Exploring Ayrshire – castles, coastline and rolling uphill

I’m married to one of those awkward folk who celebrate a birthday after Christmas. I always struggled to find birthday gifts in shops full of sale tat.  Then I had a brain wave – the January mini-break. It’s a win, win really. January room rates are low AND I get to share Mr G’s birthday present! Turnberry Hotel in Ayrshire was the venue for 2018’s birthday mini-break. The 112-year-old, 5 star hotel is the jewel in the crown of a luxury golf resort. A who’s who of the rich and famous have stayed at the hotel over the years, including professional golfers, movies stars, politicians and even royalty. Then we rocked up with the dug!

I love Ayrshire but it’s often overlooked in favour of visitor hotspots like Glencoe. A 6-mile tailback of traffic crawled through Glencoe over the weekend, but we were able to zip around Ayrshire unhindered. And that’s not because there’s nothing to do there. There are lots of things to do in Ayrshire, and I’m going to show you.

Dundonald Castle

The region is best known for being the birthplace of Robert Burns, but he wasn’t the only significant Robert to hail from these parts.

Dundonald Castle was the first stop on our whistle-stop tour. The hilltop fortress dates to the 14th century was once the home of King Robert II, grandson of Robert the Bruce. When Robert II or Robert Stewart (Stuart) became king in 1371 the Stuart royal dynasty was born. It survived until the death of Queen Anne in 1714.

As we approached the castle we were met by the caretaker and a bundle of fun called Cromwell. We’d arrived just as they were heading uphill to open the castle. Cromwell led the way, and we followed with a happy Wee White Dug in tow.

Dundonald Castle

We got the castle all to ourselves, and had a great time exploring all the little nooks and crannies.

Dundonald CastleDundonald Castle

We found the castle’s prison with an upper cell and a pit prison below. A ladder led down to the pit prison, but they scare the life out of me so I didn’t brave it inside. Funnily enough Mr G showed no interest in climbing in either!

Dundonald Castle

We spotted a turnpike staircase, spiralling upwards. Up we climbed, and soon discovered that it came to an abrupt end and was replaced by an exposed spiral staircase. We continued upwards and the walls around us disappeared, leaving the staircase climbing into nothingness, or so it seemed! Luckily there was a large hall at the top, now open to the elements but intact enough to conjure up images of grand royal banquets and strumming minstrels.

Dundonald Castle, Ayrshire

I love a good castle, but I’m alway glad to get my feet back on terra firma when precipitous drops and scary climbs are involved.

Dundonald Castle Scotland blog

Troon Beach

With a spot of castle exploring done it, was time to find a beach to let the boy cut loose. And where better than the seaside town of Troon, with its never-ending stretch of golden sand. The boy was in his element and darted around like a loony.

He was soon puffed out from running around clad in a fleece, so he cooled off with a paddle in the icy, cold sea!

Troon Beach, AyrshireTroon Beach

It was a gorgeous morning, and as we strolled along the beach we were treated to stunning views of the snowy mountains of Arran against a backdrop of blue sky.

Mr G is obsessed with golf courses and insists on viewing them wherever we go, so there would be no escaping Troon until he’d gawked at the greens of Royal Troon! I tried to feign interest and passed comment about big bunkers and rough, looking rough!

Troon BeachTroon Beach Troon Beach, Ayrshire

Alloway – birthplace of Robert Burns

Hunger pangs told us it was time for lunch so we headed to Poet’s Corner, a favourite cafe of ours in Rabbie’s hometown of Alloway.

Burns Cottage had been decked out in a pretty, floral garland in preparation for the bard’s birthday celebrations on 25th January.

Burns Cottage, Alloway Burns Cottage, AllowayAlloway, Ayrshire

I’ve written about Alloway before, so if you’re interested you can read the post here.

Refuelled on soup, toasties and cappuccino we were back on the road.

Dunure Castle

Our next destination was Dunure, a coastal village with a castle.  That’s right another castle!

Dunure Castle stands on a rocky promontory overlooking the Firth of Clyde. Below it, large rocks rise out of the sea giving the 13th century Kennedy stronghold a formidable appearance.

Dunure Castle, AyrshireDunure Castle Dunure Castle, Ayrshire

The castle gained notoriety in 1570 when Gilbert Kennedy, 4th Earl of Cassillis roasted the Commendator of Crossraguel on a spit to force him to sign over lands belonging to Crossraguel Abbey. Thankfully, the poor man was rescued and survived his ordeal.

If you’re interested in the abbey here are some bonus photos from a 2016 Ayrshire jaunt.  If you’re ever in the area it’s worth combining with a visit to Dunure.

Crossraguel Abbey Crossraguel Abbey

Dunure recently appeared in Season Three of Outlander. It’s easy to see why it was chosen, as the village has a real timeless quality.

Dunure, Ayrshire

As we wandered along the coastline the sky was beginning to take on the first hues of golden hour.

Dunure, Ayrshire Dunure, Ayrshire

Electric Brae

One mile south of Dunure you’ll find Electric Brae, or Croy Brae as it’s known locally. This quarter-mile long stretch of the A719 is undoubtedly Ayrshire’s most unusual attraction. Electric Brae seems to defy the laws of physics.  Cycling downhill here is tougher than cycling uphill.  With no bikes to hand, I asked Mr G to pop the car in neutral. I knew this place would blow his mind and I was right. As our car rolled uphill, he beamed in amazement.

The Wee White Dug joined me at the roadside to film this modern-day miracle. Mr G drove up and down and eventually I tired of waving. It was like waving at a three-year-old on a carousel!

Electric Brae Electric Brae

You’ll be reading this and thinking yeah right, so I present to you the evidence!

Now here’s the science bit. There is no science, Electric Brae it’s an optical illusion created by the angles of the surrounding landscape, but try telling your brain that.

Culzean Castle & Country Park

Before checking-in for some 5 star luxury we visited an Ayrshire favourite of ours for a walk.

Culzean Castle was designed by renowned architect Robert Adam. It’s one of Scotland’s finest architectural gems. The castle’s extensive grounds are also full of excellent walking trails, and are popular with locals and visitors alike.

We didn’t linger too long though as there was a fab hotel room nearby with our name on it.

Culzean Castle has featured in my blog before, so you can find out a little more about it here.

Culzean Castle Culzean Castle, Ayrshire Culzean Castle, Ayrshire

Enjoying Mr G’s 5 star birthday present!

As soon as we set foot inside Turnberry I knew I’d picked a winner for 2018’s birthday mini-break. The place was stunning. It was grand without being ostentatious, and although it was buzzing with life the overwhelming feeling that hit me was one of calm.

Check-in was friendly and efficient. We were offered sugary shortbread AND given a complimentary room upgrade – woo hoo.

Trump Turnberry Resort & Spa

Our ocean view room was perfect – elegant, tasteful, and boasting all mod cons, including a gigantic 54 inch curved TV.

Our next sugar rush wasn’t far away either as some macaroons had been left in the room for us.  We tucked in, delighted by the thoughtful extras.

They didn’t stop at macaroons either as the boy found a comfy bed, bowls, treats and a new toy waiting for him. He was wowed!

Wine o’clock arrived and we hurried to the bar to quench our thirst.

We sank into a comfy sofa and the boy flopped down on the floor for a snooze. The feeling of calm that hit me when I arrived had been spot on. The hotel had a lovely, relaxed ambiance. Not stuffy or pretentious, just a nice place to pass time over a glass of wine and good conversation.

When golden hour arrived, we stepped outside to watch as the sun set on another day.

Showered and glad-rags on, we left the boy snoozing in his fantoosh bed and headed to the bar for dinner.

Fancy pants Mr G opted for a lobster roll, while I tackled a burger that was roughly the same size as my head. It was delicious, but there was no way on Earth I was ever going to be able to finish it. Mr G on the other hand had no such problem with his lobster roll. A swarm of locusts couldn’t have cleared his plate any faster.

We found room for dessert, then retreated to the whisky bar to peruse the cocktail list.

I finally settled on ‘The Green’, a mouth-watering mix of Absolut vodka, coconut, pineapple, lime, egg white and mint. Mr G had an equally mouth-watering ‘The duel in the Sun’ – a delightful blend of Aperol, orange bitters and prosecco.  He regaled me with tales of THE duel in the sun, which turned out to be the 106th Open Championship which took place at Turnberry in 1977 before he was born. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson battled for the title under clear blue skies – spoiler alert Watson won. With Mr G in tow every day’s a school day when it comes to sporting statistics.

Later, we retired to our room to relax with a couple of gin and tonics.

I made use of the huge bath and soaked in some bubbles, before reclining on bed, G&T in hand to watch the Blues Brothers with Mr G. I last watched the movie around a hundred years ago! Viewing it on our humongous TV was like having a private cinema screening. I’d forgotten just how good the soundtrack was. Our chilled-out evening of Blues Brothers and gin will go down on record as being a damn fine night.

The next morning we ate breakfast in the beautiful breakfast room. Everything looked delicious, so it was difficult to choose. In the end I had a small bowl of porridge slathered in honey, a small plate of Continental goodies and a bacon butty – eclectic.  Mr G stuck with Eggs Royale, his breakfast favourite.

We left Turnberry with heavy hearts, wishing we could have stayed longer.

Although a severe weather warning was in place it hadn’t reached us yet, so there was time for a short walk before our drive home.

Turnberry Lighthouse and Castle

Despite the threatening sky, I was determined to pay homage to our third Ayrshire Robert of the weekend.

We parked the car at the clubhouse and headed in the direction of the iconic Turnberry Lighthouse, one of many lighthouses in Scotland built by the Stevenson family.  That’s the same Stevenson family that call Robert Louis Stevenson their own.

Our walk took us along an old airfield runway, a remnant of WWII. I love the fact that it’s been preserved right in the middle of a prestigious golf resort.  Lover of golf courses Mr G took time out to hit a few imaginary balls into the imaginary distance!

As we approached the lighthouse it started to rain and the wind got up.  Passing a couple of hardy golfers we decided that we were also undeterred by the weather.

Turnberry Lighthouse

We reached the lighthouse after what felt like a rather lengthy, short walk.  It wasn’t the lighthouse we were there to see though, it was Turnberry Castle, childhood home and likely birthplace of King Robert the Bruce.

When I say castle, little of it remains, but as a history geek it’s still amazing to think that once upon a time The Bruce lived inside those tumble-down walls.

Turnberry Castle

We combed the beach by the castle for treasures and found a piece of rope, an orange bhoy and a golf ball wedged between two rocks.

Turnberry Castle

Looking at the grass-covered bumps which were once a mighty fortress, it was impossible to visualise what that castle may once have looked like.

Turnberry Castle Turnberry Castle

By the time we left the beach the rain was lashing down and the wind was stinging our faces.  Being a pair of geniuses we’d failed to waterproof up for our walk.  We arrived back at the car, dripping wet.  One fumbling, awkward change of clothes under a blanket in the car later and we were good to go.

As we drove home through sleet, then heavy snow it was hard to believe we’d been walking on a sunny Ayrshire beach 24 hours earlier.  Ah, the joys of Scottish weather!

Until next time ……….

Turnberry Lighthouse

15 thoughts on “Exploring Ayrshire – castles, coastline and rolling uphill

  1. I am sure your other half appreciated the birthday experience better than anything bought in a shop! In 2016, due to a very special birthday (aren’t theyall?lol), my husband and I decided to book a weekend in Ayrshire (a weekend or so before Xmas!) – what a treat! First time ever we had been “away” at that time of year – probably on account of having had three of a family! We chose Ayrshire – the county of my birth! Stayed in a lovely hotel with great food on the south side of Ayr. Had dinner in said hotel on the Friday night – during which my husband suddenly announced he had just booked afternoon tea at Turnberry for the Sunday – what an unexpected surprise! On talking to fellow diners, we were given the lowdown on the Trump transformation, and that a visit to the Trump Lighthouse was a “must”! On the Saturday morning, we travelled, via Electric Brae, to Turnberry – in fact just before Turnberry, it is possible to turn off the road and park at the beginning of the path which runs through the Turnberry Golf Course toward the Lighthouse! Be alert for “F O R E”! Well worth the visit, as we sat and enjoyed morning coffee that year!!!!…..as we did a replica trip in December just past! This year, we sat and enjoyed hot chocolate as we sat looking towards the snow-capped hills of Argyll and back up the Forth toward Arran. Beautiful! We then travelled, (taking a loop beyond Trump Turnberry) to Kirkoswald. Anyone who knows their Burns, will be aware that some of the Burns Family lie in the cemetery there, but that Johnnie Souter’s cottage lies within the village. Not only that, each year, we have enjoyed superb lunches at the lovely restaurant there,(in which at one point in time Burns was schooled within!) before travelling through the beautiful Ayrshire countryside on our return to Ayr. Each year, we have visited local parks, and returned home with some Christmas flora and fauna, along with local quality Christmas buys (from a rather well-known local garden centre) for our home, which are happy reminders of weekends well spent. We have been really lucky with the weather at that time of year! Afternoon tea at Trump Turnberry was or course the highlight, and it was a joy to meet such attentive staff! This can also be said for the hotel which we booked on both occasions for our stay in Ayr. After 40 years of always putting family first, it has been so refreshing and a feeling of freedom to take a few moments out of “the Christmas rush” by getting away from it all!……..subsequently feeling refreshed to return home,which of course has been made ready for Christmas before leaving for our “reward” weekend away lol!…..along with any gifts already bought and wrapped…..enabling us to really enjoy the spirit of Christmas with family and friends in more pleasureable memorable ways…..than feeling rushed off our feet lol! Loved your post with all the photos….brilliant!….and hope like us, you make it a tradition to take a weekend away in beautiful Ayrshire….. making wonderful memories!

  2. My other halfs bday is in Jan too so a Jan birthday trip is a must i feel. We do the same in November for my birthday. Great post and lovely pics. X

  3. Love it! Brilliant write up of Ayrshire and such lovely photos. I’m hoping to see more of Ayrshire this year and walk some of the Ayrshire Coastal Path.

    I haven’t seen Crossraguel Abbey yet, and still to try the Electric Brae! That’s so amazing seeing it work in your video clip!

    Turnberry looks so swish, nice to see what it’s like inside, wow. You crammed a lot in in such a short time too 🙂

    1. I look forward to your coastal path adventures. It such a brilliant region and easy to get around. The abbey is beautiful but I think it’s covered in scaffolding just now. You’ll love Electric Brae and will convince yourself it’s a hill. 😂 I’d recommend Turnberry in a flash, even if it’s just for tea and cakes.

  4. I have family in Scotland and am planning a trip over there soon with my Westie. Based on all your posts, it looks like Scotland is dog-friendly. Since Emma will be with me, I need to make sure she can get in to all the castles and pubs, etc. Do most places welcome dogs, or would I need to call ahead first to find out? Love your blog!

    1. Scotland is a really dog friendly country. With dog friendly hotels it’s always best to let them known you’re bringing a dog. Eating out a lot of cafes are dog friendly and hotel bars tend to be too for eating. NTS allow dogs in many of their lovely castle gardens and Historic Environment Scotland allow dogs in most of their properties. The best trick is to use Google as you travel. If you’re in Glasgow search ‘dog friendly Glasgow’ and see what comes up. Hope this helps. Enjoy your trip.

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