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Issue 56 - Ayrshire & Arran

Scotland Magazine Issue 56
April 2011


This article is 7 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

Local politics have divided Ayrshire into North (formerly Cunninghame), East (Kyle) and South (Carrick), now including the Isle of Arran and its smaller, sister islands Great and Little Cumbrae.

Although Ayrshire in its entirety contains some of Scotland’s finest agricultural land, the region nowadays embraces prolific pockets of industrial growth and a string of coastal resorts which cater for holidaymakers “doon the watter” from Glasgow and elsewhere.

Fronting onto the Firth of Clyde, and the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland, Ayrshire’s medieval history was more closely connected with Galloway than with the remainder of Scotland, and certainly there was much coming and going across the water to Ireland.

Dropping into North Ayrshire from Renfrewshire, the A78 coastal road runs through Saltcoats with its fine sandy beach, and passes on to Kilwinning, acclaimed for having hosted Scotland’s first Lodge of Freemasonry. Just to the south of Kilwinning stand the remains of the once magnificent Eglinton Castle. The ancestral seat of the Montgomerie earls of Eglinton & Winton, in 1838 it was the scene of a celebrated medieval tournament, an event that was attended by the future Emperor of the French, Napoleon III.

Once a centre for coal mining, iron and textile manufacturing, the local economy here now largely focuses on plastics and engineering.

The town of Irvine, which has New Town status, has a long and proud history. During the 12th century, in the reign of David I of Scotland, this was the seat of Hugh de Moreville, Lord High Constable of Scotland.

He and his successors occupied Seagate Castle.

Now ruined, a plaque on the wall tells us Mary Queen of Scots stayed here in 1563, accompanied by her ‘Four Maries’ (her ladies-in-waiting Mary Beaton, Mary Seton, Mary Flemming and Mary Livingstone).

Once one of Glasgow’s principle trading ports, a major regeneration of the bay area has taken place, and for those who are interested in the history of shipping, a visit to the Shipyard Workers Tenement Flat at the Maritime Museum housed in the Linthouse Engine Shop is a must.

South of Glasgow, the A77 leads to Kilmarnock, the A76 thereafter heading off to Cumnock and into the Galloway hills. At Cumnock stands Dumfries House, a splendid Palladian country house built for William Dalrymple, fifth Earl of Dumfries and inherited by the family of the marquesses of Bute, with whom it remained until 2007.

Notable for housing one of the finest collections of furniture designed by Thomas Chippendale, the house and estate was in 2007 purchased by “The Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House Trust”, a consortium of charities led by the Prince of Wales. It is open to the public for pre-booked tour.

At Ochiltree, in the same neighbourhood, is Auchnleck House, the exquisitely beautiful home of James Boswell, Dr Samuel Johnson’s friend and biographer.

It is still owned by the Boswell family, but can be leased through the Landmark Trust. Another beautiful location in this vicinity is the Blair Castle and Estate at Dalry which is also available for private lets, weddings and conferences.

Kilmarnock, which the River Irvine runs through, is the largest town in the region, and here the traditional industries were engineering and textiles. Among the important features of the town are the Dick Institute, founded in 1901 and which houses an art gallery, library and museum. The Burns Monument Centre in Kay Park was restored after a fire in 2004 and today provides a genealogy centre with a marriage suite, registration and archive service.

The first collection of work by the Ayrshire-born poet Robert Burns, Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect, was published here in 1786.

Dean Castle, the stronghold of the Boyd family who were lords of Kilmarnock for four hundred years, is located in its own country park. In 1975, the estate was gifted to the people of Kilmarnock by the ninth Lord Howard de Walden, along with his father’s collections of arms and armour, and his grandfather’s collection of musical instruments.

From Irvine, the A78 leads south to Troon, encountering the A77 which continues on to Prestwick and its International Airport, and Ayr, thereafter to Maybole, Turnberry, and Girvan and down to Ballantrea. Inland, the A713 leads to Dalmellington.

Troon is the northern of South Ayrshire’s seaside towns and has a busy port with freight and passenger ferry services to Larne in Northern Ireland. The Troon Yacht Haven marina is one of the Firth of Clyde’s leading sailing centres. There are also six quality golf courses and the Royal Troon championship links last hosted The Open Championship in 2004.

South Ayrshire is a golfer’s paradise, and The Open was played at Prestwick Old Course between 1860 and 1972. The town has a mile long esplanade alongside Prestwick Bay with expansive views across the water towards Arran, with the shores of Kintyre beyond.

With the fog-free Glasgow Prestwick International Airport, this corner of Scotland becomes an air transit destination for an array of European destinations as well as transatlantic and other international cargo flights. Heading south, the road arrives at Maybole centred on its ancient castle, the oldest inhabited house in the town. This is very much Kennedy country, with Culzean Castle, the family’s cliff top fortress at its heart.

Culzean’s oval staircase and the saloon with windows one hundred and fifty foot above the Firth of Clyde are numbered among the finest achievements of the Scottish architect Robert Adam. The Kennedys, who became earls of Cassilis and marquesses of Ailsa, were a stormy dynasty. One led the Scottish army against Joan of Arc; another roasted alive the Comendator of the nearby Crossraguel Abbey to force him to hand over abbey lands.

Today Culzean Castle is considered to be the “Jewel in the Crown” in the portfolio of the National Trust for Scotland, and paying guests are allowed to stay in the Eisenhower Apartment. After the Second World War, this was opened up to America’s 34th president in grateful recognition of his role as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.

Ayr has enjoyed Royal Burgh status since 1205, and is the administrative centre of South Ayrshire. It was here, in 1315, that Robert the Bruce held his first Parliament of Scotland, following his great victory the year before at Bannockburn. The north side of Ayr Harbour still operates as a commercial port, and the celebrated Ayr Racecourse hosts both National Hunt and flat racing. On the outskirts of the town is the fishing village of Dunure with its ruined castle, which, prior to the building of Culzean, was the stronghold of the Kennedy family.

The name that is so inextricably linked with this corner of Scotland is that of Robert Burns, whose mother Agnes Broun was born and brought up on a farm in the hill country above Kirkoswald.

Burns himself was born at Alloway, two miles south of Ayr. The house that his father built has been transformed into the Burns Cottage Museum, and forms part of the Burns Heritage Trail which is located in the Alloway Heritage Park and embraces all of the locations associated with the immortal bard: Kirk Alloway, the Tam O’Shanter Experience and the Brig o’ Doon, despatching enthusiasts thereafter to Tarbolton, where Burns formed the Bachelor’s Club with his brother Gilbert; Mauchline, (Burns House Museum), where he courted and began his married life with Jean Armour, and Soutar Johnnie’s Cottage and Churchyard at Kirkoswald.

At nearby Turnberry, the five-star hotel and three links golf courses have achieved legendary status.

Used as an air base in World War One and World War Two, the Ailsa and Arran courses were created in the early twentieth century, the Kintyre course subsequently. It was the Ailsa which hosted the first of its four Open Championship in 1977.

Here also it was that Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus fought their famous “Duel in the Sun”, and the Women’s British Open last took place here in 2002.

With its glorious outlook over the Firth of Clyde, with the sugar-loaf lump of the uninhabited Ailsa Craig rising horizontally from the sea on the horizon, and its landmark lighthouse, Turnberry has to be one of the most compelling resorts in Scotland. To this end, the Lands of Turnberry was launched in April of this year, a portfolio of eight selfcatering apartments each providing a superb family base for not only golfers, but for horse riding on the sandy beaches, clay pigeon shooting, and 4X4 off-roading.

The mind plays tricks on those driving along the A719 north of Girvan where it is possible to stop the car, leave the brake off, and very slowly your vehicle will appear to roll uphill. A roadside stone between Dunure Village and Croy Bay tells you that for a quarter of a mile from the bend overlooking Croy railway viaduct to the west and Craigencroy wood to the east, at 286 feet (87 metres) above sea level, the configuration on either side of the road makes it look as if the slope is going the other way. The stretch is known locally as the “Electric Brae”.

Girvan which began as a small fishing port, is today a major tourist resort with a ferry crossing to Northern Ireland. Here in 1968 that William Grant & Sons, encouraged by the escalating sales of their Scotch whisky, chose to build the most modern grain distillery in Europe.

Five miles to the south are a series of characterful caves and coves.

Strangers who passed this way in the 16th century were known to disappear without a trace until it was discovered that Sawney Bean, a reclusive cannibal, and his family, were snatching them up and taking them home for supper. The Bean family were eventually rounded up for a mass execution in Edinburgh presided over by none other than James VI himself.

West of the M78 Motorway which runs from east of Glasgow and south towards the Scottish Border and Carlisle in England, there are a network of minor roads which string across lush pasture land and encroach upon the rugged hill country as it tumbles south into the Galloway Forest Park.

Off the coastline is Arran, the largest island in the Firth of Clyde, which is reached by ferry from Ardrossan, half way down the Ayrshire coast and close to Kilwinning, or from Clonaig in Kintyre. Between the eighth and 11th centuries, Arran was ruled by Norsemen, being absorbed into the Scottish Crown in the 13th century.

The Ardrossan ferry lands at Brodick, which in the Norse language means “Broad Bay,” and a major visitor attraction here is Brodick Castle, a former seat of the dukes of Hamilton which passed through marriage to the dukes of Montrose. The castle and gardens are now in the portfolio of the National Trust for Scotland.

Arran is often spoken of as “Scotland in miniature”, since there are definable Highland and Lowland areas, divided by a boundary fault. As a result, its scenic hills, parks and gardens provide opportunities for walking, climbing, hiking, biking, bird watching, riding, fishing and pony trekking.

The largest village on the island is Lamlash. Island businesses include the Arran Distillery which opened in 1995 at Lochranza, the Arran Brewery at Cladach, and Arran Aromatics, which produces a range of toiletries. There is a local cheese company. Visitors to Brodick should look in on Creelers, the island’s celebrated seafood restaurant.

For many years Arran has been a particular magnet for geologists drawn by the variety of its landforms and rock formations.

There are seven golf courses – at Brodick, Lamlash, Whiting Bay, Lochranza, Machrie, Shiskine Blackwaterfoot and Corrie. The Arran Golf Pass allows for a trial on each of them.

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