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Issue 43 - Ayrshire & Arran – wonders of the western coast

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 43
February 2009


This article is 9 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 & Arran – wonders of the western coast

Ayrshire and the Isle of Arran on Scotland's west coast offer all that is best about Scotland in one place, says Sally Toms.

In the south west corner of Scotland lies an area of outstanding natural beauty, wildlife and history.

The poet John Keats compared the scenery of Ayrshire to that of Devon in England, and there is a certain similarity in the vistas. They are both rich, agricultural lands, patchworked with small fields, country lanes and picturesque villages.

Dairy farming is big business here, too, and the big brown and white Ayrshire cattle are common sight among the hills.

It is a quiet corner of Scotland, but one with an impressive pedigree, having links to some of the most famous Scots in history.

Scotland’s legendary king, Robert the Bruce, was born here, in Turnberry Castle in 1274. Sadly nothing survives of this clifftop fortress, save the interesting story of how Robert the Bruce’s parents first met.

Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, was a young widow in her lonely castle when she fell in love with a young knight riding past her window and had him captured and imprisoned until he agreed to marry her. The man turned out to be Robert de Brus, Lord of Annandale. Their son, the future king, was born in 1274, and it was ironically he who had the castle demolished to prevent it from falling into English hands.

The legendary William Wallace also began his rise to fame as an outlaw in Ayrshire. And though it is generally believed that Wallace was born in a town called Elderslie in Renfrewshire, there is evidence to suggest his birthplace could have been the similarly named Ellerslie near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire.

But perhaps the region is better known as the home of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns.

Born in the village of Alloway in 1759, Burns spent the first 29 years of his life in Ayrshire. Visiting fans will find the places he lived, ate, slept and wrote about well signposted.

The Burns Heritage Park is the centre of pilgrimage in the region, and is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. It comprises the Burns Cottage and Smallholding, Burns Cottage Museum (housing the world’s most significant collection relating to the life, work and legacy of Robert Burns), Burns Monument and Gardens, the Tam O’Shanter Experience, Brig o’Doon, Alloway Auld Kirk and a connecting walkway.

Work is currently under way to redevelop the park, turning it into the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. As well as improving existing facilities, a state of the art visitors’ centre will be unveiled in 2010.

And if that’s not quite enough Burns for you, every year in May the Burns an’ a’ That festival celebrates the life of the great poet with a huge variety of concerts, events and competitions linked to Burns in every conceivable way. This year’s festival takes place between 16th-24th May.

But there is more to Ayrshire than Burns.

It is famed for golf, castles, and a beautiful sandy coastline. Up until the 1960s, the Ayrshire coast was a holiday hot spot, earning it the nickname the Costa del Clyde. Nowadays the resorts of Girvan Troon, Prestwicks and Largs have a slightly faded charm but are still popular with daytrippers and holidaymakers.

From the Ayrshire’s southern shores, visible out to sea is a great lump of rock known as Ailsa Craig, whose granite was once famously used to make curling stones. Today, it is a bird sanctuary for thousands of gannets and the occasional puffin. Local boats offer excursions around the island in summer, or you could hop on board the Waverley Paddle Steamer.

Also visible 20 miles or so offshore is the Isle of Arran, Scotland’s most southerly and accessible island. It can be reached by ferry from Ardrossan on the mainland, a fairly uninspiring town but a good place for a cup of tea. The journey takes about an hour.

Nineteen miles long and 10 miles wide, around 4,500 people live on Arran all year round, a number which more than doubles during the summer season.

Famously known as being ‘Scotland in Miniature,’ the variety of landscape within Arran is breathtaking. From the high mountain peaks surrounding Goatfell in the north of the island, to the valleys of Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa in the south. It is, literally, a miniature version of mainland Scotland, split by the same fault line that separates the Highlands and Lowlands.

But it’s not only the landscapes that identifies it so, Arran has almost all of the features that make Scotland so unique including castles, a distillery, and wildlife in spades.

It is an ancient island and there are many cairns and standing stones to be visited.

Interestingly there are no grey squirrels here, the island a stronghold for the native red which is being pushed out of the rest of Scotland by the more aggressive grey.

The mountains of Arran are also home to a variety of birds of prey, including buzzards, peregrines, kestrels, hen harriers, sparrowhawks and, occasionally, golden eagles. Keep an eye out for seals, porpoises, basking sharks and even dolphins in the waters around Arran. On the south coasts and shores, you may be lucky enough to see an otter or two – dusk and dawn are the best times to spot them.

Arran can offer beautiful scenery and wildlife all year, but other visitor attractions on the island are seasonal. Many things will be closed from October-March, so it’s a good idea to check before you plan your holiday.

Brodick Castle dominates the skyline above Brodick Bay. It offers 600 years of history, a fabulous collection of valuable artefacts, and stunning views over to the Ayrshire Coast. The gardens are a joy to explore throughout the year, from the formal walled garden to the many woodland walks.

The Park extends from seashore to mountain top with more than 10 miles of way-marked trails and abundant wildlife.

With its backdrop of mountain peaks, its terraced lawns and luxuriant gardens, Brodick Castle and Country Park is the very image of a Victorian Highland estate.

Useful websites:
VisitScotland Visitor Information Centres:
Ayr: 22 Sandgate, Ayr, Ayrshire (Open all year)
Brodick: The Pier, Brodick, Isle of Arran,
(Open all year)
Largs: Railway Station, Main Street, Largs,
(Apr - Oct)
For ferry information:
Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd. (Ferries) Brodick
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302166
Written enquiries:
15 Skye Road

Burns Heritage Park
Visit the Brig O’Doon, the cottage
where Burns was born and many of his
personal items, with an original
manuscript of Auld Lang Syne.
Tel: +44 (0)1292 443 700
Bachelor’s Club
A 17th-century thatched house, in
which Burns formed a debating club.
Tel: +44 (0)1292 541 940
Culzean Castle & Country Park
Aspectacular cliff top castle with much
to see, including an important
collection of weaponry and a beautiful
walled Victorian garden.
Tel: +44 (0)844 493 2149
Dalgarven Mill
A delightful restored mill containing
an extensive collection of Ayrshire
farming and domestic memorabilia.
Tel: +44 (0)1294 552 448
Maybole Caslte
A 16th century castle where history
and legend abound.
Souter Johnnie’s Cottage
Home of the real life Souter Johnnie
from Burns’ poem Tam O’Shanter.
Known to the residents of
Kirkoswald as local shoemaker John
Davidson. A nice recreation of village
life in the 1700s.
Tel: +44 (0)844 493 2147
Scottish Maritime Museum
An excellent museum showcasing
every kind of boat, ship and
maritime heritage.
Tel: +44 (0)1294 278 283
Award winning visitors’ centre where
you meet real live Vikings and hear
about their adventures in Scotland.
Great for little ones.
Tel: +44 (0)1475 689 777
The Postage Stamp
A nice little pub close to the town
centre. Named after the eighth hole
on the famous Troon golfcourse.
Tel: +44 (0)1292 314 471
One of Scotland’s finest
restaurant offering contemporary
Scottish/French dishes in a cosy
basement setting.
Tel: +44 (0)1292 261 391
Cozy Nook Café
Good food, cooked fresh (often
FairTrade) in a clean, spacious and
bright café.
Tel: +44 (0)1292 292 935
The Welltrees Inn
One of the most popular inns in the
town, with a frustic interior and a
friendly atmosphere. Food is served
until 9pm daily.
Tel: +44 (0)1655 883 317
Craigie Inn
A beautifully restored pub offering a
friendly atmosphere, good beer and
excellent food. The local folk music
club meets here on the first Friday of
every month.
Tel: +44 (0)1563 860 286
The Café Prestwick
Open seven days a week, offering
good, home-cooked food at
reasonable prices.
Tel: +44 (0)1292 470 597
Kings Arms Hotel
Six comfortable rooms, excellent
food and drink and a great range of
whiskies. Has been a hotel for more
than 250 years.
Tel: +44 (0)1465 831 202
Wildings Hotel & Restaurant
Ten luxury ensuite rooms, plus a two
bedroomed suite. Dining here is
popular so it is advisable to book.
Tel: +44 (0)1655 331 401
The Town Hotel
Elegant Georgian house hotel with
18 ensuite rooms in a mixture of
sizes. Includes a hearty breakfast.
Tel: +44 (0)1292 267 595
The Mercat Hotel
Rooms are comfy and freshly
decorated, and the downstairs bar is
well stocked.
Tel: +44 (0)1290 424 618
Poosie Nansie’s Inn
A traditional inn once frequented by
Robert Burns, and still going strong.
Cosy bar with good food.
Tel: +44 (0)1290 550 316
Heughmill Guest House
A beautiful four star B&B in a
converted farmhouse. Three ensuite
rooms available from £35 a night.
Tel: +44 (0)1563 860 389
Turnberry Resort
Currently closed for renovation, this
destination resort and world famous
golf course will reopen in July 2009.
Tel: +44 (0)1655 331 000
Allandale House
A comfortable guesthouse in a
peaceful location, yet conveniently
close to the ferry.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302 278
The Auchrannie Hotel
The island’s finest accommodation:
two four star hotels, five star lodges,
three restaurants and a spa.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302 234
Corrie Hotel
Ensuite accommodation, good bar
meals and a seaside beer garden.
Close to Goatfell route.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 810 273
Dunvegan House
Four star guest house with ensuite
rooms and a welcoming atmosphere,
located close to the pier.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302 811
The Glenartney Hotel
A great place for a meal and a quiet
drink, with a variety of twin, double
and family rooms available too.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302 220
The Shorehouse
Self catering holiday apartments
fully equipped with kitchen and
lounge facilities.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302 377
Brodick Bar
A daily changing blackboard menu
with fresh fish a speciality. Lunctime
snacks are also good.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302 169
Coffee shop open daily, with a
licensed restaurant in the evening.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 303 552
Excellent bistro-style restaurant
adjoining a smokehouse and shop.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302 810
The Drift Inn
Popular pub open seven days a
week. Nice pub garden overlooking
the Holy Isle.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 600 270
The Tearoom
Attached to a golf and tennis club,
offering a good vegetarian menu and
a changing specials board.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 860 226
Conveniently located at the foot of
Goatfell. Soups, scones and main
meals with a good wine selection.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302 977
Isle of Arran Distillery
One of the few remaining
independent distilleries in Scotland.
Also one of the newest,having just
hit 12 years old. A distillery tour here
is highly recommended.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 830 264
Isle of Arran Heritage Museum
A group of building exhibits each
reflecting the social history,
archaeology and geology of the
island. Includes a croft and smiddy, a
farmhouse, cottage, bothy, milk
house, laundry, stable and
coach house.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302 636
Machrie Moor Standing Stones
A great place for a walk – the
moorland is littered with the remains
of early settlers, from hut circles to
chambered cairns and solitary
standing stones.
Seven golf courses to choose from
at Brodick, Lochranza, Lamlash,
Whiting Bay, Corrie and Machrie. A
Golf Pass available at any of the
clubs will give you a round on
each for just £95.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 860 226
Brodick Castle
Furnished historic castle with
stunning collections of art, furniture
and silver.
Tel: +44 (0)8444 932 152
A fantastic hill walk over heathery
moorland. See some of Arran’s
spectacular wildlife including red
deer, ravens and hen harriers.
Tel: +44 (0)844 493 2155
Arran Aromatics
A family run business making luxury
toiletries and scented candles. View
the factory process and have a go at
making your own soap.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302 595
Paterson Arran Kitchen Shop
Mustards, preserves, biscuits,
cheese and some unique gifts.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 600 606
Arran Brewery
Take a short brewery tour and buy
some bottles to take away.
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302 353