When the midnight bells chime and everyone links arms to sing in the New Year, thank one man especially: Robert Burns, the poet who brought us Auld Lang Syne. Adapted from a traditional song meaning 'times gone by', Auld Lang Syne ranks as one of the three most popular songs in the English language (the other two being Happy Birthday to You and For He's a Jolly Good Fellow). Partly due to his barnstorming hit, statues of Burns are sprinkled around the globe, and his likeness graces podiums from Sydney to San Francisco. But Burns' true home is southwest Scotland, and if you want to be so close you can almost smell the whisky on his breath, head for the Robert Burns National Heritage Park in Alloway, Ayrshire. The park includes a museum containing the touchstones of Burns' existence, including an original manuscript of his New Year karaoke-style hit, written in his sprawling hand. Beside the museum stands his old home, Burns Cottage. You may not find it in immaculate condition, but that's apt because 'Scotland's most exceptional man' came from nothing. Born in 1759, Burns slept in the loft space, disturbed by rodents that would inspire him to write his poem The Vision. His market-gardener father, William Burnes, hired his son a teacher, John Murdoch, while his mother's friend Betty Davidson spun him yarns of witches and 'kelpies' (water spirits). The creatures would resurface in the shape of dancing warlocks and witches in Burn's Tam O'Shanter, a poem about a man called Tam who stumbles from a pub and sees a vision on the way home. This is commemorated by an audiovisual show at the grandly named Tam O'Shanter Experience arena. Opposite it stands the actual setting for the raucous story, Kirk Alloway, the church where Burns' parents are buried. Now deserted and roofless, the church is illuminated at night, evoking the after-dark life of the poem. Down the road stands the crux of the poem, the Brig O'Doon. This bridge is the spot where Tam's mare, Meg, makes her last leap for freedom, leaving her tail in the fist of Nannie, the short-skirted 'Cutty Sark' witch. Statue House, another eerie attraction, lies beside this, home to life-sized statues of Burns' cronies such as Nanse Tinnock, the owner of an alehouse Burns frequented - where the ploughman poet was doubtless the life and soul. Burns' constitution had, however, been damaged by hard labour in his early years. Despite growing celebrity that made him the Elvis Presley of his day, he lost his sparkle as he aged, dispirited by the doctrines of Calvinism, and obsessed with whisky and women. He died young, at 37. But Burns clubs across the world celebrate his memory; his birthday, January 25, is an unofficial national day for folks with Scottish blood, marked by tipsy dinners featuring readings of his work. Whatever your race or roots, think of Scotland's favourite son when the New Year dawns and you 'take a cup of kindness'. Burns National Heritage Park, Murdoch's Lone, Alloway, Ayr, Scotland (tel: +44 (0)1292 443 700; www.burnsheritagepark.com ).