THE 18th century village of Newtown of Beltrees is Renfrewshire’s quaintest hamlet.
As well as an old schoolhouse, the pastoral paradise comprises traditional rubble-built houses with slated roofs, high walls, thorn hedges and flower-festooned gardens.
The sylvan settlement, sheltered by towering trees, straddles the medieval stage-coach road between Paisley and Ayrshire.
This highway was walked frequently 200 years ago by Paisley poet Robert Tannahill when he visited relatives at Boghall Farm, near Beith.
The village – sometimes known as Glenhead, after a neighbouring farm – also has literary links with Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard.
It was the meadowland matrix of the lyrical style gilding Burns’ most poignant poems.
The story began during the mid-17th century, when Robert Sempill (1599-1670), of Beltrees Castle, penned his celebrated elegy on ‘The Life and Death of Habbie Simpson – the Famous Piper of Kilbarchan.’
Habbie was a 16th century local worthy, renowned for playing his skirling bagpipes at baptisms, weddings, horse fairs, steeplechases, market days and village dances.
After his death, he was eulogised by Robert Sempill, whose scholarly father, Sir James Sempill (1566-1625), transcribed King James VI’s Basilicon Doran manuscript and was appointed Sheriff of Renfrewshire in 1602.
Sir James was the son of John Sempill, of Castle Semple, who married Mary Livingston, one of Mary Queen of Scots’ Four Maries, following a visit to the royal court at Holyrood Palace.
So Robert Sempill followed in his erudite father’s illustrious footsteps with his immortalisation of village piper Simpson, whose name lives on in the time-honoured Habbie epithet bestowed on people born in Kilbarchan.
Robert’s poetic pattern, based on recurrent groups of between four and 12 lines which may or may not rhyme, became known as ‘standard Habbie stanza’ or ‘standard Habbie metre’.
Its impact on Burns is recognisable in popular poems like Highland Mary, The Jolly Beggars and Man was Made to Mourn.
Today, the Beltrees Sempills and their ancient castle no longer grace the Renfrewshire countryside.
The family fortune was lost and the last-known heir, Hamilton Collins Sempill, emigrated to Australia, where he acquired a farm named Belltrees.
But the family name remains eternally enshrined in the name of Beltrees village – and in the Habbie bardic stanza illuminating the poetic pearls of Burns, which delight admirers across the world.