Loch Doon and Loch Cornish

On a bright, cold Sunday in October, we ventured down to Ayrshire to explore the area around Loch Doon. We arrived just in time for lunch and, although the ospreys which nest nearby had departed for warmer climes some months before, we still enjoyed watching them via video as we ate in the Roundhouse Café.

The view across the loch from the café is very pretty, and there is an interesting walk along the Ness Glen which leaves from its door. However, this was the day after the clocks went back and we knew it would get dark early. There was more we wanted to see along the road, including a castle, so we decided to save this walk for another day.

Loch Doon Castle looks ancient – and it is, but all is not what it seems. The castle was built in the early 14th century on an island in the loch. In the 1930s, the loch was dammed for a hydro-electric scheme and the water level rose. To save the castle, it was moved stone by stone and re-erected in its present site on the shore. Impossible to tell!

Just after the castle we took the winding, gravelly road that is Carrick Forest Drive. It was beautiful with some lovely viewpoints – and you might recognise the adventure playground which appeared a couple of weeks ago in my Walking the line post. I’m not entirely sure why one of the trees was dressed for Christmas in October …

At the end of the drive is Stinchar Bridge from where a circular walk climbs up through the forest to Cornish Hill and Loch Cornish. We decided we had just enough time to do this before sunset. (NB the name has nothing to do with Cornwall: the best explanation I can find is that it is an anglicisation of Loch Coire an Eas: the lake of the corrie of the waterfall.)

First, we followed the path through the mossy, fungi-rich forest.

Climbing upwards, we emerged onto open moorland before reaching the top of Cornish Hill. The autumn colours were stunning looking down to the loch.

We descended to, and crossed, the loch’s outflow (Water of Girvan) before climbing through trees and moorland again, then descending to a forest track which meets up with the forest drive a short distance from where we had parked our car.

It was still light, but only just – the 1.5 hour drive home was mostly in the dark. Once again, Scotland had amazed me with a lovely day out in a place within 60 miles of home which I’d never visited before. We’ll definitely be back – we still have Ness Glen to walk.

Eglinton: a castle, a tournament and a country park

Eglinton Tournament, 1839, by James Henry Nixon. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I had never heard of the Eglinton Tournament until I watched an episode of Scottish Television’s People’s History Show which billed it as Scotland’s most expensive and worst party. I was intrigued!

When Queen Victoria came to the throne, the country was in dire economic straits and she was given a scaled-down coronation ceremony which was ridiculed as ‘The Penny Coronation’. One of the fiercest critics was Archibald, 13th Earl of Eglinton, who decided to throw his own party over three days in August 1839 in the form of a grand medieval tournament on his Ayrshire estate. He invited a couple of thousand of his rich mates and thought he might let in a few thousand of the lower classes too. However, ticketing procedures and crowd control were woeful and some estimates suggest that in the end over 100,000 people attended the Tournament. Local transport and accommodation were overwhelmed, and the knights themselves created gridlock on the estate with the opening parade taking three hours longer than expected. And, of course, you can’t rely on the Scottish summer weather – the heavens opened on the first day and flooding meant that the entire audience, apart from Eglinton’s personal guests, was stranded without transportation. They had to walk miles through the rain and the mud to nearby villages, where only a few people found any food, drink, accommodation or transport. Even the personal guests missed out on the medieval banquet and ball that evening because banqueting tents had also been flooded. The middle day of the Tournament was cancelled, but the third day went ahead as planned with the overall winner judged to be – guess who? – Lord Eglinton himself.

After learning this story I wanted to see Eglinton myself, so on a sunny August Sunday, almost 180 years to the day since the Tournament, we set off – it’s less than an hour’s drive from home. There isn’t much left of Eglinton Castle itself, and it was difficult to get pictures of what there was because of all the picknicking families and children joyously leaping off the ruins.

You can see below what it looked like in its heyday before the Eglintons lost all their money and abandoned it. In 1925 the roof was removed so that the walls could be used for target practice by the military, and most of the rest was pulled down in 1973.

Eglinton Castle, 1906. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

There are several other interesting structures in the park. The ornamental Tournament Bridge, which crosses Lugton Water a short walk from the castle, might seem to be a remnant of the events of 1839, but actually dates from 1845. It has recently been beautifully restored.

The old stable block has been converted into a café, and the gardens and grounds of the estate surrounding it are very attractive. Interesting objects include some colourful benches and a double headless statue. I have no idea who they are or where their heads have gone, in case you are minded to ask!

The garden also contains war memorial benches and a cairn commemorating those who died in the 9/11 attacks.

There are several trails round the park, a mixture of woodland …

… and open countryside. We wondered about these stones on top of Cairnmount Hill. They were obviously not ancient standing stones, but we thought they might be a folly placed there by one of the Earls. Googling them later, I found that they are much more recent than that. An opencast mine was established nearby in 1983, and when extraction finished in 1986 it was filled in and these large boulders discovered in the process were erected on top of the restored hill. The stones effectively mark the closing of the last coal-mine on the land attached to Eglinton Castle after a period of at least 400 years of continuous production.

Finally, a small loch attracted walkers, such as ourselves, as well as those who just wanted a peaceful spot to read.

We enjoyed our day out at Eglinton: the trail we followed was pleasant, if not spectacular, and fairly quiet once we got away from the café and the picnickers at the castle.  I think the park caters mostly for that audience and not so much for those interested in its history – a few more information boards would have been helpful: the only one I can recall was at the Tournament Bridge. I’m pleased to have seen the site of the Tournament, and certainly recommend the park to anyone who happens to be in the area, but for me it is one to file away as a once-only visit – I don’t feel a strong need to go back.

#RoofSquares 2-8: Ayrshire edition

Squares 2-6: Darvel and Galston

The recent Bank Holiday Monday was, as we say, scorchio. This is unusual for Scotland – more often than not, a holiday is greeted by a downpour. We took advantage of the weather to head down to Ayrshire to do a couple of easy walks near the small towns of Darvel and Galston. There were meadows and forests aplenty, but I’d already decided to take part in Becky’s #RoofSquares challenge for June (though posting weekly rather than daily) so that’s what I was looking out for. (The roofs don’t have to be square, but the images must be!)

At the top of the post is John’s shot of the roofs of Darvel as we climbed up and out of the Irvine Valley. Below are a couple of houses we passed on the way. From a distance, I thought the first was a barn but on closer inspection it’s a newly-built house with a barn-style roof.

Not roofs, I know, but on this part of the walk we met some very cute pigs and cows! Can’t resist sharing.

After lunch, we did another walk from Galston which took us to a viewpoint where we could see as far as Arran (hazily). However, the roofs which caught my eye were in town: Barr Castle (flat but decorative underneath) and the local Catholic Church (amazing round turret, and I like the row of dormer windows too). These shots are both from my iPhone. I do contribute pictures occasionally, it’s not all John!

Roof Squares 7-8: Small Animal Hospital

I didn’t have quite enough photos from Ayrshire for a full week of square roofs, so to finish here are a couple of an unusual roof structure nearer home. The Small Animal Hospital is part of Glasgow University’s Vet School at Garscube Estate, and has a turf roof which you can walk right over.

We did just that! From the top we could see back to the glass part of the roof shown above on the right. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Now to hunt out seven more roofs for next Friday …

A walk on Great Cumbrae

Magnus the Viking

On Easter Saturday we decided to take a trip to Great Cumbrae, an island just off the coast of Ayrshire. Don’t be fooled by the name – the island’s circumference is only about 10 miles, but there’s also a Little Cumbrae so this one has to be Great!

We arrived at the ferry terminal in Largs and left our car under the watchful eye of Magnus the Viking. He appeared in 2013 to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Largs in 1263, an indecisive engagement between the kingdoms of Norway and Scotland.

The ferry ride from Largs to Cumbrae Slip only takes about 10 minutes, but the skies changed dramatically during the short journey. When the ferry arrived in Largs, all was blue. When it dropped us off at Cumbrae, the skies were grey and a strong wind was blowing. That set the tone for the rest of the day.

A bus meets every ferry and takes passengers into the main settlement of Millport. After a quick coffee and scone as fuel, we set off on our walk. As we climbed out of the town, first stop was the old cemetery, used from 1703 to the 1930s. John spotted the 15th century “jougs” on the gatepost for manacling prisoners.

The road we were following ended at a golf course, so we struck off along farm tracks and onto open hillside. The Gowk Stane is one of several in Scotland – it means Stone of the Cuckoo (or fool) in Scots.

The path then dropped steeply down to the far side of the island where we made a small detour to the Fintry Bay tearoom for a hot drink – at least, we expected a tearoom, but it turned out to be outdoor seating only, so it didn’t warm us up much!

The toilet facilities were basic, but charming. We had read in town that due to council cuts, public toilets are now community-run. It seems that Suki is doing a great job in Fintry Bay. (Apologies, Scottish readers, for the scatological pun.) Cludgie is probably self-explanatory from the context.

From here, we followed the perimeter road and coastal paths round the headland back to Millport. Next stop, the War Memorial.

The views across to the islands of Bute and the more mountainous Arran behind it were amazingly beautiful, despite the clouds.

The road back into Millport took us past some splendid Victorian villas and then more humble terraced housing.

What next? Well, it was either a very late lunch or a very early dinner. We headed for the George Hotel where we met a friendly band of pirates and were entertained by a band as we ate.

We could have got the bus back to the ferry from outside the George, but decided to walk a bit further. We spotted a conference bike for hire and The Wedge which purports to be Britain’s narrowest house – that’s it to the left of the café, barely wider than its front door. Garrison House, built in 1745 to house the captain and officers of the Revenue Cutter Royal George stationed in Millport, is now the town’s library and museum.

Turning left, we went back uphill to the walled, wooded grounds of The Cathedral of the Isles, the smallest cathedral in Britain. It dates from 1851 when it was built as a theological college for the Scottish Episcopal Church – it’s still possible to stay in the old college buildings and the cloisters house a pleasant do-it-yourself coffee shop.

Finally, we made our way back down to the seafront to see Millport’s famous Crocodile Rock – the Clyde’s fiercest stone since c. 1900!

From here, it was a short bus ride back to the ferry and home. Who would have thought we’d meet Vikings, pirates and crocodiles on a tiny Scottish island?

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk – join her and her band of fellow cyber-strollers.

Irvine and the Scottish Maritime Museum

Scottish Maritime Museum
Scottish Maritime Museum
A bright, sunny day in Scotland at the moment is worthy of note. Two in a row are as rare as hens’ teeth – this lovely day was the same weekend as last week’s Monday Walk. We started our visit to Irvine with a wander round the Maritime Museum – separately as John wanted to look at the great hulking engines and boats …

… whereas I preferred the items with more human interest.

I particularly liked the “shipbuilders” working high up in the roof.

The Harbourside area around the museum is picturesque.

Across the road is the café (what do you mean, did we go in? of course we did!) and more boats.

As we walked downriver, we noticed a series (we spotted seven, there might have been more) of special paving stones with Scots words. Each stone was themed: here are two – any guesses what the themes are? Bonus points for defining any of the words.

We passed The Ship Inn and a sculpture of a carter and his horse.

Then we came upon a flock of swans and a very aggressive goose who advanced, hissing, on John when he pointed his camera at it. No wonder some distilleries use them to protect the whisky.

Next, we came to The Big Idea, a museum devoted to Scottish inventors which was opened to celebrate the millennium and closed through lack of custom in 2003. It’s rather sad looking, and its massive carpark seems to be its main legacy – although John enjoyed photographing the footbridge with the names of some of his heroes.

By now we had reached the sea – I thought this picture made me look quite sinister, as if I was standing on the edge of the world. That was the intended effect anyway.

On the jetty at Irvine
On the pier at Irvine
On a previous visit, we walked from this point along the beach to the next town, Troon – see Twixmas at Troon. There be dragons! This time, we retraced our steps to the museum and headed home to Glasgow.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks.

Twixmas at Troon

Ok, I hate the term “Twixmas” too, but I like alliteration! We set off for three nights of relaxation by the Ayrshire coast between Christmas and New Year, our stay at the Marine Hotel, Troon, being quite a bargain. And the sun shone on us again, especially the first day.

Irvine to Troon

On Day 1, we caught the train one stop to Irvine and walked back along the beach. Irvine is one of Scotland’s 1960s New Towns, but the Harbourside retains the charm of an older world. It also has a cracking view of Arran.

Leaving the Harbourside, we soon came across a dragon – a red sandstone one, anyway – which we stopped to admire before making our way along the sands back to Troon.

Dunaskin

The next day, we drove inland to the old ironworks at Dunaskin. A relic of the Industrial Revolution, the works had previously been open as a museum but that failed about a decade ago and the site is now used by the Ayrshire Railway Preservation Group. Climbing the hill behind Dunaskin, in the path of an old horse-drawn tramway which was used to transport the iron ore, you come to the ruins of two old villages, Lethanhill and Burnfoothill (collectively known as the ‘Hill) which were built close to the mines. They were only abandoned in the 1950s and are now being absorbed into the forest. The plateau is crossed by several old railway tracks – we followed one of these for a while before descending back down to Dunaskin.

The way down was very boggy and didn’t please me much – especially when it transpired that the last part of the route we were following was blocked by a new landowner. Fortunately, there were people in the ironworks working on the trains so we were able to find our way out through an open gate.

Troon at dusk

Finally, we had some beautiful sunsets. The volcanic plug rising from the sea in the first picture is Ailsa Craig.

 

Costumes and quilts at Dalgarven Mill

Something seemed to go wrong with the weather settings over Scotland this Easter – yes, four days of sunshine. Unheard of for a holiday weekend! We made the most of it to get out and about, and on Saturday visited Dalgarven Mill in Ayrshire which had been recommended to me as a good place to go. We weren’t disappointed, although given that its title is Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume, I was expecting something larger and more “official”. What we found was much better – a little gem.

There has been a mill on this site since 1203, with the current buildings dating from the 19th century – the water wheel has been restored and still turns. Until recently Dalgarven was family owned – it has now been passed to a trust, but the family still runs it and we met three generations on our visit. The granaries have three floors of exhibits with artefacts from rural trades of the past, room settings and a magnificent costume collection (most of which is in storage – Victorian costumes are currently on display.) I liked the informality of the information, telling us how items were obtained. For example, a knife grinder was purchased at auction and then, as is often the way of things, another was donated shortly afterwards. The kitchen cabinet in the pictures below belonged to an old lady who was so wedded to it, when she moved to modern accommodation she made her family rip out the fitted kitchen and install the cabinet instead. There was also a temporary exhibition of beautiful quilts by Rosalie Furlong and, last but not least, a café. I had looked into other places to eat (there’s a hotel just down the road) because museum catering is not always great, but this was amazing; freshly cooked – and home baking to die for! You will note that didn’t last long enough to make it into the pictures.

Carrying on beyond the mill, a single track road with passing places takes you to the Blair Estate. This is private, so leave your car outside – however, walkers are welcome and it’s well worth a stroll round the grounds.

Finally, we took the long way home, dropping down to the coast for a walk on part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path at Portencross. We were just too late to get into the castle, but enjoyed the views in the late afternoon sunshine.

Culzean Castle

Culzean Castle
Culzean Castle

Culzean Castle, which has a beautiful cliff-top setting on the Ayrshire coast, was the home of the Chief of Clan Kennedy until the family donated it to the National Trust for Scotland in 1945 in lieu of inheritance tax. These days, you can tour the 18th century house with its Robert Adam architecture, relax in the gardens or walk the trails in the surrounding grounds of the country park. My sister and two nieces have just been up visiting from London, and this was one of the places I took them – it satisfied the teenagers and the 50+s, so comes highly recommended. We did all the above, and enjoyed a good lunch in the Home Farm Restaurant too – very tasty baked potatoes. That sounds basic, but we visited other places (which shall remain nameless) where the lunches were not nearly as good for the same sort of price. Our only complaint about the day would be that the leaflet you are given on arrival is rather inadequate for walking the estate – there are far more paths than are shown on it, and very few signposts on the ground. However, getting a wee bit lost is part of the fun, and there are so many paths you couldn’t walk them all in one day anyway. A reason to go back!