I LOVE BEING A VOLUNTEER WITH THE NATIONAL TRUST FOR SCOTLAND
I love being a volunteer with the National Trust for Scotland. Prior to lockdown, I spent nine years volunteering at CulzeanCastle and now I am located at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. I work four days a week, sometimes at Burns Cottage, sometimes at the Museum and sometimes I take groups of visitors on a tour of all the notable Burns sites around Alloway. There’s a wealth of things to see in Alloway, including Burns Cottage, the Poet’s Path, the Auld Kirk, the Burns Monument and the Brig O’Doon.
I am not an Ayrshire lad as I was born in Edinburgh. However, I moved to Ayrshire when I was six, when my father got a job in Kilbirnie in North Ayrshire. I have moved around a bit since then, always within Ayrshire. I certainly now feel very much at home on this side of Scotland.
Volunteering has greatly helped me get to know the legacy of Robert Burns. It also lets me meet so many interesting visitors from across Ayrshire, Scotland and, indeed, the world. Some visitors know very little about Robert Burns and it is satisfying to be able to tell them stories about the man and introduce them to his poetry. Others, however, have a vast knowledge of Burns and often try to catch me out with their detailed and tricky questions! I enjoy interacting with them all.
As a museum tour guide, I get to choose a few specific exhibits to describe in detail to visitors. One of my favourite exhibits is the collection of postage stamps featuring Robert Burns. Did you know the first country to commemorate Burns on its postage stamps was the USSR in 1956? Many visitors are astounded to learn this fact! Here in the UK, Robert Burns has featured on Royal Mail stamps on three occasions, which is more frequently than any other individual outside the Royal Family.
My passion for history, reflected in my volunteering roles, is matched by my passion for traditional folk music. I play mandolin and banjo at a number of local folk group venues. I am a founder member of The Tattiehowkers. We’re a ceilidh band and play at weddings, social events and gigs throughout Scotland and further afield. I also help to organise the annual Girvan Traditional Folk Festival,of which I am the resident MC.
I have learned to speak Gaelic in order to better understand and be able to sing songs from the traditional folk music culture. I am fascinated by languages, which can be useful when trying to communicate with our international visitors.
The Maidens and Dunure Light Railway
The Maidens and Dunure Light Railway was built to serve the coastal communities of Ayrshire. There was a station at Alloway and the track went through the Alloway Railway Tunnel. The railway opened in 1906 and closed to passenger traffic in 1942, although a short section remained operational to serve the holiday camp at Heads of Ayr until 1968. Billy Butllin, who opened the holiday camp, was a railway enthusiast and many people may recall the two locomotives which were a feature at the entrance to Butlins.
When I was a volunteer at Culzean Castle, I frequently amused visitors with a story about Archibald Kennedy, the Third Marquis of Ailsa, who came up from London for holidays at the Castle. He insisted on having a railway halt built near Culzean for the exclusive use of his family. In addition to being used for travel, his family’s laundry was sent back to Culzean by train from London whilst they were there to ensure it was properly washed and ironed!
Although the fabric of the railway has been removed and the tracks and bridges have all gone, a section of the Ayrshire Coastal Path largely follows the former railway route. The views from the Coastal Path are stunning in all weathers.
The Alloway Tunnel Project
I am very excited to learn about the Project to renovate the Alloway Railway Tunnel. This development will certainly add value to the whole Alloway area and complement the legacy of Robert Burns. I hope it will soon be incorporated into the list of must-see attractions alongside the Cottage, Museum, Auld Kirk and so on.
As well as adding to the local attractions for visitors who come to Alloway specifically to investigate the Burns Legacy, the Tunnel could well attract whole new constituencies of visitors. It could augment Alloway’s place on the map internationally and has the potential to enhance exploration of the area beyond the legacy of Robert Burns.
For example, individual walkers or walking groups may be attracted to the area to see the Tunnel and enjoy some of the spectacular walks along the cycle path, down to the sea and beyond. Many books of walks have been published and mention of the Tunnel in future books would undoubtedly encourage more walkers to visit our beautiful area.
Further, railway enthusiasts may well be attracted to the Tunnel and, once here, could extend their visit to include some of the Burns legacy sites. And, of course, artists may well be attracted to the area to see the mural and while here realise the great potential of the wider area. Undoubtedly, the spin-off benefits from the Ayrshire Railway Tunnel Mural will be felt throughout not only Alloway but also Ayr, Ayrshire and Scotland.
I extend best wishes to all those involved in taking the ART Project and eagerly await the outcome of this daring initiative.