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Issue 13 - Ayrshire and Arran – land of inspiration

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 13
March 2004

 

This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Ayrshire and Arran – land of inspiration

There's much more to Ayrshire than Robert Bruce - though he is a crucial component. David Gordon reports.

How can one describe Ayrshire? It is historical, picturesque and even inspirational. The spectacular, rugged coastline and its green rolling hills have drawn visitors from all over the world.

Many people visit due to the regions links with Robert Burns, Scotland’s National Poet who was born and lived in the region. However, Ayrshire also has links with other historical figures, namely Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. Those interested in castles will be spoilt for choice as Ayrshire has over 30 within its borders.

The coastline of Ayrshire runs along the Firth of Clyde. Rising dramatically from the waters is the Isle of Arran, dominated by the profile of Goat Fell, Arran is known as ‘Scotland in Miniature’ with a varied range of landscapes, covering the whole spectrum of Scottish scenery in one compact package.

The island is also noted for its prehistoric monuments, its locally produced goods, its natural attractions and golf.

Without a doubt, Ayrshire is the land of Robert Burns. There is nowhere else on earth that can claim such a close affinity with the writer and poet. The area provided a wealth of inspiration to Burns and many parts of the region have been immortalised in his poetry.

First stop on the Burns trail is in Alloway, at the little cottage where it all began. What is now known as Burns Cottage was built by the poet’s father in 1757.

The cottage, which has adorned the face of many postcards, is one of the most visited buildings in Scotland. As well as touring the small abode, visitors can view a magnificent collection of Burns original manuscripts and artefacts.

The cottage is one of a collection of buildings that comprise the Burns National Heritage Park. Not too far down the road from the cottage, visitors can wander into the ruins of the Auld Kirk, where, after viewing the gravestone of Burns’ father and some of his contemporaries, visitors can recount the story of Tam O’Shanter who, in a story by Burns, witnessed witches dancing in the churchyard.

For the complete story, the Tam O’Shanter Experience presents an audio-visual interpretation of the poem. Close by, the picturesque Burns Monument overlooks the other main showpiece of the Heritage area, the Brig O’Doon.

Whilst the area around Alloway is synonymous with the poet, he did leave his mark in various other places in the region. The Burns House in Mauchline is where Robert and his new wife Jean Armour, made their first home. He was also a regular visitor at the Bachelors’ Club in Tarbolton and Souter Johnnies cottage in Kirkoswald.

Whilst the Burns connection is virtually unavoidable, there are many other attractions and historic houses in the area.

Culzean Castle is one of the most majestic buildings in Scotland. The National Trust for Scotland describe the castle as its ‘jewel in the crown’. The cliff-top setting has attracted world leaders, as well as the tourists. The castle was once a favoured haunt of Eisenhower, indeed, rumour has it that it still is...

In Kilmarnock, Dean Castle is renowned for its collection of arms, armour and musical instruments. Families also have a choice of attractions to choose from, ranging from the excellent Heads of Ayr Farm Park to Loudon Castle Theme Park in Galston to Vikingar in Largs.

Numerous prehistoric monuments, dating from the Bronze Age, show the significance of the Isle of Arran as an historic settlement. The monuments include stone circles and burial chambers. The Island was also notably inhabited by Vikings for centuries.

In more recent times, the island has excelled itself in the diversity and quality of its locally produced foodstuffs and crafts.

Whether your taste is whisky, beer, cheese, mustard, ice cream or chocolate you will be entranced by Arran. Many of the producers welcome visitors to watch the goods being produced and can usually be persuaded to part with some samples!

If you have a love of the outdoors, Arran is well worth a visit. From horse-riding to cycling and walking to off-road driving the island has it all. For the more sedate, and golf if is your favourite pastime, one can literally play a different course each day for a week on the island.

For the historically minded, Brodick Castle and Country Park are a must. Part of the castle is open to the public, but most visitors make their way to the spectacular gardens to see the renowned show of rhododendrons in bloom.

To the north of Brodick is Lochranza. The village is set alongside the ruin of Lochranza Castle. The area is said to have been the landing place of Robert the Bruce on his return from Rathlin Island in 1307 before he started the campaign that eventually achieved Scottish independence.

Back on the Mainland, the county town of Ayr is a commercial port and popular shopping centre. It has, of course, its links with Robert Burns.

The poet was baptised in the town’s Auld Kirk, situated just off the main street. He also regularly worshipped there as he grew up. The town’s harbour is also a main port for the paddle steamer Waverley, the world’s last ocean-going paddle steamer. For some, a trip to Ayrshire is not complete unless a trip on the Waverley is on the itinerary.

As the birthplace of the Open Golf Championship, it would be remiss not to mention Ayrshire’s proud golfing heritage. The number of golf courses within the regions borders can be counted by the dozen.

One of the best known is Turnberry. This course is recognised as one of the best championship Links golf courses in the world. The names Royal Troon, Prestwick and Westin Gardens will also be recognised by those interested in the sport.

Ayrshire seems to ensure visitors return again and again. To some, indeed, it has become a home from home as they feel they know Ayrshire just as well as their own area.

As a region, Ayrshire welcomes visitors from all over the world and promises a time they will never forget.