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
Until recently, the seaside town of Largs would not have been a Scottish destination I would have associated with hill-walking. Ice-cream, yes, scenic hiking, not so much. However, I am happy to admit when I am wrong and wanted to share with you a fairly easy hill walk that I discovered which gets top marks for effort to reward ratio in my opinion.
Castle Hill has the best view of the Firth of Clyde that I've come across and a short detour at the start to visit a prehistoric tomb makes this a worthwhile adventure to add to your Largs itinerary.
The walk up Castle Hill is accessed via Douglas Park, a short stroll from the town centre, and when I visited the play-park opposite was full of gorgeous pink cherry blossoms. I couldn't resist standing beneath the floral coated branches while the fragile petals rained down in the wind.
The start of the Castle Hill walk is well signposted once you reach the park but I suggest you follow the path to visit the Haylie Chambered Tomb first.
Discovered in 1772 by James Wilson of Haylie, the remains of 5 bodies were found within. Sadly today all you are likely to find within is rubbish and the tomb does seem pretty unloved considering it is such a fascinating piece of local prehistoric history. However, its unexpected location in a little clearing behind some houses is worth a look.
I took a well worn short cut from the chambered tomb up to the official path for the Castle Hill viewpoint but you can take the path back to the signposted route at the start if you prefer. This is really a walk of two halves as the first stretch is along a path surrounded by patchy grass and scrubby undergrowth and isn't that picturesque. It is also quite steep going in places and I certainly felt my calf muscles working harder than usual.
However, keep checking behind you as the view opens up across the Firth of Clyde and you will get all the encouragement you need to keep going. There are also some benches where you can enjoy the view if you need a little breather.
In Scotland you are surrounded by history wherever you travel in the country and for every popular historical attraction there are dozens of others that remain under the tourist radar. Many of these sites have just as much, if not more, historical significance but receive much less attention for various reasons.
Nestled tightly between a housing estate and the Main Street of the North Ayrshire town of Kilwinning is the unexpected gem of Kilwinning Abbey.
Culzean Castle is undoubtedly one of Scotland's most beautiful buildings and a popular Ayrshire visitor attraction. Although perched dramatically on a cliff top overlooking the Firth of Clyde, it was never intended as a fortress.
Designed by renowned architect Robert Adam for David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis, it was built as a romantic castle style family home.
Originally commissioned in 1777 to replace a more basic structure, building work was finally completed in 1792. Donated to the National Trust of Scotland by the Kennedy family in 1945, today the magnificent Adam masterpiece attracts visitors from all over the world.
Thanks to the NTS, the 18th century mansion and its interior have been well preserved and it would be unthinkable that such a grand and relatively modern building could ever be allowed to fall to ruin. Yet head a little further east in Ayrshire and you might be surprised to discover that the once equally beautiful younger sister of Culzean has succumbed to that very misfortune.
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