Don’t think about coming here – Just do it!

by Sara Barton, 14th July 2022
Dumfries & Galloway Insider | Stuart Paterson | Ellisland Farm
Don’t think about coming here – Just do it!
Stuart Paterson, poet and volunteer guide talks about connecting with Robert Burns and the landscape around Burns’s former home, Ellisland.

Former BBC Scotland Poet in Residence Stuart Paterson lives by the Solway Firth in Dumfries and Galloway and gives up some of his time to volunteer as a guide at Ellisland Museum and Farm, first family home of Robert Burns and his wife, Jean Armour and their children.

The similarities are striking. Both men were born in Ayrshire, both poets writing in the English and the Scots languages. And both found themselves coming and settling in Dumfries and Galloway for work, inspired by the landscapes around them.

Of course there are more than 230 years separating Robert Burns and Stuart Paterson, but as Paterson sits in the kitchen at Ellisland Farm he reflects on what Burns achieved in his time here.

“While he was here for a reasonably short space of time, three years, he wrote some of the most amazing work that’s known the world over – not just in Dumfries and Galloway, or the south of Scotland, but the entire world over,” says Paterson, referring to works such as Tam o Shanter and Auld Lang Syne.

Inspirational landscapes

Paterson is equally inspired by the landscape of the south of Scotland, travelling frequently throughout the region – he originally came to be writer-in-residence for Dumfries & Galloway in the late 90s and settled, beguiled by the landscapes and people around him.

“If it’s up the coast, if it’s inland, if it’s into the hills, if it’s into the towns, they all have different stories to tell. They all have a rich cultural history to let us know about when we’re there. And people are always quick to tell you why their place is one of the best,” smiles Paterson. “And they’re usually right I have to say!”

Like Burns before him, Paterson writes frequently in the Scots language. He points to its noble history as the language of the Royal Scottish court, and of the Scottish legal system dating back in written form more than 800 years.

“It’s the language that we talk every day. So, to me, it’s not just a privilege, it’s just something I would do anyway, because that’s what we are – Scottish,” he reflects.

Stuart Paterson by the desk of Robert Burns at Ellisland Farm, Dumfrieeshire

Unique tourist offering

As one who lives and loves the land surrounding him, Paterson is keen to explain the unique offering to be found in the South of Scotland as a tourist destination, especially for those who want to get away from busier alternatives.

“There’s always something beautiful, something I’ve never seen before. That is just amazing to me,” reflects Paterson. “Just the views and the feeling that you can walk for hours and hours on end and not meet anybody else.”

I don’t think it matters when you come! It’s Scotland! You’ve got to do what the weather tells you. But if you can come in the season -Spring, Summer, Autumn – when you get more light to see the views – to see the places,  to see the coast, to see the hills.

Stuart Paterson

He is amazed that people concentrate on heading up to the hills of the Highlands, while ignoring the Galloway Hills in the south which are geographically so much closer for many people to visit.

There are so many hills to climb! View from the Merrick towards Loch Enoch, Galloway Forest Park.

“We have big hills – but people don’t realize that when they travel up towards the north they pass the first and possibly one of the best [hill walking areas] which is the Galloway Hills.”

But once they have discovered it, Paterson knows they are hooked. “When they come here the first time, it’s not the last time!” he laughs. “This is an absolutely beautiful area that’s full of things you won’t know about and you’ll find out about that will make you want to come back here.”

Sustainable exploring

And in a day when tourism is about sustainability, Paterson advocates getting out into the landscape on your own two feet.

“Just go somewhere and walk all day. Between coast and hill. Or forest and town. You’ll see it all in the space of a day just by walking. Wherever you go, you’re going to find something that’s going to inspire you,” says the poet who is regularly inspired in his writing by the Galloway landscapes, its people and their stories.

Stuart’s Five Sights

Wigtown, Scotland’s Book Town, is a must visit for Stuart Paterson.
  • Wigtown: Scotland’s national book town in the west of Galloway. It is full of bookshops and it has an amazing book festival every year.
  • Mull of Galloway Lighthouse: On the southernmost tip of Scotland, there is the fantastic Stevenson lighthouse. It’s also a RSPB reserve.
  • Glen Trool, Galloway Forest Park: See the stone commemorating where Robert the Bruce had a famous battle of the start of the Scottish Wars of Independence, walk around Loch Trool, or up the Merrick, the highest peak in the south of Scotland.
  • Ellisland: the farm where Burns first lived with wife Jean Armour
  • Dumfries: The town where Burns moved after he left Ellisland – there is a Burns Trail and much more to see and do.