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.
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