Robert Burns and the Drucken Steps

by Roger Griffith
  • The present day appearance of the Drucken Steps
  • The commemorative cairn
  • The Red Burn at the site of the Drucken Steps

The 'Drucken Steps' were stepping stones running across the Red Burn in the old Eglinton Estate woodlands and are closely and significantly associated with the poet Robert Burns. The Drucken Steps, situated at (NS 329 404), were a favourite haunt of Robert Burns and his close friend Richard Brown whilst the two were living in Irvine for some nine months in 1781-82. Robert Burns wrote to Richard Brown or 'Ritchie Broun' on December 30, 1787, saying ''..do you remember a Sunday we spent together in Eglinton Woods? You told me, on my repeating some verses to you that you wondered I could resist the temptation of sending verses of such merit to a magazine.'' Burns also wrote the following to Brown, ''Twas actually this that gave me an idea of my own pieces which encouraged me to endeavour at the character of a Poet''.

The name 'Drucken' derives from a person's apparent 'drunken' gait as they stepped from stone to stone whilst crossing the burn. Seven or more stepping stones were originally set in the Red Burn which was much wider, the burn having been made into a narrower and deepend drainage ditch. The stepping stones went out of regular use in 1799 when the Earl of Eglinton closed the old road beyond the Drucken Steps by building a wall to 'protect' his new policies, providing a new road instead that ran via Knadgerhill.

A commemorative cairn off Bank Street at MacKinnon Terrace in Irvine, next to the expressway, incorrectly states that the Drucken Steps been buried beneath the road surface of the Kilwinning bypass; an error that local inhabitants have not made.

The cairn's relevant inscription states:

Eglinton Woods, Drukken Steps (St Bryde's Well), Favourite Walk (1781–82) of Robert Burns and his sailor friend Richard Brown. "Do you recollect a Sunday we spent together in Eglinton Woods? R.B." 30th Dec., 1787. Irvine Burns Club, 25 January 1927.

The Drucken Steps sat on the course of an ancient trackway, later a Toll Road (1774), which ran from the west end of Irvine through the Eglinton policies to Kilwinning via Millburn; crossing the Red Burn near Knadgerhill and running past 'The Higgins' cottage, now demolished.

The Eglinton Estate wall that used to cut across the burn joins up with the perimeter wall of Knadgerhill Cemetery and the remains of this 'estate' wall can still be seen at the site of the stepping stones; it was to this wall that the 1927 commemmorative plaque was originally attached.

Land in the vicinity of the Drucken Steps was locally known as the Spittal Meadow. Spittal was a term chiefly applied to lands, the revenues of which probably supported a hospice for the infirm, lepers, etc. This name is recorded in a document dated 1542 and may have formed part of the lands of the old convent at Stanecastle which could have been the site of the 'spittal' in question. Other spittals in Ayrshire were located in Ayr, Prestwick, Symington, Fail, Maybole, Mauchline, Stewarton and Kilmarnock.

The Drucken Steps were located at the site of the present day footbridge and are worthy of a visit, not the least because they have apparently only survived by pure chance and without doubt deserve to be valued.


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