THE TRYSTING THORN and Mill Mannoch
Burns Associations Of Tarbolton Relic
Contributed by John Watson
The final meeting of Tarbolton Literary Society in the Lorimer Library was made especially interesting by the fact that Mr. James Wilson, F.S.A. (Scot.) vice-chairman, was presenting a chairman's mallet and section of wood from the famous trysting-thorn which grew on his grounds at Mill Mannoch and which was referred to by Robert Burns. The programme was Magazine Night and the secretary, acting as editor, read a large number of contributions all of high standard of merit, many of them being in verse and the whole of them dealing chiefly with matters of great local interest. The latter part of the evening was occupied with harmony, tea being purveyed by lady members of the committee. During the social hour Mr. Wilson, who has been connected for many years, first as tenant and latterly as owner, with the lands where grew the famous thorn was called upon.
When Mr. Wilson entered Mill Mannoch as tenant there were two especially valuable trees on the lands, one-the famous trysting thorn and the other a magnificent specimen of plane tree. A previous owner, Mr. Claude Hamilton, a great lover of trees, took great care of both and Mr. Wilson following him with the same value of beauty did likewise, with the result that the plane tree still stands, a monarch of its kind, now valued at something from £50 to £100. All efforts to obtain it for commercial purposes, however, have failed, the owner preferring to maintain it as a show tree.
Making the presentation of the memento to the society, Mr. Wilson revealed some interesting facts about the trysting thorn with its association with Burns through the bard's direct reference to it in his poem "The Soldier's Return." The thorn was a full grown tree before Burns saw it. It had always been recognised as a popular trysting spot in the locality, before, during and after Burns' time and even yet. Though there is now no milk white thorn to "Scent the evening gale," the spot is still favoured by the "youthful loving pair" who seek to "breathe out the tender tale." The tree and its tradition were well known to Burns. He passed it on every occasion of his many journeys between Mauchline and Dalrymple, the best and most direct road between the two village's in the poet's time being via Coalhall. Cairnston and Mill Mannoch. Mr. John Thorn, a remarkable man in many ways, took four leases of Mill Mannoch in his lifetime, each of fifteen years, his second lease being taken in 1792.Through his family and one relative who preceded MrWilson in the mill a rich fund of anecdotage had come down the years. The worthy miller was a familiar figure to Burns on the road, and he it is said, often related how on one occasion he saw the poet stop at the thorn tree and either meditate or view his Surroundings.
Referring to the scene and characters of the poem the speaker related how the poet must have been acquainted with the sight of the numerous soldiers who then traversed this road. These were all soldiers of the North British Fusiliers regiment now the Royal Scots Fusiliers, In those days all fusiliers who lived south of Ayr, when returning from duty, took their discharge at Dumfries and then travelled home by this road, Dumfries was then No.2 depot of the regiment, Ayr of course being No. 1 as it still is. It was one such soldier that burns in his poem depicts coming home from the wars. As he nears home his memory stirs and his heart gladdens at the sight of old familiar landmarks, It is he, who speaks through the muse of Burns in that verse of the poem,
At length I reached the bonnie glen
Where early life I sported
I passed the mill and trysting thorn
The characters like the
setting were no figment of the poet's imagination.
Mr. William Burton, Chairman of the society, presided, and on behalf of the Society accepted the gift.
On the motion of Mr. Andrew Morton a vote of thanks to the donor was enthusiastically responded to.
of the original
trysting thorn, immortalised by Robert Burns in "
Soldier's Return," has been moved from its original site to a spot farther
from the road, by
Burns Club. The thorn which is situated on the
original thorn, which, is known to have been in existence.
Long before Robert Burns'
time, died in 1916.
The tree was left for two years in the hope that it would recover, but
finally it was removed
and Mr, J. P. Wilson, owner of
Millmannoch, was given the task
of distributing sections
of the thorn to Burns clubs all over the world. These polished
sections are the
treasured possessions of many Burns lovers. The story is told of a
gentleman who was
proudly showing off his portion in a train passing through
Mr. Wilson who is himself an enthusiastic Burns lover, along with a few helpers, 'decided to nurture the shoots which began to grow up on the spot where, the old thorn had grown. The shoots sprouted from haws, which had fallen from the parent tree, and the strongest of these was chosen. This shoot flourished but because it was so near the roadway many people, instead, of cutting sprigs from it, broke pieces off. This was gradually killing the tree and Coylton Burns Club finally decided the if the thorn was to be preserved it would require to be moved farther from the roadway and railed in.
This work was carried out by member's of the Club and the operation been completed and a verse from The Soldier's Return" inscribed inside the railing. The ballad itself was written by Burns long after he left Ayrshire. His reference to the trysting thorn which occurs in the third verse is as follows: -
"At length I reach'd the bonnie glen
Where early life I sported;
I pass'd the mill, an' trysting thorn.
The mill referred to is
that of Millmannoch and the poet goes on to tell
Before the photographer had reached the spot he asked this man how the tree looked. His reply was "It's really nice now, but a year ago it wasn't worth tuppence."
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