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…..so 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…..so enjoy…….

 

 

 

 

 

Castles and Country Houses in Ayrshire – Culzean Castle

View of Culzean Castle in the sunshine

Culzean Castle and Country Park

View of Culzean Castle in the sunshineAll about The Castle

Come and visit beautiful Culzean Castle (probably my favourite Castle ever…)  It was designed by Robert Adam in the late 18th century and built for the Kennedy family, one of the oldest clans in Scotland, whose ancestry can be traced back to Robert the Bruce.  It’s perched on an Ayrshire Clifftop just 12 miles South of Ayr and exploring the Castle and the Country Park make for a great day out……

This stunning 260 hectare Castle and Estate was once the playground of David Kennedy, the 10th Earl of Cassillis – a man who was keen to impress with his wealth and status and the Castle is filled to the turrets with treasures that tell the stories of the people who lived here – from the imposing entrance hall, which boasts one of the largest collections of British military flintlock pistols in the world, to the elegant rooms and bustling kitchen, all filled with the artefacts of Culzean Castle’s history.  The sweeping Oval Staircase with its soaring colonnades and grand oil paintings, as well as the unique Round Drawing Room, which has panoramic views over the Firth of Clyde are something to behold….

The Country Park

The Country Park surrounding the Castle has something for everyone….it’s opulent to the extreme and is planted with conifers and beech, sculpted around miles of sandy coastline dotted with caves, and finished off with a Swan Pond, an ice house, flamboyant formal gardens and fruit-filled glasshouses.  Here’s more about what you can explore……..

  • Beautiful pink flowermixed woodland of 120 hectares managed for shelter, production, amenity and wildlife conservation. 
  • around 17 miles of pathways allowing you to walk through mature deciduous stands,  a conifer plantation, small clearings, glades, quiet glens and down to the beautiful Culzean  beach close to the village of Maidens…..
  • the Walled Garden – which is one of the largest in Scotland. It consists of two sections divided by a spine wall – the pleasure garden with stunning flowers and the kitchen garden which supplies fruit and vegetables to the catering facilities within the Castle and Country Park. This was once one of the most innovative gardens in Scotland – and (interesting fact number 101) the onion ‘Ailsa Craig’ (named after the granite island just off the Ayrshire Coast) was bred by a gardener working at Culzean in the 1870s:) The team who manage the garden use a range of horticultural techniques and skills from the Victorian age to the present day and it’s a beautiful location to have a wander around….
  • the Deer Park which is home to a small herd of red deer who share their living space with some llamas.
  • the Swan Pond – This man-made pond is a popular spot for visitors (with plenty seating and space to picnic) – it’s surrounded by a footpath and is sheltered on three sides by mature woodland – it’s a beautiful spot for watching waterfowl, moorhens, swans and ducks just get on with life and it’s lovely in late Spring to see the ducklings and cygnets etc.   In the warmer months it’s the place to enjoy an ice cream from the parlour at the pond!
  • If you’re visiting with youngsters they will love Adventure Cove and Wild Woodland play areas – where there are lots of thrilling features to explore, including soaring towers, treehouses, slides, climbing walls, a maze house and zip slides and because it’s right beside the Swan Pond – you can keep an eye on the them whilst enjoying a family picnic at the pond.
  • View of Maidens Beach at CulzeanThe Beach – Almost 3 miles of cliffs, rocky shore and sandy bays add the final touch to Culzean’s diverse surroundings. I never tire of the views across the Firth of Clyde to Arran, Kintyre and Ailsa Craig from the cliff walk and usually manage to capture some lovely photos. Paths lead down to the rocky lava platform where rockpools abound and endless hours can be spent on Culzean beach searching for ghost prawns, sea urchins and starfish, or semi-precious stones including agate, jasper and even amethyst. North of the castle the terrain changes to warmer old red sandstone and sandy bays and directly beneath the castle, and accessible from the beach, are a series of very large caves, which are a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and part of a volcanic cliff formation that’s 350 million years old. There’s evidence that people lived in these caves from Neolithic times – demonstrating that even then people knew how special Culzean was.

I hope this Blog article lets you see just how special Culzean is to me – and you’ll want to go visit yourself…. 

 

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