“Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses, for honest men and bonnie lassies”.
It is funny to think that three of the most iconic Scots – William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and the great man himself Robert Burns – were not from the Highlands where so many visitors are drawn, but rather came from the less explored but stunningly beautiful Lowlands of Scotland.
On a clear day in Ayrshire, the views across to the Mull of Kintyre and the Isle of Arran are undeniably spectacular.
However, on a dreich day, such as the one when I visited, the coastline looks all the more dramatic and the sea more wild, giving me a glimpse into the kind of climate Scotland’s national poet survived in as a young farmer. Even until his last days, Rabbie Burns continued farming outside in the full range of Scottish weather.
Remember: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!
Driving through the region of Ayrshire in south west Scotland, you’ll pass through quaint villages where many structures are the same as in the time of Burns in the 18th century. You can picture him stopping at the pub in Maybole for a whisky after a day in the fields.
The rain when I visited made it easy to see why the countryside is so unbelievably green, lush and fertile for farming. Farming is a key theme in Burns’ poems such as the famous ‘To a Mouse‘ or ‘The Brigs of Ayr‘.
“The simple Bard, rough at the rustic plough,
Learning his tuneful trade from ev’ry bough”.
My first stop in Ayrshire was “the big ticket” – Culzean Castle & Country Park. This grand structure was designed by Robert Adam and sits in a breathtaking location overlooking the Firth of Clyde. It once belonged to chiefs of Clan Kennedy, before it was given to the National Trust in 1945 and became Scotland’s first country park.
The castle has a homely feel and was never built for defence, unlike most of Scotland’s turbulent historic sites. You can close your eyes and imagine the family and their servants filling the place with life. You can appreciate the thought and attention that went into every little detail, down to the last Adams designed teaspoon. The highlight of the interior is undoutably the famous oval stairway in the centre of the castle.
Claim to fame: an apartment in the castle was gifted to General Eisenhower as a thank you for his efforts in World War II. He visited four times, once as president, and the castle contains its own Oval Office to remember him.
The main draw of Culzean is the surrounding country park which provides 600 acres of waymarked paths, which were a delight to follow despite the drizzle of the day. There are paths down to the beach and a wild woodland adventure park for adults and older children.
Stop number 2 for me, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum is a real treasure, combining an exhibition about the man’s life with the chance to visit the cottage where he was born, as well as the Burns monument and gardens. There are original manuscripts of Burns poetry, a Burns jukebox, and information written mostly in old Scots with key words translated.
Did you know? Bob Dylan is a huge Rabbie Burns fan!
The Alloway Auld Kirk where witches danced in the moonlight in Burns’ famous poem Tam o’Shanter sits just alongside the old cobbled bridge Brig o’Doon, across which Tam escaped from the witches on his old horse Meg.
I barely scratched the surface during my day in Ayrshire, but I came away delighted and eager to see more of this green and colourful countryside and its wonderful historic sites.
For your next adventure, why not be different, buck the trend, and head to historic Ayrshire?