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.
For my third day touring Southern Scotland with Barbour, it was time to leave Dumfries and Galloway and travel further west into Ayrshire. I wanted to showcase Alloway which happens to not only be one of the prettiest villages in Scotland, but also the birthplace of Scotland's National Bard, Robert Burns.
If you ever wanted to find out more about this iconic Scottish poet, there is no better place to visit in Scotland as Alloway celebrates his life and work in a range of attractions, from the cottage he was born in, to the modern Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Even the lamp posts, flower boxes and street names have all had a Burns themed makeover!
Robert Burns Birthplace Museum
With plenty of parking, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum is a good place to start your quest to learn more about the man himself. It was built specifically to house the world's biggest collection of Burns related artifacts including original manuscripts written in his own hand and some of his personal belongings. The collection was started just after his death in 1796 and now has over 5,500 objects.
The Birthplace Museum actually includes a further five sites within the village of Alloway and after an interesting introduction to the complex life of Robert Burns, it was time for us to follow in his footsteps on the Burns' Trail and find out more about the local places and characters that inspired some of his most important work.
For our next stop we travelled back in time to where the story of Robert Burns began, quite literally, as Burns Cottage is the place he was born on 25th January 1759 and spent the first 7 years of his life. This pretty clay cottage, complete with thatched roof, was actually built by Robert's father, William Burns in 1757 and incorporated 2 rooms, a byre and a barn.
When the family moved out, William sold the cottage and it was leased out by the owners as an alehouse but shortly after the death of Robert Burns, the alehouse had to be extended due to the number of visitors attracted by the spreading fame of the poet. In 1881 the cottage was bought by the trustees of the Burns Monument who spent 26 years restoring it to its original condition. Today visitors can get an insight into what life was like in the early years of Scotland's Bard.
Image Credit - Sean Elliott Photography for Barbour
The Poet's Path
The Poet's Path was designed as a link between Burns Cottage and the other attractions in Alloway. Look out for some quirky sculptures that celebrate some of the work of Robert Burns including a series of 10 weather-vanes with scenes from the famous 'Tam O'Shanter', a very large mouse that could never be described as a 'wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie' and a fox inspired by his poem 'On Glenriddel's Fox Breaking His Chain'.
Alloway Auld Kirk
A short walk from the Poet's Path takes you to Alloway Auld Kirk, which is undeniably atmospheric and dare I say a little bit creepy! This might have something to do with a childhood learning 'Tam O'Shanter' which features this ruined Kirk as the place poor Tam stumbles upon a macabre scene, with warlocks and witches dancing to a tune played on the bagpipes by the Devil. A drunken Tam stupidly disturbs their antics and they pursue him and his grey mare, Meg, towards Brig O' Doon, where they narrowly escape over the bridge with their lives as the witches can't cross the running water, although poor Meg did lose her tail.
Exploring here as an adult, I can still imagine that it is the sort of place that witches might gather. The ornate and eerie headstones, coupled with iron mortsafes designed to stop grave robbers gave us all a chill which couldn't simply be blamed on the damp weather!
As you enter Alloway Auld Kirk, you also can't miss the grave of William Burns, Robert's father, complete with an epitaph on the rear of the headstone composed by the poet.
I've quickly discovered that blogging while travelling and camping isn't going to be the easiest thing to do, which I pretty much knew before I started, but I really want to share a little journal of my travels with you so I'm trying to set aside time to do some quick updates when I can. Apologies if they are a little brief but I fully intend to write some longer blog posts when I return, the ones I write along the way are really just to keep you up to date with where I've been so far.
I'm already on day 5 and thought I'd do a little round up of my time on the Ayrshire coast. This is an area that I know pretty well as we had a family caravan in Girvan then Turnberry for over 20 years and my aunt had a caravan in Irvine which we also spent a lot of time at. Add to that countless day trips and there aren't many places that I've not explored in the area at some point, which is why I only spent 2 days here to allow myself more time in regions I've not visited before. Although there are of course still a few places that I've never been and one of those was my very first stop on my 6 week trip.
Portencross Castle - Overlooking the Firth of Clyde near West Kllbride and said to be the last resting place of the great Kings of Scotland on their way to be buried at Iona. I arrived before it opened so I didn't manage to visit inside but on a gloomy day it looked suitably atmospheric.
Jane Hunter Art - Another place that has been on my radar for some time is West Kilbride, known as Scotland's craft town due to the support and promotion given to artists and crafters. There are lots of studios and shops to visit on a designated trail and regular exhibitions.
I had been contacted by the lovely Jane Hunter who invited me to pop in if I was passing and it was great to meet her and her partner Sam who both design a range of gorgeous textile products inspired by the great outdoors. Jane was wearing a rather nifty t-shirt designed by Sam which will be part of a new mountain inspired range, think I might have to get myself one of those!
Unfortunately I didn't have a great deal of time to stay on this occasion but I will definitely be back to explore more of the town. Thanks so much to them both for encouraging me to finally make the effort to visit West Kilbride and be sure to check out their lovely online shops or even better stop by and say hello if you're passing.
I'm really grateful to the people and businesses that have invited me to stop by when I'm in their area and plan to accept invites whenever I can as it is so much nicer to communicate in person than online.
Next stop along the coast was Irvine and I loved discovering some colourful street art beneath the shopping centre.
I have a thing about photographing boats so expect a few more as I travel around the coast! These were next to the Maritime Museum in Irvine.
This is my travelling companion for the trip, my 3 year old lurcher Willow. We stopped by The Ship Inn in Irvine for lunch as it has great food and a large dog friendly area. Willow was delighted when she was given some homemade shortbread, not something she would normally be allowed but I made the exception since she is technically on her holidays! This is the oldest pub in Irvine, full of quaint historic details and character. A family favourite when we were on holiday at my aunt's caravan, I always pay a visit when I'm passing and highly recommend it if you're in the area.
It is virtually impossible for me to drive along the Ayrshire coast and not stop at Culzean Castle and Country Park. As a child I spent so many happy and adventurous summers here and still love visiting as an adult.
Culzean even has llamas and if you read my recent blog about my visit to Orkney and my trip to feed alpacas, you can imagine how excited I got seeing llamas!
Mauchline is a characterful little town in East Ayrshire with a long and varied history. It is the home of Mauchline ware the famous wooden souvenirs and the only curling stone factory in the world, however the main reason many people visit here is the strong connections to Scotland's National Bard, Robert Burns.
Mauchline is mentioned in every Burns trail and with good reason. He spent four important years here from 1784 to 1788 and during that time he experienced many highs and lows including
I had never been to Mauchline before and decided this week that it was time to visit the area of Scotland that inspired many of my favourite Burns poems. The day I visited it was bucketing with rain which meant that I didn't manage to enjoy a full walk around the town, however there was still plenty to do and my first stop at the free Burns House Museum was a warm and welcome shelter from the wet deluge outside. A 20 minute video about the Bard's life during the period he resided here was an informative introduction to the complicated life of the poet. The museum is situated in a building where Burns and his wife Jean Armour spent some time living and features a recreation of the room they lodged in. The museum also houses Burns artifacts and even has a listening snug where you can relax and enjoy his poems. There has been alot of thought put into this museum and it's exhibits and the fact that it is free makes it an ideal starting point when visiting the town.
I know first hand that travelling anywhere for any length of time can add up financially. As you may have guessed I love to explore Scotland at every opportunity and share all the wonderful places I find on my blog. Like most people I don't have a huge bank account and my travels are funded by my 'real' job but there is a way to stay in some pretty special places for cheap and even better for free!
Yes, I'm going to use the 'C' word, if you want to travel on a budget then it is time to embrace camping.
My most recent camping trip took me along the west coast from Ayrshire to Dumfries and Galloway. For 2 people and our four legged companion we managed to visit some pretty special Scottish places and our accommodation costs for 4 nights were only £36. The possibilities for camping are endless but this is a summary of my trip which you could easily do or seek out your own little haven under canvas.
We spent our first 2 nights in the lovely village of Maidens in Ayrshire with a beautiful harbour view, a handy picnic table, 2 minutes from a toilet block and a couple of minutes from the beach where we watched the sunset. Can you believe we enjoyed all this for free? We basically found a nice piece of public grass and pitched our tent.
This is classed as wild camping which is permitted in Scotland providing you follow some common sense rules. For more info have a read at the Visit Scotland guide.
People passing by kept commenting on how envious they were as we had such an idyllic place to stay for the night. Camping may not be for everyone but for me it's hard to beat if you're looking to save money and still have a great adventure.
There is a hotel in Maidens if you don't fancy cooking and it is nearby Culzean Castle and Country Park which is worth visiting for the day, you can read about it on my blog. As I sat on the rocks watching the sunset with our tea brewing on our little camping stove I did wonder if life gets any better than this?
I'm going to put it out there, Culzean Country Park and it's instantly recognisable castle is one of my favourite Scottish attractions. I've been visiting this National Trust for Scotland property since my early childhood and 3 decades later not much has changed. There have been a few improvements and alterations here and there but overall this timeless classic of a park has pretty much remained the same giant playground for adventurers of all ages that I nostalgically remember.
The Robert Adam designed clifftop castle is no doubt the sparkling gem of this Ayrshire crown but the surrounding grounds offer an array of natural and historic twinkling jewels which compliment it perfectly.
The castle is open to the public and you can choose to tour the beautifully furnished room at your own pace or as part of a guided tour. The armoury is particularly impressive as it holds one of the world's largest collection of swords and pistols.
The manicured gardens below the castle with the groomed green lawn, ornate fountain and palm trees makes a perfectly picturesque lunch spot.
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