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13 May 2022

Love Scotland podcast

Image: Shutterstock/Sophie Burgess
The Witches’ Well drinking fountain and memorial in Edinburgh, created in 1894 | Image: Shutterstock/Sophie Burgess
Hosted by former BBC Reporting Scotland anchor Jackie Bird, each episode tells some of the thrilling stories behind the Trust’s people and places, showcasing how everything we do is for the love of Scotland.

Season three

The real history of Scotland’s witches

The witch trials of the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries form one of the darkest chapters in Scotland’s history. More than 2,500 people – the vast majority of them women – were executed and more than 4,000 accused of witchcraft during this time, and yet their stories have largely gone untold.

Recently though, that has started to change. Earlier this year on International Women’s Day, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued an apology to all those who had been persecuted. And last year, the National Trust for Scotland published a report detailing the links between its properties and the witch trials.

Dr Ciaran Jones, the lead researcher and author of the report, joins Jackie Bird to discuss his findings and what they say about Scotland’s wider cultural and societal issues at the time.

Read the full report on our Research page

A pink title card. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. The real history of Scotland's witches. Jackie Bird talks to Dr Ciaran Jones about his revelatory report into the topic.

Season 3 Episode 5

Hornel in Japan

In an exciting and invigorating year for Glasgow, Jackie heads to Pollok House to find out more about one of the city’s most prominent artists of the late 19th century. Edward Atkinson Hornel was a Glasgow Boy – a group of radical young painters who transformed the city’s art scene and planted the seed of modernism. Inspired by the work of Dutch and French realists, the Boys found both commercial and critical success with landscapes and portraits that displayed everyday life.

A new exhibition at Pollok House tells the story of Hornel’s two visits to Japan and the work he created there.

How did these visits shape his point of view? What do they tell us of western views of Asian nations at the time? And what fuelled Glasgow’s close artistic links to Japan?

Take a listen …

A purple title card reads: The Love Scotland podcast | Hornel in Japan | The life and travels of a Glasgow Boy. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card.

Hornel At Pollok House


Three voices: male voiceover (MV); Jackie Bird (JB); Sam Gallacher (SG)

[MV] Love Scotland

Brought to you by the National Trust for Scotland

[JB] Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Love Scotland.

Today I’m at Pollok House in the heart of Glasgow, looking to discover more about one of our most influential home-grown artists. Edward Atkinson Hornel was one of the so-called Glasgow Boys, a group of radical young painters in the late 1800s who transformed the Scottish art scene and gained global recognition.

Much of Hornel’s acclaim came from a series of paintings he created during a lengthy visit to Japan. He tapped into the growing popularity here of this mysterious land’s art and design.

He portrayed the people and places through an undeniably Western eye, which these days is not to everyone’s taste … but more of that later.

However, his works struck a lucrative chord with the buying public. So, this year, as Glasgow’s artistic credentials are boosted by the reopening of the Burrell Collection after a 5-year renovation, we thought we’d take a look at its next-door neighbour: Pollok House, and how its own gallery space is playing host to an exhibition all about Hornel and his time in Japan.

I’m heading up the grand stairway of Pollok House to meet Sam Gallacher, manager of the Trust in Glasgow.

Now, Sam has his own long-standing connection to Hornel, having previously overseen the artist’s home: Broughton House in Dumfries & Galloway for the Trust.

Making our way to the gallery space, which would be on the second floor!

Hello Sam! Nice to meet you!


Hello Jackie! Welcome to Pollok House and welcome to the Gallery at Pollok House.


Lead on.

Now, what form … describe the gallery set-up here.


So, the gallery is on the second floor of Pollok House, our 18th-century mansion in Pollok Country Park …


You can hear the 18th-century squeaky floorboards here!


Yes, we haven’t oiled our floor for you Jackie, I’m sorry about that.

The exhibition space that we have is a relatively recent addition and what we’re wanting to do is showcase some of the Trust collections, but also we’re keen to bring in different exhibitions as well. It’s a really exciting new asset for us to have at Pollok House.


Well, we’re going to be talking specifically about some of the paintings here. But first, give us a bit of background to Hornel’s life.

The thing that I find surprising was that he wasn’t born in Scotland.


No, Hornel is a very proud son of Australia, born in Bacchus Marsh. His family though are from Scotland, from Kirkcudbright, from a long line of shoemakers. They returned to Scotland with Hornel just as a wee babe and he grew up in Kirkcudbright. And in fact, one of the first drawings that we have by Hornel is of the Tolbooth in Kirkcudbright.

At 16, he went off to Edinburgh to study at what would become the School of Art. And following his studies there, he went to the Royal Academy in Antwerp, and he studied there for several years before coming back to Scotland and making his permanent home Kirkcudbright in Dumfries & Galloway.


Now I mentioned the Glasgow Boys in my introduction. We often glibly use that phrase, expecting everyone to know who they were, so give us a potted history of the collective and their significance.


Well, I suppose with any kind of movement of artists, the problem is with the Glasgow Boys that they didn’t paint pictures of Glasgow and they weren’t actually boys!

We’ve got a group of men and women, who are challenging the assumptions of the academy. What do we mean by that? We’re dealing with the 1870s through to the 1890s. I want us to maybe picture in our minds a really famous Scottish painting by Thomas Faed, The Last of the Clans. It’s in Kelvingrove. It’s got that chieftain on a horse; it’s a kind of symbol of the Highland Clearances. It’s a moral story.

They hated this work. E A Hornel said himself: ‘I want to put Faed in the shade.’

And what they were looking for were different influences from around the world that would help them challenge these assumptions.

And the 20 or so artists who are associated with the Glasgow Boys, they never spoke with one voice. There’s huge diversity in what they were interested in, but there were some common themes: the influence in particular of French realism and French naturalism.

What do we mean by this kind of movement and change? They were interested in getting into the real world, painting under the real sunlight. They wanted to portray the countryside and people working in the countryside. And that really is summed up by the first painting that we show to our visitors at the exhibition, which is a work from Hornel from the late 1880s, 1887 – Sheep grazing in an autumn landscape.

Here we have Dumfries & Galloway in that very particular light. We’ve got an agricultural scene that Hornel himself has gone out with his sketch pad or his canvas; he’s working in nature. And that sums up the approach of a lot of the Glasgow Boys, people like James Guthrie, people like John Lavery and also, quite famously, Hornel’s early collaborator George Henry, whose Galloway Landscape of 1889 is probably the epitome of that very rough movement of what Glasgow Boys was all about.


Now this was painted, I see, in 1887. Just to put in context and to give us the heads-up as to what happened next in Hornel’s career, what was happening in Glasgow then?


Well, Glasgow is the Second City of Empire, as we know. What does this probably mean in reality?

Well, I like to think of Glasgow as a bit like Dubai at that point. You’ve got lots of new money, lots of new construction …


What a fantastic comparison, yes!


… magnates coming in, culture is something people are interested in, making their mark for the first time. With all this money and connections, Glasgow is the beating heart of the global culture of the time.

One part of that influence is a connection to Japan. And it starts in the 1870s with a man called Christopher Dresser. He is born in Glasgow; he’s a designer. And he gets sent over in the 1870s to Japan. Trade has been opening up for about 20 years but it hasn’t been an easy relationship with Japan. And he goes and he travels across Japan, and he collects art objects. The Meiji government, the government of Japan, commission him intern to work on the relationships with the British empire.

He brings back with him in 1878, having a magnificent collection of objects for the city of Glasgow, the great trading industrial city. If you’re going to make a partnership, Japan knows Glasgow is a good one to make a partnership with.

And with his collection that comes to the city is displayed in the early 1880s. And it’s a blockbuster exhibition! 30,000 people come to see it and it really resonated with the public in Glasgow, and in particular with some of the key people who are involved with the art scene.

If we look at some of the works that we have in the gallery …


Look at the cabinet here.


We’ve got our collection of ceramics that were brought back by Sir John Stirling Maxwell of Pollok, whose house we are in just now. Sir John travelled to Japan in 1890, part of that wider interest in Japanese culture and arts. And he is bringing back objects that he would have seen at that exhibition, or similar to the exhibition that Christopher Dresser had brought back 10 years before. And so we’re seeing some really nice connections into the art market.

Sir John Stirling Maxwell is a really important collector and patron in his own right, but he’s not as important as a man called Alex Reid. Alexander Reid is an art collector; he’s an art dealer, and there’s a really nice connection that we need to look at between Alexander Reid and Japanese art and Hornel.

So Hornel goes off, as I mentioned, to Antwerp to study at the Royal Academy. He’s studying under a man called Charles Verlat. And just in 1885, as Hornel is leaving, they probably don’t meet but Vincent van Gogh seeks out Charles Verlat. And Vincent van Gogh, his impasto style, that really heavy use of oils, his building up the layers, very similar to what Hornel is doing in his own works. He’s part of that same movement.

Well, after speaking to Charles Verlat in Antwerp, Vincent van Gogh returns to Paris. And who does he share a flat with? But Alex Reid of Glasgow. And Vincent van Gogh is already inspired, like so many artists, by Japanese prints, ukiyo-e. Great artists such as Hokusai and Hiroshige, and they’re really influencing the aesthetics of people like Vincent van Gogh. So Alex Reid, this Glasgow art collector, living with this very famous artist and surrounded by Japanese prints, when he comes to Glasgow, you can guess what’s the first thing that he does. He does a big show of ukiyo-e prints at his art gallery in 1889, a year before Sir John Stirling Maxwell heads himself to Japan and the same year that Alex Reid starts partnering with E A Hornel.


Was that interest by Reid sparked by the pure aesthetic or did he see a money-making opportunity?


I’ll be generous to Reid and say both.


Ha ha! Right, ok.


Reid was the influencer of his time. If he did Instagram, my goodness he’d decide what Scotland’s art market wanted to do.

And he was so influential that some artists that he would pick on, such as Adolphe Monticelli, a French artist, a little bit on the periphery of the art movement; he loved his work. He bought lots of his paintings to Glasgow. If you go to any Scottish gallery or collection, you’ll find Monticelli. It’s not a work that other countries seem to have a lot of, but it’s because Reid wanted it. And actually, George Henry, who was E A Hornel’s collaborator, he joked in a letter to Hornel: ‘What’s Monticelli Reid telling you now?’

They were calling him Monticelli Reid given his passion for this artist.

And it was that, being attuned to these big trends in global art, that really influenced the Glasgow Boys as well. Because at the centre of what the Glasgow Boys were interested in is kind of summed up really by Whistler. We know the great American-born painter spent most of his career in the UK. Whistler was very much a believer of art for art’s sake.

And he gave a very influential lecture, which another Glasgow Boy John Lavery referred to as ‘the gospel of art’. And this is what Whistler said:

He said ‘the story of the beautiful is already complete, hewn in the marvels of the Parthenon and embroidered with birds upon the fan of Hokusai at the foot of Fujiyama.’

So here we have Whistler, the philosopher if you like of the Glasgow Boys movement, who’s challenging all that moralism and storytelling of the Academy of Art of the mid-19th century, telling his followers ‘art for art’s sake’, and he’s referencing the two great pieces of humanity’s artistic production: on the one side the Parthenon; on the other the Japanese prints of Hokusai, the ukiyo-e.

So, you can imagine the influence that would have on a young man like Hornel, and what he felt he had to do if he wanted to make his mark on the world.


But he needed some help to do that. And Reid, the influencer, was influential in that.


He was indeed. And Reid put together a group of art collectors, including Sir William Burrell, who would fund this venture art capital trip to Japan for George Henry, who was probably the more famous artist at the time following the Galloway Landscape, and E A Hornel, his slightly younger friend, to go off and have time in Japan and follow in the footsteps of other artists but to be inspired by Japan.


So when are we talking about here?


We are talking about the early 1890s. And the trip builds up to 1893 when Henry and Hornel depart. And it’s quite interesting that this was not a secret trip, that art newspapers were covering some of what was happening already. They were excited for Hornel going over. One magazine, called Quiz Magazine, gives a great description of Hornel. You have to take it with a little bit of sense of humour, a little bit of gallus I think is in there too. It says: ‘Hornel: scholar, Emisonian, excellent raconteur, pictures big, ambivalent but beyond comprehension of the gay throng. No form, no moral, no story, no nothing.’

(We’re hearing again that Whistler influence aren’t we?)

‘But simply art and colour in several halls sails to Japan, today. Paints for them, also pipes. Away a 12 month. Lucky boys. Bon voyage.’

So, it was a big deal.


What a build up!


In the art market of Glasgow that these two artists were going out to Japan, and what they would experience, and what they would bring back.

And for Alexander Reid, he’s thinking this investment will return paintings and artworks, which of course as an art dealer he can sell in his art gallery in West George Street in Glasgow.


Let’s move on to the next room then, because the next room, in the main, sees Hornel in Japan.

Which of the paintings here – we’d love to talk about them all – but which of the paintings here sums it up, Sam?


Let’s have a look at Two Geishas, it’s 1894. It’s a painting that was completed during the trip.

We’re looking at a painting which is rectangular in shape. It has a very clear diagonal composition.

It’s quite similar … I don’t know if you know the painting of the Druids Bringing the Mistletoe, which was a George Henry and Hornel collaboration in the late 1880s, already see some Japanese influence there … that’s resonating with this painting.

And what we’re seeing, for context, are Japanese women dressed in traditional Japanese dress. They have their sun umbrellas, they have their fans. Is this the Japan that actually Hornel and Henry found when they arrived?

No, it wasn’t.

Japan had already Westernised to a huge extent. They were disappointed when they saw the Emperor himself dressed in western clothes. They said ‘what a shame he’s wearing store-bought western clothes’.

They wanted a Japan that had ceased to exist.

And for Hornel, this meant that they had to try and find ways to access an authentic Japan. And there’s quite amusing but quite troubling experiences that they had to do that.

Henry and Hornel tried to work for a Japanese builder or architect, ostensibly doing plans for him. They went out of the concessions of Tokyo where they were living at the time to experience real Japan.

Unfortunately, they were discovered. And in Japan there was not a huge amount of tolerance for non-Japanese people leaving the main urban centres. And a newspaper covered the two western artists were out and about, trying to paint pictures of Japanese life. And they were very antagonistic towards Henry and Hornel. And I think this really impacted Henry in quite a big way.

Hornel though, I think he pivoted. So instead of following this line, Hornel in Tokyo spent a lot of time in two places in particular: one was the Ueno park, which was a very famous park, as it is today, in Tokyo – people would go there for their afternoon stroll, wonderful cherry trees, it’s a real centre for the city, it’s a sort of green environment; another area, which again is very popular today, is Asakusa, the entertainment district.

And Hornel’s paintings from his trip in 1894/95, they’re not capturing authentic Japan any more, that’s off the table. What they’re capturing is the energy of Japanese nightlife and of the social life. And when he comes back from Japan, he describes a little bit of what it was like experiencing Asakusa. He says: ‘the grounds of Asakusa are the quaintest and liveliest place in Tokyo. Here are shows, peep shows, penny gaffs, performing monkeys, cheap photographs, street artists, jugglers, wrestlers, life-size figures in clay, vendors of toys and lollipops of every sort, and circling amidst all these cheap attractions a seething crowd of busy holiday makers’.

So, he’s really enjoying this social life of Tokyo at the time, a real mix of western and Japanese cultures coming together. But he’s ignoring those western influences and focusing instead on this more theatrical, social, for-the-tourist-market element. And we see that in the photographs he brings back as well. These are photographs that are made for a tourist market.


Two Geishas is striking; it’s vibrant and it is, as you say, full of energy. If that was not the Japan he saw, and you’ve explained his social life, how would he have composed that painting?


What really strikes us about the 1894/95 works is that he’s working in Japan on many of these paintings. So, he’s capturing moments of his own experience. He’s not known as a draughtsman. And he covers for that by using his own colour palette. This is not a Japanese colour palette; he’s being inspired by a very authentic way, actually. He’s experimenting with the dark and light; he’s drawing on his experience of working with Henry and he’s putting together paintings which are using aspects of photography, to some extent. I think we’ll see a lot more in his later works.

This is much more a man on the street, taking the moment and capturing small details.

So we see in Two Geishas the face of the geisha, we can make out the fan, but the rest is riot of colour. We’re picking out the parasol in the background but we’re not really focusing, are we, I don’t think, on any particular element. But the whole composition – and this is very Whistler, Whistler is all about composition, he talks about his work in kind of musical arrangements, musical melodies – and I think that’s what we’re getting. I can almost hear the music of the street in Tokyo and that moment that he’s trying to capture.


How long in this trip was he in Japan and how many works did he complete?


He was in Japan for about 13 months. They were away for about 18/19 months altogether.

He returns to Scotland, but he avoids the press.

Straightaway, Henry goes in front of the press. He starts talking about the experience. Henry’s quite bitter. I think he’s bitter that he didn’t get the authentic Japan that he wanted and he’s quite disparaging about Japan and Japanese people. He’s really disappointed I think by what he’s found.

He’s had a double disappointment. Unlike Hornel, a lot of his works have been damaged on return. And he writes to Hornel that on unwrapping his paintings, be especially careful. He just lost so much.

So Hornel painted at least 44 paintings. Because of course who was waiting in the background, no doubt slightly annoyed that Hornel hadn’t come straight to him, but Alex Reid. And during the trip they were running out of money – it was a real kind of lads’ holiday I think at different points.

Reid was getting a bit worried. This was a business trip for him; he had made an investment and he wanted a return on that investment.

But he got the return in the end.

He had a Hornel show in 1895 at his West George Street gallery, and it was an absolute sell-out.

All 44 paintings were sold.

The Glasgow Evening News of the time said of the exhibition that it ‘was one of the most magnificent displays of a single artist’s genius ever brought together in Scotland’.

Quiz Magazine, that magazine that …



[SG] Understated! And sent off, bon voyage to the Boys. They write that the exhibition was ‘extraordinary, magnificent, sublime. Hornel has arrived.’

So, this was a really important experience for Hornel, because suddenly he was famous, he was commercially viable and with Reid’s support he was really making his name.

And following from the Glasgow show, he then did a tour of the United States to promote his work to new audiences.


Before we take a short break, isn’t it the case during the sale of Hornel’s paintings in Japan, that three were bought by …


Sir John Stirling Maxwell! Yes, that’s correct.


Brings us back to this very place, this very house!


As well as Sir William Burrell. So you can imagine the opening of the art exhibition at West George Street with Alex Reid in the middle …


Counting his money!

[SG] Counting his money. One side to William Burrell, who’s also buying a painting, and then on the other people like Sir John Stirling Maxwell who’d buy three of the paintings. No doubt reflecting on that trip he had, just a few years before and bringing those really important paintings for him into his wider art collection. So, a really important moment that I think says that Hornel had made it.


So, let’s leave it there. Hornel is being feted by one and all. He’s had a tremendous success … but, but it would be 26 years before he returns to Japan.

We’ll find out why and about the ensuing period in a moment, but let’s take a break and we’ll be back very soon.


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Welcome back to the Love Scotland podcast.

I’m with Sam Gallacher from the National Trust for Scotland, who’s my host as we visit the Pollok House exhibition of the paintings and photography of the artist E A Hornel.

So, Sam, Hornel made a fortune and his name from this hugely successful trip to Japan. But what is interesting is that he didn’t go back for many years. So, what happened in the period in between?


I think Hornel was expecting to be incredibly famous and rich after the first trip that he made his name. When the paintings went over to the United States and he went with them on tour, they didn’t sell to the same extent. In fact, in the late 1890s a lot of his work isn’t selling in the way he expected it to. What he’s taken from his trip to Japan isn’t so much an aesthetic change, which maybe is what he was expecting. The content isn’t being reproduced, so after that initial trip, from 1896 he’s no longer using the Japanese subject matter in his paintings. He’s moving much more back to some older works; he’s being a lot more floral in some of his compositions, but they’re not really resonating.

And I think at a certain point in the early 1900s the idea has come to him: I need to get back out into the world. I need to go painting again.

And he decides to go to what was then Ceylon, Sri Lanka to visit his cousin James Hornel who was working with the Colonial Service on the pearl fisheries.

Hornel again had a very romantic idea of what he was going to discover. This is following from Bizet’s Lakme, the opera of the Pearl Fishers Duet. He’s imagining something, and reality of course is very, very different.


The world is changing.


The world is changing.

The pearl fisheries are not a romantic space. He’s put off by the stench of the rotting oysters on the seashore. He can’t even spend any time there whatsoever.

So, he goes into the interior of Sri Lanka, and a lot of that French realism/French naturalism comes back.

He’s painting groups of women picking tea. He is photographing lots of daily scenes of fishermen, of people carrying water bottles. It’s much more on that real life, that c’est la vie, of French realism.

His colour palette as well is very cold.

After all that warmth, all the reds and yellows and blacks, of the first Japan trip, it’s a lot darker and cooler.

And we have an example of that in the exhibition with Ceylonese Tea Pickers from that 1907 trip.

And we’re seeing the coolness coming through.

It’s really interesting at the time, when he brings back these paintings, some critics are saying ‘this is fantastic; this is the artist reinventing himself.’

More, many more, are not happy with what they’re seeing.

And in fact, Hornel reflects later in life that there were controversies around this period.


Can you describe the piece for us?


What we’re looking at is a composition of three women, and they have been out in the fields collecting tea. They’re bringing it back into a place where they’re sorting through the tea leaves, probably selecting the better leaf. They’re in a semi-rural environment but it’s very difficult to tell. The foliage is almost like a jungle. We’ve got a suggestion of a hill in the background.

It’s a big painting but it leaves us, I think, with much less of an impact than his Japanese works. And I think he’s realising that at the time, that it’s not quite working as well for him.


The colours are much more muted. I would go as far as to say that you would find it difficult to believe it was the same artist.


Exactly. And I think that for Hornel, he felt that this was missing.

I think also the element of documentary as well in his style, it doesn’t have the romanticism which I think becomes a really important part in what he was interested in doing to get away from, in many ways, the harshness of reality, to be able to present something a lot more innocent, a lot more pure.

This is dirty, hard work.


So this is the beginning of the 20th century.

Let’s over-play it! Let’s write for Quiz Magazine and let’s say that … would you go so far as to say there were a few wilderness years, artistically?


There were wilderness years, also by his own choosing.

So, he is much more interested, and getting more interested, in this period in his collecting of antiquarian curiosities; his book collection becomes very important.

He’s bought in 1900 a fantastic house with his profits from the previous decade in Kirkcudbright, Broughton House, which is a National Trust for Scotland property.

And he’s living the life of an Edwardian gentleman.

He’s socialising; he’s going to lots of dinners; he’s sponsoring a lot of good causes.

So the art is still a source of income for him but he’s also investing in properties.

So I think for that period his eye’s a little bit more off the ball in terms of how much he’s wanting to produce.

And I think there’s this lingering legacy of Japan. And I think that’s what’s building up in his mind, where he’s missing his genius, his creativity. Of all those wonderful comments about him in the newspapers, maybe the genius was the time he spent in Japan.


So, when does he go back?


He goes back to Japan in 1921.


Can I just ask, in the ensuing period, the Great War – what did he do there?


It’s so interesting. His paintings from the late 1890s all the way through, with the exception of the Ceylonese period, are heavily floral.

And actually, he mentions how important flowers are to the Japanese when he went on his first trip. And he took that back with him.

That idea of a love of nature, a love of flowers, whether it’s cherry blossom or roses.

And we see in all his paintings one consistent element, beyond having natural scenes, is beautiful flowers being painted.

So he’s painting these flower paintings, the compositions of women generally in Dumfries & Galloway.

By the time of the war, there’s a couple of paintings 1915/1916 when the flowers disappear.

And I think we cannot underestimate the impact of the Great War on society, on Hornel’s sense of the world that he’d been enjoying 20 years before – this age of innocence that had been lost.

And I think for Hornel as well, we can read into his own life how supportive he was of the war memorial being put in in Kirkcudbright, how much he cared about good causes and the war effort and what could be done.

So, I think there are elements there that really show how his artwork is reflecting his own mood.

And I think that, come the 1920s, Japan again comes back into focus. It’s a way of having a pick-me-up or something that takes him back to that gilded age of his youth.


So, he sets off to Japan.

This room is full of paintings. Which one represents that second trip best, do you think?


I think if we take a look at A Japanese Garden.

Japanese Garden … Hornel’s really bad actually at giving titles to paintings.

Japanese Garden is one of the most commonly used titles; there’s probably 20 Japanese Gardens at least!

And it’s reflecting really strongly what he’s been missing.

When he was back in Ceylon in 1907, he writes to a friend saying: oh, I hear that my garden is so beautiful at the moment in Kirkcudbright. The peonies are flowering, the wisteria is flowering.

And he quite famously introduces Japanese elements to his own garden in Kirkcudbright. So that is his focus when he goes back in 1921.

He wants to get back into Japanese horticulture; he wants to feel the blossoms, feel the compositions.

And in A Japanese Garden that we have on show here, we’ve got very typical elements that you can imagine. There’s a stone lantern; there’s a geisha surrounded by blossom; there’s a suggestion of a water feature.

We all know the great water lilies of Monet and that bridge crossing the pond, that’s the kind of suggestion here. These elements that are becoming stereotypical Japan, the tourist …

You know, what we have in Scotland as our cake tin, our shortbread box image of Scotland.

This is the sugar-coated image of Japan that Hornel’s really buying into.


There’s clearly been a change in style since the first visit which looked to me more authentically Japanese. This does look stereotypical.

Was that conscious? Did he ever write about that?


He was very conscious that this is what he was looking for. He believed very much in a reverence for nature, with flowers being the truest expression of the Japanese spirit.

I think for Hornel that became the truest representation of the human spirit.

And I think he took that as being the most important. So, what we’re seeing in these later works is some detail going into the faces of the women being portrayed.

He’s taking that from the photography that he’s collecting.

But in the rest of the composition, the use of colour and form are again suggestions of a spirit of what he’s feeling of nature at the time.

It’s a peaceful spirit. It’s a spirit of beauty, of aesthetics.

I think there’s elements again of that Whistler legacy: this is art for art’s sake. There’s no moral story here; there’s no judgement; there’s nothing to take away beyond enjoying the colours, the moment, the atmosphere.

And I think when looking at A Japanese Garden we can reflect on Ueno Park in Tokyo when it is springtime and the blossoms come out and everyone’s looking their best and everyone’s feeling their best.

It is, following the Great War, the new spring, heading towards a new age.


You mentioned judgement there, and it is quite interesting that some people now, and I mean now as contemporary society, look at Hornel’s paintings, especially the second trip, and they are critical of the stereotypical nature of almost all of the paintings. Is that fair?


I think it is fair, to a certain extent.

Hornel himself is very critical of the reality of Japanese art, which had become very westernised.

When he goes to Japan in the 1920s, he’s coming into a very modernised country – we know where history is taking us.

He’s choosing to ignore that. And he’s choosing to ignore that for a couple of reasons: one is that he’s still holding true to this idea of innocence and beauty and form, that he doesn’t want anything to detract from that; the other is that he has a market that will buy his paintings.


He knows what sells.


He knows what’s selling!

And these paintings, these feel-good paintings that are easy on the eye, that are colours, that are refreshing, that give energy, that give a sense of tranquillity – they’re being bought by his fans, basically. And he knows that that works very well.

So, he’s producing art at this point with a very simple idea but he’s producing it en masse; he’s producing it in almost industrial quantities.

And his set-up at Broughton House, with his studio and gallery space, is reflecting this level of production that he’s putting out at this point.

He’s not looking to ‘put shade on Faed’ anymore; he’s not looking to make that big impact in the art world.

What he’s looking at doing, I think, is something which is much more personal. And it’s about a sense of beauty and aesthetics, and it ties very much to a love of travel, a love of Japan, a love of colour and above all a love of flowers.


Let’s look at our final two paintings in the exhibition here, which I think sum that up.

They’re two paintings, exactly the same size, side by side.

Two female faces, garlanded almost by flowers.

One is of a geisha, and it’s called Study of Japanese Girl.

And the other is Girl with Wild Flowers.

One is Japanese; one is Scottish.

I’m reading this: they show the extent to which Hornel brought Japan into his later Scottish works, using similar poses and backdrops but a subtle difference in colour palette to reflect East and West.

Why did he do that?


I think it’s great to show these two paintings together, and our curator Emma Inglis is very wise to put these together.

Our exhibition is about taking Glasgow to Japan, but we had this important coda, and that’s Japan back to Scotland.

And having these two paintings together, we’ve almost got a wonderful pairing – a mirroring – of Hornel’s style.

In fact, yes there are differences in colour and tone, but they are the same painting in principle.

We’re looking at two young women; one Scottish, one Japanese.

We’ve got one setting which is in the Galloway countryside; this is probably not far from Hornel’s home. It’s summertime, the wildflowers are out. There’s a sense of peace with nature, of that connection to the natural world.

When we look at our Japanese girl in the other painting, she could be at Ueno Park. The blossoms are just coming out; there’s a purity and innocence into what their experiences are.

Both young women, thousands of miles apart, are having almost the same experience.

And for Hornel, I think this really nicely unifies how much the Japanese experience for him had become his hallmark; and how much he was able to, in his later works, really swap out his form between Japan and Scotland, and how they were fused together in this really striking arrangement of colour and form.


They’re very romanticised.

Were they successful, especially when he transitioned to using lots of Scottish models?


Yes, they were successful, but again to quite a limited market.

So, we’re dealing with a mature artist; he has an established clientele.

His paintings are not resonating in the same way as before, but because he’s now made his market and he’s got his connections – he’s very well-connected as well – his paintings are going into lots of people’s collections.

They’re not going maybe into the collections such as William Burrell and Sir John Stirling Maxwell. In fact, William Burrell does get rid of some of his Hornel paintings at this period. I don’t think he was Sir William’s favourite artist, but we are seeing his paintings getting into much wider audiences.

And I think when it comes to dealership at this point, we’re dealing with some different dealers as well.

But the fusion is quite extensive, and quite a lot of people in Scotland will find Hornel paintings in relatively modest houses.

They’re very popular in Edinburgh with the intelligentsia and middle class of Edinburgh.

So they’re hitting a slightly different, less connoisseurial market (if I can use that word).

But they’ve got a real sense of popularity. And I think there’s a sense of credibility and consistency now with Hornel that even at a point as we’ve seen with that Glasgow/Japan relationship change, we’re seeing the commercial relationship change.

But actually, Hornel’s quite a safe investment, and I think that a lot of people were buying his work because he’s become at that point such a well-established, well-known name in the Scottish art market.


You mentioned the industrialised set-up of his studio. We can see that he’s changed his style, a bit more mass-market. If we go back to our earlier conversations, the Glasgow Boys, we do things differently! We revolutionise!

Did Hornel sell out?


Did Hornel sell out is a very good question, Jackie!


No disrespect! He made a lot of money and was a very successful artist, but it begs that question.


As a Glasgow Boy, yes.

As someone who was looking to challenge things, absolutely.

This was a big shift.

But it’s a shift in his own life.

In the 1920s, the most important part of his life is his book collection, alongside his garden.

And I think that’s really important to understand, that from his point of view it was comfort that was so important.

This was not an artist who was willing to die penniless; this was an artist who enjoyed the finer things in life.

He enjoyed his standing within his community and his reputation. And he was very keen to see that legacy be preserved.

And indeed, in that period, in his later period, he’s setting up the groundwork for what would become the Hornel Trust, to preserve his collections, to preserve his house. And of course, thanks to the Hornel Trust, Broughton House and so many of his paintings are now with the National Trust for Scotland.


And that’s why I find this exhibition so fascinating. It is not just a collection of paintings and differing styles, it is a story of a man’s life and how that life changed … how all our lives changed.

So it is authentic because it is reflecting that.

And I think it’s wonderful.

When is the exhibition running to and from?


Well, we opened on 24 March and we’re running 7 days a week until 19 June 2022.


Well, I would encourage as many people as possible to come and see it if you can.

For more details, just head to the National Trust for Scotland website.

Sam, thank you very much for being our guide today.


Thanks, Jackie.


That’s all from this episode of Love Scotland. I will be back with another very soon.

Until then, from me, goodbye.


Love Scotland is a Think Publishing production, produced by Clare Harris in association with the Big Light Studio. Presented by Jackie Bird, with recording and reporting from Cameron Angus MacKay. Music and post-production is by Brian McAlpine. Executive Producer for the Big Light is Fiona White.

For show notes, access to further episodes and information on the National Trust for Scotland, go to or visit and please like, share, rate, review and subscribe.

From The Big Light Studio (sound of a light switching off)

Keeping the outdoors great

As wildfires take their toll on Scottish mountainsides, it’s more important than ever that we all take care of our wonderful wild places. Jackie heads to Glencoe to meet ranger Scott McCombie and hear how the National Trust for Scotland’s dedicated staff can help you learn about – and look after – the great outdoors.

Hear about how you can see everything from native forests to golden eagles on a trip to Glencoe and take part in a guided walk or even a Land Rover safari to get as close as possible to Scotland’s outstanding natural heritage.

Scott also talks us through the steps he and his team are making to help ensure the great outdoors stays great, as more of us take the time to enjoy what Scotland has to offer.

A blue title card reads: The Love Scotland podcast | Keeping the outdoors great; How Glencoe's rangers protect and celebrate nature. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card.

Glencoe Keeping The Outdoors Great


Three voices: male voiceover (MV); Jackie Bird (JB); Scott McCombie (SM)

[MV] Love Scotland

Brought to you by the National Trust for Scotland


Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Love Scotland.

Glencoe is one of the most famous glens in Scotland. Its mountains were formed through violent volcanic eruptions, sculpted by massive glaciers and are said to be the home of legendary Celtic hero Fingal, where his poet son Ossian found inspiration in the striking landscape.

Then there’s its infamous past, notably the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692.

So, overall, Glencoe is a place of history, wildlife, adventure and myth.

And it’s all part of Scotland’s identity.

Now with the onset of warmer weather and brighter days, Glencoe welcomes more visitors in the spring and summer months than any other time of year, meaning the National Trust for Scotland and its rangers are busier than ever in their mission to protect and preserve the renowned landscape, its wildlife and fragile biodiversity.

So how does the Trust rise to the challenge of caring for Glencoe in its busiest season? Well, I’m at Glencoe today to find out just that.

And I’m in the good hands of Scott McCombie, Senior Ranger with the National Trust for Scotland.

Hello to you, Scott.


Hi Jackie.


Describe where we are.


Well, we’re here, we’re maybe 50 yards away from the visitor centre in Glencoe and we’re looking kind of south-east towards the glen itself.

So, we’ve got the start of the Three Sisters, Bidean nam Bian and all the hills through there, with the Aonach Eagach – this is the end peak of the Aonach Eagach just towering above us here.


And the Three Sisters … for people who are not entirely familiar, what are the Three Sisters?


Well, the one that we can see here is Aonach Dubh, that’s the most westerly of the Three Sisters …


So, it’s a ridge, is it?


It’s a ridge that runs off the mountain itself, up in the cloud – we can’t see the peak actually – is Bidean nam Bian, so that’s there. And the Three Sisters are kind of ridges that run off the peak at the south of it. So you’ve got Aonach Dubh that we can see from here, and then you have Gearr Aonach in the middle, and Beinn Fhada the furthest east of the three.


It’s absolutely beautiful. How big is the area of Glencoe?


Well, the Trust owns about 13,000 acres, just under 6,000 hectares, roughly from here, about 8/9 miles towards the east, towards the far side of Buachaille Etive Mor; then down Glen Etive for about 5/6 miles south from here …


So roughly a square mileage?


Um, 23/24 square miles.


And how many rangers look after this place?


There are 3 full-time rangers and then we try to get in a couple of volunteer rangers through the season, from Easter–October. Usually, young recent graduates of ecology, biology, something like that, looking to get some hands-on experience to add to their CV to go alongside their qualification.


What’s your own background? How long have you been doing this?


(chuckles) I’ve been here 20 years – I started here in June 2001. And then before that I had seasonal jobs at Mar Lodge with the Trust; I did part of a season at Loch Lomond; and 2 or 3/4 seasons in West Lothian in Almondell Country Park.


Ah, so you’ve been about a bit!


That’s one way of saying it, yes! (laughs)


Ok! You’re going to take me on a walk today as we chat, but I’ll tell you why I’m sounding a wee bit trepidatious – there’s a stream here which I think we’re going to have to cross?


That’s right.


I’ve got boots on but I don’t know if they’re waterproof and I think we’re about to find out. Are you going first?


Yeah I’ll go first, because I know mine are!


So you go on the step first …

I wish you could see this because my producer’s trying to negotiate his way across first, holding a microphone and going backwards!

Looks like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire – she had to do everything he did but backwards …

So! Is this the sort of walk that you would be taking visitors on in the spring/summer season?


Yes, we have lots of guided walks, mainly low-level; we leave the high level to the more experienced folk. They either get an experienced mountain leader to take them as individuals, so the groups we tend to take on the low-level stuff around about here.


What sort of numbers are you talking about in the busy season?


Oh, well, the cars coming through … Transport Scotland have had a counter on the A82, and they’re saying something like 2.5 million vehicles drive through the glen on the A82 every year.

So, we have different counters at different points. So, in the visitor centre here, we’re looking at over 300,000 people coming into the visitor centre.

We’ve had a series of people counters on the hill paths, and you’re looking at over 150,000 just on the hill paths.


So, the people who come here – you’ve got sightseers, as you say. And then you’ve got the seasoned hill walkers. But what about the people in between, the families, or people who are not quite as at home in the wide open spaces, who just want to come here to learn a bit?


Yep, well, there’s the ranger service here. You’ll have the team in the visitor centre who can answer questions, and then we’re out and about on the estate as well. So, we’re happy to answer questions all year round. Or we have these low-level guided walks, and we have Land Rover Safaris that …


Ooooh, now that sounds good! Before we get onto the Land Rover Safaris, we’re on Shanks’s Pony just now. So, what are we seeing? What would you be telling me as a visitor?


Well, in here, the Trust bought this from then-Forestry Commission (Forest & Land Scotland as it is now) and this was solid conifers – you can see the conifers are still further up the hill.


So, when did the Trust buy this?


Mid-90s the Trust bought this, with the idea that we would build the visitor centre out of the middle of the glen. So, we bought this to build the centre here.

But this, that we’re in now, was solid Sitka spruce larch conifers – commercial, non-native species.

So, our plan was to chop all that down and replant with things like this here – this is a birch. And then we’ve got willows and alders all round about us.

So, these are all native species that hopefully would have been here in the past that we’ve brought back.


And what sort of wildlife was here?


Well, we’ve got roe deer down here in the woods, pine marten, badgers, stoats, all sorts of voles, bats, all round about the woods and the visitor centre. We’ve actually got bats in the roof space in the visitor centre! So, we’ve got all of that going on.

Out on the wider hill we have red deer and foxes; birds of prey – we’ve got buzzards, eagles, peregrines, merlin, all sorts of things.


Ah! And what about the flora and fauna? Do you have to be an expert on that?


We tend to be generalists about all sorts of things, so …


You mean, you talk a good game!


That’s the one, that’s the one. I’ve been accused of that before!

So, we’ve got a bit of birding knowledge, a bit of botanical knowledge, a bit of hill-walking knowledge and wee bits of history as well, so on the guided walks you’ll get hit with bits of all of that.

So, we’ll be identifying what plants we come across on the walk or when we stop the Land Rover at different parts through the glen; we’ll get out and we’ll be able to look and see what’s there … the tormentil, the bluebells …


Yes, so tell me about the Land Rover Safari. How big is it and how many people get in it? How far do you go?


Well, there’s room for 6 passengers, but just now we’re working out the COVID protocols for running them this summer. We’re probably going to be taking 4, maybe 5, if it’s all one ‘family bubble’, I think is the phrase that’s being used.

So that’s it for this year.

We do two different ones.

One’s an hour and a half long – we take this sort of western end of the property, finishing in the middle underneath the Three Sisters.

And then we do another one that’s about 3/3.5 hours long – and we will include all of this end, plus go down Glen Etive as well.

We own the top half of Glen Etive, so we’ll stop at just about Dalness, at the big house at Dalness.


And what are visitors’ reactions? What are they most interested in? I mean obviously the scenery is absolutely striking.


Scenery and animals – they want wildlife really. So, we try and get deer but certainly in the summer, as the weather gets better, they go higher so they’re more difficult to see. In the winter, if you were here, there’d be more of them lower down but in the summer, they’re higher up.

Birds of prey obviously, buzzards, they’re fairly regular; the eagles are less regular; peregrines you need to be high up into the corries themselves to see, so we don’t get the Land Rover up into the corries for obvious reasons!


What about the types of visitors? I mean there must be people who are Scottish, for whom this is all absolutely new.




And of course people from across the world. Do their reactions differ?


No – I think if you’re not used to living here, whether it’s because you live in the Central Belt and you live in a busy, built-up area, whether that built-up area is Edinburgh or New York, you’re just amazed by the scenery that you find here.

And folk have the same kind of reaction – they’re just astounded by how beautiful it can look.


Yes. It certainly is.

Now that’s very much your public face in the spring and summer – when you’re showing off your shop to people! But you’ve got a big job looking after the place. Now, does that grind to a halt in the spring/summer?


No, because it has to go on at the same time. In the winter things don’t grow so much, so the habitat monitoring we do tends to happen more in the spring and summer when we can actually see what plants are growing! So that has to go on.

And also we get an influx of visitors, and while the vast majority are respectful and they leave no trace, there’s always unfortunately that minority who will have fires or leave waste of all types behind them.

So that needs to be tidied up and we have a bit of an education job there as well, trying to talk to people to encourage them to leave no trace rather than leave the mess behind.


Ok, well I think this is probably a good point just to have a little break in our walk, because I’d like to find out some more about the Dos and Don’ts.


From coastlines to castles, wildlife to wilderness, when you become a member of the National Trust for Scotland you can enjoy the very best of what Scotland has to offer.

But you can help protect it too.

The National Trust for Scotland is Scotland’s largest conservation charity. By becoming a member, you join thousands of others who are all playing their part to safeguard the places we hold dear for future generations.

Find out more about how to join and more about the Trust’s amazing stories, places and people online. Just search National Trust for Scotland.


Welcome back.

I’m enjoying a walk along the Glencoe woodland with Senior Ranger Scott McCombie.

Scott, we’ve sort of reached the crest of a small hill here. I mean this is quite a gentle walk – are all the walks like this?


Pretty much here, at the visitor centre anyway, we are dialled in to help visitors here, although we can’t make everything absolutely flat. I mean, the landscape’s just not going to allow that, but we’ve got immediately around about the visitor centre we have all-ability paths, but here once we’re out into the woods we have to just deal with the landscape really. And there is a bit of incline here, but not much.

So, gentle walking rather than all-abilities, which is immediately at the visitor centre.


And talking of all-abilities, you can see through the trees a high-vis jacket – a mountain biker!


Our woodland juts onto Forest & Land Scotland’s land, so the forest road snakes all the way up the hill to the summit that you can see up there with a mast.

So, the roads go all the way up there, so folk on their bikes can get as much steepness as they like really – so it goes all the way up there …

But our ground stops pretty much at the road there, so we’ve replanted with all the natives below that and then you can see the rest of the conifers that Forest & Land still have.


You obviously love having visitors here and showcasing the place, but is there a certain amount of trepidation each time the busy season comes round, because there’s so much footfall?


Yeees, there’s always that element as I said there – the minority, really, and they are a minority – that leave a mess behind them when they go, and it’s just one of those parts of the job that’s always been here …


Well, we passed the remnants of a fire as we walked up.


Unfortunately, yes. Somebody’s had a fire and just walked away and left one of the pits – it scars the ground by literally burning into the ground, and then there’s the debris left around about it as well.

So, there’s all of that, and it’s always been a part of the job. We pick it up and tidy it up, and try and educate people so they do better next time.


What about the paths? Do you have huge stretches of path? And how do you manage to look after them?


Well, we’ve got 60 kilometres of path on …






In this area?


Just in Glencoe. We have 8 Munros – so mountains over 3,000ft, and each of them has a variety of routes to get to the summits, and then there’s also the paths that go through the glen, remains of the old military roads, old Wade’s Roads. There’s one patch of that through the middle of the glen as well.

So, there’s lots of routes that all need looked after.

We have a team actually, in the Trust, that basically are dedicated – they just go round various properties and they’re maintaining the paths everywhere they go.

And then we do little bits of it as well, with the ranger service here on the property.

So, we’ve got all of that going on.

But you combine the 3,500ml, about 13 feet in old money I think that is, of rainfall that we have here in the West Highlands …


That can do a lot of damage …


It does! And how steep the ground is.


Well, this bit’s pretty steep that we’re trying to negotiate now. I wouldn’t like to be going down this in a downpour.


It can get a bit slippy. All those pairs of feet leads to erosion on the paths, so we need to get round them on a regular basis to make sure that the drains are all running so that the water gets shot off the path, rather than going down the length of it and taking the surface with it.


And you’ve obviously got the idea of biodiversity to take care of these days.


Yep. We’ve got habitat impact assessments; we’re managing the grazing on the property with the red deer and roe deer; some areas that we still have sheep on, but they’re managed very tightly. So, we’re doing all that all year round as well.


We’re almost back to the visitor centre, but come on, come on, I want to know about the glamourous side of the job – the movie star side of the job!




Do you know where I’m going with this?


I can guess – apart from yourself of course!


Oh, thank you!


We’ve also had James Bond here on the property – parts of Skyfall were shot here.


Well, the important parts of Skyfall, the iconic Highland parts, here!


Yes, absolutely.


So what did you have to do with that?


Well, I wasn’t involved with the stars; I was involved with the location team beforehand. So, location scouts and things found the spot that they were going to park up the Aston Martin when Bond was on the run with M. They’d been driving overnight up from London, and they park up in the morning, and we see M waking up in the passenger seat, Bond standing in front of the car looking down the glen. And that glen is Glen Etive, so she gets out and joins him in front of the car.


So, you’re still getting royalties for that, I would imagine?


Ha! Not me personally unfortunately …



Has that led to location tourism, because that’s a growing thing in Scotland, isn’t it?


Definitely. When we’re driving down Glen Etive, we see lots of folk parked up at the side of that spot – they’ve worked out the very spot – and they park up their car and imagine it’s an Aston Martin, and they’ll stand and get their pictures taken in front of it. Thinking themselves James Bond!


So, we’re just about to head into your busy, busy season. What is the best piece of advice you could give to anyone listening to this who’s heading here?


Take your time.

And take it all in, rather than blasting through and taking a quick picture, and then driving on.

If you’ve got the time, stop. Come in and see us here in the visitor centre and take the landscape in rather than just flying through it.


And if you want to do any of the Land Rover Safaris, any of the walks, I would imagine you have to book?



We’ll have them online for booking just now, and you can just look it up, book a spot in it and come and see us, and take it all in, and get some of the information that me and the team can give to you as we’re going round.


Well, Scott, it is a remarkable place. I don’t think I’ve said that enough.

And as we stand here beside the babbling brook, thank you very much for sharing your enthusiasm and your knowledge with us.


You’re welcome. Thanks, Jackie.


Well, as you’ve no doubt gathered, the National Trust for Scotland is committed to protecting everything that makes Glencoe special, and it’s an ethos that hasn’t changed since the property came into the Trust’s care back in the 1930s.

And it’s a task that … well, it can’t do it without your continued support and generosity.

So, to find out more about how you can help Scott and the rest of his colleagues at the National Trust for Scotland guard Glencoe in all its glory, visit for more information.

Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you on the next episode of Love Scotland.


Love Scotland is a Think Publishing production, produced by Clare Harris in association with the Big Light Studio. Presented by Jackie Bird, with recording and reporting by Cameron Angus MacKay. Music and post-production is by Brian McAlpine. Executive Producer for the Big Light is Fiona White.

For show notes, access to previous episodes and further information on the National Trust for Scotland, go to or visit and please like, share, rate, review and subscribe.

(a man whistles and heavy footsteps walk across a wooden floor)

From The Big Light Studio

(sound of a light switching off)

Violet Jacob: A singular life

The final instalment of our two-part series to mark Women’s History Month, this episode features an interview with Dr Carol Anderson about poet, writer and artist Violet Jacob and her novels and poems.

Born Violet Augusta Mary Frederica Kennedy-Erskine at the House of Dun in Angus, she is a poet and writer whose contributions to the Scottish literary canon are too often overlooked. We hear how Jacob’s upper-class childhood in the House of Dun affected her later work, and how she broke with conformity to deeply examine the role of society at the turn of the century. With readings from some of her best-known poems – including ‘Wild Geese’, and a thorough look at her travels and private writings – Anderson reveals why Jacob deserves better recognition.

How did Jacob’s intercontinental travel influence her? Why did she adopt Scots in her writing, despite not speaking it herself? And what was it about the House of Dun and the surrounding area that captured her imagination long after she left?

A purple title card reads: The Love Scotland podcast, Daffodil daft at Greenbank, with head gardener Andrew Hinson.

Season 3 Episode 2

The Burns Cottage plot

How Scotland’s suffragettes brought their historic struggle to Alloway. In this rousing episode to mark International Women’s Day Jackie Bird speaks to historian Professor Sarah Pedersen.

Jackie hears how Scotland’s leading suffragettes plotted to bomb Burns Cottage, the birthplace of the national bard. We hear about Ethel Moorhead, the first woman to be force fed in a Scottish jail, and her co-conspirator Frances Parker, on how they led the fight for women’s votes north of the border.

Professor Pedersen tells how the women cycled in dead of night with home-made bombs, to the birthplace of Robert Burns. What happened to the two women next? How did their struggle win and lose support in society at the time? And how did the poetry of Robert Burns play a part in their defence?

Listen to The Burns Cottage plot


Season two

Our top 10 hidden secrets

Call us inquisitive, curious or just plain old nosy, but there’s nothing more thrilling than uncovering a detail that’s often overlooked.

And it’s this spirit of discovery that’s the driving force behind today’s special bonus episode, where we’re placing the spotlight on our favourite hidden secrets we’ve showcased throughout the Love Scotland podcast so far.

From a ticket to Lord Lovat’s grisly execution on display at Culloden Visitor Centre and Brodie Castle’s two ancient Egyptian mummies which pre-date Christ by 300 years, to signs of beaver activity along the banks of the River Tay, each fascinating secret is safeguarded by National Trust for Scotland staff and volunteers.

Ready to unearth our most-loved hidden secrets? Let’s dive in!

Listen to Our top 10 hidden secrets


Betrayed! How the dark days of the Glencoe Massacre are being recreated, 330 years on

Jackie Bird heads to Glencoe with the National Trust for Scotland’s Derek Alexander and Lucy Doogan to mark 330 years since the massacre of the MacDonald clan here – one of the most harrowing moments in Scottish history.

On 13 February 1692 38 men, women and children were murdered by Scottish army companies of Argyll’s Foot Regiment. For two weeks prior to the bloodshed, clan members had played host to the soldiers in their modest turf dwellings on the slopes of the glen.

As the Trust opens the faithfully recreated turf house at the site, we hear how a better insight into the way the clans of Glencoe lived will bring the history of the massacre to new generations of visitors.

Also in this episode, Cameron hears about a wonderful plaything on show at Helensburgh’s Hill House.

A green title card reads: The Love Scotland podcast, Betrayed! How the dark days of the Glencoe Massacre are being recreated, 330 years on.

Season 2 Episode 10


Six voices: male voiceover (MV); Jackie Bird (JB); Derek Alexander (DA); Cameron Angus MacKay (CM); Emma Hamilton (EH); Lucy Doogan (LD)

(MV) Love Scotland

Brought to you by the National Trust for Scotland

[the sound of wind whirling]


You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the MacDonalds of Glencoe, and put all to the sword under 70. You are to have special care that the Old Fox and his sons do on no account escape your hands. You are to secure all the avenues that no man escape. This you are to put into execution at 5 of the clock precisely and by that time, or very shortly after it, I’ll strive to be at you with a stronger party. If I do not come to you at 5, you are not to tarry for me, but to fall on.

This is by the King’s special command for the good and safety of the country that these miscreants be cut off, root and branch.

[more sound of wind whirling]


The words of the official military order to begin what became known as the Massacre of Glencoe. The murder of 38 men, women and children in 1692 was sparked by power, politics and religion, and this year marks the 330th anniversary of that dark chapter of Scottish history.

Well, standing here in 21st-century Glencoe, knowing of the atrocities that took place, the land does seem as sinister as it is beautiful.

It’s a haunting environment and you can’t help but imagine what it was like in the early hours of that freezing February morning, when the inhabitants ran for their lives from the soldiers who they had been looking after for nearly two weeks.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Hello! And welcome to this edition of Love Scotland. I’m Jackie Bird and you join me in a rather blowy Glencoe where the National Trust for Scotland is hoping to understand more about the people involved in those dreadful events through the opening of a replica 17th-century turf house.

Well, the man who has literally been doing some digging on this infamous chapter of Scottish history, and whose voice you heard at the start of this episode, is the Trust’s Head of Archaeology, Derek Alexander.

Derek, you conveyed that military order with gravitas.


Thank you very much. [chuckles] I think it’s the setting; it sets off nicely!


It’s absolutely chilling here, in more ways than one.




Tell me, it’s often portrayed as a feud between the MacDonald clan and the Campbells. But as I intimated in my introduction, there’s far more to it than that.


Yeah, there’s a complex historical story behind it. It really goes back to when James II (or James VII of Scotland) went. He flees the country from England during the Glorious Revolution and his kingship or monarchy is taken over by William of Orange and Mary. And that’s in 1688. And that leads to what is known as the first Jacobite Uprising, Jacobites being supporters of James. So, in Scotland, many of the clans are supporters of the Stuart monarchs and they want to see him returned to the throne. That leads to a number of battles – 1689 Killiecrankie, Dunkeld; 1690 Cromdale. And eventually it starts to calm down a bit and William’s trying to make peace in the Highlands, mainly because he’s had his hands full in Ireland for quite a while. He then wins the Battle of the Boyne; there’s the Treaty of Limerick. He wants to turn his attention to fighting in France, and he wants to pacify the Highlands and pacify the Highland clans, so that he can take his troops to the Continent to fight.

And in order to do that, he says ‘If you come and sign your oath of allegiance to me, we’ll let bygones be bygones. And I can then take my troops away.’

And there’s various machinations of political manoeuvring to try and get the clans to sign up, and eventually they’re given a deadline that they have to sign before 1 January 1692.

And there are various reasons why the MacDonalds are late in signing. They do try and sign …


They do try and sign it! But … he wants to make an example, doesn’t he?


He does, yes. So he’s late in signing … the chief of MacDonald goes and tries to sign it at Fort William and he tries to get down to Inveraray – he has to go down there. Getting from Glencoe to Inveraray wouldn’t have been easy, so he’s five days late in signing. He does sign …

But there’s another reason. The Scottish government and the king of England and Britain (and Scotland and Ireland at that time) want to set an example, and they want to use a small clan as an example.

And they choose the MacDonalds of Glencoe for a number of reasons. They’ve got a bad reputation – they were involved in Killiecrankie. They’re known to be a bit unruly. They’re quite a small group – there’s maybe only about 400/500 people living in the glen; and also the glen can be easily sealed off at either end. So, if you were going to attack them and wipe them out, then this is a good place to do it.

So they choose to ignore the fact that MacIain had signed the oath of allegiance …


The allegiance …


… and they send two companies of Argyll troops from the south-west of Argyll in Scotland.


Who was a Campbell, which is where we get the Campbells from.


Who was a Campbell! And one of the captains of one of the companies who is billeted here is also a Campbell – Robert Campbell of Glenlyon.

And so they stay here and they’re billeted with people in the townships.

And they stay for two weeks, at least – from the start of February until the evening of 12 February.

And then they receive orders from Colonel Hill at Fort William that they’re to turn on their hosts. And that order is the order that is written and passed down to Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, one of the captains of the companies, and he has to turn on his hosts and execute everybody under the age of 70, according to that order.


And so they do.

And 38 men, women and children are slain.


Mostly women and children, just 13 men.


It was a bloody period of history, but this event has sustained. Why?


The reason for it … there were plenty of massacres in the 17th century during the civil wars and various other periods, so it’s not unheard of, especially that even civilians would be turned upon. But it’s because of this breach in Highland hospitality, the fact that the troops had been billeted with them for two weeks, that this betrayal – it’s what called a murder under trust.

They had been promised that they would be looked after and they gave the soldiers room for the night, and they gave them a roof over their heads and fed them.

In fact, there are tales of them gambling and drinking – making merry while they were all here. And then of course they then turn on their hosts, and it’s that breach of Highland hospitality that really turns it into an atrocity, something that becomes infamous in Scottish history.


And where we are today – this is a small township that formed part of Glencoe, because it wasn’t a village as such?


No, so there were about 6 or 7 townships, all the way up the glen, and we’re at the one that was furthest to the east. We know that some of the troops were billeted here at Achtriochtan.


Achtriochtan … and how did you find this place?


We found this because it was on the 18th-century map, which is the first time the glen was mapped in detail. And it’s on the north side of the old road that runs through the middle of the glen. So, we came out looking for the remains of the settlement, and on this side of the road we found these little humps and bumps in the ground that suggested there was the remains of a township here.

And there are 8 buildings marked on that map, and we’ve got the traces or remains of at least 5; about 3 different enclosures that have got areas of cultivation in them; and what’s called a grain-drying kiln, so where they were drying their barley and oats before they were grinding it.

So, it’s good archaeological remains of a small township.


So you started digging and this is the fruits of your labour.

How big is the area that we are looking at?


So the area that we’re looking at here, an excavation trench is about 6m wide by about 13m long. And it takes up just about the entire interior and exterior (mostly) of one long building, one longhouse.

We’re coming across what is the gable end of the wall here. And that’s the thickness of the wall, and you’re now standing in the interior …


Oh! So these are 17th-century floor stones?


These are 17th-century flagstone floors. You’ll maybe see there’s a sort of line of them running through here, part of a drain, it curves and goes out that lower part.


It’s like steps to the front door …


That’s the doorway, the front door.

Some of the stones have been removed and the walls have largely gone. This large stone here is within the thickness of the wall, so this is the inside face and that’s the outside …


So that’s about a metre almost! A metre-thick wall …


And you see it’s been cut into the hill slope at the back here, allowing the drainage to go round either side and maybe through the middle so it can come out … there would be a drain taking any effluent out from inside the house as well.

You’d maybe have one room as a sort of living area and the other room as a sort of kitchen area, and of course in the winter you’d bring your cattle into the inside as well. So one area may have functioned as a byre as well.


So you find some floor stones – do you ever find any artefacts?


Well, exactly where we’re standing, we found bits of objects. We found …


You’ve taken something very interesting out of your back pocket!


I’ve got a couple of things in my pocket here just to show you. What I’ve brought is some of the iron objects …


That you found here?


We found them here. We found quite a number, probably in the order of hundreds, of artefacts, mostly glass and pottery, dating to the right sort of period.

This is the remains of an iron object. You can see it’s been partly conserved. You can see it’s hook-shaped – it’s got holes for nails going through it.


Oh gosh …


That is … what do you think that is?


It’s like a bracket … no, no, it’s horseshoe-shaped.


Yep, that is a horseshoe. That’s what gives it away!




It’s a horseshoe! Yeah.

And also in this area, just behind me, we found the remains of – and it was only when we got it x-rayed – an iron lock. And it’s a lock for probably a piece of furniture, something like a dresser. And when we took it to get it x-rayed, the guy who’s an expert in locks at the museum said ‘do you know it’s still locked?’


And there was nothing else attached to it obviously! So, it was quite a nice artefact.

And then this other object that we’ve got in here, which I quite like because it’s got a sort of domestic feel to it, and it’s the sort of thing …


Another box! All marked up where it was found. Ooooh.


Yes, you can take that out.


Can I touch? So, it’s about 10cm; it’s heavy. Oh. Iron?


So it’s a big bit of iron and you can see it’s got a rib on it. It’s part of a cast-iron cooking pot, like a cauldron – a black pot you would have had hanging over on a chain in the central fireplace.

So, this may have been the pot that cooked some of the meals for the people that lived in the house here.


So, you have the floor. You have the area of the place. How did you know what the constituent parts of the turf house were?


Well, what we can see is that the construction of the wall is very poor. So you see this big bit of stone here is sitting on smaller stones. It’s likely to have been built of stone and turf and a mix of materials; it’s not a really nice drystone build. You would expect a very good foundation if it was going to be a drystone construction.

So, we reckon that most of the wall here was probably built on a low stone foundation and then probably built of turf above that. And that’s a technique that you get in many West Highland and Highland archaeological sites.

And turf houses like this are pretty common.

But the trouble is, because they’re made of organic materials, they don’t survive.

So, what they would have had was a stone foundation, turf wall; they would have the roof held on timbers on what was called a cruck frame.

And it’s likely that the timber of the cruck would have sat on this big flat stone here.

So you’d have it running across to the other side, and maybe have four pairs all the way down the line of the building here.

And they would have supported the weight of the roof.

And the roof would probably be covered with a series of cabers, smaller timbers and then covered either in reeds, or rush or heather thatch.

And obviously none of that survives.

So, some of that is taken from evidence that we’ve got from documentary sources that have been written down. And you get some of these descriptions, but a lot of them tend to be later, in the 18th or 19th century.

And then we get one or two survivals that have been photographed in the late 19th and early 20th century, where you have turf buildings surviving.

But even those mostly have rotted away now.


So this is … how far away is this from the Glencoe Visitor Centre?


We’re about 10 minutes in the car. It’s about 2 miles down the glen from here.


And for obvious reasons, that’s where you decided to build the replica.


It’s very difficult for people to access this site because it’s a busy road, the A82 coming down through there. And the visitor centre’s the right place to tell that story and to interpret to the people. More people will be able to see it there.

So what we’re doing is we’re taking the evidence that we’ve recovered from the excavation here and we’re taking it and building a replica based on that evidence down at the visitor centre.


Well, I can’t wait to see. Shall we go back and find out some more?


Let’s get out the wind!

[Sound of cars whooshing past on a wet road]


Well, we’re leaving what feels like the gales of Glencoe and we’re back to the car by the side of the A82. And before we reach the shelter of the turf house, it might be just time to take a break.

So, let’s join Cameron for this episode’s Hidden Secret.


The Hill House is Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh’s architectural masterpiece in Helensburgh.

Working to a commission from Glasgow book publisher Walter Blackie, Charles and Margaret designed almost everything in the house, from the building itself to the furniture and textiles.

The Blackie family lived in the house from 1904 until 1953.

Walter and Anna Blackie had five children: Agnes, Alison, Ruth, Jean and Walter Blackie Jnr.

The children staged theatre performances in an alcove on the first floor of the building between what was once a linen cupboard and the children’s bathroom.

The space looks a bit like an old-fashioned train compartment with two bench seats opposite each other and a narrow window between them.

The alcove was used for a variety of activities, including sewing.

But the children used it to perform shows, storing their dressing-up clothes in the benches.

Audience members would sit on a small sofa across from the alcove.

Here’s Emma Hamilton, Visitor Services Assistant at the Hill House.

[Sound of telephone ringing, and then the beep of an answer machine kicking in]


There’s a really lovely quote from Charles Rennie Mackintosh as he hands over the house to the Blackie family. He says:

‘Here is the house. It is not an Italian villa, an English mansion house, a Swiss chalet or a Scotch castle. It is a dwelling house.’

And I think that that really comes to sum up also the importance of the alcove, because it shows how the creativity and imagination and individuality of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in terms of his design reflected in the life in the family in the way that this alcove comes on to have so many different roles within the family, so many different uses.

And he’s very clever, Mackintosh, at creating these spaces that encourage you to look, and then look again.

I mean, you have to step up and step into this alcove, so he’s creating this smaller space within the larger space but also these different levels. And he’s creating something that is really open to interpretation.

And the fact that the children really embrace that, I think children always find these special places for themselves within a house.

But this house, and the way that the Blackie family lived in it, is also very unique.

When people come to look at the house and they see it more as a museum, it’s really this very beautiful space. It’s sometimes hard to imagine a family living there.

And that’s something that’s really important to us, is the fact that it was first and foremost a family home.

And children have also been quoted as talking about the fact that they don’t ever remember being told ‘don’t touch’. They remember running in and out of the patio doors out onto the terrace and playing in the gardens and playing upstairs and downstairs.

They really used the house and they enjoyed the house.



Look for the children’s performance stage when you next visit the Hill House.

You’ll find the alcove on the first floor of the building opposite the guest bedroom and dressing room.

Next week, Jackie will be hosting a bonus episode of Love Scotland, featuring a selection of previous Hidden Secrets – little discoveries you’ll find at National Trust for Scotland properties across the country.


Well, we’ve left the wind-swept Glencoe township.

Just a couple of miles up the road, we’re at the visitor centre and facing the turf house.

And Derek Alexander, it’s a fine piece of work.


It’s beautiful, isn’t it? What a setting as well. I think the two of them set each other off rather nicely.

The steep pitched roof and the splaying walls look great.


Shall we open the gate and head up the path and take a closer look?

So, remind me of the dimensions of this?


On the outside, it’s about 13m long by 6m wide. The walls, as we saw up at the excavation site, are stone foundation. They’ve got big stones at the bottom there, and there’s really just one or two courses, and they’re about a metre thick.

As you come past the window there, you’ll see this wonderful turf construction …


Is it a herringbone …


Herringbone in fashion, which is something that you see on the 19th-century photographs and some of the illustrations that you’ll get.

And it’s quite a nice way to cut and to build.

And of course, this turf is cut from just downslope from the area that we’re standing on, the foundations of the house itself.

I mean obviously you need quite a big area of turf for a metre-thick wall which stands 1.2m high.


And the thatched roof – what’s that?


The thatch is heather. And we had to get heather the right length. We had to go and get that from one of our estates in the Cairngorms, from ground near Mar Lodge.

So that was brought over.


So, who built this? How did you find the craftspeople?


So, we had a whole team of craftspeople.


And how long did it take you?


It took pretty much all of 2021. We started in about February last year and the foundations went in.

And then construction on the foundations started in March and it really topped off in about October last year, 2021. So, it was about 6/7 months.


And how was it made? All hand-made? Or did you bring in the power tools and the hydraulic lifting? Go on!


There’s a certain amount of labour saving in modern …



I knew it!


They had to use scaffolding to get up to put the thatch and things on.

And then of course, because it’s a building site, you have to have health and safety regulations from that point of view.

But, all the turf was cut by hand, by spade, and then it was shaped with blades and saws and things to get it to the design that we need.

And then the thatch, the heather, was all pulled by hand, and then bundled up.

And the wattle on the inside was all cut, just in the woodland at the back here.

And the big timbers in the inside were taken from An Torr, up in the middle of the glen.


So, locally sourced in the main. Sustainable.

We think we’re so advanced, don’t we, in the 21st century. When you look at this, it just shows how a pair of hands and some ingenuity … what they managed to achieve.


It must have been a big community engagement to build something like this.

You need a lot of people really, and quite a lot of resources.

And you need to be able to free up enough labour to be able to …

To lose something like this in a fire, or in a massacre, must have had a huge impact on resources in the population.

To rebuild multiple houses like this at one time, especially in winter, must have been a really difficult thing to do.

But talking about sustainability, what happened with these things is, because they’re organic, they eventually do fall to bits.

And what you do is you then plough it back in. You take the big timbers out the inside, you move 20 yards up the slope, and you build another one there.

And then what you do is you plant your crops and things on the ploughed-in remains of this house here.

And of course it’s almost ready fertilised.


So, nothing is wasted.


No …

I love the corners! Look at the corners; they’re rounded.

And here you can see the thickness of the wall.

But we’ll go all the way round and we’ll go in the front door.


How many doors did they have?! Because that’s a side door …


That’s a side door there; that might be an exit to the byre …


Because you were saying they shared it with their animals.


But from a health and safety point of view for a replica, we have to put in two exits as well, so two entrances.

This is the main front entrance.

And of course, this building, as a house, is parallel to the river; has the best views. We’re on the sheltered side here, we’re end-on to the wind.

So, it’s quite similar to the siting of the house at Achtriochtan, up in the township.

And it’s cut in … as you can see, we’ve built the terrace here that it’s sitting on, and we’ve channelled the burn on either side.

In fact, you can just see the scars downslope here, where the turf was cut – just over this lip here.

Come away in!


Certainly sustainable.

Let’s see how wind- and water-tight it feels.


[Sound of creaking door]

It’s lovely! It’s very dark.

But we’re not alone because one of your colleagues has joined us!


This is Lucy.


Lucy Doogan, you’ve got a story to tell about this place. Or rather, a few stories to tell.

What’s your role here?


My role is to interpret the turf house and share the stories that we want to tell with the public and decide how we want to tell those stories.


So, you’re bringing it to life for the visitors.

What do you think of the job that Derek and the team have done?

You spend a lot of time here – is it wind- and water-tight?!


It is. It’s completely watertight. We haven’t had any leaks at all whatsoever.

And we quite often have fires in here to keep the place warm and dry, and we actually had a fire on this morning, so it’s nice and cosy at the moment.


It’s split into two rooms, one of which, Derek you were saying, they would have their animals in in the winter in here.


In the winter months you’d probably need to bring a couple of cows in, and maybe sheep, just to get them out of the snow, and have a milk cow in the house, in the byre – and you’d live in one end.

And in the summer months, they’d be out in the field.

So yep, split into two so you could do that.


It certainly smells lovely. Lucy, is that a peat fire?


It is – we use a mixture of peat and wood.


It must have been pretty smoky because I can’t see a chimney.


It does get very smoky when you first light the fire.

And we’ve been having fires in both rooms because the smoke helps to preserve the materials in the roof and preserve the thatch, so we’ve been having fires in both rooms. So, it does get very smoky, but it’s likely that if they had cattle in the other room, they wouldn’t have had a fire in there with the cows.


So how many people would have lived here? And what would the set-up have been?


It would probably have been an extended family, so 8 people, maybe a little bit more than that, maybe fewer than that.

But there would have been quite a lot of people living in this one room.

So again, I guess that would help to keep the place nice and warm.

They would have spent the evenings inside the house: cooking, telling stories around the fire, sleeping in here possibly in box-beds, using bracken or heather covered in material as a kind of mattress.

But during the day they would probably have done the majority of their work outdoors where it’s much brighter.

Obviously, it’s quite dark in here.


Obviously in the winter … because it’s pitch black just now and it’s daytime … they would have lived by the sun, I suppose?


Yeah, definitely. Absolutely, they would rise and fall with the sun, as they say.

And do their work when they could, and the rest of the time they would have stayed inside – and it’s probably why the Highlands has such a rich oral culture, a culture of story-telling, because people would have spent a lot of the winter inside, gathered round the fire, entertaining themselves.


Now, the room has just been finished. Is it the aim to put some furniture in or some bedding to give it more of a flavour of what it would have looked like?


That’s something that we’re still deciding on at the moment. We’re in quite an exciting early stage of development when it comes to the interpretation.

There are lots of places that already do that very well – the Highland Folk Museum, for example, you can go and visit their turf houses which are fully kitted out as they would have been in the 17th century.

At the moment, we’re actually developing a soundscape. So, we’re working to try and record the type of noises that you would have heard in and around the turf house in the 17th century, so that we can install that into the turf house and create a kind of sensory, immersive experience in that way.

And then maybe further down the line, we will dress the space and add in furniture and other things.


So, it’s really a place for visitors to use their imagination and to think about what it was really like to be sitting here at 9 o’clock on a dark and windy night.



The building itself is almost a work of art in itself as well as being a really functional shelter and home.

There’s so many different textures and earthy natural colours that we really want to showcase them and maybe not clutter the space too much and hide those features.

So, the building and all the materials used give you that feeling of being back in the 17th century; hopefully the soundscape will add to that.

But definitely, it is a space that allows you to use your own imagination to experience life as it would have been for the people of Glencoe back in the 17th century.


And does it add to the story of the horrors that happened here? They’re not just seen as numbers. I suppose something like this makes you think these were real people and this was how they lived.


I mean we’ve spent quite a lot of time inside the turf house when it’s pouring rain outside and blowing a gale, and when we’ve got fires on in here and you can sit and get a little bit of warmth before you go back outside, and it’s really easy to imagine the family inside, all around the fire, hiding from the bad weather.

And then on top of that you imagine them offering their hospitality to the troops who were billeted in with them, and sharing their space, sharing what little they had with those troops.

And then from that, you imagine everything that happened after that point.

The horrors that they went through.



It’s early days – what’s been the response of visitors so far?


We’ve had a really great response from people.

I think when you first step into the building, you have no idea from the outside what it’s like on the inside. It’s almost a bit of a Tardis – people comment on how spacious and how big and sturdy it is when you come in from outside.


Absolutely, yes.


And people are really impressed and comment quite often on just the amount of work that’s gone into it, the skill of the craftspeople, all of the different techniques that have been used.


And what do they want to know about the people who lived here? What are the questions they ask you?


Some of the most common questions are really simple ones.

How did they cook?

Where did they sleep?

Where did they go to the toilet?

Simple questions like that – people really just want to know the everyday life, the tasks the people had to do day in, day out – and how they did them. The really human side of it.


That’s right. Human, isn’t it – and that’s really what it’s all about.

And if you want to find out how they did those things, then you’ll have to come here and you’ll have to ask Lucy!

Lucy, thank you.

Derek, Lucy described it as a work of art, and I echo that. You must be very proud of it.


I’m very proud of it.

It’s one of these things … when you’re an archaeologist, you spend a lot of time digging things up. Archaeology is a destructive process: you start off with something, you remove things to get the evidence.

This is the opposite way round. You start off with nothing when you’re building a replica like this, and you end up with something.

And you stand back, and you look at it – it really is a team effort.

You’ve got the people who did the stonework; you’ve got the people who did the timber work; the people who did the green woodworking, the wattle work, the cutting of the turf, the construction … I mean the architect as well obviously had to make sure that it all came together.

So, it really has been a wonderful project to be involved with and great to see something start off from an excavation, from the evidence that we gathered – to something that you can stand in and interpret, which Lucy’s been doing really well.


A job well done.

Derek, thank you very much; and Lucy, thank you for your expertise.

I can’t recommend a visit here highly enough.

And if you would like to play your part in helping the National Trust for Scotland bring the past to life, then visit to find out some more.

And that’s also where you can get details about the opening times of the turf house and about all the tours that are available.

Meanwhile, if you’ve enjoyed this episode, please leave a review wherever you’re listening to this and let us know if there are any of your favourite Trust places you’d like me to come and visit.

Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you for the next episode of Love Scotland very soon.

Bye bye.


Love Scotland is a Think Publishing production, produced by Clare Harris in association with the Big Light Studio. Presented by Jackie Bird, with recording and reporting by Cameron Angus MacKay. Music and post-production is by Brian McAlpine. Executive Producer for the Big Light is Fiona White.

For show notes, access to previous episodes and further information on the National Trust for Scotland, go to or visit and please like, share, rate, review and subscribe.

(a man whistles and heavy footsteps walk across a wooden floor)

From The Big Light Studio

(sound of a light switching off)

Daffodil daft at Greenbank

Located just outside of Glasgow’s Southside, Greenbank Garden is an urban oasis with woodland walks and more than 3,600 species of beautiful plants – including over 500 varieties of daffodil.

Our host Jackie Bird heads to Greenbank to talk daffodils and see the first signs of spring. Jackie chats to the property’s Head Gardener, Andrew Hinson, about the highlights and challenges of caring for Greenbank’s impressive horticultural collection, why the yearly arrival of this bright yellow flower never gets any less exciting, and the signs we should look out at Trust properties across the country that tell us spring is well and truly springing!

Also in this episode – Cameron hears about the traces of beavers living along the banks of the River Tay, as part of our regular slot, Hidden Secrets.

A blue title card reads: The Love Scotland podcast, Daffodil daft at Greenbank, with head gardener Andrew Hinson.

Season 2 Episode 9

Burns Big Night In: meet the poets

This year, the National Trust for Scotland’s Burns Big Night In returns. Edith Bowman will be presenting a night of music, song and verse direct to living rooms across the land from Burns Cottage in Ayrshire.

For Love Scotland, we join host Jackie Bird for a very special chat with two of the Burns Big Night In guests: leading contemporary poets, Janette Ayachi and Michael Pederson.

Janette Ayachi is based in Edinburgh, born in London, with Scottish and Algerian heritage. She’s a regular on BBC Scotland arts programmes and has published work in a broad range of literary journals.

Michael Pederson writes in English and Scots and performs at festivals everywhere from Edinburgh to Indonesia. He co-founded Neu! Reekie!, an arts collective that spans events, publishing and a record label.

Janette and Michael tell how Burns and how his legacy has found a place in their poetry – and read some of their new poems.

Find out more about Burns Big Night in at

Burns Big Night In

A square yellow logo containing the text Burns Big Night In in large orange capital letters. Behind the letters is an illustration of Robert Burns.

Burns Big Night In podcast


Six voices: male voiceover (MV); Jackie Bird (JB); Janette Ayachi (JA); Michael Pederson (MP); Cameron MacKay (CM); Ann Middleton (AM)

(MV) Love Scotland
Brought to you by the National Trust for Scotland

(JB) Hello and welcome to Love Scotland.
It's not long until Burns Night, when people across the world prepare a verse and maybe partake of a dram to welcome that 'great chieftain o' the puddin' race'.
Now, we know that Burns Night has been a little different lately as gatherings have grown smaller and raucous occasions are maybe toned down.
But never fear! On Saturday 22 January the National Trust for Scotland will be back with its Burns Big Night In, streaming music, song and verse direct to living rooms across the land, direct from Burns Cottage in Ayrshire.
Here at Love Scotland we have a taste of what's to come. We've managed to bag a couple of the big Burns Night guests - two of Scotland's most exciting contemporary poets: Janette Ayachi and Michael Pederson.
Thank you both for being here.

(JA) Thank you!

(MP) Lovely to be here, Jackie!

(JB) Well, Janette and Michael have joined me to tell me a little about how Burns and his legacy have found a place in their poetry. Janette, we're going to hear from you first.
Now, you're based in Edinburgh, born in London with Scottish-Algerian heritage. Your work is published in many literary journals. You're a Burns fan, but I'm told what fascinates you most about Burns is his death! How so?

(JA) Well, I think, yeah for the most part, while a lot of us are preoccupying over his life, I was fascinated by his death and also not so much just the build-up to his death and the series of illnesses that he went through, and the help that he sought in healing from nature and from his friends who were also physicians around him, but also the failures of modern medicine in the 18th century as well, and how that tied into a lot of the notion of what actually happened to him after his death as well.
And then when he died, he wasn't even left alone to be resting in peace. So there was a lot of talk about raising him up from the dead again from Victorian scientists and some phrenologists who look at the shapes in the bone in the skull to decide on the personality of a person. And there was a lot of spiritualists who were still fascinated by him.

(JB) So they exhumed his body? Remind us when he died, how he died and how old he was.

(JA) It was 1796. So in 1795 it got to the point where he had rheumatism and he suffered from a really bad bout of rheumatoid fever after his daughter died in 1795. At that point the physicians were telling him to go and what we now call hydrotherapy - go dip in the freezing cold waters of the Solway Firth and drink these mineral water from the well. He couldn't even get to his bed; he crawled from his bed to his horse. And he went there to do this, and this wouldn't have helped his rheumatism at all at that point. And it actually brought on what was his final ailment - endocarditis, which is a swelling of the lining around the heart. But the cold waters wouldn't have helped at that time. And he had this wonderful little medicine cabinet with all these little medicines and tinctures; this alchemy of potions that he kept. And it had things like gout, leprosy, stomach cancer. And he suffered also from depression and anxiety, which was then called hypochondria as well. And he wrote in his letter that the physician said to him that his hypochondria was a big part of his illness as well.
But when he died, his son was born on the day of his funeral, which was also a kind of strange psychic intrinsic working there. And his son was named Maxwell after the physician that gave birth to him. But after he died, they wanted to dig up his body but his wife Jean Armour at the time said: No, let him be. Let him rest. So it wasn't until she died in 1886 that he was exhumed. Some Victorian scientists and some phrenologists and spiritualists went down to his grave and they took his skull. And apparently when his skull was decapitated from his body, his whole body just turned to dust and all that was left was his skeleton. And they took Robert Burns's skull for a walk after midnight down this street - Queensbury Street - to a plasterer's workshop, where a plasterer took a cast of his skull, which now actually resides in Edinburgh University. Apparently the workmen and the scientists there all tried on their hats on his skull. And the findings were that he had an enlarged occipital lobe, which meant that he was very good with children and animals.

(JB) Ok! I think ...

(JA) It's fascinating though, isn't it?! So morbid!

(JB) Well, obviously you have delved into this subject probably like no other! I'm finding that fascinating because I had not an inkling of this! Ok, that's probably quite enough for the faint-hearted, maybe the faint-stomach as well! But, shall we hear a reading? Let's get down to some poetry.

(JA) Yes.

(JB) Let's hear one of your works. Would you like to set it up?

(JA) Yes, I'm just going to read to you a poem about Robert Burns that I've just finished writing - I'm doing a commission at the moment for the Poetry Library, Robert Burns from the perspective of women. And during that time, researching more about his life and everything, I decided to write a poem about his life, in Scottish stanza, which is the poetic form that he writes in. And it's quite a difficult thing because you've got to get the rhyme right, and you've got to get the right amount of syllables in each line and everything, so it's a lot of playing around with lines, but you can see how he sat and had fun with it; that he wasn't like, say, David Hume of the time, who sat down (or Sir Walter Scott) who had long laborious prose. He just sat there and was writing these stanzas, and it's quite a jovial thing to do. But not so much in my style, but good to pay homage to him.

Robert Burns in Scottish Stanza
A diet of women, wine and song
What could possibly go so wrong?
This is the place where I belong
And I love it.
It bulks me up and makes me strong.
Fuels me with grit.

I speak in stardust incantations
I dress in silk and selkie skins
And I confess all my near-sins
To the whole world.
Where I end and where I begin
Is one big swirl.

Baritone of my bones sing heavy
Beneath the belly of my bevvy
I reach for life that feels fleshy
So I can sleep
Legend and myth just like Nessie
Into the deep.

With romance, friendship, food and drink
One is always allowed to think
More things to music we can link
Words to lyric.
This is how we stop the near sink
It's generic.

From couch to ceilidh, up you get
No rest from the workers' sore head
It won't be long before we're dead
Let's celebrate!
With throats open wide to be fed
If that's our fate.

My role? I speak for my people
Escape societal shackle
Make folk laugh, bellow and cackle
Like the stars say
I'm Aquarius,
I mingle in lots of ways.

Most mornings I work the farmland
It's my duty to give a hand
But my health is taken like quicksand
The elements rake their toll against all I planned
In settlement.

I am restrained from who I love
So breed as wide a s a turtle dove
My grating to fields from above
I know these roads.
Journeys that give the words a shove
Like breath they flow.

Hemlock, porcelain and then smash
I weary myself back from crash.
Marry my love under lightning flash
Father unleashed
Allowed now to follow my stash
For all such peace.

Kids and animals catch my heart
I've always known this from the start
Losing my daughter, the worst mark
Death has ingrained
After this stop the morning lark
I live in pain.

Seasons come fierce, I watch from my room
Try to not let myself hug gloom
My tooth is removed, more ache looms
So much is lost
I crawl to my horse left ungroomed
Dip into frost.

I trust my friend, dear physician
One wide cabinet of medicines
Each one a trick from the magician
Ripe sorcery
To sip with my broth of venison
Soon I'll be free.

I drink from the well, dip in the sea
But want to stay in bed with whisky
The delirium knocks my family
All to the still.
Too late now for my recovery
I've had my fill.

Chronic illness and infection
My heart's walls go up in correction
The water too cold to section
Any more time here.
Live fast, die young, a quick reflection
Nothing to fear.

I've left my brood, my legacy
Many women mourning after me
It's no wonder I'm not left in peace
Long after rot
To unravel any mystery
Least not forgot.

I live on
I play on the souls of many where heather grows
And beyond as life does unfold
Each year I'm sung
On my birthday I rise and roll
Kiss winter sun.

(JB) That was lovely! I am no Burns expert but I could hear a rhythm, the familiar rhythm of Burns in that. It's said that he has sustained because he wrote then, and now, for the common man. Would you agree with that?

(JA) Yeah, absolutely. I mean at that time when he was writing, Scots was then becoming a dying language. And he disregarded that and went against societal fashion and decided to keep the vernacular, and the great thing I think about Robert Burns is that he has this voice that speaks for many people, and he doesn't leave anyone out. So when he moved to Edinburgh, he was mingling with all the poets and the high Enlightenment thinkers, he could then put on airs for them. But when he was at home and he was in the taverns drinking and he was in the community, he could also speak to them. So he had this way of just speaking for everyone and speaking to everyone, and them being able to understand him, which I think is really quite magical.

(JB) Michael, is this sense of accessibility, is this one of the things that attracts you to Burns?

(MP) I think so, particularly from the notion that Burns is essentially an access drug to poetry. I think there's a lot of his radical poems, there's a lot of his modern political screeds, there's a lot of his anthemic writings that draw people in, especially the masculine male. The notion of philandering and drunkenness almost give them the emotional permission to be able to say that they're relishing poetry at a time when it would maybe be risky to do so. Things like 'A Man's A Man For A' That' have those really anthemic lines, draw them in, but very quickly they're deep within the realms of love poetry. They're in 'My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose' and then they're in popularist, playful verse like 'To a Mouse' or 'Address to a Haggis'. And then all of a sudden they're simmering and savouring on language, on poetic wordplay, and their ability to say 'poetry is not for me' is then vanquished because Burns has implored them in, and he's romanced them from thereon. They've came for the marching songs and they've ended up leaving dancing to the slow and soppy numbers.
And by saying Burns is an access drug to poetry for men, what I actually mean is Burns is an access drug to their own emotionality and vulnerabilities. He is that emotional passport to delve into poetry. A lot of people that wouldn't go to live contemporary poetry nights will still find themselves at a Burns Night because of the dancing, because of the testosterone, the rhythm, the zaniness of it. And then all of sudden he's lit a fire inside them; he's lit a bonfire of appreciation for beautiful, ornate poetic language that is shaken around inside people's heads as much as the catchy hook of a pop song. And he does pull people that far.
Plus, he's the downtrodden, he's the farmer poet, he's the 'Heaven-taught ploughman'. He had that accolade that allowed you to believe he was gate-crashing the party in some perspective and everybody loves that. And his journey is one from the countryside into the big city. The big fish in the small pond, to the small fish in the big pond, and then in Burns's case, the big fish in the big pond, which gave him permission to then withdraw from that high-end Edinburgh society, and yes he got those lusted-after reviews from the great wit and he bore the title 'the Heaven-taught ploughman', which was a bit of a misapplication. He was well-educated but he was willing to wear that roguish banner they gave him because it was to his advantage as well as society's advantage.
And we see it now! You know, with writers and bands feeling like they have to get pulled to Edinburgh in one instance, but even more so that away from Edinburgh and down to London, to be amongst the people making the big decisions, to prove their worth. And Burns did that journey. He was the under dog that became the man of the people.

(JB) Sorry to interrupt you because I'm loving the excitement and passion in your voice, and I can hear it from Janette. He has been portrayed as the rock & roll writer, as the punk poet of his day. So why is he usually served up with shortbread and tartan accompaniments? Was that a 20th-century construct?

(JA) I think so. From Ploughman Poet to Poster Boy. When you become an icon, I think you can be stapled with any accessory really. And if he's representing a country and a culture and a tradition AND a language, I mean that's a lot on his shoulders. So you might as well dress him up in tartan, as he has to look good for all of that!

(JB) Janette, let's hear some more poetry from you. You've both mentioned his love of his passions. You have some love poetry in the style of Burns.

(JA) Yes, this is just a very short poem called 'Walking after midnight' and I imagine it to be spoken perhaps by Burns, even though it is spoken by myself, by any poet. You see, being a poet, we're quite different! We're quite ostracised from the rest of maybe normal thinkers. We walk around the world and we always stick our heads into things. We can't leave things untouched. We're always feeling things to all of our senses - our emotional world, our mental world and our physical world. How does something make us feel on all those different filters of our unconscious?
So, yes, this is called 'Walking after midnight'.

What is this country that I return to for answers?
Native to me only in snippets
But most familiar when night shakes its black cape
And the decades' dust disseminates into stars.
The stars show me wounds of love tonight
Silver bullet holes piercing the surface
Clogged arteries in constellations
Gluttonous desire in streaming blood
The jagged red cusp of my heart
Wants you near.

And the thing about Burns also is that he was always lusting after some woman and always feeling the longings of love. Being told he couldn't marry certain women and all of the complication that he got himself entangled into, this was a time pre-antibiotic era, so illnesses were terrible, life was grim. It was pre-contraception, so he was a young man in his 20s just using perhaps sometimes his language. I mean Shakespeare says seduction is an affair with language, and I think he did a lot of the times pen poems to seduce women. And it worked! It absolutely worked. And it still continues to work and I will honestly say that I have done the same: I have penned poems to seduce suitors, so ... [laughter]
I can see why; I can see why!

(JB) The whole subject of Burns and women. This discussion would have been a very different discussion 5 or 10 years ago because in recent years, as you'll both know, Burns's treatment of women has really come under the microscope. Even Liz Lochhead, former Makar, called him a 'sex pest'. How has our view changed, and where do you both sit on how we reflect on Burns and women these days?

(JA) I think you can't judge a man who is writing in the 1700s, at a time when despite social change taking so long to even turn over, and even now we still have a lot of the problems for women in society as we did then, but we can't judge him based on 21st-century views. I mean women at that time, even if they were wealthy, they weren't given a formal education. If you were lucky, they would learn an instrument. They would probably learn a language, but the convention was the same. At the end of it, the true grit of a woman's life was to get marrit and raise a family. And that was it, that was all that was seen of them. So to talk about Burns in the way that he saw women, now with our ideas now, is taking it out of context I think.

(JB) Michael, we've praised Burns down the centuries but have we subjected him to enough scrutiny?

(MP) Burns is human. He was fractured. He was a man of multitudes. We do scrutinise his decisions as much as we can based on the information we have these days, but how could the great social liberator, the writer of 'A man's a man for a' that' and 'A slave's lament' have considered taking a job in the slave trade, and heading over to fulfil a position which must have clashed with his poetic identity from what we've read at that point of time? Just how dog-beaten by life was he to consider that role? And thankfully we were fortunate enough that he never made it over there. The poetry that he released in order to pay for his fare became the poetry which soared him into public popularity and raised his garrison like a storm and made him the poet that we all know and relate to.
I mean, humility punctuated his life as well. He was in and out of poverty despite the acclaim and the fame, and we do put that into consideration. We're now also starting to scrutinise other parts of his life, these great periods of melancholia, and the contradictions within his relationship to the natural world. Although he writes with such tender abundance about animal life and nature, he had a bit of a disdain for the actual farming and the agricultural working of the land, so there is all of these complexities in Burns which are very hard to balance. And if we find that we can't balance them, then we write our way past that, and our reaction to that in contemporary poetry has a obligation to respond to the voices they feel are forming the canons of Scottish literature. And the best way to respond to that is through poetic understanding and the creation of new material, which expresses where we are as a contemporary cabal of poets at this point in time. Burns is a part of your poetic narrative and your poetic edification in Scotland, whether you like it or not.

(JB) I suppose it's like so many figures from the past, over the past few years we are seeing them through the prism of 21st-century thinking and is that not unfair?

(MP) It is relevant. Whether we can make a value call on his decisions at the time is a much bigger question. But I think definitely we should be critiquing all the accoutrements and the supplements to his life that we're learning about. There's major exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery that's been exploring a lot of that side of stuff. And the fractures within Burns's identity are just as relevant as his successes and accolades. And yeah, I think we have a responsibility to continually explore it under a new lens. We keep judgement out of academia to the extent that we can, to the extent that our emotional conscience allows us to do. And if we feel we have more to say of a more emotive nature, perhaps we take that to poetry?

(JB) Well, he's certainly endured and he's certainly has given us so much pleasure. We're going to talk in a moment about just how he has fed into poetry like yours and to the greater canon, but we're going to take a break from our discussions for a moment. If you're inspired by all things Burns, remember the National Trust for Scotland's Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and Burns Cottage are open all year round. They are fantastic places to get to know the life behind the legend. There is more poetry to come, and before we hear from Michael, let's have a pause and head to Cameron for this episode's Hidden Secrets.

(CM) Drum Castle is a medieval tower with sprawling extensions which were added over many centuries. The castle is 10 miles west of Aberdeen and it's surrounded by the Old Wood of Drum, an ancient oak woodland. The original tower was built around 1286. The Irvine family lived in the castle until 1975 when it was then gifted to the National Trust for Scotland.
Five boys lived in Drum Castle during the First World War. Two different etchings showing the family name and initials were recently discovered around the site. The first is on a wooden window sill in the Victorian Gallery on the first floor of the castle. The second is on a pane of glass in the old family accommodation, which is now a modern gallery on the second floor. Here's Ann Middleton, a tour guide at Drum Castle.

[Phone rings, followed by a digital beep like that of an answer machine]

(AM) This is the interesting thing, Cameron, they've only been discoveredwith in (I would say) the last 18 months/2 years. As I say, myself and I spoke with other guides yesterday about this who were here at the same time and slightly before me, we knew nothing about these. There's quite definitely an initial A with an I, quite scribbled but you can make it out. Now, during World War One, there was five Irvine boys growing up here. Alexander was the oldest one. He was known as Sandy but Alexander was his name. And we think that possibly it is Alexander who has scribbled it on. It is quite clear: you can see the A, you can see the I. They're quite clear, especially the one in the Victorian Gallery. Irvine the name, very neatly spelled. As there have been no children living in here since then, apart from during the war when David Irvine, 25th Laird lived here with his sister. If David had done that, he would have told us. Whoever did the first one was leaving his mark, and very proud of his family name. And he's done it very discreetly so he probably would not have got into trouble for carving into a window sill. The other one's a bit more random, I think. You can see it because it's scratched on the glass. I think they were obviously very happy growing up here. Who wouldn't in a place like this? I mean, it's absolutely wonderful. I think wanting to leave their mark.

[Digital beep sound]

(CM) The two etchings are a reminder of the children who lived in Drum Castle. The historic building was their personal playground. Here's Ann Middleton again.


(AM) One of the other secrets that really isn't known about the five boys who lived here is that they had a game where they raced each other around the library without their feet touching the ground. Now, standing in the library you'd think how on earth could they do that? They actually crawled round and they came to the curtains, they hung like monkeys across, all the way round. I mean, according to Toby Irvine, it was just the most wonderful game. Obviously done when parents were not around! When they came to the end of their little trip round, they used the mantle shelf as a way of getting down. If you look at the mantlepiece, it's quite bent at both ends. So it's a visual story for visitors. It's a secret because the parents didn't know and if you say that to the visitors, it makes it all the more exciting!


(CM) When you visit Drum Castle, have a look for the etchings on the first and second floors of the building, and the mantlepiece in the library.

(JB) Welcome back. We are getting a preview of the National Trust for Scotland's Burns Big Night In, and we're now going to hear from Michael Pederson, a well-known voice in the poetry world. Michael, you've performed at festivals everywhere, from Edinburgh to Indonesia; you've also co-founded Neu! Reekie!, which is a hugely successful arts collective. It spans events, publishing, and even a record label. Now, you're also a Burns fan of course. So we're going to hear 'A Man's a Man for A' That' and one of your own poems. So, give us a lead in.

(MP) That's correct. I'm going to do the first few stanzas of 'A man's a man for all o' that', stanzas 1-3, to give us a ...

(JB) Get us into the groove!

(MP) Get us into the groove but also hopefully leave you with appetite whet and wanting a little bit more. And then I was going to fold into one of my own poems. We could call it a Burns-Pederson montage, from that perspective, which is called 'Unfirmly thatched' which was written for the Burns and Beyond festival the other year. It's very much about my idea of the Burns Cottage being a metaphor for all of these gnarly love affairs that either succeed or do not succeed with us in life.

(JB) Take it away.

(MP) A Man’s A Man For A’ That
Is there for honest poverty
That hings his head, an a’ that?
The coward slave, we pass him by –
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an a’ that,
Our toils obscure, an a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an a’ that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine –
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an a’ that,
The honest man, tho e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie ca’d ‘a lord,’
Wha struts, an stares, an a’ that?
Tho hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a cuif for a’ that.
For a’ that, an a’ that,
His ribband, star, an a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind,
He looks an laughs at a’ that.

Unfirmly thatched

Quality thatching
This fleshy huddle
Our bodies grasping
Skin and petal
A rustic roof
Hope bundled into yelms
Stapled with resolution
By swathes of hazel sticks
Over hard winter's spleen
Its balding espar coating
Fresh wrapping
For festering wounds.

Yet one squall
One waver
Can strip us to the fragile rigging
The wretched shift from ok
Our little thatched heart
Unravelled into dead stock, water reed, sedge
Unpurpled heather.

Beware the blizzard
Its stormy bits
Where trusted friends in moments weakened
Lust after what we love
Possessed by the very same rapture
Skewed, easy to hug the hammer
Hard to hammer home the blame
Of the stodge in our bellies.

A slip and a drink too many
A thought gone sloppy
For the thrill in being someone's newest ride
Nicolas risking everything
Despite being unwilling to gamble
Even buttons on it
A thousand times it doesn't budge
Until one day it does.

No melody to what happens here
Fire fed on junk
Blazing through our treasured chattels
Possessions tossed on in a panic
To plump up the smoking plumes
To the haunting shadow
The hush before the plunge
I'm sorry
Really, really sorry
Please take it back before it's ash,
Goo, gone.

So maybe it doesn't
Fright steadies something yet to wobble
A new day arrives like fresh bread
Closer, for nearly being so far apart.
Och, our fecund cause
These scanty laureates of love
Here we are snogging, sticky
Equally terrified
All in on each other
Praying the stiches hold
The roof doesn't shred
The scorch that kept the chimney busy
Our toes purring warm by the fire
Isn't throttled by wind.

We should have never left the tenements.
We should dry and stack the straw.

(JB) As bawdy as Burns. What were you channelling when you wrote that?

(MP) Um. Mistake. Botched mistake. I guess all of the loves that fell apart and pulled us apart. The moral dilemma of it all, which I think is rich in all of Burns's poetry. Unaccomplishment. What we're questing for. It was almost premeditating failures and that whole concept of breaking things that we're so enamoured to be possessing at that point in time. These love affairs that find us and all of the bad endings and the wrong decisions we could take. And how fragile that makes the right way into it. How fragile that makes their existence and just being able to enjoy the romance and the love of it all while it's going well, while it's unwaveringly unaffected by all of the vicissitudes of life that are swirling around it, waiting to pull the rug underneath you.

(JA) You're not very optimistic about love then, are you?! [Laughter]
Catch it for that moment before it's gone.

(MP) Catch it for that moment before it's gone, but I feel it is optimistic in the sense that it's almost like a warning letter to yourself to be careful. Pain is not trenchant when risking too much.

(JB) Do you think Burns was optimistic about love?

(MP) I think there was undulations in that. I think some of his poems are unwavering, beautiful carnivals of the love unflinching, the untouchable, impenetrable love that can swallow us whole. And at other times, I mean Burns had to stand up in public environments and apologise for copulation and his philandering, like he was put through shame of it. And that fractured understanding of him, sometimes having a rebellious disregard for what authority was making him do under those circumstances, but then understanding that the real shame of it, or at least the real repercussions of societal shame, weren't his to swallow. They were in fact passed on to his lover, to whoever his partner was at that point in time, so there was the weight of that, I think, felt in some of his poetry, alongside this youthful, unbountiful optimism.

(JB) Do you think it was always heartfelt or do you think it could possibly be a little bit premeditated because he knew that passion fuelled his creativity?

(JA) I think for the most part it was hyperbole then, for sure.

(MP) I mean, I think we're all doing Greatest Hits a lot of the time. Some love poems are definitely to one individual.

(JB) But what about 'Ae Fond Kiss'? A beautiful long poem, a song for Nancy when he was married to someone else, and then he got Nancy's maid pregnant!

(JA) Yeah.

(JB) And ... yet ... we love him!

(JA) And then in the letter he wrote to his friend when she was asking him for money, and he just said 'ay, just pay the wench, or the piece' were the words that he used to call this woman, but don't put hands on her. There's always this way that he admire women and he wants women to be protected, and that's what he writes about in his 'Rights of Women' as well, which some people claim to say he was a feminist, he was forward-thinking. But at the same time, Mary Wollstonecraft writing her 'Vindication of the Rights of Women' influenced by the French Revolution, and they were born in the same year and died the same age, and yet he was using his to seduce an actress that he met in Edinburgh at the time because he fancied her and he was probably just trying to get in her good books. And I think sometimes that plays a part as well. Poetry, and especially poetry for Burns, and poetry for the most part is performance. A lot of his work was in dramatic monologue - look at Tam o' Shanter.
And he's always fleeing from the feminine, whether it's the maid who's begging for money or the witch in the narrative of Tam o' Shanter, or the angry wife at home that tells him not to drink and stay out too late. It's this intertextuality between being tortured by women and then at the same time wanting to praise them, and realising that that sentiment of love and desire played out is what inspires the work.

(JB) Did he write for women or men, or both?

(JA) I think he tried to write for everyone. Whether he got the voice of women right, that's different. But he did try to speak for the people generally.

(JB) What's your view on that, Michael?

(MP) Well, I think he wrote a lot for his environment, and for his intended audience. We saw that by how he created some of the more popularist poems when he came to Edinburgh and he knew he had to jump through hurdles and hoops to get himself into all these societies and a lot of the time it was, I guess, the equivalent of a playful limerick that they wanted to hear. Now, Burns found a more emotionally intelligent version of that, so Burns was a master at writing to his audience. And I guess there would have been so much pressure at that time to write to the critics or the freemasons or the male societies, so that must have weighed quite heavily on them.
I would have liked to have seen a moment ... I remember at one point Irvine Welsh got a slight criticism at not being able to write female characters, and then he came back brilliantly with Wedding Bells, that Channel 4 film with just this fleet of really well executed female characters, so the reviews read at that point in time. Maybe we could have had a review at that time that threw a barb at Burns in terms of his ability to portray female characters and we might have seen his equivalent of Wedding Bells. But ... too little, too late from that perspective perhaps.

(JA) Maybe we can ask his skull to tell us! [Laughter]

(JB) I think it's something we often forget among the bawdiness and the love songs, that he was also a social commentator of his day. There was nothing that he wouldn't touch. He talked about politics; he talked about wars that were happening at the time.

(JA) And with such nimble literary artistry as well. I mean in the diction, in the syntax. He wasn't a morbid, morose poet. He was playful and comic. Was he a rascal or a romantic? But it was shown in his poetry, you can see the reflection of the personality that he projected as well - this kind of joyful, little sprightly, performative creature who was essentially what ... Poetry telling is story telling - it's the origin, is the oral, is the voice to pass down stories before it's put into print. And I think that was also very important for him. And I think this because of the poetic form that he uses: the 6 line stave that I read the first original poem in. He took that from the 1500s, a poet called Robert Semple. And that was the form that Robert Burns chose to use 100 years later. Who decides who's an icon? And then where does the visions and the voices come from? Is it our ancestors? Where is it we're channelling? Is it intuitively played out in patterns? It's quite fascinating when you go back and forward, and you see that everything is kind of chronologically marked.

(JB) He was also pretty fearless in his comments. He made a lot of enemies. He was very critical of politicians, the aristocracy, the Church ...

(MP) Yeah, but even after his death there was a slew of poems that came out that even Burns, the great heretic of his time, hadn't put his name to, and then later got attributed to him. My Neu! Reekie! co-conspirator Ken Williamson did a show called Robert Burns: Not In My Name and it was all of those poems that weren't attributed to Burns because they were in fact that upper echelon heretical step too far that would have got him tried or executed at that point in time. So he had an even more rebellious slant to them which didn't come out posthumously. Of course, his last words are known to be: 'Don't let the awkward squad fire over me.' So he still died with rebellion and heretical inclinations close to hand. He obviously compromised; he must have compromised to get that mass fame, that mass publicity in some of his writings. To write some crowd-pleasers, I guess we would have called it. But I don't think those left-field, social libertarian fires ever stopped burning in them.

(JB) I did not know that, that he kept some poems under wraps. So much to talk about, we have to wind this up. So let me finish by asking you two, you're at the cutting edge of modern poetry, analysing and writing about a man who died more than 200 years ago. If you had to sum it up, why? Janette?

(JA) Because it's a celebration of the preservation of poetry. That's it.

(JB) Succinct! [chuckles] Michael?

(MP) For me, he's the males' emotional passport into their own sensibilities. The final lines of 'A Man's A Man For A' That' sum it up. He's the poet of brotherly love. 'That man to man, the world, o’er, Shall brithers be for a’ that.'

(JB) What a way to end. Perfect.
Now you both must be looking forward to the Burns Big Night In. Will you be there in the flesh?

(JA) Yes, it won't be a Burns Night In for me; it's going to be a Big Burns Night Out! And I really can't wait. I'm going to have a little dram in Burns's actual cottage and there's going to be music, and yeah you're going to be there too Michael, aren't you!

(MP) I'm going to be there in spirit, skeleton and stanza! [laughter]
I've got a poem there that was written about the hypothetical cottage of the heart. So it was made to be unfurled in that very space.

(JB) Well, can I add something non-poetic in that I'm told by my parents that's the place where I cut my first tooth.

(JA) Ooooh, wow.

(JB) There's not a lot you can say to that, but never mind!
If you fancy hearing more from Janette and Michael, host Edith Bowman, the National Trust for Scotland's array of experts, and much more besides, you can book now for the Burns Big Night In and enjoy a wonderful night from the comfort of your living room. You can find out more at
That's all from me. I'll be back with another Love Scotland podcast very soon.

(MV) Love Scotland is a Think Publishing production produced by Clare Harris in association with the Big Light Studio. Presented by Jackie Bird with recording and reporting by Cameron Angus MacKay. Music and prose production is by Brian McAlpine. Executive Producer for the Big Light is Fiona White. For show notes, access to previous episodes and further information on the National Trust for Scotland, go to or visit
And please like, share, rate, review and subscribe.

From the Big Light Studio

Have we saved the Hill House?

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The result was the Box – a ground-breaking steel structure that was built to shelter Mackintosh’s architecture from the elements, which would allow time for conservators to come up with new ways to safeguard it for the future.

Two years on, Jackie Bird visits the Hill House. She meets the Trust’s Head of Conservation (Policy), Bryan Dickson, to hear how the Box and the house have fared – and what comes next.

Also in this episode – Cameron hears about Brodie Castle’s mysterious and ancient Egyptian figures, as part of our regular Hidden Secrets slot.

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Also in this episode – assistant producer Cameron Angus Mackay hears a fascinating story from Culloden Battlefield, as part of our regular slot, Hidden Secrets.

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Digging for whisky history

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Go wild this winter

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Meet the ghosts of Culross

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How Holmwood came back to life

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Season one

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Climate lessons at Mar Lodge Estate

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Re-imagining the House of Dun

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Family life inside the Hill House

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Our CEO reflects on 90 years of the National Trust for Scotland

In this episode, Jackie is joined by Phil Long, Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland, as we mark our milestone birthday on 1 May.

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Seabird city: the colonies at St Abb’s Head and Staffa

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Ana Sanchez on the extraordinary life of Miss Agnes Toward

Jackie Bird meets Ana Sanchez, Visitor Services Supervisor, who cares for the Tenement House, a time capsule of life in early 20th-century Glasgow.

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The story of the Glencoe Massacre

Scott McCombie, Senior Ranger at Glencoe National Nature Reserve, and Derek Alexander, Head of Archaeology, take us through the events leading up to this tragic chapter in Scotland’s history, and share plans for a project to recreate a turf house.

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Chris Waddell – Is Robert Burns and his poetry more popular now than ever?

How is Burns’s legacy faring today? Jackie Bird speaks to Chris Waddell, the Learning Manager at RBBM, to find out.

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Anna Rathband – On location: the Trust on the big and small screen

In this episode, Jackie is joined by Anna Rathband, the National Trust for Scotland’s Film Manager who chats about the importance of film tourism.

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Rob Dewar – Total Wipeout: Tackling invasive plants

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Jennifer Melville – Facing our past

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Susan Bain – 90 years since the evacuation of St Kilda

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Professor Murray Pittock – 1745: Raising the Jacobite Standard at Glenfinnan

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Mark Beaumont – Scotland’s wild spaces

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Raoul Curtis-Machin – Protecting Culloden Battlefield

Raoul Curtis-Machin (Operations Manager at Culloden) talks to Jackie Bird about the story of Britain’s last pitched battle and the findings of the National Trust for Scotland’s Culloden 300 consultation.

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Jeff Waddell – Caring for Scotland’s environment

Jeff Waddell (Senior Natural Heritage Advisor) takes Jackie Bird on a tour of some of our most beautiful walking routes, while discussing the vital work we carry out every day to protect and conserve Scotland’s natural heritage.

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Derek Alexander – Scotland’s Indiana Jones

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Safeguarding the Scotland we love with Stuart Brooks

In this episode, Jackie speaks to Stuart Brooks (Head of Conservation and Policy, and co-chair of Scotland’s Landscape Alliance) about the Alliance’s work and hopes for the country’s future.

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