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
Today it's time to explore on foot and follow the the marked Inner Walk to the top of the island. At 417 feet above sea level you are rewarded with amazing panoramic views in every direction.
You can look across to the mainland, the islands of Bute and Arran and on a clear day you can see Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps.
One of the most fun things I did during my time on Cumbrae was to go Geocaching. View my blog post further down the page to read about this treasure hunting craze. On the Inner Walk there are 3 cache locations which were all pretty easy to find once you knew where to look! Geocaching will add another entertaining and educational dimension to your walk and I highly recommend giving it a go.
DAY 2 PM
After all that walking and seeking of treasure you will enjoy a proper lunch.
Refuelled it's time for one last walk around the town before heading home. Have a look at the few pretty seaside themed shops for the perfect souvenir.
Get you camera out and capture some last digital memories of the brightly coloured harbour benches, the house with the smallest frontage in the world (it is next door to the bistro) and don't forget to take a few snaps of the iconic crocodile rock. Head up to Kames Bay where you will get some nice views of Little Cumbrae, Arran and the seafront.
If this is your first visit to the Island of Great Cumbrae then a day trip won't be enough to discover the treasures of this little island. If you have the time and budget, stay at least one night, follow my itinerary and you should cover the main attractions. Of course if you have longer then take the chance to relax into Scottish island life.
For easy reading I've split this blog into 2 parts, one for each day.
DAY 1 AM
I recommend a visit to Garrison House as your starting point. The building itself, complete with sunken gardens, is beautiful to look at and it's history and recent renovation provide a fascinating story and insight into the development of Millport. It is free to visit and houses a small museum complete with video and exhibits telling the story of the building and island. There is also a cafe with free WiFi, a craft shop and you can pick up free leaflets and maps here.
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