In the Bard’s journal under the date 20th of May the following notes are found:-
“A Mr. Robinson, a Brewer at Ednam sets out with us for Dunbar pass the famous Abbey of Coldingham & Pease bridge call at Mr. Sherriff’s where Mr Ainslie and I dine. Mr. Sherriff a talkative, conceited idiot, I talk of love to Nancy Sherriff all the evening while her brother escorts home some companions like himself. Sir James Hall of Dunglass, having heard of my being in the neighbourhood comes to Mr. Sherriff’s to breakfast takes me to see his fine scenery on the stream of Dunglass. Dunglass the most romantic sweet place I ever saw Sir James and his Lady a pleasant happy couple Sir James shows me a favourite spot beneath an oak where Lady Helen used to ponder on her lover, Sir James then being abroad. He points out likewise a walk for which he has an uncommon respect as it was made by an aunt of his to whom he owed much. Miss Nancy Sherriff will accompany me to Dunbar, by way of making a parade of me as a sweetheart of hers among her relations. She mounts an old cart horse as huge and as lean as a house, a rusty old side saddle without girth or stirrup, but fastened on with an old pillion girth, herself as fine as hands could make her in cream coloured riding clothes, hat and feather etc. I, ashamed of my situation ride like the devil and almost shake her to pieces on old jolly, (that is the horse) get rid of herby refusing to call at her uncles with her. Pass through the most glorious corn country ( via Cockburns-path, Innerwick, Barns Ness) I ever saw till I reach Dunbar, a neat little town dine with Provost Fall, an eminent merchant and most respectable character, but undescribable as he exhibits no marked traits. Mrs Fall a genius at painting, fully more clever in the fine arts and sciences than my friend Lady Wauchope, without her consummate assurance of her own ability. Call on Mr. Robinson (who by the way I find to be a worthy much respected man, very modest, warm, social heart, which with less good sense than his would be perhaps with the children of prim precision and pride rather inimical to that respect which is man’s due to man) and with him call on Miss Clarke, a maiden, in the Scotch phrase, “Guid enough, but no brent new”, a clever woman, with tolerable pretensions to remark and wit; while time had blown the blushing bud of bashful modesty into the full blossomed flower of easy confidence she wanted to see what sort of raree show an author was, and to let him know that though Dunbar was but a little town yet it was not destitute of people of parts.
Breakfast next morning 22nd of May at Skateraw, a Mr. Lee’s, a farmer of great note, Mr Lee an excellent, hospitable, social fellow, rather oldish, warm-hearted and chatty, a most judicious sensible farmer Mr. Lee detains me till next morning.
23rd of May
Company at dinner—My Revd. acquaintance Dr. Bowmaker, a Revd., rattling, drunken old fellow, two sea Lieutenants, a Mr. D. Lee, a cousin of the landlords, a fellow whose looks are of that kind which deceived me in a gentleman at Kelso, and has often deceived me; a goodly, handsome figure and face which incline one to give them credit for parts which they have not. Mr. Clarke, a much cleverer fellow, but who looks a little cloudy, and his appearance rather ungainly, which an every-day observer may prejudice the opinion against him. Doctor Brown, a medical young gent from Dunbar, a fellow whose face and manner are open and engaging. Leaving Skateraw for Dunse next day along with Collector Lorimer, a lad of slender abilities and bashfully diffident to an extreme.
Coldingham Priory was founded in 1098 by Edgar of Scotland.
The Mr. Sherriff with whom Robert Ainslie and Burns dined was George Sherriff, one of the Sherriffs of Longformacus.
Sir James Hall of Dunglass, Fourth Baronet (1761-1832) : a chemist and geologist, who wrote several papers in support of James Hutton’s ( 1726-97) theory of the earth (1785). President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Sir James’s son, Captain Basil Hall, R.N. was a friend of Sir Walter Scott. He married Lady Helen Douglas, second daughter of Dunbar, Earl of Selkirk in 1787. He was alleged to have been of gipsy or “Fa” origin.
Provost Fall’s house at Dunbar was once the town house of the Earl of Lauderdale, and it is still standing, a part of a barracks, though no longer used for military purposes.
Miss Clarke was a person of some local distinction, well known for her tea parties, she had a brother whom Burns notes as Mr. Clarke.
Mr. Lee, farmer of Skateraw, the largest holding in the district.
Dr Brown was David Brown, who received his Licentiate’s diploma at the Royal college of Surgeons on 20th of March 1778.
Collector Lorimer: Charles Lorimer Collector of Customs at Dunbar from 20th of March 1771 to 8th of March 1814.