The village of Kirkoswald lies on the A77 some four miles south west of Maybole and a mile inland from the coast at Maidens. As the name implies, the village started life as the home to an ancient church serving a wider rural parish.
Kirkoswald Old Church dates back to 1244. It was built by monks who at the same time were founding Crossraguel Abbey two miles to the north east. The monks chose this site because, legend suggests, it was here that a chapel was built to celebrate St Oswald's victory in AD634 over Cadwallon, King of the Welsh, at the battle of Heavenfield near Hexham.
Kirkoswald Kirkyard is also worth exploring for two further reasons. One is to view some of the early gravestones carved with graphic symbols of mortality. The other is to find the graves of the real people who inspired the main characters in Robert Burns' classic poem Tam O'Shanter.
A sign at the entrance shows the last whereabouts of those who Burns turned into Tam O'Shanter (Douglas Graham), Souter Johnnie (John Davidson) and Kirkton Jean (Jean Kennedy). Here, too, are buried Burns' maternal grandparents and his schoolmaster.
The ruin of the church still stands because its successor, built in 1777 to a design by Robert Adam, was given a new site overlooking the village from the south side of the valley.
Robert Burns spent a summer in Kirkoswald as a 16-year-old in 1775 and the links with him extend well beyond the old Kirkyard. The Shanter Hotel carries a plaque showing that its southern end formed the school at which Burns studied while in the village; and that the central part of today's inn was home to Peggy Thomson, an object of Burns' youthful affections.
Slightly sadder is "Kirkton Jean's", the disused hostelry just along the road from the Shanter Hotel: the sort of place that makes you hope your photos of it will one day form the "before" comparison to show off a wonderful restoration.
The most tangible reminder of Burns in the village is Souter Johnnie's Cottage, restored and now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. This is the subject of a separate feature page.
Kirkoswald is small and is bisected by the busy A77. Motorists, or tourists travelling between the better know attractions of Girvan and Crossraguel Abbey, can drive through it without really noticing it. But this is an attractive village that is worth getting to know: and for fans of Robert Burns it is an unmissable step on the pilgrimage in pursuit of him across south west Scotland.
Visitor InformationView Location on Map