The Brig o' Doon is a high single arched bridge crossing the River Doon at the south end of Alloway. It is believed to have been built in the 1400s: until then it had been necessary to cross the river using a ford. The bridge was rebuilt in the 1700s, but by early the following century its narrow roadway was increasingly unable to cope with the demands of the traffic entering and leaving Alloway along what had become one of the main roads approaching Ayr from the south.
As a result a new bridge was built a couple of hundred yards downstream. This opened to traffic in 1816, and today still carries the main road through Alloway south towards Maybole and beyond. The original idea was to demolish the old bridge, but this was overtaken by Alloway's increasing role as a centre for literary tourists fascinated by Robert Burns, who had died in 1796.
Brig o' Doon forms an integral part of the story of Robert Burns in Alloway because it plays such an important role in the poem Tam o' Shanter, published in 1791. In the poem, the central character, Tam o' Shanter, is returning home late and drunk from market day in Ayr when he stumbles upon a coven of witches and warlocks in Auld Kirk Alloway, at the southern end of Alloway. He disturbs the gathering and is chased by them. By tradition a witch will not pursue you across running water, so Tam o' Shanter rides with all speed towards the nearby Brig o' Doon, barely escaping with his life (and his horse without its tail). You can read the full text of the poem, in Scots and English, and in English translation, on our Tam o' Shanter page.
The Brig o' Doon remains a place of pilgrimage for fans of Robert Burns. It stands close to the Burns Monument and Memorial Garden at the south end of Alloway and offers fine views along the River Doon. The view to the north-west, taking in the Brig o' Doon Hotel and the Burns Monument, is a truly iconic Scottish scene, featuring in easily recognisable form in early postcards.
The Brig o' Doon can be freely accessed at any time, and comes under the umbrella of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Operated by the National Trust for Scotland, this magnificent museum is well worth a visit in its own right, and it also brings together all the places associated with Robert Burns in Alloway. These include Auld Kirk Alloway, the Burns Monument and Memorial Garden, and Burns Cottage.