Captain Robert Riddell of Frairs Carse had built a small “ivied cot” folly called the ‘Hermitage’ in the Crow Wood, a secluded part of the estate and just a few fields away from Ellisland. The Hermiatge was constructed in the mode of a medieaval anchorites cell.
Rabbie Burns often used the Hermitage for writing poetry, having been given the key to the gate set in the Ellisland march-dyke and probably also enjoying drinking sessions here with Robert Riddell, as well as occasionally sleeping here.
Robert Riddell died on the 20th April 1794 at the early age of only 39 and the Hermitage was allowed to quietly decay and by 1803 it was being used by stray stock. Rabbie Burns’s friendship with Riddell had ceased in December 1793 after an incident at Friars Carse and he had to secretly return to engrave lines to his old friend on the window.
In 1810 the Hermitage was reported by Robert Hartley Cromek as being derelict. He expressed his shock that the site was not being maintained: for the floor was covered in straw, cattle had broken down the trees and the inscribed pane of glass had gone.
In around 1870 William Douglas recorded that the only part of the building still standing was part of the east gable. Over the lintel was cut the name ‘BURNS’ in bold letters.
Mr Thomas Nelson of Friars Carse built another ‘Hermitage’, of a different design, on the same site in 1874.
The 1874 Hermitage had the following lines inscribed on the window:
The building was restored again in 2009.
Walter, the brother of Captain Riddell, was also a close friend of Rabbie Burns. Walter’s wife, Maria Woodley, was a West Indies-born poet, naturalist, editor and travel writer:
Robert Burns paid tribute to Maria Riddell as “a votary of the Muses”.