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Article published 21/01/2022

2022 was Scotland’s Year of Stories. It celebrated and promoted the wealth of stories inspired by, written, or created in Scotland. Each month we heard from people with a passion for stories, and got an insight into their work.

To mark Burns Night (25 January) we spoke to Chris Waddell, Learning Manager for the National Trust for Scotland. Based at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, he told us about his relationship with the Bard.

Tell us about what your job involves and how you got into this line of work

I am the Learning Manager at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, which entails having a remit for educational, learning and participative elements on site. This involves a lot of school visits, management of our wonderful volunteers, project work etc. I also have a duty for some curatorial work and answer the many incoming questions about Burns, his life and works and the collection. I tend to be the go-to guy for interviews and many of the pieces of filming we do (which I enjoy!)

Do you have any favourite facts about the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum you could share?

I suppose thinking about the whole site; we have been memorialising Burns in Alloway in one form or another since the early 19th century; the first ever Burns supper was held in the birthplace cottage here in 1801, a mere five years after the poet died!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

That’s an easy one! The school visits and programmes – it’s what I signed up to do and kids are generally appreciative audiences! Also, I’m a big wean myself (ask my colleagues) but I love the childlike fascination of the genuinely interested and school children come under that heading. I get enthusiastically over-excited when I have to explain about the early years of Burns. ‘Where did he go to the toilet?’ is probably the most common question, kids have a very pragmatic tendency towards thinking about that stuff and it keeps me smiling!

Robert Burns Birthplace Cottage

Burns Cottage, Alloway (c) NTS

Why do you think stories are so important to Scotland?

It’s a bit of a hackneyed notion but I believe it rings true – we are a nation of storytellers. Prop up a bar in a Glasgow boozer, you’ll hear great tales enthusiastically told. It’s why we produce so many great comedians; stand-up as an artform is really just storytelling. Look also at our fantastic wealth of literature. The historical and psychological novel can both be traced back to Scotland – Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg respectively. Also, we have so many great stories to tell, our landscapes and historic buildings are steeped in myth and history and that’s why heritage organisations such as the National Trust for Scotland are able to tell these stories down the years and to successive generations.

Do you have a favourite Burns song, poem or piece of writing?

This is always tricky because it's such a huge body of amazing work to delve into. I suppose Tam o Shanter is my favourite poem in its entirety. I love to hear it recited properly at Burns Suppers, its always a highlight of the evening for me. I think however, my favourite individual piece of Burns’ writing is the opening stanza of The Holy Fair. It’s a wonderfully evocative description of the farming country of lowland Scotland:

Upon a simmer Sunday morn,

When Nature’s face is fair,

I walked forth to view the corn,

An snuff the caller air,

The rising sun, owre Galston Muirs,

Wi glorious light was glintin;

The hares were hirplin down the furs,

The lav’rocks they were chantin

Fu sweet that day.

Robert Burns

Is this time of year particularly special and does the Trust have anything planned for Burns Night?

Yes, January is always a big deal for us in Alloway. However, for obvious reasons, this has had to be curtailed over the past couple of years. We do have things on in which people can join in however, our online Burns Big Night In promises to be great fun this year as it was last year, presented once again by Edith Bowman and featuring a great line up of traditional musicians and poets (Saturday 22 January 2022, 7pm).

What are you looking forward to in Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022?

I am looking forward - as always – to telling the stories that underpin our brilliant site here in Alloway. That of course is the story of Burns himself, but also the stories of the people around him – his family and friends – and the ongoing story of the Burns phenomenon here. It’s a story that has been ongoing since 25th January 1759, I’m sure it will be being told here in another 260 years and beyond!

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