Finding poetic licence in Arran and Ayrshire
Burns night is celebrated every year in the Ripper house and as the haggis is washed down with Irn Bru, I promise the family that I will take them to the birthplace of Robert Burns, in Alloway, Ayrshire so that they can find out first hand a little more about this Scottish genius.
Relatives in Ayrshire recently posted a photo on social media of my nephew enjoying a school trip to an outdoor pursuit centre in Arran.
The sky was blue, the sun was scorching and daredevil kids were enjoying their first experience of gorge walking and mountain biking.
The decision was made. We would plan a trip to Arran and Ayrshire that would include history, culture, outdoor pursuits, art and an overdue catch up with relatives.
Deciding at the last minute meant that our first choice sites were fully booked however we managed to book a pitch at Crofthead Holiday Park which is primarily a static caravan site but has an area for tourers. The facilities were good and it had a small playground for younger visitors. We received a warm welcome however the passing heavy duty vehicles trundling past regularly at the time of our visit spoilt the view and silence somewhat but it proved to be a great base for exploring the surrounding area. The visiting fish and chip van was a pleasant surprise and so on our first night we enjoyed not having to cook. Deep fried haggis all round!
Ayrshire can get overlooked by visitors travelling to Scotland and heading to well known Loch Lomond or the Highlands but it's well worth considering as a destination in its own right. An historic county in the south-west, it is located on the shores of the Firth of Clyde with its principal towns including Kilmarnock, North Ayrshire.
We kicked off our stay with a visit to Robert Burns' birthplace in Alloway where we had a glimpse of the life that Burns and his family lived. We enjoyed a wander around the charming gardens before making our way over the road to Poet's Path which led us to the Museum. The sculptures along the way are a great addition and we particularly liked the giant granite haggis and the tim'rous beastie, aka the mouse that featured in one of Burns' most famous poems. Some time was spent at the interactive museum and exhibition after which we stopped for a snack at the charming café and were delighted to be entertained by a performer who enthusiastically recited a Burns poem. Afterwards, we made our way over to 'the Auld Brig', otherwise known as Brig o' Doon, the original 15th century cobblestone bridge over the River Doon, which Tam O' Shanter crossed on horseback, fleeing from the witches and warlocks on his tail who were unable to follow him across water.
Discovering hidden treasure
Our trip to Culzean Castle and Country Park took place on Bank Holiday Monday and in keeping with tradition, it poured down. So, after meeting up with relatives, we headed straight into the Castle with the plan that when it brightened up, we would explore the extensive grounds of this opulent estate. Treasure hunts are always a big hit when we visit Mansions and Houses and the Rippers and their cousins were delighted to take part in one of the best, locating and identifying tiny Lego characters hidden in each room amongst chandeliers and magnificent weaponry. With gardens, secret follies, beaches, woods, trails and adventure playgrounds, there is plenty to explore at Culzean Castle and Country Park. Unfortunately, the weather prevented us from doing much exploring outdoors but it did prove though that even on dismal days, Culzean, (pronounced cull-ane), which was designed by Robert Adams in the late 18th Century, is worthy of a visit. The estate has a strong link with President Eisenhower, as the top-floor apartment was presented to him for his lifetime in recognition of his role during World War II. So if, for some unknown reason you would want to trade a night in your beloved caravan for a stay in the Eisenhower Apartment as a paying guest, then this can be accommodated. You don't have to reside at the castle in order to enjoy stunning views across the Firth of Clyde to the islands of Arran and Ailsa Craig and the Mull of Kintyre as the Culzean Castle Club campsite will give you this opportunity, but book early as our late enquiries meant that we missed out on an opportunity of staying here.
Dumfries House is a little known gem of a place; well worth a full day out. My sister, who had visited earlier in the year with her young family, highly recommended a visit here adding that no expense had been spared in its renovation. The restoration project was carried out by a consortium of charities and heritage bodies, headed by HRH The Prince of Wales, under his title of Great Steward of Scotland. And what a grand job they have done. The house itself is impressive but the highlight for the Rippers was the Engineering Playground. This was one of the best playgrounds we have come across and even appealed to Joe, who at 15 is 'way too old to play'. As the English half term holidays differ to the Scottish schools, this was a fabulous time to visit as we had the whole place to ourselves. Discovering water flow, forces, pressure, dams and how it affects movement, they spent over an hour in this area alone. It was the first of its kind that I have seen and I was extremely impressed. The estate also included adventure playground as well as a fabulous maze which cost £1 each; unfortunately dogs aren't permitted so we took turns to wait outside with our pooch Olga. The same applies for entry to the 18th Century sandstone House famous for its collection of Chippendale furniture and luxurious furnishings. The kids weren't disappointed at missing out on exploring the House and preferred the variety offered in the grounds and gardens but it proved that there's something to suit everyone here. So, by giving a tour of the House a miss, we spent our day exploring some of the 2,000 acres of this stunning estate which included Avenue Bridge, a three arch bridge adorned with obelisks, an icehouse, a coach building, a sundial, the ruins of Terringzean Castle, lodges, and a temple. There's certainly plenty to see here.
Fun for four-legged friends
The beaches in Ayrshire are dog friendly with no restrictions on any that we visited. Our pooch Olga particularly liked Troon beach which runs alongside a charming little town and, being famous for golf, there is no shortage of top quality courses. We were also delighted to discover a fabulous little shop dedicated completely to our four legged friend where we treated Olga to some home made treats. Ayr, also proved to be a great place for letting Olga stretch her legs. The large beach runs alongside a busy, bustling town with the usual high street chain shops and bars and restaurants and take-aways.
The Isle of Arran was a highly anticipated part of our trip and it certainly didn't disappoint. If I were to do this trip again, I would spend more time on this beautiful island. I'd also take the caravan over and stay at one of the island's marvellous sites and I'd include more outdoor pursuits offered by Lochranza Activity Centre. But as time was restricted, only a day could be spent here. We travelled to Brodick as foot passengers as our last minute enquiries meant that there was no space for the car. The bus service is great here though so being without a car wasn't a problem. One of the leaders from Lochranza Activity centre met us from a designated bus stop and led us along a very pretty walk, across stepping stones, past a stunning beach and through a wooded area until we reached the cliff side. Lochranza Outdoor Centre, came highly recommended from my brother in law who accompanied his son's school trip and raved about the facilities, the guidance and the location. Upon arrival we were kitted out with the essentials which included insect repellent. In June, when the weather is hot and windless; insect repellent is essential in Scotland. It's effective though so don't let misguided horror stories of being bitten alive by the monster midges keep you away from Scotland in the summer months. Our first challenge was to climb the rope ladder that hung from the cliff top (it's harder than it looks). We then walked up to the top and, one at a time, the kids and Chris abseiled the 30ft to the bottom. The view from the top was stunning and from here we could see the Devil's Punchbowl. Goatfell is another point of interest here on Arran and had we more time, we would have loved to have climbed it. Our session with Lochranza Activity Centre staff was brilliant. I would definitely have signed up for more activities such as gorge walking and kayaking had we more time. Sadly, our time in Arran came to an end far too quickly. I added it to my 'I could live here' list. Described as all of Scotland in miniature it's easy to see why. Low population, stunning copper beaches populated only by us on a scorching June day, lochs, glens, forests mountains, spectacular scenery, wildlife that includes birds of prey, deer and red squirrels, forests, mountains and glens. I was sorry to leave.
Majestic sculptures and epic art
Matthew, my middle son, adores art and sculptures. The Kelpies is one that he has been desperate to visit for some time so we made sure we included it in our plans and took a trip over to Helix park in Falkirk. At 98ft tall, the dramatic structure of the heads of two horses is an awesome site and, when illuminated will take your breath away. It's easy to make a full day of this attraction by including a visit to the Falkirk Wheel and there is a fabulous and extensive playground and picnic area. Parking is easy, free and plentiful and we enjoyed a nice dog friendly walk to the Kelpies themselves. A 30-minute guided walking tour will give you a fascinating insight into the conception of the sculpture and will take you through the vision of the artist Andy Scott, and how history and industry impacted on his designing of this breath-taking artwork. The Kelpies highlights the importance of the horse in industry and economy, pulling wagons and ploughs, barges and coal ships that shaped the structural layout of the area. It's also worth mentioning here that another sculpture by Andy Scott. 'The Heavy Horse' is worth seeking out. We've never stopped to see it up close as we are often towing but we love spotting it from the M8 on the way to Glasgow. The sculpture is of a Clydesdale horse, native to Scotland, and I wonder if there is any connection with the Clydesdale named Carnera which once pulled the wagon for local soft drinks company in the 1930's. Carnera was the biggest working horse in the world apparently, standing over 19 hands high and pulling three-ton wagons full of soft drinks. Barrs Irn bru. Made in Scotland. From Girders. If sculptures are your thing, look out for 'The Angel of the Nauld' another of Andy Scott's creations that can be seen overlooking the Northbound carriageway of the M80 north of Auchenkilns, you'll spot it as we did as we were en route to the Kelpies.
The weather can change suddenly in Scotland and from a scorching beach on one day we spent the next grey, misty morning at the atmospheric Danure harbour and village, most notable for its ruined mediaeval castle in a cliff top setting. Located about 5 miles outside Ayr, it was only a short drive away but it meant that Olga was able to stretch her legs and the kids enjoyed clambering over the rocks and jumping onto the soft sand below before taking a wander around the harbour. On our way back to the site we stopped at Electric Brae. Unsuspecting travellers following the A719 coastal road will see the sign: 'Electric Brae: Slow vehicles ahead'. Mysteriously, there is nothing to see until you get round the bend and a queue of stationary cars sits in the middle of the road where the laws of physics seemingly don't apply and cars roll upwards. Normal rules of the road don't apply on this small stretch of road as slowing down and stopping is not only permitted but encouraged. Curiously there is no electricity involved; just an optical illusion created by the lay of the land. The configuration of the land on either side of the road makes it look as if the slope is going the other way so that when we took our brakes off, we appeared to move slowly uphill. If the magic of the brae isn't enough, this is a beautiful drive along the west coast looking out over the sea to Arran and beyond.
We tend to prepare and eat meals in our Lunar Quasar 546, following Monica Rivron's suggestions of course, however we had heard great things about the Stag and Thistle in Kilmaurs. The deep fried haggis balls with whisky sauce was a dish we all agreed could easily replace our Sunday roast but it wasn't just the food that got us excited. There is an option at the Stag and Thistle to dine in the 'beach huts' in the beer garden. This was great fun and a real novelty for the kids as they organised themselves into one whilst the adults dined next door. It was a brilliantly unique way of dining but as you can imagine the beach huts get booked up quickly so it's a good idea to book ahead.
On a dreich day we decided to take a drive out to West Kilbride. It is described as Scotland's first craft town, and home to a variety of studios and galleries which showcase local artists' work. This sounded like the perfect way to spend a poor weather day. Esme loves crafts so we set off in the hope that we might buy some unique ceramics, paintings or jewellery and indulge Esme is some crafting. Unfortunately it fell short of my expectations. Perhaps the development is still in its infancy and plans are underway since there wasn't much open or present. We did however visit a nice little glass shop where the owner busied herself with making jewellery and hanging decorations. The concept of such a place is brilliant and I sincerely hope that it does well but I couldn't help but be disappointed with what was on offer on the day of our visit. If this sort of place appeals, look it up as there may be further development since our visit and you may strike it lucky by being able to learn some new skills, watch some crafters in action and purchase some unique quality items.
We are always keen to include a bike ride in each of our trips which isn't always easy with a dog. A trip to Largs however proved to be the perfect place to get the kids out on a bike ride whilst Chris and I walked Olga alongside on the long sweeping Victorian promenade. The bike ride was interrupted by a stop at ramps where the kids practised their skills. Largs is famed for a battle in 1263 when the Vikings, attempting to land from a fleet of longboats, were repulsed by the army of Alexander III. This Viking heritage is celebrated at Vikingar! a Viking-themed attraction and if you're lucky your visit might co-inside with the annualLargs Viking Festival battle re-enactments and living history displays which culminates in a grand Viking galley burning and firework display. Largs is also home to the famous Nardini's ice cream shop; a stylish art deco ice cream parlour as well as exclusive restaurant. A quick peek at the menu revealed this to be a great spot for fine dining in exquisite surroundings however we settled for a delicious ice cream to take away. Close to Largs lies the Isle of Cumbrae, just a mile offshore where a regular ferry service and the famous Waverley Paddle Steamer makes regular trips during the summer months. To the south of the town, a stroll along the pebbly shoreline offers lovely coastal views and a great spot for stone skimming, leading past the Pencil Monument and up to the harbour.
A couple of miles from Largs lies Kelburn Castle & Country Park. This 13th century castle might take you by surprise as the outer walls have been painted in bright and bold eye-catching designs by Brazilian graffiti artists. You can wander through the woodland glen, a tranquil place of natural beauty that includes waterfalls and deep gorges, with many little surprises along the way which make this secret forest walk quite unique and unforgettable for kids as there are lots of places for them to explore and discover. Kelburn also includes an adventure course, trail of high walkways and rope swings, just in case they have any energy left to spend after exploring the forest.
On our final day, we travelled to Glasgow to visit Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Matthew had read about an exhibition of Frank Quitely, a comic artist, and was keen to look at his work. This is a spectacular art gallery and even if the visiting exhibition doesn't appeal, it's worth visiting. On the way to Glasgow we decided to stop by Whitelee Windfarm, the UK's largest onshore wind farm, located on Eaglesham Moor just 20 minutes from central Glasgow. It's a beautiful eerie walk amongst 215 gigantic silent turbines, over hills and alongside small lochs. There are different trails and routes to explore over 130 kilometres. This is the perfect place for a bike ride but as we were heading into Glasgow afterwards, we chose to walk the scenic 6 mile route. With free parking and free entry to the onsite Visitor Centre, Whitelee is a great low cost destination for a day out with the whole family. For visitors with accessibility needs, there are bus tours available which allow you get up close to the turbines.
Returning to Ayrshire proved to me that familiar places can still bring surprises. Throughout this trip I reminisced, marvelled at change and development, felt pride and nostalgia and shared new discoveries and experiences with my family. Next time we celebrate Burn's night, we will all be able to contribute a little about Rabbie's life whilst getting stuck into the haggis and the Irn Bru of course.
Crofthead Holiday Park
McNairston, Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland KA6 6EN
T 01292 263516
Culzean Castle Caravan Site
Culzean, Maybole KA19 8JX
T 01655 760627
Craigie Rd, Ayr KA8 0HF
T 01292 264909
T 0800 066 5000
30 Main St, Kilmaurs, Kilmarnock, KA3 2SF
T 01563 544110
2 Greenock Road, Largs, KA30 8NF
T 01475 675 000
Lochranza, Isle of Arran, KA27 8HL
The Helix, Falkirk FK2 7ZT
T 01324 590600
W the helix.co.uk
Robert Burns Birthplace Museum
Murdoch's Lone, Alloway, Ayr KA7 4PQ
T 01292 443700
Whitelee Windfarm- Scottish Power
Moor Road, Eaglesham, Glasgow G76 0QQ
T 0141 614 0851
Cumnock, KA18 2NJ
T 01290 425 959
Maybole KA19 8LE
T 01655 884455
West Kilbride Craft Town
The Barony Centre, 50 Main Street, West Kilbride KA23 9AR
T 01294 829179
South Beach, Troon, KA10 6EF
Fairlie, Ayrshire, KA29 0BE
T 01475 568865
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Argyle Street, Glasgow, G3 8AG
T 0141 276 9599
A719, Maybole KA19 8JR
40 Greenock Road, Largs KA30 8QL
T 01475 689 777