TRAVEL: Culzean Castle and the Isle of Arran, Scotland
A recent short trip to Ayrshire in Scotland revealed stunning sunsets, dramatic coastlines, and a quiet and unspoilt holiday retreat.
Our base was the Camping and Caravanning Club campsite at Culzean Castle, situated on the coast around 14 miles south of Ayr.
The site is literally right next door to the castle and its grounds.
It’s not the easiest place to get to however.
We used the M6 north, came off at Gretna, used the A75 via Dumfries, and then took the B-roads via St John’s Town of Dalry, Dalmellington and Maybole, about a four and a half hour journey from Lancashire with pitstop.
The site was relatively full, and busy, when we arrived mid-afternoon on a Monday, and we received a warm welcome from the site managers.
We were lucky enough to find ourselves on an electric hook up tent pitch overlooking the blue and shimmering sea and the Isle of Arran.
The site is clean and well organised, and extremely quiet.
There is an outdoor play area for kids, a shop selling limited foodstuffs and camping essentials, and a large wash, toilet and shower area that has recently been refurbished.
All in all a very good quality site surrounded by woodland and unrivalled views of the sea.
Maybole, about a 10 minute drive away, has shops, pubs and cafes, and a petrol station.
We cooked and ate as the sun started to drop above the water, and then headed down to the coast via the grounds of Culzean Castle, which you can access from a footpath directly from the site, a definite plus.
Culzean Castle was built in its current form between 1777 and 1792.
It is the former home of the Marquess of Ailsa, the chief of Clan Kennedy, but was given to the National Trust for Scotland in 1945, on condition that the apartment at the top was gifted to General of the Army Dwight D Eisenhower in recognition of his role in World War II.
The apartment in now holiday accommodation.
It was also used as the castle of Lord Summerisle in the 1973 cult film The Wicker Man.
The grounds are immaculately kept and a pleasure to walk around especially as the sun sets around it.
We found ourselves on the mostly rocky beach below the castle.
A small sandy area allowed the kids to wade out into the sea and have a splash around.
It’s not a beach in the donkey rides, ice cream and deck chairs sense of the word, but it’s secluded, quiet, and breathtakingly gorgeous.
We sat on a log, drank a bottle of strong ale and listened to the sea breathe in and out.
Here we witnessed one of the best sunsets we’ve ever seen. Dropping above the southern tip of Arran, yellows, golds, reds and purples combined for some fantastic photo opportunities.
And then the midges descended like an angry cloud, and we hightailed it back up through the woods to the campsite as quickly as our four-year-old allowed, stopping briefly at the castle again, which has some amazing viewpoints to take in the twilight view.
We had pre-booked tickets for the CalMan Ferries sailing to Arran the next day, so we set off early to Ardrossan, where the 50 minute journey would take us to Arran’s main port and town Brodick.
It cost £56 return for a car, three adults and two children, and took about an hour to get to the ferry terminal at Ardrossan.
It was a calm and clear crossing with lots to see in all directions.
We chose a driving route around the coast of Arran, firstly heading south and stopping briefly for a stretch at Lamlash, where you can see the Holy Isle, and then further south to Whiting Bay, where the kids played on the pebble beach for a while and I arranged a walk up to Glenashdales waterfall.
Packed lunches and walking boots at the ready, we headed uphill via some lovely properties, and fields full of horses, as the tall trees marched upwards before us.
It was a bit of an upward slog, and the kids complained after a mile, but we kept going and were rewarded with some lovely pine needle cushioned paths through the forests, leading to the site of an Iron Age fort.
At this point I admitted I’d left the midge spray on the mainland, as the little biters intensified their assault due to a light rainfall.
We hurried on, and were rewarded with a fine waterfall scene in a deep valley, with viewing platforms dotted along the path.
We didn’t hang around due to the biters, and the round trip took around two hours including lunch at the falls.
As the kids snoozed in the back, we drove around the south of the island, and stopped off at the Torryline Creamery, near Kilmory, the home of the famous Isle of Arran cheese.
Here, you can watch it being made by hand in the open vats from the viewing gallery.
After a few tasters off the counter, we chose a good selection of mature, creamy, tangy and full on cheeses both for gifts and personal use.
Back in the car again and we passed around the south of the island, through Sliddery, Blackwaterfoot, Machrie and the brilliantly named Thundergay - destination - The Isle of Arran Distillery at Lochranza.
The day began to cloud over as we headed up the coast, but it was beautiful and pretty much free of traffic the entire way.
The distillery has a great visitor centre and cafe where you can learn about the fiercely independent, and newest, distillery in Scotland.
Tours are available, and we took a drop inn tour (£3.50), involving a short film and a wee dram.
I couldn’t leave without a souvenir, and I opted for the 10-year-old Single Malt (70ml) gift pack, which comes with two small nosing glasses, priced at £40.
From Lochranza, where we passed stags and deer lounging about on the roadside, we dropped down to the east coast where you pass the looming summit of goat fell, the island’s highest peak.
Golden eagles are known to nest here, but we were unlucky on this occasion.
Parking up in Brodick with a couple of hours to spare, we bought chocolate from the James of Arran chocolate shop, then dined at the Ormidale Hotel, where we ate a lovely lamb stew.
Reasonably priced, and they had Arran Blonde from Brodick based Arran Brewery on tap.
The rain started to fall as we arrived at the ferry terminal for the crossing back to the mainland, and it didn’t stop all the way back to Culzean Castle, or for the rest of that night.
We awoke to a very soggy day and decided to cut our losses, packing up and setting off home before 10am.
Weather (and midges) aside, our two days in Scotland were jam packed with new sights, sounds, tastes and experiences, and we resolved to head back up to explore more of the islands and mainland coast in the future.
You can buy hopscotch tickets to explore many of the Inner and Outer Hebrides, and islands. Visit www.calmac.co.uk for more information.
For the campsite visit HERE