Brig O' Doon: Exploring Robert Burns' Iconic Scottish Bridge

Written by Chris Thornton | 6th of December 2023
Brig o Doon

Brig o' Doon is a historic bridge located in Ayrshire, Scotland. The bridge, also known as the Auld Brig or Old Bridge of Doon, was built in the mid-fifteenth century and is a Category A structure. The word "brig" is Scots for "bridge," hence the name Brig o' Doon.

The bridge is famous for being the setting of one of Robert Burns's most famous works, Tam o' Shanter. In the poem, Tam o' Shanter crosses the bridge on horseback while fleeing from witches and warlocks. Nearby, the Brig o' Doon House Hotel is a popular wedding venue and hotel, offering exclusive wedding packages and event facilities.

We visited the Brig O' Doon in mid-July and had a lovely wee stroll over this very old bridge.

Our visit to Brig O' Doon

This was our first time in Alloway, and we had just visited the brilliant Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. The kind receptionist mentioned that the Burns Memorial Gardens and Brig O' Doon could be found a short distance from the museum.

Following the main road south and passing Alloway Parish Church and Auld Kirk, we visited the memorial gardens, which were absolutely beautiful. The Burns Monument was well worth visiting to access a spectacular viewpoint. The vista here is impressive, but what caught my eye was the old bridge spanning the River Doon.

Brig o'doon in the historic town of Alloway.
The bridge is partially visible from the Burns Monument viewpoint.

Making our way downwards through the gardens, we crossed a small minor road and arrived at the bridge.

Rusty Brig O' Doon sign.
Rusty sign directly next to the bridge.
 
Brig O' Doon information panel.
A beautiful information panel in the form of a Robert Burns book.
 
Lead up to the Brig O' Doon bridge.
The lead-up to the bridge.

The bridge was very picturesque and gave off those olden-days vibes! What struck me was the width of the bridge, easily wide enough to take a modern car, but thankfully bollards block access to anyone mad enough to drive over this 500-year-old bridge!

Walking to the top.
The ladies headed to the top of the bridge.

Walking over the bridge, the apex is completely blind; I imagine this may have led to arguments hundreds of years ago if two horse-drawn carts met at the top.

Blind apex of the old bridge.
The blind summit of the bridge.

The far side of the bridge did seem to have a path, but it was pretty overgrown; we didn't follow past the bridge. Looking over the sides, there was a great view of the Burns Memorial Gardens, Burns Monument and Brig O' Doon House Hotel, found directly next to the bridge.

Overgrown.
The overgrown far side of the bridge.
 
Old bridge Ayr.
Looking back over the bridge from where we came.
 
View from Brig O' Doon. Tranquil hotel, restaurant dining and luxury accommodation.
From the bridge, we saw the rear of the hotel, the Burns Memorial Gardens and the Burn Monument.
 
Modern road bridge.
Looking northwest towards the modern road bridge over the River Doon.

Standing on the bridge felt like going back in time; I wondered how many people used this bridge on their daily commute to work over its 500-year lifespan. William Burns, the father of Robert Burns, crossed the bridge each day to work at Doonside Estate.

The bridge has a single arch spanning 72 ft and a rise of 26 ft, which is very large for a medieval bridge.

Cobblestones.
The old cobbles.
 
Returning home from the bridge.
Returning to the gardens.

We retraced our steps back to the Robert Burns Museum.

The Robert Burns literary connection

Robert Burns is one of Scotland's most celebrated poets, renowned for his contributions to Scottish literature. Born in Alloway, Ayrshire, not far from the Brig O' Doon, Burns' works often reflected his homeland's landscape, culture, and tales.

Tam o' Shanter

"Tam o' Shanter" is among Burns' most famous poems. It tells the story of Tam, a man who witnesses witches and warlocks in Alloway Kirk after a night of drinking. As they give chase, Tam's frantic escape on horseback takes him towards the Brig O' Doon.

The poem's climax unfolds at the bridge. Tam races toward the Brig O' Doon, with the supernatural beings in pursuit. It's believed witches cannot cross running water, so the bridge serves as Tam's salvation. The dramatic scene culminates when one witch nearly catches Tam but only manages to grab the tail of his horse, Meg, which comes off in her grasp.

Due to "Tam o' Shanter," Brig O' Doon has become more than just a historical structure. It stands as a symbol of Burns' narrative genius and Scottish folklore. To this day, visitors and enthusiasts trek to the bridge, inspired by the haunting and exhilarating tale Burns penned.

The Banks O' Doon

"The Banks O' Doon" is one of Robert Burns' most beloved works, often referred to as "Ye Banks and Braes." While "Tam o' Shanter" is the poem that famously features the Brig O' Doon in its climactic scene, "The Banks O' Doon" is an ode to the beauty and serenity of the River Doon and its surroundings.

The bridge is not explicitly mentioned in "The Banks O' Doon" as in "Tam o' Shanter." However, the poem's deep reflection on the River Doon implicitly connects to the Brig O' Doon, as the bridge spans this very river. The serene yet melancholic atmosphere of the poem captures the essence of the landscape surrounding the river and, by extension, the bridge.

A couple on the Brig O' Doon.
A couple looks over the side of the bridge.

River Doon

The River Doon is a prominent waterway in South Ayrshire, Scotland. Originating from Loch Doon in the Galloway Hills, this river meanders gracefully through the picturesque Ayrshire countryside before emptying into the Firth of Clyde at Ayr. Spanning approximately 38 miles in length, the River Doon's lush banks and clear waters have made it a favourite spot for both locals and tourists.

Additionally, the river is popular among anglers, being a prime location for salmon and trout fishing. Its flowing waters, scenic braes, and of course, iconic Brig O' Doon bridge collectively make the River Doon a cherished emblem of Ayrshire's natural and cultural landscape.

River Doon
Looking southeast from the bridge at the River Doon.

Brig O' Doon Hotel

Exploring the Brig o' Doon House Hotel, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the stunning gardens and flowing River Doon. The award-winning restaurant, the Coven, offers mouth-watering traditional cuisine using the best local produce. Brig o' Doon is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, literature or seeking a dream wedding venue.

Brig O Doon Hotel has no non smoking rooms and great food. Fine dining restaurant.
The stunning Brig O' Doon House... note the bridge to the left of the photo.

FAQs on Brig O' Doon

Here are a few frequently asked questions about Brig o Doon.

Who built Brig O' Doon?

James Kennedy, a 15th-century bishop of Dunkeld and St. Andrews, built the bridge.

When was Brig O' Doon built?

The bridge is said to have been built around 1460... 563 years old!

Can you walk across the Brig O' Doon?

Yes, the bridge is completely open to walk across and very safe.

Was the bridge busy with tourists?

It wasn't too busy when we visited; one other group left the bridge when we arrived, and another arrived just as we left. Exploring the bridge and getting photos without others being in the frame was easy.

How far is Brig O' Doon from Ayr Railway Station?

It is roughly 3.7 km / 2.4 m from Ayr Railway Station. It will take around 49 minutes to walk to the bridge.

Where is the best place to park for Brig O' Doon?

Free parking is available at both the main museum and the cottage. It isn't far to walk to the bridge from there.

Visitor Information:

Free to visit and accessible for pedestrians and cyclists only.

Google maps location
What3words: ///mobile.metro.major

Drone photo of Brig O' Doon.
A photo taken from the air of this historic bridge.

Video clip from Brig O' Doon

Here is a short video clip of our visit to Brig O' Doon.

Brig O' Doon video.

Key Takeaways on Brig O' Doon

  • Brig o' Doon is a historic bridge in South Ayrshire, Scotland, famous for its appearance in Robert Burns' poem Tam o' Shanter.

  • Built by James Kennedy around 1460.

  • The bridge today is accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.

  • Brig O' Doon is a short walk (less than 10 minutes) from the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

  • The bridge can be seen from the Robert Burns Monument and gardens.

  • Brig o' Doon House Hotel offers exclusive wedding packages and event facilities with stunning views of the gardens and River Doon.

  • Nearby attractions include The Robert Burns Monument, Gardens, and two fantastic museums dedicated to Burns.

Family photo.
A quick family photo before we returned to the museum car park.

Conclusion

We enjoyed our fleeting visit to Brig O' Doon; you should consider exploring it yourself if you check out the brilliant Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and Burns Cottage. Seeing the original bridge that inspired two of his most famous works is a dream come true for Burns fans.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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