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Issue 81 - Renfrewshire and Inverclyde into Ayrshire and on to Arran

Scotland Magazine Issue 81
June 2015


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Renfrewshire and Inverclyde into Ayrshire and on to Arran

Local history, where to go, what to do...

Forming the underbelly of the Firth of Clyde and encroaching upon the City of Glasgow on its southern side, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire tend to be largely overlooked as tourist destinations. Yet in the 12th Century, Paisley was the fiefdom of Walter FitzAlan, the first Lord Steward of Scotland. It was he who granted the charter for a priory to be built, which rapidly grew into a great abbey.

And it was at nearby Elderslie that Scotland’s great resistance leader Sir William Wallace was born in the 13th Century. Perhaps this was why Edward I of England decided to burn the abbey down during his 1307 invasion. However, it was rapidly re-built and, in 1316, when Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert I of Scotland, and wife of Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland, fell from her horse while out riding, it was to Paisley Abbey that she was taken and where she gave birth to the future Robert II, Scotland’s first Stewart king.

Following the coastal route, the A78 from Port Glasgow runs past Greenock and Gourock to Inverkip and Wemyss Bay. In 1711, Greenock became the first dock on the Clyde, and the town’s maritime history is superbly celebrated in the Custom House Museum. From McInroy’s Point on the west side of Gourock, there is a service to Hunter’s Quay at Dunoon in Argyll.

In the graveyard of Inverkip Parish Church is the tomb of Dr James ‘Paraffin’ Young, the pioneering chemist, who had lived nearby. Next on the itinerary is Wemyss Bay, a port for ferries journeying to and from Rothersay on the Isle of Bute.

In Largs, a Viking Festival is held annually in September to commemorate the battle fought between an invading Norse fleet and the Scottish army in 1263. Kelburn Castle at Fairlie is the ancestral seat of the Boyle family who became earls of Glasgow in 1703. When the walls of Kelburn Castle, a category-A listed building, were scheduled to be re-harled in 2007, four Brazilian graffiti artists were invited to decorate the facade. The resulting art work has proved such a spectacular success that it has been decided to postpone the re-paint.

From Largs and Fairlie, the A78 travels to West Kilbride and Kilwinning, commanding fine views over the lower Firth of Clyde to the islands of Great Cumbrae and Little Cumbrae. In the 20th Century, Millport, on Great Cumbrae, became an immensely popular holiday resort. The Cathedral of the Isles of the Scottish Episcopal Church, completed here in 1851, is the smallest cathedral in Great Britain.

Ayrshire is divided 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 it contains some of Scotland’s finest agricultural land, the region nevertheless 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 North Channel which divides the Scottish mainland from Ireland, Ayrshire’s medieval history has always been closer to that of Galloway and Kintyre than to the remainder of Scotland.

Dropping into North Ayrshire from Renfrewshire, the A78 coastal road skirts past West Kilbride to Ardrossan and through Saltcoats with its fine sandy beach, and onward 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, ancestral seat of the Montgomerie earls of Eglinton & Winton. In 1838, this was the scene of a celebrated medieval tournament attended by the future Emperor of the French, Napoleon III. Once a prosperous area for coal mining, and iron and textile manufacture, the local economy nowadays largely focuses on plastics and engineering.

The town of Irvine, which has New Town status, has a long and proud history. In the reign of David I of Scotland during the 12th Century, this was the seat of Hugh de Moreville, Lord High Constable of Scotland, who occupied Seagate Castle. Now ruined, a plaque on the wall tells us that Mary Queen of Scots stayed here in 1563, accompanied by her ‘Four Mairies’, her ladies-in-waiting Mary Beaton, Mary Seton, Mary Fleming and Mary Livingstone.

At one stage Glasgow’s principle trading port, a major regeneration of the bay area has since 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 comes highly recommended.

From the south east of Glasgow, the A77 heads to Kilmarnock where the A76 heads off to Cumnock and into the Galloway hills. At Cumnock stands Dumfries House, a resplendent Palladian country house built for William Dalrymple, fifth Earl of Dumfries, and which subsequently passed through marriage to the marquesses of Bute, with whom it remained until 2007.

Containing one of the finest collections of furniture designed by cabinet maker 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 guided tours.

At Ochiltree, in the same neighbourhood, is Auchinleck 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 for events through the Landmark Trust. Another splendid location in this vicinity is the Blair Castle and Estate at Dalry which is also available for exclusive private lets, weddings and conferences.

Kilmarnock, on the River Irvine, 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 an impressive 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, 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 the holiday town of Troon, encountering the A77 which continues on to Prestwick and its International Airport, and Ayr, thereafter to Maybole, Turnberry, and Girvan and down to Ballantrae. Inland, the A713 leads to Dalmellington.

Troon is the most northerly located 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 Royal Troon is scheduled to host its ninth Open Championship in 2016.

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.

Heading south, our journey arrives at Maybole with its ancient castle, the oldest inhabited house in the town. This is very much Clan Kennedy country, with the splendid Culzean Castle, the family’s ancestral 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 18th Century 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, and another roasted alive Alan Stewart, Commendator 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. After the Second World War, the castle was made available to America’s 34th President in grateful recognition of his role as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, and paying guests are nowadays allowed to stay in the Eisenhower Apartment.

Ayr has enjoyed Royal Burgh status since 1205, and is the administrative centre of South Ayrshire. Here, following his great victory the year before at Bannockburn, King Robert I held his first Parliament of Scotland in 1315.

The northern side of Ayr Harbour continues to operate 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 and its ruined castle, which, prior to the building of Culzean, was the stronghold of the Kennedy clan.

Agnes Broun, mother of the poet Robert Burns, 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 – sending enthusiasts thereafter to Tarbolton, where Burns formed the Bachelor’s Club with his brother Gilbert; the Burns House Museum in Mauchline,where he courted and began his married life with Jean Armour, and Soutar Johnnie’s Cottage and Churchyard at Kirkoswald.

At Turnberry, the five-star hotel and three links golf courses owned by the Trump Organisation, have achieved legendary status. Used as an air base in World War I and World War II, the Ailsa and Arran courses were created in the early 20th Century, and the Kintyre course subsequently. With its glorious outlook over the Firth of Clyde, the sugar-loaf lump of the uninhabited Ailsa Craig rising horizontally from the sea on the horizon, and its landmark lighthouse, Turnberry, which has hosted the Open Championship on four occasions, has to be one of the most compelling resorts in Scotland.

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, William Grant & Sons, encouraged by the escalating sales of their Scotch whisky brands, built 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 followers of Sawney Bean, a reclusive cannibal, 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 James VI.

West of the M78 Motorway which runs from east of Glasgow and south towards the Scottish Border and Carlisle in England, there is a network of minor roads which string across lush pasture land and encroach upon rugged hills as they tumble 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. Towards the end of the first millennium, Arran was ruled by Norsemen but was absorbed into the Scottish Crown in the 13th Century.

The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Ardrossan 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 an infinite amount of opportunities for walking, climbing, hiking, biking, bird watching, riding, fishing and pony trekking.

The largest village on the island is Lamlash with a population of over one thousand. Prosperous 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 also a superb local cheese company.

There are seven golf courses – Brodick, Lamlash, Whiting Bay, Lochranza, Machrie, Shiskine/Blackwaterfoot, and Corrie. Visitors are recommended to acquire the Arran Golf Pass which allows for a trial on each of them.

Visitor Information

National Rail Enquiries
Tel: +44 (0) 8457 484 950

Bus and Coach Services and Travel Information
Tel: +44 (0) 8712 002 233

General Visitor Information
Tel: +44 (0) 8452 255 121

Recommended Itinerary

From the western suburbs of Glasgow the A8 follows the coastline of the Clyde estuary from Langbank and Finlaystone to Port Glasgow and Greenock, the A78 cutting across the western tip of Inverclyde, running down the coast to Ardgowan and Inverkip, and heading south towards Largs, Troon and Ayr.

Distance: 40.6 miles
Approximate time by car, without delays: 1 hour

A78 Greenock: The administrative centre of Inverclyde, and a former burgh of Renfrewshire. A feudal barony in the 13th Century, this territory was dominated by the Crawfurd and Schaw families. A fishing village and harbour developed around the Bay of Quick in the 16th and 17th Centuries, and ships belonging to the ill fated Darien Scheme set sail from here in 1697. Following the Act of Union in 1707, funds were raised to create Greenock Harbour which rapidly became a major port and shipbuilding centre and although deepening of the River Clyde allowed ships to take merchandise direct to the centre of Glasgow, Greenock Harbour continued to prosper.

A78 Wemyss Bay: Positioned on the Firth of Clyde, Wemyss Bay is divided from Skelmorlie in North Ayrshire by the Kelly Burn. The opening of the remarkable railway connection in 1865 enhanced the ferryboat services to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute.

A8 Largs: A popular seaside resort with a pier in the district of North Cunninghame, this is where ships belonging to King Magnus Olafsson of Mann and King Haakon IV of Norway beached during a storm in 1263 and were soundly defeated by Alexander III's army of Scots. The battle is commemorated at the Vikingar Centre at Barrfields.

A78 Irvine: In the 12th Century, Irvine was the headquarters of Hugh de Morville, Lord High Constable of Scotland. A medieval Royal Burgh, a New Town was created here on the Banks of the River Irvine in 1966. Nicola Sturgeon, the present First Minister of Scotland was born here in 1970, as was one of her predecessors, Jack McConnell, in 1960.

A78 Kilmarnock: The principal town in East Ayrshire, the first collection of the work of the poet Robert Burns, Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect, was published here in 1786. A relatively modest settlement until the industrial Revolution, the town grew from 1800 onwards, largely driven by the textile industry and
heavy engineering.

A78 Ayr: The administrative centre for South Ayrshire, Scotland's first Parliament of Scotland was held here by King Robert I in 1315. Oliver Cromwell built an imposing wall around the existing town in 1652 and most of this can still be seen. The north side of Ayr Harbour continues to operate as a commercial port. With a rail link from Glasgow in 1840, and a superb sandy beach, Ayr became, and continues to be, a popular holiday resort.

Where to Visit

1. Paisley Museum & Art Galleries
High Street, Paisley
World famous collection of Paisley shawls and the Paisley pattern.
Tel: +44 (0) 141 889 3151

2. Kelburn Castle
Fairlie, Ayrshire KA29 0BE
13th Century seat of the earls of Glasgow with a range of attractions in the grounds.
Tel: +44 (0) 475 568 685

3. Culzean Castle
Maybole KA19 8LE
Classic NTS-run, Clan Kennedy stately home on cliff top.
Tel: +44 (0) 1655 884 455

4. Burns Monument Centre
Kay Park Cottage, Kay Park KA3 7RU
A superb documentation of regional history, and ancestry research facility.
Tel: +44 (0) 563 576 695

5. Robert Burns
Birthplace Museum
Murdoch's Lone, Alloway, Ayr KA7 4PQ
The largest collection of artefacts relating to Scotland's national bard.
Tel: +44 (0) 1292 443 700

6. A.D. Rattray's
Whisky Experience
22, Main Street, Kirkoswald KA19 8HY
Explore the wonderful world of uisge beatha from cask to bottle.
Tel: +44 (0) 1655 760 308

7. Scottish Maritime Museum
6 Gottries Road, Irvine KA12 8QE
Maritime heritage – ships, boats and boat building.
Tel: +44 (0) 1394 278 283

8. Vikingar!
Greenock Road, Largs KA30 8QL
Action-packed Viking experience relating the 1263 Battle of Largs.
Tel: +44 (0) 1475 689 777

9. Dumfries House
Cumnock KA18 2NJ
Purchased by HRH Prince of Wales in 2007. Guided tours March to October.
Tel: +44 (0) 1290 425 959

10. Crossraguel Abbey
Maybole, KA19 8HQ
Ruins of abbey founded in 13th Century by earls of Carrick.
Tel: +44 (0) 1655 83 113

11. Brodick Castle
Brodick, Isle of Arran KA27 8HY
Splendid 16th Century castle with Edwardian walled garden.
Tel: +44 (0) 1770 302 202

12. Isle of Arran
Heritage Museum, Brodick, Arran KA27 8DP
Collections of geology, social history concerning island life.
Tel: +44 (0) 170 302 636

Where to Stay

13. Mar Hall Hotel & Spa Resort
Mar Hall Drive, Bishopton, PA7 5NW
Five Star and winner of SHA Luxury Hotel Award 2014.
Tel:+44 (0) 1418 129 999

14. The Busby Hotel
1 Field Road, Clarkston G76 8RX
Comfort and luxury on outskirts of Glasgow.
Tel: +44 (0) 1416 442 661

15. Lynnhurst
Park Road, Johnstone PA5 8LS
Traditional Scottish architecture with modern twists.
Tel: +44 (0) 1505 324 331

16. The Park Hotel
Rugby Park, Rugby Road, Kilmarnock KA1 2DP
Contemporary Four Star with 50 king-sized bedrooms.
Tel: +44 (0) 1563 545 999

17. Lochside House Hotel
New Cumnock, KA18 4PN
Contemporary Four Star with views over The Loch of the Lowes.
Tel: +44 (0) 1290 333 000

18. Fairfield House Hotel
Fairfield Road, Ayr, KA7 2AR
SHA (South West) Town Hotel of the Year 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1292 267 461

19. Dumfries Arms Hotel
54 Glaisnock Street, Cumnock, KA18 1BY
SHA (South West) Style Hotel 2015 and Bar of the Year (South West) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1290 429 230

20. Trump Turnberry
Maidens Road, KA26 9LT
A superb restoration of the iconic early 20th Century golf hotel.
Tel: +44 (0) 165 533 1000

21. Wildings
21 Harbour Road, Maidens KA26 9NR
Family run with 11 en suite bedrooms, 8 with sea views.
Tel: +44 (0) 1655 331 401

22. Auchrannie Resort
Brodick, Isle of Arran KA27 8BZ
Family run hotel,
restaurants and leisure clubs. SHA Hotel of
the Year 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1770 302 812

23. Glenisle Hotel
Lamlash, Isle of Arran KA27 8LY
Winner of SHA Small Country House Hotel 2014.
Tel: +44 (0) 1770 600 559

24. The Douglas Hotel
Brodick, Isle of Arran KA27 8AW
Gorgeous sandstone boutique hotel with fine views.
Tel: +44 (0) 1770 302 968

Where to Eat

25. The Catch at Fins
Fencefoot Farm, Fairlie KA29 0EG
Award winning locally sourced seafood at its best.
Tel: +44 (0) 1475 568 989

26. Restaurant D'vinity
48 Newmarket Street, Ayr KA7 1LR
Clubroom with outdoor patio.
Tel: +44 (0) 1292 610 916

27. The Tam o' Shanter Inn
230 High Street, Ayr KA7 1RQ
Small but comfortable with a Robert Burns association.
Tel: +44 (0) 1292 611 684

28. The Blair
Auchentiber, Kilwinning KA13 7RR
Extensive menu amid intimate surroundings.
Tel: +44 (0) 1294 850 237

29. Pandora Coffee House
32 New Bridge Street, Ayr KA7 1JX
Comprehensive menu and all day food.
Tel: +44 (0) 1292 289 919

30. 1906
Turnberry Resort, KA26 9LT
Classical French dining with superb views from windows.
Tel: +44 (0) 1655 331 000

31. Wheatsheaf Inn
Symington, KA1 5QB
16th Century old world atmosphere. Family run.
Tel: +44 (0) 1563 830 307

32. Boswell's Coach House
Cumnock, KA18 2LR
Coffee House and gift shop within grounds of Auchinleck estate.
Tel: +44 (0) 1290 553 145

33. Smiths
13 Dalblair Road, Ayr KA7 1UF
Bar and restaurant with beer garden.
Tel: +44 (0) 1292 618 161

34. The Ship Inn
120 – 122 Harbour Street, Irvine KA12 8PZ
Harbourside pub popular with locals.
Tel: +44 (0) 1294 279 722

35. Glenapp Castle
Ballantrae KA26 ONZ
Award winning cuisine in splendid surroundings.
Tel: +44 (0) 1465 831 212

36. Creelers of Arran
Brodick, Isle of Arran KA27 8DD
Superlative seafood restaurant with international reputation.
Tel: +44 (0) 1770 302 797