Actively Burns

This fun itinerary includes cycling and horse riding as you spend time in and around Dumfries where Burns lived. Depending on which activities you choose, you may need to book bikes, reserve horse riding and book theatre tickets. Download the full itinerary PDF from the link on the right hand side of this page. If you would like to receive a copy of the ‘Burns and the South West’ leaflet by post then email your request including your full name and postal address to info@ayrshire-arran.org

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  • The Robert Burns statue in Dumfries
    The Robert Burns statue in Dumfries

Begin your visit to Dumfries at the Dumfries Museum and ensure that you head for the topmost floor of the museum to experience the Camera Obscura. It’s easy to find the white building perched at the top of a hill and the Camera Obscura, of which there are only three in Scotland, is housed in a former windmill. Burns would have seen the windmill tower in its working day .This is truly a unique experience and you can enjoy panoramic views over the town.  This rare historic instrument is not operational on rainy days.

Afterwards, The Globe Inn is a must for lunch. Established in 1610, The Globe Inn has long been associated with Robert Burns and is crammed with memorabilia. Burns drank here often and slept here on occasion. You’ll find it by heading for the pedestrianised main shopping street where you will spot the Globe sign above the entrance to a little lane. 

Following lunch, a very pleasant walk across the River Nith suspension bridge will lead you through parkland and along the river to the award-winning Robert Burns Centre which is housed in an 18th century watermill. In addition to audio visual presentations and a model of the town, an exhibition explores and illustrates all of Dumfries & Galloway’s Burns connections.

A great place to round off your first day is at the Theatre Royal, one of the oldest theatres in the world. Not only a patron of the theatre, Burns also performed some of his works there. 

A lovely way to spend a morning in Dumfries is at Gracefield Arts Centre which boasts a collection of around 600 paintings and drawings by Scottish artists, most with links to Dumfries & Galloway. In addition to the permanent collection there a good programme of temporary exhibits, craft shows, Café Gallery exhibitions and workshops.

Make an afternoon pilgrimage to Robert Burns House, the very home where Burns lived with his family for the last few years of his life. This simple building retains its 18th century character and the small but very important museum presents original manuscripts and gives an insight into how the poet lived.

From Robert Burns House, it’s a short walk to St Michael’s Churchyard and the Burns Mausoleum. If you only have time for one activity this afternoon, choose this visit: it’s a fascinating place. Within the churchyard, look out for the large plan which shows the location of graves of literally dozens of friends and peers of Robert Burns and also shows the position of his original grave before the mausoleum was built. A Blue Plaque system helps to pinpoint special graves.

The gleaming white mausoleum is an ideal spot for quiet contemplation. At the gates to the Kirk stands the contemporary sandstone sculpture, ‘Robert Burns Rock’ and just across the road is a statue celebrating Burns’ wife, Jean Armour.

Cycle to Brow Well, 9 miles south east of Dumfries, which is a spring believed to have healing properties.  Before you leave Dumfries, pack a picnic and refreshments. Brow Well is on the National Cycle Network Route 7. You can cycle via Ruthwell village, which is 3km east of Brow Well, and famous as the place for the introduction of the world’s first commercial savings bank. Ruthwell Church, just off the B724, houses a 7th century Anglian Cross, one of Europe’s important early medieval monuments.  In Burns’ day, locals and visitors would walk or ride to Brow Well to drink or bathe in the spring water. The locale is charming - beautiful, quiet country roads, farm houses and small hamlets.  Robert Burns visited Brow Well in Ruthwell Parish in 1796 to drink from the Chalybeate Spring, which was thought to be medicinal water, and the Well makes a great destination for a family bike ride day.

If you’re still full of energy and up for more cycling, the stunning Caerlaverock Castle is a brilliant visit. It’s the only triangular castle in the UK. This medieval stronghold has an impressive moat, twin towered gatehouse and imposing battlements. However, the defensive walls’ triangular shape is what makes this castle so special. Visitors can enjoy a siege warfare exhibition, a children’s adventure park or just a nice cup of tea in the cafe, which is open throughout the year.

Burns composed many poems in the saddle. As an excise officer, he rode 30-40 miles for days on end, covering a broad territory before he managed to secure a better excise job based from Dumfries. Go riding and get a Burns-eye view to experience the great outdoors. The stables at Barend Riding Centre in Dalbeattie are British Horse Society approved and are well located for visitors to Dumfries. Barend offers lessons and expeditions for riders of all abilities to enjoy trekking or hacking through tranquil forests and rolling countryside with one of the guides.

Head back to Dumfries for a good restaurant lunch and a last walk around town and if on Bank Street, look up at the white two-storey building where Burns lived when he first came to Dumfries. He stayed here for two years after moving from Ellisland Farm on the northern outskirts of the town but the place was too small for his family. Robert and Jean moved into what is now Robert Burns House on Burns Street.

As you head for the main route out of Dumfries, it is likely you will pass the impressive Burns Statue on Buccleuch Street. If you’re heading north on the A76, you will pass Ellisland Farm,  known as the Poet’s Choice farm, which Burns rented and worked unsuccessfully to try and provide a livelihood for his family. Ellisland sits in a delightful riverside spot which inspired the poet to write 130 songs and poems in his study and along the walks which take in the riverbanks, fields and can be followed to Friars Carse where Burns was a regular visitor. A country house hotel now stands on the site of the original 13th century friary and offers great meals and overnight packages.