THE first Allan Ramsay Festival, celebrating the works of the 18th century poet of that name and his son, also Allan, is shortly to take place in the tiny hamlet of Carlops right on the edge of the Scottish Borders just north of West Linton and a dozen miles south of the Edinburgh by-pass.

It will run from Friday October 14 to Sunday October 16 and will offer a chance for devotees of the Ramsays to celebrate the pair, while those who have little or no knowledge of the famous father and son will find something to fascinate them.

With the Pentland Hills as a backdrop, Carlops itself has a fascinating history as it was founded in 1784 as a weavers settlement with a name that means “Carlin’s loup” because local legend has it that witches used to leap between the two 60 feet high rocks just off the main Edinburgh to Carlisle road that runs through Carlops.


THE venue is the Allan Ramsay Hotel, founded as a coaching inn in 1792 and named after the elder Ramsay who by then had been dead for 34 years and whose place as the first poet of Scottish Romanticism and composer of Scotland’s first opera, The Gentle Shepherd, was already assured. His son had died only eight years previously in 1784 and the people of the area were well pleased that the Inn was named after two men who had brought great credit to the locale.

On each day of the Festival the Hotel will host displays of poetry by Allan Ramsay and an exhibition of paintings by Allan Ramsay Jnr. There will be a photography exhibition entitled Scenery of The Gentle Shepherd, mostly of views around Carlops including the Pentlands and picturesque areas of Midlothian.

There will be a Gentle Shepherd Storyboard and Allan Ramsay Heritage Trails, while on the Saturday to mark the birthday of Allan Ramsay there will be the unveiling of Allan Ramsay Historic Environment Scotland Plaque by Christine Grahame MSP.

That will be followed by guided walks to the scenery of The Gentle Shepherd and at 5pm there will be a talk by Professor Murray Pittock of Glasgow University, general editor of The Works of Allan Ramsay who will speak on Five Things that Allan Ramsay Gave Scotland in the Seventy Years of His Life.

There will then be an Allan Ramsay Celebration Dinner, which is ticket only, in much the same fashion as a Burns Supper, which is fitting because Burns always acknowledged Ramsay’s influence on his work.


ALLAN Ramsay (1684-1758) was born in Leadhills in Lanarkshire and at the age of 16 he became an apprentice wig maker in Edinburgh, later setting up his own wig-making business. Always a voracious reader, he began composing verses and in 1712 he was one of the founders of the Easy Club, a group of like-minded souls who enjoyed literary discussions over a bottle of claret.

The Easy Club was known for its Jacobite sympathies, and Ramsay himself was determined that the Scots language would not die out in the years after the Act of Union when “North Britishness” was all the rage. He began to earn serious money for his verse collections in Scots, and turned his wigmaking shop in the Old Town into a booksellers. He hit upon the idea of renting out books, and thus became known as the founder of Britain’s first circulating library.

The Gentle Shepherd, a ballad opera that is both a comedy and a hymn to the joys of pastoral life was his masterpiece. Ramsay loved the stage but his attempt to open a theatre in Edinburgh was doomed to failure give the opposition of the all-powerful Kirk about whom he wrote in often excoriating terms.


ALLAN Ramsay Jnr was the eldest son of the family and was born in 1713. He studied art in London and Italy but returned to base himself in Edinburgh in 1738. He quickly established a reputation as a superb painter of portraits, and later moved to London where his reputation as a painter and art tutor grew steadily.

His first wife, Anne Bayne, died in childbirth, and he later eloped with one of his pupils, Margaret Lindsay – Ramsay’s painting of her is in the National Gallery in Edinburgh. They had a long and happy marriage which produced three children, but her father Sir Alexander Lindsay always thought she had married beneath herself, even after Ramsay was appointed official portrait painter to King George III in 1761.

Ramsay never recovered after the death of Margaret in 1782, and after he managed to finish a portrait of King George, he set out for Italy again but died en route at Dover on 10 August, 1784.


THERE are monuments to Allan Ramsay senior in West Princes Street Gardens and on Cauldshoulders Ridge in the grounds of Penicuik House, where he often visited the Clerk family.

Possibly the best monument to his son is the fact that earlier this year, his long lost portrait of Charles Edward Stuart, painted at Holyrood in 1745, was bought for the nation at a cost of more than £1 million and is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.