Burns Cottage stands on the main road through the village of Alloway. The cottage and the nearby Education Pavilion come 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 brings together all the places associated with Robert Burns in Alloway. These include Brig o' Doon, Auld Kirk Alloway, and the Burns Monument and Memorial Garden.
Burns Cottage has its own car park, or can be reached by a few minutes walk from the main Robert Burns Birthplace Museum along the attractive Poet's Path. En route you pass the exceedingly large statue of a mouse, sculpted by Kenny Hunter, and a series of weathervanes telling the story of Robert Burns', greatest poem, Tam o' Shanter, which was set in Alloway and published in 1791.
The highlight of any visit to this end of the village is a tour of Burns Cottage. This was built in 1757 by William Burnes, Robert's father (Robert and his brother later changed the spelling of the family name to Burns, which is what is shown on their father's grave in the kirkyard of Auld Kirk Alloway). Robert Burns was born in the cottage on 25 January 1759 and spent the first seven years of his life here before the growing family moved to a larger house a mile and a half south-east of Alloway.
William Burnes sold the cottage to the Incorporation of Shoemakers in Ayr, who leased it out for use as an alehouse. Within a few years of Robert Burns' death in 1796 his fame was already attracting a steady stream of visitors to Alloway, and the alehouse had to be extended to cope with the growing amount of business it was attracting. Many of these visitors were also arriving to see the Burns Monument, which had been built between 1820 and 1823. In 1881 the trustees of the Burns Monument purchased Burns Cottage from the Incorporation of Shoemakers, and spent the next twenty years restoring it to its original condition.
In 1900 they added the neighbouring pavilion. This became the Burns Cottage Museum and remained in use as such until the opening of the much larger Robert Burns Birthplace Museum at the other end of Alloway in late 2010. The pavilion now serves as an education centre devoted to the life and works of Robert Burns and it also houses a shop.
Burns Cottage remains much as it was restored at the end of the 1800s. As was usual at the time, the cottage provided living space for the family and its farm animals under the same roof, and the interior today accurately reflects its appearance when young Robert lived here. Outside, parts of the smallholding have been recreated, adding further to the sense of "really being there". All that's missing from the cottage is the smell of its byre end: though perhaps that's something we should all be grateful for!