written by
Andrew Baxter

Finding nature's inspiration in the birks of Aberfeldy

Blog 2 min read

What on earth is a "birk"? And where is Aberfeldy? Two good, and sensible, questions to start this blog post.

Birk is one of those lovely old Scots words we seldom hear today. It means birch tree. And we have plenty of birch trees growing across Scotland. Some of the best places to walk amongst groves of birches are in the woodlands of Highland Perthshire. Once your walk is over you might head to the bustling small town of Aberfeldy sat upon the sparkling River Tay. The town was made famous by Scotland's great poet Robert Burns. He found poetic inspiration as he wandered along the Moness Burn and surrounding birch woods. This natural muse prompted him to write 'The Birks of Aberfeldy.'

Robert Burns Birks of Aberfeldy
Inspiration for the poet Robert Burns along the Moness Burn near Aberfeldy

The Birks of Aberfeldy

Bony lassie, will ye go, Will ye go, will ye go; Bony lassie, will ye go To the birks of Aberfeldy.

Now Simmer blinks on flowery braes, And o'er the chrystal streamlets plays; Come let us spend the lightsome days In the birks of Aberfeldy.

The little birdies blythely sing While o'er their heads the hazels hing, Or lightly flit on wanton wing, In the birks of Aberfeldy.

The braes ascend like lofty wa's, The foamy stream deep-roaring fa's, O'erhung wi' fragrant spreading shaws, The birks of Aberfeldy.

The hoary cliffs are crown'd wi' flowers, White o'er the linns the burnie pours, And rising, weets wi' misty showers The birks of Aberfeldy.

Let Fortune's gifts at random flee, They ne'er shall draw a wish frae me; Supremely blest wi' love and thee, In the birks of Aberfeldy.

Bony lassie, will ye go, Will ye go, will ye go; Bony lassie, will ye go To the birks of Aberfeldy.

Robert Burns wrote the words in 1787 to fit an existing popular melody. You can hear a sung version accompanied by great footage of the Moness Burn and its waterfalls in this video.

The Birks of Aberfeldy sung by the Edinburgh University Renaissance Singers

Head into town to discover more

And keeping to our watery theme, I recommend two particular places to visit in the town itself. Firstly, the Tay Bridge stretching across the river. It is also known as "General Wade's Bridge" as it was built on his instruction following the government's decision to improve military connections following the 1715 Jacobite uprising. The second recommendation is to take a visit to the amazing Watermill Bookshop, Cafe and Art Gallery. The Watermill is in a converted oatmeal mill and houses one of the best bookshops around. In fact, it was voted UK Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2008-09. And the cakes in the cafe are sublime. So good maybe even Robert Burns may have been inspired by them.

General Wades Bridge across the River Tay
General Wade's Bridge across the River Tay

This is post number 3 in a series of articles to celebrate 2020 Scotland's Year of Coasts and Waters. Find out more here.