From the birthplace of Robert Burns to paddle steamers across the Firth of Clyde, Phil Harrison explores Ayrshire.
HAVING spent our usual few days with relatives on the Berwickshire coast, we headed, for the first time, to the west coast of Scotland – Ayrshire to be more precise.
Holidays as a child on the east coast of Scotland had produced many long-lasting memories, but we had rarely, if ever, ventured much north or west of Edinburgh.
And once we were on the M8 heading out of the Scottish capital towards its great city rival Glasgow, it definitely felt as though we were taking a step into the unknown.
The drive towards our “home” in the grounds of the historic Blair Estate near the small town of Dalry for the next five days took less time than anticipated, arriving not much more than an hour or so after leaving Edinburgh.
Waking after our first night in the estate’s converted stable block – the stunning Castle can be hired out for exclusive use – our first task was deciding where to head first to explore the local area.
Think of Ayrshire and probably two things spring to mind for most people – Robert Burns and The Open Golf Championship – clearly worlds apart.
Regarding the latter, the fact our two-year-old son was along with us for the ride meant there would have been little chance of cramming a set of golf clubs into the car boot given the usual additional clothes and toys required to keep a child of that age happy for a week or so.
And anyway, unlike some of my friends, I don’t quite “get” golf, so it was unlikely I would have made the most of any opportunity presented to play on any of the 46 courses which make the area a favourite destination for golfers from all over the world, including the three Open Championship courses of Turnberry, Royal Troon and Prestwick, the latter being where it all began back in 1860.
Discovering more about Scotland’s National Bard and his home in Alloway was always going to be one of the highlights of the week and we decided it would be best saved for the final day. Before then, there was much else to explore and our first port of call, literally, was the seaside town of Largs where we boarded the Waverley Steamer in order to explore the coastal area.
Some of the available trips on board the last seagoing paddle steamer in the world take can take up the whole day, allowing you to discover a large chunk of the Firth of Clyde. But, on what was a miserable, rainy day our trip consisted of a much shorter voyage.
Although there was ample outside seating on top of the vessel, the rain and the mist meant we took refuge inside for the majority of the trip, with most of that time spent down in the bowels of the ship stood alongside engineering enthusiasts getting their kicks from watching how the historic boat powered itself along.
One word of advice for when you dock back in Largs would be to finish the day off with a sumptuous fish and chip tea at Nardini’s Café, which within its perfectly-maintained Art Deco structure helpfully also trades as an ice cream parlour – always a hit with kids.
It was another boat trip which gave us our next adventure, this time over to the Isle of Arran – referred to in some quarters as “Scotland in Miniature”. After catching the Caledonian Macbrayne car ferry from Ardrossan to the island’s port of Brodick, we gave ourselves a day to explore as much of the 167 square miles as possible – an impossible task as you could happily spend a week on the island and still not get round to ticking everything off on your “to do” list.
The island is a haven for walkers, who can head towards the summit of Goat Fell, as well as cyclists looking to test themselves on the 56 miles of available road. For the more adventurous there are paragliding and gorge walking opportunities, while families will find plenty to keep the kids entertained with the many outdoor activities.
Before leaving Ayrshire, we knew the trip would not be complete without visiting Alloway, the home of Burns.
It’s safe to say that the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and the associated landmarks that go with it are a fitting and impressive way to keep the 18th century poet and lyricist’s work alive and well as well as, perhaps more importantly, relevant to the modern age.
Beginning with Burns’s birthplace cottage, visitors can snake along Poet’s Path – complete with two-metre high bronze mouse sculpture – towards the museum and, shortly after, the famous Brig O’ Doon, made famous in the closing lines of Burns’s Tam O’ Shanter.
Accommodation for Phil Harrison’s visit was kindly provided by the Blair Estate. To enquire about hiring Blair Castle for exclusive use visit www.blairestate.com. Further help and assistance was provided by Visit Scotland (www.visitscotland.com )
The ferry crossing from Ardrossan to Brodick on the Isle of Arran was arranged by Caledonian Macbrayne (www.calmac.co.uk ).
To find out more about the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum go to www.burnsmuseum.org.uk. For information on the Waverley Steamer go to www.waverleyexcursions.co.uk/scotland