Robert Burns and Rosslyn

Robert Burns (1759-1796) is known to have visited Rosslyn Castle and stayed at the Rosslyn Inn, now known as Collegehill House.

In his autobiography, James Nasmyth, son of the painter Alexander Nasmyth (1758-1840), describes a visit to the Castle in 1786 –

A visit which the two paid to Roslin Castle is worthy of commemoration. On one occasion, my father and a few choice spirits had been spending a ‘nicht wi’ Burns’. The place of resort was a tavern in the High Street, Edinburgh. As Burns was a brilliant talker, full of spirit and humour, time fled until ‘the wee sma’ hours ayont the twal’ arrived. The party broke up about three o’clock. At that time of year (the 13th of June), the night is very short and morning comes early. Burns, on reaching the street, looked up at the sky. It was perfectly clear and the rising sun was beginning to brighten the mural crown of St Giles’ Cathedral. Burns was so much struck with the beauty of the morning that he put his hand on my father’s arm and said, ‘It’ll never do to go to bed in such a lovely morning as this! Let’s awa’ to Roslin Castle.’  No sooner said than done. The poet and the painter set out. Nature lay bright and lovely before them in that delicious summer morning. After an eight-miles walk, they reached the castle at Roslin. Burns went down under the great Norman arch where he stood rapt in speechless admiration of the scene. The thought of the eternal renewal of youth and freshness of nature, contrasted with the crumbling decay of man’s efforts to perpetuate his work, even when founded upon a rock, as Roslin castle is, seemed greatly to affect him. My father was so much impressed with the scene that, while Burns was standing under the arch, he took out his pencil and a scrap of paper and made a hasty sketch of the subject. The sketch was highly treasured by my father, in remembrance of what must have been one of the most memorable days of his life.’

This sketch is now in the National Gallery of Scotland and the oil painting, Robert Burns and Alexander Nasmyth at Rosslyn Castle by James Nasmyth (above right) is based on it.

 Following their visit, the pair enjoyed breakfast at the Roslin Inn, now known as Collegehill House. In a letter to a friend, Alexander Nasmyth describes having had 'tea, eggs and some whisky... the charge was very moderate in our opinion'.

In appreciation, Burns wrote two verses for the landlady, Annie Wilson –

My blessings on ye, honest wife,

I ne'er was here before;

Ye've wealth o' gear for spoon and knife

Heart could not wish for more.


Heav'n keep you clear o' sturt and strife,

Till far ayont fourscore,

And by the Lord o' death and life,

I'll ne'er gae by your door.

Robert Burns and Alexander Nasmyth at Rosslyn Castle by James Nasmyth, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh
Collegehill House, formerly the Original Rosslyn Inn
The Official Rosslyn Chapel Website