Burns Night: traditions, recipes and great Scottish walks

Celebrate Burns Night with our guide to the Scottish poet Robert Burns, including the best Scottish walks, traditions and recipes.

Robert Burns, Scottish poet

Every January, people across the world celebrate the life and work of Scottish poet Robert Burns. Our essential guide looks at the history of the famous poet Robert Burns and Scottish traditions to celebrate Burns Night.

When is Burns Night in 2020?

Burns Night falls on 25th January 2020. This famous Scottish tradition celebrated with a Burns supper and recitals of Robert Burns’ work.

Burns memorial in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland
Burns memorial in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland

What is Burns Night?

Burns Night commemorates the life and poetry of the Robert Burns, a Scottish poet and lyricist.

When is Burns Night?

Burns Night is celebrated on 25th January every year to mark the poet’s birth date. Robert Burns was born on 25th January 1759 and died on 21st July 1796.

Village of Tarbert on the Isle of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Though surprisingly small, with a population of only 500, it is the main port of entry to the Harris area of the Outer Hebrides and sits on the narrow neck of land separating North and South Harris. Its ferry terminus is often busy during the summer months receiving the ferry from Uig on Skye with its many cars and passengers. The word Tarbert comes from the Norse draw-boat, which is how the Vikings hauled their boats across the narrow neck of land from one sea to the other, thus avoiding a long detour around South Harris. AdobeRGB colorspace.

Who is Robert Burns?

Robert Burns was a Scottish poet, born in Alloway on the south-west coast of Scotland. Also known as Rabbie Burns, the National Bard and the Bard of Ayrshire, he is considered by most to be the national poet of Scotland.

Robert Burns’ poetry revolved heavily around farm life (he was a tenant farmer), traditional culture, class and religion.

What is Robert Burns’ most famous poem?

Robert Burns has many famous poems. Perhaps his best known is Auld Lang Syne, often sung on New Year’s Eve to bid farewell to the old year and welcome the new.

The Robin cam to the wren’s nest
And keekit in and keekit in,
O weel ‘s me on your auld pow,
Wad ye be in, wad ye be in.
Ye ‘se ne’er get leave to lie without,
And I within, and I within,
As lang ‘s I hae an auld clout
To row you in, to row you in.
Robert Burns

Other famous poems include To a Mouse (1985), Tam O’ Shanter (1790) and A Red, Red Rose (1794).

Robert Burns
Robert Burns was born on 25 January 1759/Credit: Getty

How do people celebrate Burns Night?

Across the world, Burns Night is celebrated with a a traditional Burns supper, which usually involves  a traditional Scottish dish known as haggis, as well as performances of Burns’ work.

What is haggis and how do you make it?

Haggis is a traditional Scottish meat pudding made from animal’s stomach, minced heart, liver and lungs, oatmeal, onions, suet and spices.

Haggis recipe
Haggis is a traditional Scottish meat pudding/Credit: Getty

Here are two delicious haggis recipes from BBC Good Food:

Scotland’s best walks

After a night of feasting and rejoicing over the life and work of Robert Burns, what better way to spend the following day than with a great Scottish walk. Here are five of our favourites.

Quiraing, Isle of Skye

The Quiraing at sunrise, Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Quiraing and Trotternish ridge on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

The Old Man of Storr is kept company by other rock spires, collectively called the Sanctuary. These pinnacles and their brothers on the Quiraing were formed as the result of landslips that occurred on the 19-mile long escarpment. Gravity caused the immense weight of the upper volcanic layers of the Trotternish ridge to dislodge the weaker underlying sedimentary rock layers.

Glenfinnan, Highland

Steam train on the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Highland
Steamtrain on the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This is the Viaduct that was used in the Harry Potter movies

Seek refuge from the cold inside one of Scotland’s most majestic churches, then venture into the Highlands past the wizards’ railway to a lonely mountain pass. Glenfinnan Visitor Centre, with a shop, toilets, café and accessible parking, makes a great starting point for a 10-mile walk (the first half of which is suitable for those with access challenges) from Loch Shiel to the dramatic mountain pass of Bealach a’Chaorainn.

Glen Affric

Glen Affric, Highlands, Scotland
Low autumn mist at dawn in Glen Affric, Highlands, Scotland

Often hailed as the Highlands’ most beautiful glen, Glen Affric not only boasts shimmering lochs and rugged mountains, but it is also one of the largest remnants of the pine forest that used to cover much of Scotland. For centuries the flanks of the glen were blanketed with birch, rowan and magnificent Caledonian pines.

St Abb’s Head, Berwickshire

St Abbs Head, Berwickshire, Scotland
A hillside covered in sea pink at Pettico Wick, St Abbs Head

Enjoy a four-mile walk on the coastal cliffs of southern Scotland, spotting thousands of nesting seabirds, splashes of pink thrift and maybe even otters.

Loch Garten, Highland

Loch Garten, RSPB Abernethy Forest National Nature Reserve, Cairngorms, Scotland
Loch Garten lies within RSPB Abernethy Forest National Nature Reserve, Cairngorms

Take a walk on the banks of Loch Garten – one of Scotland’s most beautiful nature reserves – in search of ancient trees, tottering wood-ant nests, grazing deer and soaring ospreys.