem about the highlands he mentions the joy of “a-chasing the deer” and “following the roe”, so we think you’d definitely find him at one of the Cairngorms estates, like Rothiemurchus, Alvie, or Invercauld indulging in a bit of hunting, shooting and wildlife watching.
Or even zip wiring as he’s known for his adventurous outlook. With his love of wildlife and life on the edge, too, you could bet he’d be down to see the tigers and polar bears at the Highland Wildlife Park in a flash.
Charming the ladies
Burns was an infamous ladies man with, apparently, many muses inspiring his poetry. But there was one particular “highland lassie” he was allegedly very fond of, called Mary, who appears in his poetry frequently. To woo her today, we guess he’d take her to a pub which serves good food and hosts lively bands regularly, such as The Old Bridge Inn , The Winking Owl or The Flying Stag. Or perhaps he’d prefer to book fine dining away from the bustle, somewhere like Anderson’s in Boat of Garten.
Or, perhaps, being a bit of a romantic he’d take a picnic up to a stunning spot like Lochan Uaine/Ryvoan Bothy, Loch Muick or Loch Garten and recite his most famous love poem: “My love is like a red, red rose”. Incidentally, these are all great options if you are in the Cairngorms over Valentine’s Day and want to do something special. If you really wanted to impress him/her you could also recite Burns’ poetry with a fittingly spectacular loch background…
Have a wee dram at a distillery
It wasn’t just the women he had a penchant for, Burns also loved his whisky too. He refers to the drink in several of his poems, including the epic Tam O’Shanter. In another, he talks about how whisky “twil make your courage rise, twill make a man forget his woe; twill heighten all his joy”. We think he’d definitely approve of the ‘joyful’ combination of whisky and chocolate at Dalwinnie Distillery’s tastings. Or supper in The Gathering at the new Cairn Distillery near Grantown on Spey where they have created a three-Course menu using only the finest seasonal and local ingredients to tempt the tastebuds.
Perhaps he’d even take a Speyside Whisky Tour because we imagine he would love hearing all the stories behind the whiskies, and tales of smugglers of days-gone-by.
Celebrating his Birthday at one of the Cairngorms ‘Burns Nights’ on 25th January
As a party animal, womaniser and man who liked a dram, he would definitely approve of Burns Night – founded by his friends a year after his death in order to keep his spirit going and now associated with haggis, neeps, tatties, whisky and rhyme! Burns himself would certainly have enjoyed the pomp, ceremony and poetry of the evening, and would surely put his hand up to perform the “Odes to the Lassies”.
If you want to head to a Burns’ Night yourself during your stay, then it’s a good idea to check out the local village halls, such as Kincraig, Laggan, Ballater, Braemar and Boat of Garten, for which this is an annual tradition. These celebrations usually include pipers, haggis, neeps, tatties and dancing, as well as poetry. Traditionally, celebrations end with all partygoers linking hands and singing Burns’ global hit ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to signal goodbye to the old year and hello to the new one on Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve).