The village of Kirkoswald has many associations with the poet Robert Burns, who spent a summer at school here in 1775. Souter Johnnie's Cottage, cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, is perhaps the best known of them. Opening hours and contact information are set out on the right.
In 1789 Burns was asked to produce a witch tale to accompany a picture of Auld Kirk Alloway in the book Antiquities of Scotland. His response was a poem regarded by many as his masterpiece: Tam o' Shanter. The story was based on an old legend about two Ayrshire farmers who spent too long drinking and on their way home saw witches dancing with the devil in the ruined kirk at Alloway.
The central characters were Tam o' Shanter and Souter Johnnie, readily identified by residents of Kirkoswald as neighbours Douglas Graham and John Davidson. The two were old friends who were well known for socialising enthusiastically in Ayr on market days, often returning home late.
John Davidson was a shoemaker or souter. In 1785 he built a cottage on Main Street in Kirkoswald in which he lived and worked until his death in 1806. Burns probably stayed at the cottage when visiting Kirkoswald in 1786.
Souter Johnnie's Cottage, as it became known, stayed in the Davidson family until 1920. It was then handed over to a committee who oversaw its restoration, funded by Sir John Richmond of Blanefield. The cottage then passed to the National Trust for Scotland, who have looked after it ever since.
Souter Johnnie's cottage is distinguished by its thatched roof: other cottages that were originally thatched have since been slated. The entrance is around the back, and this gives access to a nice recreation of village life at the end of the 1700s.
One room at the back of the cottage is given over to the souter's workshop, complete with fire and all the tools needed for shoemaking. At the other end of the cottage is a room recreating aspects of the parlour, with a large dresser and fire, and bedroom, complete with box beds along one wall.
In the attractive garden behind the cottage is a restored thatched alehouse. This is home to beautiful life-size statues of Tam o' Shanter, Souter Johnnie, the Innkeeper and the Innkeeper's Wife from the poem Tam o' Shanter. These were carved in sandstone in the 1830s by the sculptor James Thom and purchased by the committee overseeing the restoration of the cottage in 1924. They were originally placed in the garden of the cottage, but have since been given a home more likely to protect them from the elements.