An Autumn Day at the Ayrshire Coast

This day out is definitely one of my favourites from Glasgow. It has a café with some of the best scones in Scotland; a lovely wee village made famous by world renowned Rabbie Burns; a fine, windswept empty beach to stroll; world famous Turnberry Golf Course and Lighthouse plus delightful, dramatic views over the sea to the Isle of Arran. It also includes one of my favourite castles – gorgeous Culzean –  sitting on its vertiginous cliff top, lashed by the sea and with grounds so huge, they take all day and more to explore.

Alloway Village and the Robert Burns Centre

Brig o' Doon Hotel, Alloway
Brig o Doon

We set off on a day of bright October sunshine and after a 40 minute drive south on the A77,  we pulled into the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.This is THE place for all things Burns with a fascinating exhibition about the great man, his poetry and songs. There is no doubt he was a genius, with his sentiments and observations still so pertinent today. He knew human nature and it has not changed since the 1700s when he penned so many memorable, beautiful and often acerbic words about the human condition. A lover of wine, women and song and a great supporter of the poor and downtrodden (a class he was born into) he also called out the hypocrisy of the church and the rich. A class warrior of his time yet celebrated and feted by the very class that he often criticised harshly. Perhaps his undoubted good looks had something to do with that too!

At 10am the doors of the museum opened, already a small queue having formed.Theylike a bargain in this part of the world and for the princely sum of 3.95, the café offers a scone (a Scottish institution) and a hot drink. A steal!

One tea and warm Clootie Dumpling scone later, (plus a roll and sausage and fried egg for Chris) we were replete and ready to get on with the day.Just for explanation a Clootie Dumpling is a traditional Scottish Steamed Pudding made with a high concentration of dried fruits and usually served hot with cream. Gorgeous and incredibly rich. But here it had been incorporated into a scone – sublime.With every mouthful I could feel my waistline expanding by several inches.

Alloway Kirk of Tam o Shanter fame
Alloway Kirk of Tam o Shanter fame

Next stop – the short two minute stroll to Alloway Kirk, the ruined church made famous in the poem ‘Tam O’Shanter.’ Peering through the window of this kirk Tam, drunk, witnessed the devil and all his associates having a high old time one cold wintry night.Alexander Goudie painted many of the scenes from the poem, on display in Alloway’s nearby Art Centre.

Tam O Shanter seeing the Devil
The painting of Tam seeing the Devil and his ghoulish party

You can still look through this small window and with the wind eerily moaning through the branches of the ancient oak trees overhead, it’s easy to imagine the sight! Gloomy skies just add to the atmosphere of this place.Old gravestones lie at angles in the churchyard and one of the largest marks the burial place of Burns’ own father, William Burns, who died in 1784.Rabbie wrote a lovely elegy to his father which is engraved on the back of his tombstone:

O ye whose cheek the tear of pity stains,

Draw near with pious rev’rence, and attend!

Here lie the loving husband’s dear remains,

The tender father, and the gen’rous friend.

The pitying heart that felt for human woe,

The dauntless heart that fear’d no human pride,

The friend of man – to vice alone a foe;

For even his failings lean’d to virtue’s side’.”[2]

Burns Cottage is a 10 minute walk away and another fascinating place to visit. It seems almost unbelievable that a man of such learning, erudition and insight was born into such rural poverty.The two roomed cottage also included at one end, a stable for farm animals. Yet inside the tiny rooms which the family inhabited, there were such riches being taught to Burns and his siblings by his parents.

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Burns’ Cottage

There is a very pretty Memorial Garden opposite the church (or kirk) which we strolled through, not many flowers left at this time of year but a lovely space. The red berries of the Rowan trees leant colour to the scene – trees which are associated with good luck and used to be planted beside every house. Then across a little path to the old Brig o Doon, the 15th century cobbled stone bridge which arches over the River Doon. It’s a beautiful spot, with views to sheep dotted fields and the delightful gardens of the nearby Brig o’ Doon Hotel. My parents , in the 1950s, carved their initials on this bridge along with countless other courting couples but I have never been able to find them! Time and weather have erased most of the initials of lovers of the past but it’s a lovely connection however to my mum and dad, to think that they once stood on this spot, in love and admired the same bucolic view.

Turnberry Beach and Golf Course

Turnberry beach
Turnberry Beach in summer

Off we set in the car along the coastal route to Turnberry with its world famous golf course and mile of empty sands.On a clear day, the views to Arran from here are glorious but a sea fret was robbing us of that sight today.Still, the open sea was very dramatic beyond Dunure village (used in Outlander), its ruined castle looming over the rocky coast.

From Dunure Castle
From Dunure Castle ruins

In 25 mins, we were parked at Turnberry beach and headed off past the golf course and the dunes onto the lonely, wave lashed shore.

The path to the beach
Summer Rapeseed lining the beach path
Winter light, Turnberry
In contrast, winter light

A 20min walk (best when the tide is out) took us out to the famous lighthouse which sits on a craggy outcrop; it’s a beautiful spot.

Turnberry Lighthouse
The Lighthouse

There is nothing at Turnberry beach but the cry of the seagulls, perhaps a fluttering flock of Ringed Plovers with their melodic cry; the high pitched piping of Oyster Catchers and a few brilliant white Gannets diving off shore.In winter, large rafts of Eider ducks bob on the choppy sea.On a clear day, Northern Ireland is just visible on the southern horizon.There is a little hidden beach near the lighthouse, the best place for a picnic as it is more sheltered than the main sands.Then up onto the golf course where a Right of Way took us above the rocky shore.

Turnberry
Looking back along the beach
Arran from Turnberry beach
Arran from Turnberry

The Right of Way took us past the famous Lighthouse Hole, a toughie!

The Lighthouse Hole
The Lighthouse Hole

There are grand views of Arran from the course…

Arran from the golf course

Turnberry Lighthouse

The remains of Robert the Bruce’s castle surround the lighthouse.The great Scottish hero was born here in 1274 when this collection of overgrown stones was actually an enormous and rather grand structure.The grandest building today sits overlooking the golf course and the sea, namely the 5 star luxury of the red roofed Turnberry Hotel.

Remains of Bruce's castle  - 13th century

The poshest public toilets I’ve ever seen are at the lighthouse too! They serve the golfers but anyone can use them.Marble washbasins and flooring, mock gold taps(I presume they are NOT real gold) lovely Arran Aromatics hand wash and moisturiser….a bit of a treat for mucky hikers!

We popped into the tearoom in the Lighthouse with its fantastic outside terrace though it was too cold today to sit out.It’s quite plush inside because , again , it is mainly there for golfers who want a snack during their round but I’ve never seen any of the players ever inside…just folk who are out for a stroll like us.That said, I don’t think we’ll be buying tea there anytime soon as we were charged £6 each for a paper takeaway cup! The lad serving was quite embarrassed when we handed over the cash.I suppose it’s to keep the plebs out so it’s certainly chased us two plebs away because we’ll give it a miss next time.Still, it was lovely to sit in the cosy interior and look out at the waves crashing onto the rocks below, even if we were paying through the nose for it. Location, location, location!

Turnberry Cafe
Turnberry Cafe and Terrace

Turnberry Hotel

Turnberry Hotel

Several options now faced us when we returned to the car….tea at the hotel was one, a lovely posh option for which we usually pack a pair of decent shoes instead of wading onto those plush carpets with our mucky trainers, feeling like a couple of scruffs. I don’t think anyone would bat an eye, they are so down to earth and friendly at the hotel, despite the luxury tag but it just feels more respectful.

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Lovely oriel windows

Then a window seat in the Grand Tea Lounge where an enormous oriel window – very Art Deco – gives gorgeous views over the course and the sea.I recently enjoyed a Rhubarb Fool dessert and a cuppa which was very reasonable given the quality and location.About £5 for the tea served in fine china and a silver teapot; the delicious dessert was around £9.Well worth it to sit at a window table and admire this fabulous location.

Silver service at the hotel
Tea, scones and silver service

We have sometimes walked the Ayrshire Coastal path along the beach to Dunure village but there wasn’t really the time for that today.It’s another great option though, a beautiful walk.

Ayrshire Coastal walk
Dunure Castle

Culzean Castle

Culzean Castle

Not today though! We decided we’d drive three miles up the coast to Culzean Castle, a corker of a place which sits on a cliff edge overlooking the sea. Run by the National Trust , it’s free to us to enter since we are members.Today we were impressed as ever by the entrance hall, decorated with weaponry; then a quick look round the castle’s elegant rooms with their delicately carved Robert Adam plaster ceilings – and always, those views over the sea.

But on a sunny day, it was just too nice to be indoors so off wee trotted to enjoy the enormous garden grounds which offer cliff side and woodland walk.In Scotland it’s always as well to soak up as much sunshine as possible while it lasts!

We followed the woodland trail to the Swan Pond,with some fine views to the sea crashing into the rocky shore far below.Then looped back through the Walled Garden, glorious in summer. In October, the birches, beeches and oaks were turning tawny and gold and Japanese Maples added vibrant reds, so there was still plenty of colour about.

Past the Red Deer herd and a quick pop into the excellent Second Hand Bookshop run by friendly volunteers. I rarely leave without buying something, it’s so well stocked; this time I picked up an Agatha Christie I hadn’t read for years (and of course, I’d completely forgotten Who Dunnit too, as usual.)

I’m not a fan of the café at Culzean itself.The National Trust used to offer really good food but quality is not great these days.So we gave it a body swerve and instead drove half an hour north to Troon where a lovely hotel – the Lochgreen – offers a very pretty environment and location and where a good lunch or tea and cake are on offer.

Lochgreen Hotel

Beautiful houses with huge grounds line the country road to Lochgreen, before we swept into this 4 star hotel’s tree lined drive. All was quiet at 3pm as we’d missed the main lunch period, plus it was mid-week. The dining room was now closed but a warm welcome was given to us and we were shown into the very smart Bar where we could still order off the all day menu.We both chose Chicken Caesar Salad which turned out to be an excellent choice.

Caesar Salad at Lochgreen Hotel
Great food

Fresh anchovies, lots of Parmesan, good strong garlicky/lime dressing, chargrilled chicken…first class! Lovely staff serving too, very friendly.

All in all, a terrific, uplifting day out seeing some of the best of the Ayrshire coast – we’ll be back!

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