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
One of the most popular ways to explore Cumbrae is by bike, it is even known at the 'Island of a Thousand Bicycles'. A fairly flat 10.25 mile circular road around the island is perfect for 2-wheeled adventures and there are plenty of picnic stops and viewpoints to enjoy along the way.
I collected a bike from Mapes of Millport who hold about 400 bikes for hire in an assortment of sizes and designs so there is something suitable for most ages and abilities. Even though there aren't many hills, I opted for an electric bike so I could get around quickly as I only had an hour to spare before my gin tour and I wanted to have time to include a few photo stops on my travels too.
I really enjoyed my cycle, taking in the views of my ex-island home of Bute and my next island destination of Arran. I also felt quite chuffed that I was getting plenty of fresh air and exercise before it was even time for lunch and the scenery was so beautifully distracting that it didn't feel like a chore - definitely my preferred kind of workout.
It is easy to see why cycling around Cumbrae has become a visitor tradition as it allows you to easily explore the island and take in views that change around every corner but continue to wow every time.
After my spin around the island I popped in to the Isle of Cumbrae Distillers in Millport for a tour of their gin distillery which is one of the few all-female owned distilleries in the UK. Their own story of women in the gin industry is reflected in the tour which draws upon the historical stories of some of the other females with a connection to the spirit.
If you've ever been behind the scenes at a craft gin distillery you will know there is generally not a lot to see as the production area is usually miniscule and therefore tours tend to sell themselves on the tasting part. However, Cumbrae Distillers have found a way to introduce the history of gin in an easy to understand and entertaining presentation. I know I learned a lot of new facts and even though I couldn't take part in the tastings as I was driving that afternoon, I still really enjoyed my tour.
It turns out their product has been more popular than they anticipated and they are now looking at increasing output at a bigger facility off the island but are planning to keep the current Cumbrae shop and original distillery for visitors. As I couldn't sample the goods at the time, I bought a sample pack of their three gins to try later and look forward to following their story as they start to expand in the near future.
Take the ferry to Arran
Arran is the largest of the island on the Firth of Clyde and can be reached in just under an hour from the ferry terminal at the Ayrshire coastal town of Ardrossan. Known as 'Scotland in Miniature', it is a destination you could easily spend weeks exploring but if you are short of time, I recommend basing yourself around the main town of Brodick and selecting a few quality experiences you can savour, rather than rushing around. I also recommend supporting local businesses to make your visit count.
HOW TO GET TO ARRAN FROM AYRSHIRE
Arran - Sip a cocktail on the beach at Arran Botanicals
In Arran I had a completely different gin experience from Cumbrae as I was finally able to ditch the car and sip on a gin cocktail at a beach bar more akin to a tropical resort than a west coast Scottish island. Cladach Beach House is the headquarters of Arran Botanical Drinks and serves up their own Arran Gin and Arran Cassis in one of the most picturesque settings you could wish for.
Before heading outside, I sampled some of their Arran Gin to try and identify the different island botanicals used for flavour before discovering how the addition of soda water, then their own cassis changed the taste. The result was a very moreish cocktail which I felt was best enjoyed on the beach, in the sunshine, with a bonfire raising the temperature and summer tunes creating a chilled-out vibe.
If the weather plays ball, the experience is about un-Arran as you could imagine - but in a really fabulous way! If the weather isn't being so friendly, the indoor log burner and fairy lights will keep you cosy in the rustic shack. If gin or cassis isn't your thing, they are also expanding into the craft beer market.
Chatting to owner Stuart, his passion for creating a unique and fun business that is high on quality is obvious but he is equally as passionate about supporting other quality independent businesses and looks for opportunities to partner up together to raise the profile of Arran's visitor offerings. With many other ideas in the pipeline, I don't doubt this is only the beginning of great things to come.
Day 3 - Arran
Bellevue Farm - Take a tour & feed the animals
If there is a chance to pet animals, I'm there, if there is a chance to feed animals, I'm there with bells on! On a guided tour of Bellevue Farm there is a chance to do both, and kids young and old are very welcome to get involved, much to my delight. The tours are taken by Ailsa, who, along with her husband Donald and their family, runs the farm, so she is the perfect person to explain everything that goes on behind the scenes.
Ailsa is very keen to demystify the farm to fork story and has mastered the art of getting the information across in a fun way. She is also naturally hilarious and had me laughing all the way round, her ability to have full blown conversations with her livestock would teach Dr Dolittle a thing or two, especially her turkey chat with Jock.
From hand-feeding chickens, alpacas and goats, to bottle-feeding a lamb, my tour was very hands-on, I even got to collect some freshly laid eggs to take home for my breakfast. However, learning about farming, conservation and where food comes from is also a big part of the experience and I was surprised at how much I didn't know. Much of Scotland is covered by farmland and much of our local produce originates from these farms, so it makes sense that we should understand how they operate.
Like some of the other businesses I visited, Ailsa is full of ideas for the future and I'll look forward to seeing what's new next time I visit.
Wooleys of Arran - Pick up a picnic
Wooleys of Arran has a baking pedigree dating back to the middle of the 19th century with the current owner being in charge since the 1980s. They have become increasingly known for their oatcakes baked on the island - which go great with Arran Cheese and some local chutney as I discovered on a previous visit.
This time I popped in to their takeaway shop in Brodick for a picnic lunch and was spoiled for choice with cabinets of freshly baked goods. I couldn't resist one of their hot homemade steak pies, a juicy strawberry tart and of course more oatcakes with cheese, all washed down with a cup of tea and a fabulous view from the picnic tables opposite the shop.
There are picnics and then there are Wooleys of Arran picnics...
Brodick Castle - Step back in time
I do like to include a history fix on my trips and a tour of Brodick Castle ticked the box. A former seat of the Dukes of Hamilton, the castle dates back centuries although much of what you see today is part of a grand 19th century extension.
Once a strategic fortress with commanding views over the Firth of Clyde, it witnessed centuries of conflict and changed hands several times before it entered into permanent possession of the Hamilton family. Prior to being placed in care of the National Trust of Scotland, the last family member to own Brodick Castle was Lady Mary Louise Hamilton who lived there with her husband, the 6th Duke of Montrose, until her death in 1957.
The stately rooms are much as the couple left them and some of the large collection of items accumulated by the family are on display, including an extensive amount of paintings and an impressive array of silver designs. I must admit I did get shivers as I walked down the castle corridor and wasn't surprised to discover there have been sightings of several ghosts.
The surrounding gardens can be visited on their own or with a combined ticket for the castle. Parts of the garden date back to 1710 and are worth exploring if you have the time and I found a stroll around the spring blooms with views towards the sea a delightfully peaceful way to end my trip.
TAKE THE FERRY BACK TO THE MAINLAND
Where to stay in Ayrshire & Arran
AYRSHIRE - THE WATERSIDE HOTEL, WEST KILBRIDE
The family owned Waterside Hotel sits in an enviable position on the beachfront with views across to Arran. The decor is appropriately coastal themed and my room had patio doors that opened up to take full advantage of the waterfront vistas and the west coast sunset.
Public spaces include a restaurant and bar, with plenty of outdoor seating options for the summer. I was also really impressed at the spacious dedicated dog friendly area, the excellent service and the options for gluten free food. I have to give a special shout out to my gluten free fish and chips which is up there with the best I've ever had and I've tried a lot!
If you really want to spoil yourself, there are spa treatments available or book in to the spa suite for some extra luxury. I couldn't fault my stay here and would love to stay for a bit longer next time.
ARRAN - AUCHRANNIE RESORT
Probably the most popular place to stay on Arran, Auchrannie is a sprawling resort surrounded by mountains and greenery. One of the biggest draws is free access to leisure facilities during your stay which include a gym, swimming pools, sauna and steam rooms.
I stayed in a room within the spa resort complex but there is also a traditional house hotel, luxury lodges and a motorhome site to choose from. My room was spacious and well equipped with lovely mountain views.
There are several restaurants to choose from and I opted to eat dinner at Cruize which has a wide ranging menu although I would say gluten free options were limited. I recommend booking in advance as the restaurant can get very busy. This is also where they serve a buffet style breakfast in the morning.
Auchrannie is another dog friendly resort so you can spoil your furry friend too and it is only a 15 minute scenic walk to the centre of Brodick. They also run a shuttle bus pick up and drop off service for the ferry which is super handy if you don't have a vehicle.
Hopefully this has given you some inspiration for booking your own restorative break to Ayrshire and Arran but if you need any more ideas, pop over to the Find Your Balance page on the destination website
Thanks for joining me on my latest adventure
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