This post is part of a paid partnership with Scotland's Best B&Bs to showcase what makes their members so special
A short break in Ayr, Scotland, with 3 suggested itineraries
Recently I undertook a journey across Scotland, staying at some of the country's best bed and breakfasts along the way. I put together my own itinerary and it was pretty amazing if I do say so myself!
This is the first of four blog posts covering each destination I stayed at, starting in Ayr, a seaside town just 30 minutes south from Glasgow. You can use each blog post as a stand alone guide for visiting the featured location or follow the series of blog posts to recreate my Scottish road trip if you have more time.
Either way, I know you won't be disappointed so let's head to my first suggested stop in Ayr...
Where to stay in Ayr
Ayrs & Graces Luxury Bed & Breakfast
I spent 2 nights at Ayrs & Graces bed and breakfast, located by Alloway, home to many Robert Burns attractions and a short drive from the scenic Ayrshire coast. Check out my recommended itineraries below to discover some of the best things to do in and around Ayr.
Ayrs & Graces is situated in a quiet elevated plot conveniently close to the town of Ayr which maximises the surrounding views of green fields and grazing sheep. As I pulled in to the drive I was greeted by the surprising sight of owner Paul's collection of luxury cars (his day job is a 747 captain) and if you ask very nicely he might even let you sit in his Ferrari. This was the first clue I wasn't staying at your average B&B!
I think it is fair to say that owners Paul and Rhona are not your average hosts either, and for me, their sunny personalities and positive enthusiasm for life was infectious. I honestly left with more of a bounce in my step than when I arrived and feel like I've made new friends for life.
Their accommodation is bright and modern with guest room names themed around local poet Robert Burns. I stayed in the Brig O'Doon Suite, named after the iconic local landmark featured in the poem Tam O'Shanter which is less than a mile away from the B&B.
My room felt very homely with a padded window seat, TV, hospitality tray and even a wee dram of whisky for anyone wanting a nightcap, but with such a comfortable bed, I didn't need any extra help to enjoy a sound night's sleep. The en-suite bathroom was spacious with quality toiletries and a fluffy bathrobe, perfect for relaxing with my feet up after a busy day exploring.
If you prefer to spend some time getting to know your hosts and fellow guests, an open plan lounge area with striking artwork and panoramic windows allows you to do just that.
Its not all about the inside space though, Rhona and Paul have developed some gorgeous places to soak up the countryside views including a decked terrace, a cosy summer house, and their latest addition, a fabulous garden dome with 360 degree vistas so you can sit outdoors no matter what the weather is doing.
Rhona has a background in catering which is a real asset when you're running a B&B and she is the star of the kitchen. My cooked breakfast was perfection and I didn't have to compromise on choices as my gluten free diet was well catered for. Looking out at the greenery while I sipped my coffee was a real tonic to start the day.
Breakfast at Ayrs & Graces is a very sociable affair, with Rhona and Paul on hand to give you advice about what to do and where to go - they gave me a great tip about the cafe in Turnberry Lighthouse which I had no idea existed. They even offered to give me a lift to the restaurant I had booked in Ayr for my dinner that evening and it is this type of personal service that makes Scotland's best bed and breakfasts stand out from the rest.
Not only is Ayrs & Graces a member of Scotland's Best B&Bs, it is also one of only a few bed and breakfasts in Scotland to be awarded a 5 star gold.
I had a brilliant time staying with Rhona and Paul, they were the perfect hosts and I wouldn't hesitate to book with them again in the future.
What to do in and around Ayr
Now you have your accommodation sorted, you might be wondering how best to spend your time in bonnie Ayrshire so I've suggested 3 road trips that include some of Scotland's lesser visited gems.
THREE ROAD TRIP ITINERARIES
Using Ayrs & Graces Bed and Breakfast as your base, these routes are all easy to follow. I have included all the highlights so you can personalise each route to your own interests. It is unlikely you will have the time to to visit every place listed so I suggest picking a few places that you definitely want to include and adding in more attractions if you have time left over.
OPTION 1 - AYRSHIRE COAST
BEST FOR - BEACHES, CASTLES AND PICTURESQUE HARBOURS
This route takes you on the scenic road along the Ayrshire coast, littered with historic castles, quaint fishing harbours and beautiful beaches.
This post is part of a paid partnership with Ayrshire & Arran Destination Alliance as part of their 'Find Your Balance' campaign
A restorative break in Ayrshire & Arran
I should say right from the start that this article only covers a suggested itinerary for Ayrshire and Arran, there are countless other attractions and activities to choose from as this part of Scotland has so much to offer. I could write a whole blog post on things to do in Arran alone (and still not list everything) never mind the numerous blog posts I could write about places to visit in Ayrshire.
So bear in mind that this is only one suggested itinerary but I think it is quite special because not only does it include a great sample of the variety of activities available in the region, it is also allows time to slow down a bit and enjoy a more relaxing break. At the end you should be returning home feeling refreshed and restored rather than in need of another holiday to recover - I've been there many a time!
Finally, it also includes visits to many small and independent businesses, which means you are supporting the local community and economy which is something we should all be making an effort to do in an attempt to travel more sustainably.
This is an itinerary I completed myself so I know it is completely possible within the timeframe - use it as a step by step guide or use it is as inspiration for putting together your own trip. Either way, I'm sure you will have a fabulous time exploring this special part of Scotland.
Where is Ayrshire & Arran?
Ayrshire is a region on the west coast of Scotland just south of Glasgow. Think sandy beaches, seaside towns and clifftop castles that tower over the water and you might understand why this area has been a popular holiday resort for Glaswegians looking to escape the city for generations. However, Ayrshire is also bursting with history, has multiple country parks to explore, was the home of Robert Burns and witnessed the battle that concluded Viking rule in Scotland. It has multiple stories to tell and many reasons to visit.
The island of Arran lies off the Ayrshire coast, just an hour away by ferry, and is often dubbed 'Scotland in miniature' because of its obvious Highland and Lowland geological division. It is the largest and best known island in the Firth of Clyde, with its rugged peaks a constant companion across the water as you drive along the coastal roads of Ayrshire. Famed for its scenery, and local produce, significant historical sites like the standing stones at Machrie Moor are another big draw.
It is surprisingly easy to combine a chilled-out trip to both Ayrshire and Arran, and as I did, maybe even throw in another island for good measure because you can never visit too many Scottish islands! If this sounds appealing, here is how to put together a trip covering some of the highlights of the region.
Day 1 - Ayrshire
West Kilbride - Go shopping in Scotland's first accredited Craft Town
A short detour from the coastal road leads to the town centre of West Kilbride, a cornucopia of creativity. It is actually Scotland's first accredited Craft Town thanks to nine artist studios that are open to the public, and a range of independent shops and businesses selling local products.
The studios are generally open Thursday to Sunday but many of the makers have their work on sale at The Barony Centre which is open most days. I love picking up unique handmade souvenirs on my travels so that is where I headed first for a bit of shopping and came away with two beautiful glass candle holders in ocean colours, perfect for my coastal decor theme at home.
I spent the rest of the morning browsing around the independent shops in the high street and was drawn to the eclectic display of antiques and local goods at Modes Vintage. The owner Lisa was lovely and welcoming and I couldn't resist the smell of the Misty Isle Mercantile candle range made in West Kilbride and added a 'Scottish Highlands' scented candle to my purchases.
Before leaving I popped back to The Barony Centre for a coffee and managed to resist (just!) picking up a few more souvenirs as there were so many lovely pieces to choose from. West Kilbride is well worth the short deviation to watch artists at work and find a locally made memento of your trip or a unique gift.
Irvine - Tour the Scottish Maritime Museum
Just over 20 minutes south of West Kilbride is the coastal town of Irvine which is home to the Scottish Maritime Museum. I have passed this attraction by on so many occasions but not this time, I set aside the whole afternoon to fully appreciate everything this museum has to offer.
There are several different sites that make up the Irvine attraction and I started out at Puffers Café on the harbour front for lunch before joining a guided tour of a restored ship worker's tenement flat dating back to the early 20th century. It was fascinating to find out about the home life of local shipbuilders and their families, now part of a bygone era in the town. I should mention that these tours are currently on hold but are due to be back up and running again soon.
The main museum building is constructed from a salvaged former shipyard in Glasgow and is a work of art in itself. The sprawling space is filled with exhibits that tell the story of Scotland's maritime past, present and future. From boats to engines and even collections of tools, there is a lot to see and despite spending a couple of hours there, I still didn't have time to take it all in.
There are more boats and exhibits outside and a separate shed where you can see a working engine in action. I'm glad I finally made the time to visit but I may have to factor in a return trip for everything that I missed!
Seamill - Stroll along the beach
Just about every coastal town in Ayrshire has a beach worth visiting but I opted to spend my evening on the sand at Seamill because it was handily next to my accommodation at The Waterside Hotel. It is also only a short distance from West Kilbride town centre so you can easily combine a visit to both.
With a gentle sea breeze, stunning views to Arran, the rhythmic lap of waves and soundtrack of bird calls, it was everything I needed to help me feel restored and that is what this trip was about after all.
Day 2 - Cumbrae & Arran
Take the ferry to Cumbrae
Not all Scottish islands require a long ferry journey or stressful planning, Cumbrae, off the coast of Ayrshire, is one of the easiest to visit thanks to the frequent ferry service and 10 minute crossing time. The island is also compact and easy to travel around making it is an easy addition to any Ayrshire itinerary.
HOW TO GET TO CUMBRAE
Cumbrae - Cycle around the island then tour the local gin distillery
This post is part of a paid partnership with Gateway to Galloway to showcase the Lighthouses of the Rhins Tour
For a long time I've tried to work out where my own fascination with lighthouses stems from and I know I'm not alone, there is even a name for lighthouse buffs (pharophiles if you're interested). Although I wouldn't claim to travel somewhere just to visit a lighthouse, if there is one in the general vicinity, I'll more than likely divert my route to see it, and then take a million photographs of it, from every angle.
For me, as a coastal lover, I think it is partly to do with reaching a place where the land meets the water and generally I find lighthouses to be eye-catching enhancements to already picturesque places. However, I'm also in awe at how these monuments mark out a battle line between man and Mother Nature, a battle to engineer a building that defies the elements and a battle to stop another life being swallowed by the gluttonous belly of the sea.
Stop 1 - Port Logan Lighthouse
These are my thoughts as I'm drawn like a moth to the stumpy grey beacon that sits at the end of the pier in Port Logan. It is not the most aesthetically pleasing lighthouse but its location guarding over the sweeping silvery bay and white-washed cottages of the village more than makes up for what it lacks in beauty.
The 25ft high landmark complete with bell tower dates back to 1818, and along with the pier, is the most westerly work of the famous engineer Thomas Telford.
This is the first of four lighthouses in the area that I plan to visit over the course of a day as I follow the new Lighthouses of the Rhins trail around the Galloway coast. There are six lighthouses to visit in total, and although you can drive to them, hiring an electric bike offers a more eco-friendly and in my opinion, enjoyable alternative as I discovered when I picked up my hired E-bike at my next stop in Portpatrick.
Stop 2 - Portpatrick Lighthouse
This post is part of a paid partnership with Visit South West Scotland to showcase the beauty of the night sky and the many diverse attractions in this part of the country
A 3 day itinerary for exploring South West Scotland
Not only is the South West of Scotland packed with attractions for all ages and interests, it is also one of the best places in the country to enjoy a dark sky experience and stargazing has become one of the most popular evening activities.
You could get away from it all and hang out beneath the stars in the peaceful Galloway Dark Sky Park, or do as I did, and base yourself in Moffat, Europe's first Dark Sky Town. Staying here offers the best of both worlds, a bustling hub of independent shops and cafes during the day, and easy access to the wonders of the night sky after dark thanks to a community observatory and special lighting that keeps light pollution levels low.
Moffat is surrounded by forests and rolling hills, yet it is only 1 hour from Glasgow and 90 minutes from Edinburgh making it a great destination for a nature break. It also acts as a convenient gateway to the many attractions in the South West of Scotland as I found out on my recent trip.
From hiking one of the UK's Highest waterfalls to following in the footsteps of Scotland's National Bard or exploring a historic mine in Scotland's highest village, there is plenty to keep you occupied during the day while you wait on the sun to set and the night sky to shine.
Here is my suggested 3 day itinerary for sampling some of the best things to do in the area -
Day 1 - Immerse yourself in the spectacular scenery & dark skies of Moffat
STOP 1 - EXPLORE MOFFAT - EUROPE'S FIRST DARK SKY TOWN
Moffat has a nice mix of historic charm and green spaces. Take a wander along the High Street filled with quality and quirky independent businesses including the famous Moffat Toffee Shop overflowing with colourful old-school sweetie jars and local sugary treats.
Other points of interest are Scotland's oldest pharmacy dating back to 1844, the world's narrowest hotel and a sculpture of the Moffat Ram by William Brodie who is probably best known for another of his statues, Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh. It was commissioned in 1875 to celebrate the town's long association with sheep farming and the wool trade.
Stop by the old churchyard dating back to around 1600 or take a short walk to Station Park, an oasis of greenery with a popular boating pond. You can easily fill a morning strolling around the town and if you've worked up an appetite, I can recommend Brodies on Holm Street for lunch or a tea and cake stop.
STOP 2 - HIKE UP GREY MARE'S TAIL WATERFALL
Grey Mare's Tail is one of the UK's highest waterfalls and despite being only 20 minutes from Moffat, the short drive from the town through hills and glens is as scenic as any in the Highlands, with the occasional sheep jam to contend with. If you didn't think you could find landscapes like this in the south west of Scotland, it might be time to visit for yourself and revaluate your preconceptions about this part of the country.
I'm not going to sugar-coat it, the hike up the waterfall is a proper workout and you will need sturdy shoes and some basic walking gear, but if you are able, the vistas from the top where the water plunges down 60m to the valley below are well worth the effort. If that sounds more than you can manage, you can still enjoy some fantastic vantage points without too much of a climb or just chill out at the viewpoint at the bottom.
STOP 3 - LOOK DEEP INTO THE NIGHT SKY AT MOFFAT OBSERVATORY
Although you can see thousands of stars, some planets and a few other space objects with your naked eye on a clear night, there is so much more you can see with a professional telescope and a bit of expert guidance as I discovered at the Moffat Community Observatory. Located a 5 minute drive or 15 minute easy walk from the town centre, the observatory is open to the public and anyone can book an 'Introduction to Astronomy Session' for free (although donations are appreciated).
My tutor for the night was Stephen Hunter, a local astronomer and astrophotographer with a real enthusiasm for his subject which really rubs off on you. Visits do depend on the sky being clear enough to view astronomical objects so basing yourself close by and being flexible increases your chances of being able to see something. Luckily, my visit coincided with an almost cloudless evening and before long I was viewing the swirls of the Whirpool Galaxy, the aptly named Ring Nebula, the spirals of Bodes Nebula and the Hercules Globular Cluster which looked an explosion of stars on the telescope lens.
Stephen's knowledge allowed him to pick out the best objects given the time of year that would showcase the variety of astronomical objects that lie beyond what you can see with the naked eye. I had a fascinating night and despite having only basic knowledge when I arrived, I left armed with lots of new facts and a greater appreciation of the many mind-blowing things that surround our little planet.
Day 2 - Follow the Robert Burns Trail around Dumfries
STOP 1 - VISIT ELLISLAND FARM, THE FORMER HOME OF ROBERT BURNS
About 40 minutes from Moffat and 15 minutes from Dumfries is Ellisland Farm, a former home of the famous Scots poet Robert Burns. The buildings he designed have changed little since he lived there with his wife Jean Armour from 1788 until 1791 and despite only spending a small part of his life at Ellisland, he produced a vast amount of writing and some of his most notable work there including 'Tam O'Shanter' and 'Auld Lang Syne'.
View the preserved interior and follow in the poet's footsteps along the River Nith which provided him with endless inspiration. Recently taken over by a new trust, business development manager, Joan McAlpine, shared lots of exciting future plans for the farm which will further add to the visitor experience including a renovated cottage which will be opened as holiday accommodation in the near future. I'm already excited to stay there!
If you are looking for a more authentic Burns attraction rather than a museum, Ellisland Farm ticks the boxes.
STOP 2 - PAY TRIBUTE TO THE POET AT THE HOUSE WHERE HE SPENT HIS FINAL YEARS
Visit Burns House where the poet lived out the final years of his life until his death on 21st July 1796 and where his wife Jean Armour continued living until her death in 1834. Today it is a free to visit museum and has been designed to give an idea of how the Burns family lived.
There are numerous artefacts owned by Burns on display and a guide is on hand to answer any questions you might have. A highlight is his small study complete with desk and if you look closely at the window you will see where he engraved his name on the glass.
STOP 3 - GO FOR A WANDER AROUND HISTORIC DUMFRIES
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