Castles and Country Houses in Ayrshire – Turnberry, Dunure, Greenan and Portencross Castles

Dunure Castle Ayrshire

Turnberry, Dunure, Greenan and Portencross Castles

Did you know that many of the castles to be found in Ayrshire have ancient monument status and not all are inhabited/used today and some are ruins but all are worth a visit.  In this final part of my blog on Ayrshire Castles and Country Houses I’m going North up the Ayrshire Coast from Turnberry Castle to Dunure Castle to Greenan Castle then onto Portencross Castle……Enjoy

Turnberry Castle

View of Turnberry Castle - AyrshireThe ruin of Turnberry Castle is situated just 17 miles South of the County Town of Ayr and occupies a rocky piece of land which now also houses the Turnberry lighthouse.  It can be accessed by crossing the Trump Turnberry Golf course from the coastal road (the A719) close to the fishing village of Maidens. There are a number of sections of ruined wall which indicate that it was once an impressive courtyard castle, and it is best appreciated at low tide, when it is possible to walk out onto the rocks to see the walls of the ruined castle.

It’s thought that the castle was probably built in the 13th century and was a property of the Earls of Carrick. It was at Turnberry Castle that King Robert Bruce 1 (the son of Marjorie, Countess of Carrick and Robert de Bruce of Annandale – later granted the title of Earl of Carrick) was born.  

In 1297, during the early Wars of Independence, the castle was burned by William “le Hardi” Douglas. After his coronation and swift exile in 1306, King Robert Bruce returned to Scotland in 1307, landing at his former home Turnberry, which had been repaired and reoccupied by the English. He did not succeed in taking it, but forced the garrison to abandon the castle. In 1310 it was slighted (the act of deliberately damaging a high-status building, especially a castle or fortification, which could include its contents and the surrounding area) on the instructions of Bruce in line with many other castles, but evidence shows that between 1326 and 1370 show that it was repaired.  Unfortunately the castle does not feature again in records, so we do not know its subsequent history.

The castle appeared to be defended by a substantial curtain wall and ditch across the peninsular, presumably with a gate entered via a wooden bridge across the ditch. There is no evidence of wall towers, but it seems probable that the land-facing wall was supplied with these. The northern end of the ditch was overlooked by the large keep. The rest of the peninsular was surrounded by curtain walls which followed the irregular outline of the rocks, here and there bridging awkward inlets instead. There was at least one sea gate, defended by a large portcullis, and it was through this gate that Bruce entered the castle in 1307. The sea gate leads to a badly ruined vault forming the basement of the keep, and was supplied with stairs leading up to an enclosed courtyard. An eroded cave in the rocks may have been a second sea gate. Today this leads to what may have been another covered vault, or else the castle dock. There is no evidence to suggest there was permanent access to this area from the castle, so if this cave existed in the 13th century, access to the dock would probably have been by removable ladders! The irregularly shaped outer ward is largely destroyed and is occupied by the Turnberry lighthouse which was built in 1873.

Although access is possible to Turnberry Castle today, it is not signposted. Take care as the site of the castle can be dangerous, particularly in the wet, and there are no safety fences. If you do go and visit the ruins of Turnberry Castle you can always grab a coffee at Turnberry Lighthouse……

Dunure Castle

Dunure Castle AyrshireThe now ruined Dunure Castle (just 5 miles South of Ayr on the beautiful coastal road – the A719) was once the main fortress of the powerful Kennedy family, the Earls of Cassilis. Today the Kennedys are much more closely associated with Culzean Castle (which I featured in my first blog in this series).  Culzean is less than four miles down the coast from Dunure Castle but for several centuries from the 1200s, Dunure Castle was by far the more important of the two.

The castle’s origins probably date back to at least the 1200s when a stone keep was built on an easily defensible rocky outcrop overlooking the Firth of Clyde. The Kennedy family prospered, with one member marrying a daughter of King Robert III while another went on to become Bishop of St Andrews and the founder of St Salvator’s College.  As they prospered, so their castle expanded. New ranges of buildings were added at a lower level slightly inland, and a curtain wall was erected to surround the whole castle. The new buildings included a kitchen range and a chapel, a great hall and a prison, plus living accommodation for the family and their retainers.

Dunure Castle featured several times in history during its active life including hosting Mary Queen of Scots for three days from 4 August 1563.  She was a guest of Gilbert Kennedy, the 4th Earl of Cassilis. Mary made a number of progressions around her realm during her short reign, and Dunure thus joins a long list of those who would be able to display a “Mary slept here” plaque.

By the mid 1700s, Dunure Castle was a ruin but by the mid 1800s its potential as a visitor attraction was being recognised, and this brought a halt to the systematic destruction of what was left. Luckily now after many years as a derelict and dangerous ruin, the castle has been consolidated and is now partly accessible to visitors – so make a plan to go and see it – it’s on a headland just to the South of the beautiful wee village of Dunure (where some of Outlander was filmed)……..

Greenan Castle 

Greenan Castle AyrshireGreenan Castle is a 16th-century ruined tower house, around 2.5 miles (4.0 km) south-west of Ayr It’s perched on the top of a sea cliff and was originally a promontory fort converted into a motte-and-bailey (a fortification with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised area of ground called a motte, accompanied by a walled courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade) in the 12th century.  In the 15th century a tower house was built by the Lords of the Isles, which later passed into the hands of the Kennedy family.

The lands of Greenan were forfeited by John, Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles in 1476 for treason against James III. In 1493 James IV granted the Lands of Greenan to William Douglas, son of Archibald, Earl of Angus.  The castle passed through various members of the clan before ending up in the hands of Thomas Kennedy, Earl of Cassillis in 1766. Around this time the residential use of the castle seems to have stopped and today the structure is a ruin.

The entrance lintel to the Castle has the inscription, JK 1603 FMD, for John Kennedy of Baltersan and his third wife, Florence MacDowell, who held the lands, Greenan Mill, and salmon fishing rights on the River Doon at that time.

Today the Castle looks amazing on the skyline as the sun is setting – and there is a lovely circular walk from the town of Ayr along the beachfront that takes you past the Castle and back along the old railway line – past the Brig’O’Doon and back into town……..if you get the chance take a wander by………and just enjoy what’s left of Greenan Castle.

Portencross Castle

Stunning sunset over Portencross Castle
Portencross at Sunset taken by George Crawford

This is the final Castle I’m going to include in my blog series Castles and Country Houses of Ayrshire.  This is all about Portencross Castle which is located further up the Ayrshire Coast near the town of West Kilbride.  It isn’t the biggest Castle but has a beautiful setting. An unassuming tower house, it stands alone on a low headland between a long sloping beach and a small natural harbour. 

Portencross has been inhabited for thousands of years. An archaeological dig found evidence of an Iron Age settlement (The Iron Age was from around 800BC to 100 BC) on Auldhill, just behind Portencross Castle.  The Castle was constructed in three phases starting around 1360. It was the home of a branch of the Boyds family of Kilmarnock who were given the lands around Portencross by King Robert I as a reward for their help at the Battle of Bannockburn.  Though it’s hard to imagine it Portencross was once the preferred venue for the signing of important royal charters and Robert II, grandson of Robert the Bruce, was a frequent visitor.

Abandoned in the 18th century, Portencross later took on an unexpected new life as a base for local fishermen, who mended their nets in its cellar right up to 1980. The dangerously dilapidated fortress underwent extensive building conservation works in 2009 thanks to the amazing fundraising efforts of the Friends of Portencross, who have now opened this tiny treasure to the public – so so why not book a tour and find out all about Portencross Castle………..

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Blog Series – and each article has given you ideas for the many amazing Castles and Country Houses there are in Ayrshire – just waiting for you to visit – enjoy…….

Castles and Country Houses in Ayrshire – Brodick Castle, Gardens and Country Park

Castles and Country Houses in Ayrshire – Brodick Castle, Gardens and Country Park

Brodick Castle, Gardens and Country Park

Did you know that on the beautiful Island of Arran (often called Scotland in miniature) you can find Brodick Castle (which is packed with treasures) along with its lovely gardens, woodland walks, adventure playground and waterfalls.  This is a must see during your visit to Arran.  (I’ll be writing another Blog post – All About Arran in the near future – so look out for that).

The History of the Castle

A fortress has been on the site of the Castle since at least the fifth century, when Gaelic invaders from Antrim expanded their kingdom of Dál Riata. By the tenth century Norse influence had grown, and Arran formed part of Sudreys or Súðreyjar under the control of the King of Norway. Over the next several centuries Brodick Castle was fought over by the Norse, the English and the Scots – eventually leading to James Douglas, Lord of Douglas, early in the winter of 1307 being able to dislodge the English from Brodick, one of the first castles to fall to him in his struggle to regain his country.

In 1406 Brodick Castle was badly damaged by an English force that had sailed into Brodick bay. Further destruction was inflicted by John of Islay, Lord of the Isles, in 1455.  At some point after 1470 the castle was granted by James III to his brother-in-law, James Hamilton, 1st Lord Hamilton. His son, James Hamilton, 2nd Lord Hamilton was created Earl of Arran in 1503 and rebuilt the Castle in the form of a Tower House in 1510.  Over the next several centuries the Castle had various incumbents – leading to in the nineteenth century, it becoming the residence for the eldest son of the 10th Duke, styled the Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale.  In 1844, massive building work was undertaken at the castle, almost tripling the size of the building, under the architect James Gillespie Graham and in 1958 the Castle was acquired by the National Trust for Scotland and saved for all our benefits…..

All about the Castle

Brodick Castle is teeming with history and set in beautiful surroundings with mountains (including Goat Fell) to the rear and looking out over the Firth of Clyde to the Scottish mainland.  It is indeed very inch the quintessential island castle. When you go to explore the castle you can use the new self-guided visitor experience, which focuses on the fascinating stories of the people who lived there.  There are also several interactive activities, including the Victorian arcade where you can race a horse on the roll-a-derby or play other traditional Victorian games. All of these activities, combined with special lighting and audio, help bring the castle to life for everyone who visits.

Inside the Castle  dark wood, heavy Victorian colours and sporting trophies hark back to an age of aristocratic leisure and luxury.   Just some of the places you can visit and the things you can see in the Castle are:

Brodick Castle Drawing RoomThe Drawing Room – Entertaining and impressing illustrious guests would have been an important part of life at Brodick during the Victorian era. Built as part of the extension of the castle in 1844 this magnificent room with a grand and opulent interior definitely has the ‘wow’ factor. It houses many grand family portraits as well as an intricate Jacobean-style plaster ceiling, designed by skilled Italian stuccadores. Its pictorial heraldry tells us much about the Hamilton family who owned the Castle for many years.

Dodo Claret Jug at Brodick CastleThe Dodo Claret Jug – This beautiful object is connected to the 12th Duke of Hamilton, who had a penchant for animal-themed tableware. Many fascinating and unusual pieces from his collection can be seen in the castle. A number of these pieces were designed by the renowned craftsman Alexander Crichton, who was often referred to as the ‘fairytale silversmith’ because of his whimsical creations. Crichton based his animals on John Tenniel’s illustrations in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and it’s said that bringing these fantastical creatures to life was the triumph of Crichton’s career. They were one of the Duke’s most prized possessions – in fact, the dodo jug is completely unique.

The Castle also hosts an amazing collection of period furniture, silverware. Porcelain, paintings and sporting trophies so make sure you plan a visit….

Brodick Castle Gardens

View from The Garden at Brodick Castle

Wander around the beautifully kept gardens and explore the Silver Garden Trail and Plant Hunters’ Walk. Keep an eye out for fairies on the Fairies and Legends Trail, where you can also learn about the fascinating early history in a reconstructed Bronze Age roundhouse.

Flowers at Brodick Castle



Featuring a new border design and full of exotic and delicate plants, the walled garden provides a sheltered site in which to grow and develop plants that are rarely seen growing outdoors in Scotland. Built in 1710, it’s the oldest part of the gardens and has stunning views out over Brodick Bay. The walled garden also has a new centrepiece around the sundial, with sandstone paving reflecting outwards.



Bavarian Summer House


Built in 1845, the Bavarian summer house (equipped with a compact kitchen, so that tea could be served on sunny summer afternoons) was constructed as a wedding present for Princess Marie of Baden who moved to Brodick Castle from Mannheim Palace in Germany.  She made her mark by redesigning the gardens and building within them four picturesque wooden summer houses of which this is the only surviving one.  It holds a prominent position perched atop a rocky crag with a magnificent view over the coast road and Brodick Bay and the interior decoration is a delight to behold, created with hundreds of pine cones gathered from the castle gardens.

Brodick Castle Country Park

There’s so much to see in the country park, with over 10 mRed squirrel at Brodick Castleiles of trails to choose from. These pass by woodland, waterfalls and bathing pools, all helping to conjure up an island charm that will enchant children and adults alike.

The Island of Arran is a fantastic place to spot wildlife, and if you’re lucky, you may encounter all of Scotland’s ‘Big 5’ – seals, otters, red deer golden eagles and Red Squirrels.

In the country park there is a wildlife hide that you really want to check out to see those squirrels playing along with seeing various species of bird life.   To find the hide – follow the first signpost beyond the castle, and you’ll find yourself heading along a winding path, edged by a gushing burn and lots of exotic foliage. The hide itself is positioned in a magical grotto, which feels like a remote secret world. Here, if you are lucky (and very quiet), you’ll see the gambolling antics of these acrobatic creatures, attracted by squirrel ‘sweetie jars’. They often come quite close, so you may experience flicking tails, death-defying leaps and aggressive stand-offs over food. This is an experience not to be missed, so make sure to ask for directions!

Adventure Playpark

Adventure Playpark at Brodick CastleThe Isle Be Wild adventure play park is ideal for explorers of all ages to enjoy – one section is for toddlers and younger children and one is for older children. This epic woodland playground features zip wires, high towers, bridges across burns and jungle-style walkways – a real paradise for our younger visitors. The play park also includes the Red Squirrel Kiosk, perfect for tasty ice creams, hot dogs and hot/cold drinks.




I remember as a child how much fun I had in the play area – I never went home clean – but the memories lived on even if the mud had to be scrubbed off!!!  For several years at Easter time my family rented a cottage on the outskirts of Brodick and one of our favourite things was to hire bikes cycling round the Bay (usually past some seals basking) up the steep hill to the Castle.  Then we would have an amazing day out with a picnic – then looked forward to freewheeling back down the long drive usually with the Rhododendrons in full bloom – those were fun days and live long in my memories.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my blog – and can see that visiting Brodick Castle Gardens and Country Park is a must do – and even if you only visit Arran on a day trip it’s well worth the journey on the ferry – enjoy………


Castles and Country Houses in Ayrshire – Dean Castle and Country Park

Dean Castle Ayrhisre

Dean Castle and Country Park

Another lovely place in Ayrshire to visit is Dean Castle and Country Park which is nestled in the town of Kilmarnock in East Ayrshire and is a fantastic free day out for all the family. The Country Park, covering over 200 acres has something for everyone to enjoy.

All about the Castle

Dean Castle AyrhisreDean Castle dates from the 14th Century. It was built by the ambitious, influential and well-travelled Boyd family, the Lords of Kilmarnock.   The buildings and estate continued to be lived in and developed until the mid-1700’s, when a large fire devastated the site. The Boyd family moved on shortly after that and the site passed through the ownership of several important and influential people, until it was inherited by the 8th Lord Howard de Walden. 

From about 1905, De Walden set about re-building areas of the Castle that had fallen into disrepair. He used the Castle to display his collections of Arms and Armour, and early Musical Instruments. In 1974, the 9th Lord Howard De Walden gifted the Castle, estate and collections to the people of Kilmarnock under the stewardship of the local Council.  The venue has operated as a visitor attraction ever since, and is managed by East Ayrshire Leisure Trust. 

The Dean Castle site comprises a number of historic buildings set around a central courtyard. These are:

The Keep at Dean Castle at Kilmarnock
The Keep – the original home of the Boyd family
  • The Keep – completed around 1350, the Keep is the oldest permanent structure on the site. It was the original home and stronghold of the Boyd family, As well as being a domestic residence, the work of the Lords was done here. It contains a Great Hall, private chambers, Minstrel’s Gallery, a dungeon, a guardhouse, and kitchens. 
  • The Palace (or Place) – this building was finished around 1460 and was designed to accommodate the expanding role that the Boyd Family held in society and within political circles. It is made up of a large banqueting hall, private chambers, kitchens, and has many large windows which (did you know…..) indicate a move toward a less defensive, more diplomatic society and a method of displaying the family’s wealth and power…
  • The Gatehouse – built in the 1930’s by Lord Howard de Walden, the style and materials used are in keeping with the rest of the buildings. Originally a janitor’s house, this building now serves as office and storage space. 
  • The Courtyard – this is made up of an enclosed courtyard, with a curtain wall topped with walkways. 
  • Conservation Unit – this is a collections conservation lab. It is situated in old laundry buildings that are positioned outside the main courtyard and historic buildings. 

Dean Castle is home to collections of objects that are of international significance. From the exquisite craftsmanship and rarity of the musical instrument collection to the Viking sword that fires the imagination.  The entire Dean Castle collections – as well as the buildings themselves – represent over 150 years of collecting and over 1,000 years of the history of Ayrshire, its people, and beyond. 

At the time of writing this blog (March 2021) the Castle and various buildings within it were closed and undergoing renovation and restoration with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Environment Scotland – and the collection of artefacts had moved temporarily to the Dick Institute nearby.  Keep an eye on the website to find out when the Castle is reopened to visitors.  But in the meantime take in the beautiful Country Park.

Explore the Country Park

Map of Dean Castle Country Park

Pop into the Visitor Centre as your first port of call where you can pick up a trail map.  You’ll also be able to get advice here on the best routes to take if you fancy a wander in the park.  The visitor centre has large screens to show footage of wildlife throughout the country park. This includes an interactive camera which allows you to zoom in and out and span across the quarry pond watching the ducks, herons, squirrels, geese and other pond visitors. The Visitor Centre is also home to the Treehouse café – somewhere to chill with views over the Country Park (with outdoor seating too to enable your 4 legged friend to join you).  There’s also a Gift shop where you  can pick up a souvenir of your visit. 



Here’s just some of the things you can do in the park….

Go and visit the Rural Life Centre where you can learn more about sustainable living. 

Duck at the Quarry PondTake in some beautiful Woodland walksThe extensive path network involves a few strenuous climbs and some steps. The trails can be walked in their entirety or in bite sized sections to suit.  The Countryside Trail curves up to run high above the river, passing through an area of magnificent old trees and  rhododendrons which add a splash of vivid colour in the Spring.  The two rivers – the Fenwick and Craufurdland Waters – are a major feature of the park and they join to form the Kilmarnock Water near the main entrance.  There are over 7km of trails to explore – from formal designed landscapes of parkland lime trees and ornamental pines, through native woodland dwarfed by great oaks to open farm land surrounded by grazing horses and buzzing hedgerows.  Take a stroll past the Quarry Pond and see what wildlife has made its home there……  and in the park you can also see the fallow deer herd and fawns.

Children can run wild in the adventure playground (inspired by the 14th century castle and it’s surroundings, the space has been designed to encourage freedom, choice and excitement within a natural setting and is deliberately different from the urban play parks throughout various towns and cities).

Bagot Goat and kid



You can also explore the Urban Farm  where they are working towards becoming a Rare Breeds Centre preserving traditional British breeds of farm animals, which are no longer used in modern intensive agriculture  and meet the Manx Loaghtan sheep, Bagot goats, Eriskay ponies and Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs. 





The Country Park has an extensive events programme throughout the year too – from pond dipping and nature walks with the Countryside Rangers to Harvest Festivals, family fun days and more! And interesting fact no 101 – Dean Castle Country Park and the Castle and surrounding area was used as a filming location for S2 of the hit TV series Outlander….

Hopefully some of these things in my blog have whetted your appetite to visit..  We enjoyed a lovely day out at the park (despite the Castle not being open) – it has something for everyone… enjoy……and thank you to East Ayrshire Council for allowing me to use some of their images and text within my blog …

Castles and Country Houses in Ayrshire – Dumfries House

Photo of Dumfries House - Ayrshire

Dumfries House and surrounding area

All about Dumfries House

Photo of Dumfries House - AyrshireDumfries House is a beautiful 18th century stately home designed (like Culzean Castle) by Robert Adam. It is set within 200 acres and houses an unrivalled, fully documented collection of rococo furniture by Thomas Chippendale and three 18th Century Scottish cabinetmakers. It is located within a 2000 acre estate, around 2 miles west of Cumnock, East Ayrshire and was built for the 5th Earl of Dumfries in 1759.  It remained a family home from 1760 to 1993 when the last occupant Lady Eileen, Dowager Marchioness of Bute, passed away. The house remained in the hands of the 7th Marquess of Bute who ensured that it was maintained, although not used as a primary residence before it was offered for sale at auction in 2007 when it was saved for the nation by HRH,  Prince Charles, The Duke of Rothesay (as The Prince is known in Scotland) who led a consortium of organisations and individuals in a passionate campaign for its rescue ensuring it was revitalised and has purpose in the community and just so you know – HRH Prince Charles regularly stays at the House – so keep your eyes peeled…….

Under the auspices of The Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House Trust, and since 2018 The Prince’s Foundation, improvements have been made to the grounds and gardens, historic outbuildings have been brought back to use and the estate is a focus for a range of training opportunities for young people and traditional skills and crafts. The transformation of Dumfries House has brought many employment opportunities to the local area, which was greatly affected by the demise of the coal mining industry, and stands as a prime example of heritage-led regeneration.  

Dumfries House is available to view on organised tours (which need to be booked in advance) and is well worth seeing.  It contains a variety of beautifully presented rooms – designed with specific roles in mind – some of which are listed below……..

  • The Entrance Hall which is clearly influenced by the interior design of Palladio’s villas in Veneto, Italy.  
  • The Family Parlour which as the name suggests it would have featured at the very heart of family occasions and gatherings.
  • The Blue Drawing Room – where you take your first step back  into the 18th century and where you will find unique furnishings and fine art depicting the members of the house (painted by Sir Henry Raeburn). 
  • The Picture Gallery – which is home to a large set of 17th-century Dutch paintings acquired from the renowned collection of the 3rd Earl of Bute, who was Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1762 under King George III.
  • The Family Bedroom which is a true statement of Lord Dumfries’ wealth, taste and social standing.The Tapestry Room which was specifically designed to house four stunning  early 18th-century Flemish tapestries, acquired by the 5th Earl of Dumfries. 
  • The Pink Dining Room. A favourite of HRH The Prince of Wales, it is the most preserved room of the house, with the least alterations made since its inception.  

The Gardens and surrounding area

In addition to visiting beautiful Dumfries House – the gardens and surrounding area hold so much interest it would be wrong to pass them by……here’s just some of the attractions you can take in on your visit……

Visitor Centre & Shop. An ideal first port of call on your visit to Dumfries House.  Here, you can pick up a map of the Estate, book your tour of the House and find out what you can get up to on the Estate that day…. 

Coach House Café. It’s situated in a beautifully converted coach house and stables alongside the Visitor Centre and serves a range of delicious hot and cold refreshments.  It’s a great place to chill for a wee while and has an expansive patio for dining al fresco when the weather permits!! 

Woodland Adventure Playground. Situated next to the Coach House Café is the Woodland Adventure Playground, which provides fun for kids (and grown-ups) of all ages.  If you’re not feeling particularly active, you can relax with a cup of coffee as the young ones let off steam. Toddlers can also have a run around in the toddlers’ play area at the front of the Coach House Café.

The Temple Gate - Dumfries House


The Temple Gate.  This Category A listed structure was doomed from the start as a day to day part of the Estate, as access from it to the main road was denied by the owner of the interceding land. As it no longer had a ‘practical’ use, it began to be referred to as a Temple and simply became a decorative feature. It has since been used as accommodation and latterly, it fell into disrepair. The stonework and masonry were still pretty much in place and restoration of it was completed in 2016.


Photo of The Chinese Bridge at Dumfries HouseWoodland Walks and The Arboretum. There are magnificent, mature policy woodlands that make the perfect place for a wander – with various bridges including the beautiful Chinese Bridge to help you cross the Lugar Water which meanders through the estate.  The Arboretum hosts more than 500 specimens of trees and a range of shrubs and woodland flowers. To the east of the site are two newly created lochans, which will be a haven for a wide range of wildlife and at the centre of the Arboretum sits the woodland shelter, a magnificent structure created by the students of The Prince’s Foundation.


The Maze at Dumfries House


The Maze. Lose yourself at Dumfries House in a whole new way – by surrendering to the yew hedges of the bespoke maze that opened in Summer 2016.  Almost 2000 6ft-high trees were planted during its construction and were mature enough to get lost inside straight away. Over time, the hedges will develop to enhance the labyrinth even more.



Beautiful Orange Rose at Dumfries House Walled Garden


The Queen Elizabeth Walled Gardens. In many ways this is the flagship project of the Dumfries House Estate restoration where extensive work has seen this garden being transformed from a derelict dumping site to a magnificently restored garden with a mixture of terraces, new greenhouses, formal areas and a one and a half acre Education Garden. We just love having a wee stroll around here and interesting Fact 101 – While we were sitting taking in the smell of the beautiful roses in the Walled Garden last September HRH Prince Charles popped by and said “Hello – hope you’re enjoying the garden”……….so be sure to keep an eye open for him……..)


When you feel you have seen enough of Dumfries House and the adjoining gardens then make time to visit these places nearby:

New Cumnock Town Hall which The Dumfries House Trust has rejuvenated   Its much-needed face-lift is spearheading a master plan for heritage-led regeneration in the village that hopes to inspire the local community.

The Tamar Manoukian New Cumnock Pool which was fully refurbished by the Dumfries House Trust in June 2017. This lovely sheltered outdoor swimming pool, opposite the New Cumnock Town Hall, is for the wider community to enjoy.  (There’s nothing quite like having an open air swim in the Scottish rain – we know – we did it!!!)

Hopefully some of these things in my blog have whetted your appetite to visit. Dumfries House and the surrounding area really has something for everyone… enjoy…….






10. Ayr Belleisle Golf Course – Ayr

10. Ayr Belleisle Golf Course – Ayr

Andy Marshall PGA Professional’s Top 10 Courses in Ayrshire

Ayr Belleisle Golf Course – opened in 1927 this classic parkland course works its way through the beautiful Belleisle Estate and was designed by the famous golf architect James Braid.  The course is in a beautiful setting and is played through mature trees, with wide sweeping fairways and different elevations – making this a very different test of golf to the many links courses nearby.  At 6491 yards and a par 71 it’s not the longest course but with springy welcoming turf it will play all that distance.

As a local authority owned (not privately owned) course it is kept in very good condition with a newly built Clubhouse with Cafe Bar, Visitor Changing, Practice Facility, Short Game Area, Putting Green, Golf Simulator, Equipment Hire, Buggy Hire and a well stocked Pro Shop with PGA Professional in residence.

There are many noteworthy holes on this course and my two favourites are:

The 3rd Hole – Bunker Hill – 176 yards – this is played from a tee which is positioned well below the green – so the tee shot has to be accurate and struck well to clear the many bunkers that guard the front and sides of the green.  It always plays at least 1 club longer – and you will be delighted to come off with a 3 on this hole.  








The 15th Hole – Slaphouse – 480 yards – this is an excellent par 5 – teeing off from an elevated tee hitting through an avenue of trees to a slight left to right dog leg hole, with well positioned bunkers right and left within driving distance.  Avoid those bunkers and the bigger hitters will be able to go for the green in 2. The round cambers gradually left to right as you close in on the green – a beautiful hole visually to play




While Ayr Belleisle may not be top of your courses to play it is a great test of golf, well worth a visit and very reasonable priced to play.

9. Prestwick St Nicholas Golf Club – Prestwick

3rd hole PSN

Andy Marshall PGA Professional’s Top 10 Courses in Ayrshire

Prestwick St Nicholas GCPrestwick St Nicholas Golf Club  – is the 26th oldest golf club in the world – co-founded in 1877 by Old Tom Morris – winner of 4 Open Championship titles.

The course is a traditional Scottish links,  possessing as it does a sandy, free draining soil, gorse, deep bunkers and a seemingly ever present wind which tests the skills of players of all abilities. The sandy soil allows golf to be played here all year round as the heaviest rain drains away very quickly.   

The course measuring just over 6000 yards (and having a par of 69 from the white tees) may be short by modern standards but don’t be fooled – the first 3 and last 3 holes are amongst the most testing of the course – with some undulations, gorse to carry and difficult greens to approach.  The course (with sea views from every hole) meanders in classic links style down the coast towards Ayr for the first 12 holes – before turning back to home and provides amazing views of the Firth of Clyde Coast to the Island of Arran and Ailsa Craig in the distance. A mix of classic links holes will keep you on your toes and keeping the ball in play will reward you.  After the par 3 12th hole you turn for home towards the clubhouse and ensure you prepare for the last 3 holes which can test any level of golfer. 

There are many great holes on this course but 3 memorable ones for me are:

The 3rd hole – Maryborough – 281 yards 3rd hole PSNfrom an elevated tee to an elevated green surrounded by punishing rough – a real risk and reward hole with the stunning Island of Arran in the background. It is straight as you see it. Make sure your approach shot is accurate and good for distance or the ball may end up back at your feet.  




The 16th – Tom Morris (the signature hole of the course) – 371 yards is a testing Par 4 with a lot of run-offs on the fairway.16th hole PSN Undulating fairway

My advice would be to favour the left side of the fairway off the tee and hit an extra club for your approach, as anything short of the green is a tricky ‘up and down’Iconic 16th hole PSN





The 18th – Home – is a tough finishing hole – a 227 yard Par 3 – the tee shot is daunting – anything too far right will result in the golf ball hitting the Clubhouse or bounding down the car park Out of Bounds A Par to finish on this hole is a great score.

18th hole PSN

Prestwick St Nicholas is always in excellent condition – a joy to play – doesn’t need to be long to test your skills and with the excellent clubhouse facilities available (with stunning views right on the seafront) and lovely attentive staff – you won’t fail to enjoy your visit to the club.


8. Barassie Golf Club – Troon

Andy Marshall PGA Professional’s Top 10 Courses in Ayrshire

Barassie Links – or Kilmarnock Barassie Golf Club as it’s known was founded in 1887 – with the original design of 18 holes by Theodore Moon and only recently the club have added another 9 holes giving you 27 holes of play to test you!  The Barassie is now a serious test of golf – nine holes from the original course and a new nine built in 1997 – with four sets of tees, Red, Yellow, White and Blue offering a graduated challenge measuring in at almost 7000 yards from the back tees against a par of 72 with a Standard Scratch of 74 telling its own story……

Kilmarnock Barassie

Within striking distance of Royal Troon, Prestwick and Turnberry, the course is an Open Championship Final Qualifying venue with a well-deserved reputation for some of the best maintained greens in Scotland. The Club has twenty seven holes with which to test the golfer, complemented by first-rate facilities in the clubhouse and professional’s shop. Kilmarnock (Barassie) Golf Club offers everything golfers would expect from a Scottish seaside golf course; challenging fairways and greens as well as a friendly, welcoming membership.


There are several holes which can test all golfers and in my opinion 2 of the best holes are:

The 4th hole – Arran – A 159 yard par 3.  Kilmarnock Barassie 4th HoleA walk through the pines opens up into the new nine holes and provides a glimpse of what’s to come and also brings the first par three of the day. The fourth is challenging; no room to the left due to the burn and a sleeper edged green. Only one greenside bunker and small hillocks to the right and rear make hitting the green a little more difficult.

Depending on wind direction the club choice can be from a seven to a three iron and once on the green the difference in breaks becomes noticeable. An excellent par three with ample opportunity for disaster…….


My next favourite hole is the 11th – Brodick – a par 4 of 439 yards – An extremely tough driving hole. Heavy rough left and new wonderfully placed bunkers pushes the golfer to the right; too far right and the approach to the green becomes difficult. This is the third dog leg left in a row and without doubt is the toughest of them all. Once you have negotiated the tough drive, the second shot has heavy rough to the left and bushes around the green to the right and rear.

It is extremely easy to find trouble off the second shot and on reaching the green the trouble hasn’t let up. There are uniquely for the course no greenside bunkers but to the front Barassie’s own small valley of sin causes problems for the approach and a club too much could be enough to put the unwary golfer in the bushes to the back of the green.

Barassie Golf Club is not as well known as some other local courses but is a gem that should be on your ‘must play list’…..

7. Irvine Golf Club – Irvine

Andy Marshall PGA Professional’s Top 10 Courses in Ayrshire

Irvine GC - Scotlands Hidden GemIrvine Golf Club – sometimes referred to as ‘Irvine Bogside’ owes much or its character and variety to the legendary course designer James Braid.  It is highly regarded by the R&A being used as a final qualifying course for the Open Championship, when it is hosted by near neighbours, Royal Troon or Trump Turnberry.

Founded in 1887 Irvine is a course that often goes under the radar when people discuss golf in this part of the country but it can rightly claim to be one of Scotland’s hidden gems.

The Irvine Golf Club is a traditional links course, where greens run true and golfing challenges can be found at every hole with breathtaking landscapes and views over the Firth of Clyde to the Island of Arran.  The Braid design uses the natural contours to best effect and no two holes are alike. No matter how many times you return to play this fabulous course, you will enjoy the experience as if for the first time, as you discover more of its interesting features and character.

It is part of the James Braid West Coast trail and represents a fine example of his course architecture, blended with the breath taking landscapes and views over the Firth of Clyde.

Irvine GC Hole 4There are several holes that call for thought and accuracy and none more so than the 4th hole – The Moor which is a par 4 requiring accuracy from both tee and second shot. The main West Coast railway line is out of bounds on the left, running the full length of the hole. A good tee shot will set up a short iron approach to the plateau green, and although the hole is devoid of bunkers, danger awaits the overhit approach, with the River Irvine and the railway line lying behind the green, whilst an approach hit short will leave a difficult recovery chip up to the green.

Irvine Golf ClubOn the back 9 my favourite hole is the 14th – The Specs – a shortish par 4 where you need to avoid the bunkers on both sides of the fairway from the tee to set up a mid to short iron approach shot to the green which lies over a grass bank containing the 2 bunkers from which the hole takes its name.  The green is two-tiered, making the accuracy of the approach important if a three putt is to be avoided.

There are many fine links golf courses on the Ayrshire Coast.  The Irvine Golf Club should stand proudly as one of the best but maybe less familiar – and should be on your ‘must play’ list.  A club where you’re always guaranteed a very warm welcome and fantastic turf from which to play.


6. Gailes Links Golf Course – Irvine

Andy Marshall PGA Professional’s Top 10 Courses in Ayrshire

Gailes Links GCGailes Links (sometimes known as Glasgow Golf Club) has hosted major championship tournaments through the years and was designed by legendary golf architect Willie Park Jnr of Musselburgh. It was opened in 1892 by Glasgow Golf Club, the 9th oldest golf club in the world, whose members initially played on Glasgow Green and subsequently on Queen’s Park and Alexandra Park, all 3 areas which were owned and managed by the then Glasgow Corporation and were open to all Glasgow citizens whether or not they were club members.  As golf mushroomed in popularity at the start of the 1890s and the Alexandra Park course became more and more crowded, the members decided to start looking for suitable ground in Ayrshire to establish a course which would complement the city one and, most importantly, which they themselves would control and manage – and soon homed in on Gailes and agreed the initial lease with the landowner, the Duke of Portland, in time for the course to be officially opened on 19th May 1892.

Its West Coast setting and fabulous condition makes it ideal for summer and winter golf in Scotland.  Gailes has been an Open Championship Final Qualifying course since 1973 and it has also hosted The Home Internationals, the Europe v USA Palmer Trophy, the Scottish PGA Championship, the Scottish Amateur Championship, the Scottish Open Amateur Strokeplay Championship, the Scottish Seniors Open Amateur Strokeplay Championship, the British Youths Open Amateur Championship and the British Seniors Open Amateur Championship. For four years from 2014, Gailes Links will be the sole Scottish Final Open Qualifying course.

At 6903 yards long from the championship tees with a par of 71 Gailes Links Ayrshire is a great test of golf whilst the kinder medium tees provides a fine test for players of all abilities. It is simply traditional links at its best.

The challenge starts with a steady stream of four consecutive par fours followed by the Gailes Links - Hole 5signature hole of the course, the 5th – a par five of 536 yards  – a dog-leg with out-of-bounds to the right and a treacherous undulating green that’s guarded by strategically placed sand traps. Playing downwind the longer hitters may have a chance of hitting the green in 2 – other players should try and lay up to 100 yards out to give themselves a chance to make a birdie with an approach shot to the right side of the green leaving you with a makeable uphill putt.


Gailes Links Hole 15On the back 9 my favourite hole is the 15th – a par 3 where although its only 140 yards to the front of the green it’s no pushover.  Your tee shot must be accurate or a bogey or worse is on the cards.  A narrow green is guarded by 2 deep pot bunkers on the right and a 10 foot drop on the left.  The best play on this hole is a short to mid iron to the front of the green which will leave an uphill putt and the best place to attack for a 2 putt par.


With its undulating fairways, fine greens and subtle qualities, the course is an honest test of golfing skills in true links fashion and there’s always a warm welcome in the clubhouse!



5. Royal Troon Golf Club – Troon

Royal Troon - 8th hole

Andy Marshall PGA Professional’s Top 10 Courses in Ayrshire

Royal TroonRoyal Troon is one of the greatest links courses in Scotland – founded in 1878 by a few enthusiasts, Troon Golf Club soon outgrew its purely local reputation. The Old Course today represents a stern golfing examination and in particular the inward half of Royal Troon is widely accepted as the most demanding of any Course on the Championship rota.  It’s a challenging test of golfing ability with the wind and deep rough to contend with – with gorse and broom on each hole – where shot making is essential.

Royal Troon Golf Club proudly hosted The 145th Open Championship in July of 2016 where the modern day ‘Duel in the Sun’ took place between Stenson and Mickelson. It was the ninth occasion The Open had been held at Royal Troon and considering the Club’s humble beginning in 1878, the journey has been remarkable with great credit due to some forward thinking members during the Club’s early years.  

The first 6 holes go straight Southwards along the seashore – normally downwind where you’re generally able to fashion a score.  The back 9 is is a great challenge – generally back into the breeze with the last 2 being tough finishing holes. The 17th – Rabbit (at 218 yards off the back tees) is the last and most difficult of the short holes where the tee-shot can be as much as a driver, depending upon the wind.  The plateau green falls away sharply on both sides and is well guarded by bunkers, short and on the right and left hand sides. A challenging hole if you have pencil and card in your hand.  The 18th – Craigend (at 464 yards off the back tees) requires an ideal drive straight down the centre to avoid the bunkers on either side of the fairway. Bunkers short of the green will catch a mishit second shot and the green itself, which lies right in front of the clubhouse, is protected by a bunker to the left and two more to the right. An overhit approach shot could finish on the path at the rear of the green, which is out of bounds.

Royal TroonFrom my (and many others) perspective the best hole on the course is the infamous Postage Stamp 8th – originally called “Ailsa” because there is a perfect view of the rocky islet of that name from the tee. The smallness of the putting surface accounted for the current name when William Park writing in “Golf Illustrated” said, ” A pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a Postage Stamp”.  Much has been written about this 8th hole – the tee is on high ground and a dropping shot is played over a gully to a long but extremely narrow green set into the side of a large sandhill. Two bunkers protect the left side of the green while a large crater bunker shields the approach. Any mistake on the right will find one of the two deep bunkers with near vertical faces. There is no safe way to play this hole, the ball must find the green with the tee-shot.  Depending on wind direction this 123 yard hole can play between a wedge and a 6 iron and can make or break anyone’s scorecard (including those of the top professionals!)

You will love the experience of Royal Troon – with a very welcoming clubhouse and a club with great history – it should be on your ‘must play list’

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