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Issue 21 - Ayrshire and Arran – something for everyone

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 21
July 2005


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 – something for everyone

Ayrshire and Arran don't enjoy as much attention as destinations further North, but they have a lot to offer

If you’re of the view that Scotland is that piece of land north of Glasgow and Edinburgh, think again. The Borders in the South East and Dumfies and Galloway in the South West offer a different but no less stunning landscape. And further up the West Coast Ayrshire and the gateway it offers of Arran provide plenty of opportunity to explore.

Certainly golf enthusiasts will delight in the choice in this area.

Ayrshire hugs the coast alongside the Firth of Clyde and is a comparatively flat corner of Scotland characterised by its rolling hills and farmlands.

In the centre is the coastal resort and capital Ayr, a busy shopping centre and commercial seaport. It is also the launch pad for tourist exploration of Ayrshire, as flights to Prestwick International Airport land here.

The region is probably best known as the birth place of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, who was born in the village of Alloway in 1759.

Ayrshire abounds with places connected with the poet, so much so that it is difficult to move within the boundaries of Ayrshire without coming into contact or being reminded of his influence and popularity in the region.

Robert Burns' life is celebrated all year round here, the two biggest celebrations of all things Burns being 'Burns Night' (25th January) and a week long festival in May/June called 'Burns an' a' that!' which is a celebration not only of Rabbie himself but of life and contemporary Scottish culture.

Burns wrote in the lowland dialect known as Lallans, which some people find inaccessible. But even if you’re not a fan, the myriad of exhibits connected with his life give a really good impression of life in Ayrshire during the 18th century.

Robert the Bruce and William Wallace are two other famous Ayrshiremen. In Leglen Wood, some three miles east of Ayr, there stands a cairn commemorating Wallace but there is a distinct lack of other attractions in the area connected to either of them. It seems strange that Burns’ popularity should eclipse two of Scotland’s most famous sons, but there are monuments and battle sites elsewhere in the country that are closely allied with Bruce and Wallace, should you wish to pay your respects.

Ayrshire also has more than its fair share of castles, many of which can be visited. Dundonald Castle near Troon is thought to be the third most important castle in Scotland (after Edinburgh and Stirling). Built in 1371, it was the first home of the Stuart Kings, but recent excavations by Historic Scotland have revealed a succession of settlements dating back to the Stone Age.

In contrast to the roofless majesty of Dundonald, Culzean Castle (pronounced Cull-ane) is one of the most opulent and impressive of Scotland’s stately homes. For a time Dundonald was known as the Scottish Whitehouse because of President Eisenhower’s frequent visits. But be warned, it is the NTS’s most visited property and can get quite busy at weekends.

Golf is almost as famous in Ayrshire as Rabbie himself. The most famous course is Turnberry.

Book private tuition from one of the pro-golfers at The Colin Montgomerie Golf Academy, the patient and friendly staff give great advice for experienced golfers and novices alike. They will take you through all aspects of your game, and even record your swing from three different angles then play it back to you in a high tech studio to tell you what you’re doing wrong.

Royal Troon is another obvious golfing delight, but there are plenty of other courses, including some excellent links ones, for players of every ability.

For the golf widows, the Westin Turnberry has a fantastic day spa open to non-residents.

You can’t visit the Ayrshire coast without noticing an oddly shaped rock in the Firth of the Clyde. Ailsa Craig has been described as “a huge bread roll floating out to sea”, but is in fact an eroded lump of blue-tinted granite and basalt volcanic remnant positioned roughly halfway between Glasgow and Belfast, earning it the nickname ‘Paddy’s Milestone’. It’s now a bird sanctuary and taking a cruise on the MV Glorious (01465 713 219) is a great way to get close the gannet and puffin colonies that reside there. It’s even possible to land if the sea is calm.

To get to Arran head for the pretty harbour town of Ardrossan. From Prestwick Airport it’s an easy 25 minute drive north or you can take the train, with services running regularly up to Kilwinning where you can change for a harbour service. The station is only metres away from the ferry terminus and train departures and arrivals are co-ordinated with ferry times.

Arran is just under an hour away by Calmac ferry, and well worth the journey. It’s been described as ‘Scotland in miniature’ and that’s exactly what it is, with mountainous Highland regions in the North and flatter plain-like regions in the south. It sits in the Firth of Clyde with mainland on either side, and as a result perhaps loses some of the romance associated with the Shetlands, Orkneys or Hebrides.

But to ignore it would be a mistake. It is a stunning, lush and at times quirky place – a lifelike wooden seal on a rock in the sea anyone? And its scenery is quite breath-taking, its greenness something of a surprise.

Arran is an exciting blend of old and new, its West Scottish Gaelic roots very much in evidence, its close association with its history and culture obvious. But in its brewing and distilling businesses it has a firm eye to the future as well.

The distillery is just 10 years old and it’s purpose-built, celebrating the fact that it is one of Scotland’s youngest but established whiskyproducing centres. The distillery not only welcomes visitors but has gone out of its way to provide for them, offering comprehensive and detailed tours in a convivial atmosphere. The whisky is great too.

Arran Brewery is also making a name for itself and along with the island’s other main business, Arran Aromatics, it is helping to spread the name of the island well beyond Scottish shores.

Accommodation is reasonably priced, the island is welcoming and friendly, and the beaches impressive. And there’s plenty for visitors to do and see.

Many places claim to have 'something for everyone' but Ayrshire and Arran stand up under the tightest scrutiny. The region is steeped in history, offering Bronze Age standing stones to Medieval Viking battles and some of the best preserved castles in the United Kingdom.

Ayrshire also boasts 80 miles of unspoiled coastal scenery; the low cliffs, sandy beaches and the sheltered waters of the Firth of Clyde are highly accessible from wherever you are.

What’s more the choice of accommodation is as comprehensive as it is varied. From campsites to hostels to world renowned five star resorts, the choices are endless.