One of the things I love about writing this Scottish travel blog, is discovering Scotland off the beaten track. Tourists often arrive in Edinburgh or Glasgow, then head north to popular visitor destination like Glencoe and Skye. And while there’s nothing wrong with visiting those places, they’re not representative of Scotland as a whole. If you dig deeper, you’ll find a multitude of other wonderful places and a whole new Scotland off the beaten track.
I was recently invited to Kilmaurs in East Ayrshire, to find out why the locals think tourists should add the village to their bucket lists. I love Ayrshire (the birthplace of Robert Burns and The Wee White Dug), so accepted the invitation to see if I’d love Kilmaurs like a local?
Scotland off the beaten track – Kilmaurs
It took us 75 minutes to reach Kilmaurs from Edinburgh. From Glasgow it’s a 30 minute drive. You can also visit by train. From Edinburgh, switching in Glasgow and from Glasgow, via a direct rail link.
We arrived in the pretty, conservation village on a gloriously sunny morning in August and parked in the village’s free car park. There, we met Alan from Visit Kilmaurs. Alan had planned a fun-packed itinerary for us and would be introducing us to members of the local community, to give us a real flavour of Kilmaurs.
Viewfield Farm Shop
The first stop on our itinerary was Viewfield Farm Shop, on the outskirts of the village. The shop proudly sources local and eco friendly produce.
I’m a sucker for farm shops – especially when they’re stocked with Scottish produce. Food produced locally, on a small scale always tastes better than mass produced food – fact.
Owner Keri, greeted us on arrival and we had a good blether about why local produce is best. From the outside Viewfield Farm Shop looks tiny, but once you step inside you find shelves, fridges and freezers filled with an incredible range of local goodies.
There were cheeses from Kintyre, oatcakes from Arran, Ayrshire tatties, sweeties from Stirling, Viewfield Farm eggs and a whole array of other local delicacies. It was a foodie’s dream.
We could’ve sung the praises of Scottish produce all day, but it was time to move on to our next itinerary stop.
As we were leaving Viewfield Farm Shop, Keri presented us with a hamper filled with cheeses, oatcakes, relishes and sweeties to sample at home. It was a lovely surprise.
We’ll definitely be popping into Viewfield Farm Shop, when we’re next in the area.
The Jougs, Kilmaurs
Back in the centre of Kilmaurs, we met up with local historian and conservationist Roger Griffith and architects from East Ayrshire Council. We were being given a peek inside The Jougs aka Kilmaurs Tolbooth – a 16th century building with an interesting past.
East Ayrshire Council, recently carried out conservation work on the historic building, which once housed the burgh court/council chamber and jail cells.
It was great learning about the preservation process and seeing the end result.
The name ‘Jougs’ comes from a neck shackle, which is attached to the outside of the building. Jougs were used as a form of punishment and public humiliation. Skip church on Sunday, or get into a fight on market day – you could end up in the jougs. Leaving your nearest and dearest black affronted, or quite put to shame, if you don’t speak with a Scots tongue.
A local history tour of Kilmaurs
Leaving The Jougs, we said goodbye to Alan and the guys from East Ayrshire Council and set off with Roger for a local history tour.
Kilmaurs village centre
Roger told us about the village’s links with the Cunningham Clan and how, as a burgh of barony, Kilmaurs was left to look after its own internal affairs. This included maintaining law and order. The village even had its own hangman – yikes.
Behind The Jougs we visited the mercat cross (market cross), on the site on the village’s old cattle market. Robert Burns is know to have frequented the market.
Opposite The Jougs, Roger pointed out a quaint building, which we learned was the village’s original tolbooth. Being history geeks, Roger and I speculated about the possibility of centuries old cellars surviving beneath the building.
Across the street from the original tolbooth building is the village tavern, which dates to 1777. The tavern wasn’t always a place to make merry, as it was originally the village manse.
Near the tavern Roger showed us a large stone, known as the Loupin on stone (jumping on stone). Loupin stones were used for mounting horses. There’s a theory the stone in Kilmaurs is a leper stone, because it has a hollow carved on top if it. Sour wine and coins were traditionally placed in the hollow on leper stones for sufferers to take. Robert the Bruce founded a hospital for lepers at Prestwick (not far from Kilmaurs), so it’s possible the theory is correct.
Beyond the village centre
Beyond the village centre, we wandered across the Carmel Brig (bridge), past the Carmel Water and up to the ruins of Kilmaurs Tower, once a Clan Cunningham stronghold.
Not much of the tower remains, but there’s enough to give you a feel for what it might once have looked like.
The ruins have been incorporated into Kilmaurs House or The Place – a fine 17th century laird’s house built by William Cunningham, 9th Earl of Glencairn and Lord Chancellor of Scotland.
Crossing the village park, we strolled towards a church on the fringes of Kilmaurs. Maurs-Glencairn Parish Church dates back to 1170, although much of the modern day building is 19th century. A mausoleum (known as the Glencairn Aisle) attached to the church, is where many of the Chiefs of Clan Cunningham lie, Sadly, Covid restrictions prevented us from accessing the aisle (next time).
There was lots to see in the kirkyard though, including the remains of a mortsafe (used to deter grave robbers) and some wonderful old tombstones.
The sundial on the exterior of the Glencairn Aisle told us it was lunchtime. Not really, but our Fitbits did.
It was time to say goodbye to Roger and stop for lunch. He’d been a fantastic guide and a wonderful storyteller. We thoroughly enjoyed his Kilmaurs history tour. You can follow Roger on YouTube for more Ayrshire history.
Lunch – The Weston Tavern & Restaurant
We were looking forward to eating in the cool confines of The Weston Tavern & Restaurant. It was hotter than hades outside and us peely wally Scots were struggling.
Inside The Weston, we were welcomed by landlord John and seated by an open window – ahhh, cool at last.
The Weston is super dog friendly. Poo bags are available and towels for wiping muddy paws too. What dogs value most though is food and at The Weston they don’t go hungry. As soon as we arrived the boy was offered water and biscuits.
We ordered ice cold drinks, then turned our attention to the menu.
It all sounded tasty. In the end, I chose spiced rice & baby vegetables, while Mr G opted for haddock, with hand cut chips.
The rice was delicious. It had a spicy kick and was packed with fresh veg. Passing on my compliments to the chef (John), he told me the dish was inspired by dishes he’d eaten while living in Spain.
Mr G’s fish and chips also went down a storm.
We knew we’d be missing a treat if we skipped dessert.
It was so hot, that our desserts had started to melt in the few short steps it took to get them from kitchen to table. Unheard of in Scotland.
When I tried my Bailey’s cheesecake (an old family recipe of John’s), I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It was smooth, creamy and the biscuit base was perfect. I offered Mr G a taste, but was glad when he declined. He was too busy tucking into a selection of ice creams.
John and his team scored a big 10/10 from us, for great food and fab service.
Wee Art Shop, Kilmaurs
Outside The Weston, we met up with Alan again and set off to our penultimate itinerary stop of the day. The Wee Art Shop is located in the centre of Kilmaurs. It’s run by local artist Tina Sloan and is part shop, part studio. It could even be described as a woman cave, as it’s where Tina goes for ‘me time’ and to create her gorgeous artworks, depicting Scottish landscapes and wildlife.
The Wee Art Shop is a treasure trove, showcasing local talent. For a wee shop in a wee village, it’s stocked with lots of lovely knick-knacks and really highlights how many talented people live in and around Kilmaurs. There are handmade soaps, face masks, books by local writers, ceramics, doggy goodies (more on them later) and even digital art in the form of fun pet portraits (see Lord Casper below).
A miniature painting of a tree with a Rumi quote on it and a bar of seaweed soap, were impossible for me to resist.
We spent ages chatting to Tina about her art, Scotland and how unbelievably hot it was. Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye.
As we were leaving the shop, Tina handed me a bag. Inside was a beautiful painting she’d done of the boy, together with some gorgeous cards with Kilmaurs scenes on them.
To say I was touched by Tina’s kind gesture is an understatement. Mr G later confessed it brought a tear to his eye.
We said goodbye to Tina and Alan outside the Wee Art Shop and hello to Rosemary. Rosemary, would be taking us to visit her own creative corner of Kilmaurs on our final itinerary stop of the day.
Casper where’s yer troosirs?
With the arrival of the global pandemic, demand for Rosemary’s handmade products pretty much dried up overnight. Undeterred, Rosemary switched her efforts to making face masks for the local community. The natty tartan masks are now on sale in Tina’s Wee Art Shop. Since wearing a mask is compulsory in shops and on public transport in Scotland, they’ve become something of a fashion accessory.
But what did Rosemary make pre-pandemic, I hear you ask? Well, the answer to that question is K9 Kilts. And where better to get our Aryshire laddie fitted for his national dress, than in the region where he was born.
In recent years, dogs have increasingly become part of their humans wedding day – some even performing best man duties. A best man needs something fancy to wear and somewhere safe to keep the wedding rings. A wee sporran on a doggy kilt being the perfect place.
Looking through Rosemary’s kilt selection, one caught our eye. A fine Dress Gordon number, that looked like it would be a perfect fit for the boy.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you Casper in a kilt. Doesn’t he look smart?
He’s going to look like the perfect wee Scotsman on Hogmanay, St Andrew’s Day and Burns Night going forward. Rosemary very kindly gifted the boy his kilt.
All too soon, it was time to say goodbye to Rosemary and Kilmaurs.
Our time in the pretty Ayrshire village had flown by.
Kilmaurs – a Scotland off the beaten track hit?
So, should you add Kilmaurs to your Scotland bucket list? Absolutely – we fell in love with the village during our visit and can see why the locals are so proud to call it home. We arrived in Kilmaurs as strangers and left as friends. The kindness shown to us by everyone we met there was humbling. We loved exploring this fabulous little corner of Scotland off the beaten track. And the beauty of this off the beaten track gem, is that it’s not really off the beaten track at all. Kilmaurs might not be on Scotland’s well-trodden tourist trail (yet), but it’s only a stone’s throw from Glasgow and easy to reach for visitors who want to experience the real Scotland and Scottish hospitality at its best.
For more from Ayrshire check out this blog, which follows in the footsteps of Tam O’Shanter.
We were invited to Kilmaurs as guests of Visit Kilmaurs, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time…