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 Skye or Glencoe. 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.
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 is a hilltop fortress that dates to the 14th century. It 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.
When we arrived at Dundonald Castle we were met by the caretaker and a bundle of fun called Cromwell. We’d arrived just as they were getting ready to open the castle. Cromwell led the way uphill, and we followed with a happy Wee White Dug in tow.
We got the castle all to ourselves, and had a great time exploring all the little nooks and crannies.
We found the castle’s prison with an upper cell, and a dank 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. Mr G showed no interest in climbing in either.
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.
I love a good castle ruin, but I’m alway glad to get my feet back on terra firma when precipitous drops and scary climbs are involved.
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 charged around like a wild thing.
He was soon puffed out from running around in his cosy jumper, so he cooled off with a paddle in the sea – brrrrr.
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 extremely rough, looking rough.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dunure appeared in season three of Outlander. It’s easy to see why it was chosen, as the village has a timeless quality.
As we wandered along the coast the sky was beginning to take on the first hues of golden hour.
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.
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.
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.
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 size of my head. It was delicious, but there was no way on earth I was 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 the 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.
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. The same Stevenson family who 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. Golf course fanatic Mr G took time out to hit a few imaginary balls into the distance with an imaginary club he’d conveniently been carrying.
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.
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.
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.
Looking at the grass-covered bumps which were once a mighty fortress, it was impossible to visualise what that castle would once have looked like.
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 ……….