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Love Scotland podcast – Season 2

A winding road through Glencoe with mountains on either side, under a stormy sky.
Glencoe NNR
Hosted by journalist and broadcaster 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.

S2, E11: 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

S2, E10: 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 teal title card. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Betrayed! | How the dark days of the Glencoe massacre are being re-created, 330 years on.
A teal title card. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Betrayed! | How the dark days of the Glencoe massacre are being re-created, 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)

S2, E9: 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. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Daffodil daft at Greenbank | With head gardener Andrew Hinson.
A blue title card. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Daffodil daft at Greenbank | With head gardener Andrew Hinson.

Daffodil daft Greenbank Garden podcast 0222

S2, E8: 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

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.
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.

NTS Burns Master 24


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.

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