Scotland, Day 6 & 7 – Ayr and Culzean Castle

Day 6, and the final leg of our trip. We took the train from Edinburgh, switching in Glasgow to the west coast trunk line that brought us to Ayr. (Blessedly, I had wifi on the first leg.) That area of the country is popular with golfers, and, presumably, those interested in some seaside R&R… at least when the gale force winds aren’t blowing.

After getting turned around a bit, we trekked to the B&B, which was on a street with a number of other B&Bs, all of which looked busy, which was a good sign. Sherry got pooped on, too. We also had our first exposure to the fact that Ayr’s town planners were not the most creative namers ever. Carrick Road, Carrick Street, Carrick Crescent, Carrick Lane, Carrick Close… Repeat with several other, presumably locally relevant names, and you really had to read the map carefully.

Our room was high of ceiling and elaborate of molding and had an ensuite bathroom, which was nice. The beds were the most exemplary of the tradition we’d become accustomed to: rock hard and with extremely flat pillows. There was also an exceedingly cloying air freshener, which Sherry unplugged, prompting our hostess to bring us another one when we were out. Gag.

After getting situated, we made another trek through town to find the tourist info centre, as usual, though this time we were sans map, which was a bit discombobulating. Fortunately, the centre had plenty. We already knew where the seaside was, having walked parallel to it a block or so in for a portion of our trek. We then had lunch at a busy local spot called The Treehouse where, once again, I marvelled at how many Scots seemed to drink Irn Bru on purpose. (I’d had no inclinations to do so since the test one I’d bought in Glasgow to try it.) They also upped their multiculti game with Haggis Pakora on their appetizers list.

Ayr beach, duneWhile at lunch the skies opened up and it poured, which wasn’t a good sign. However, the rain slowed and stopped while we were eating… then started again when we were nearing the end of the meal. Oh well, what can you do? We’d had good weather luck for pretty much the whole trip. The rain had pretty much stopped again by the time we left the restaurant (interestingly, it had am industrial-looking curling iron in the ladies’ washroom…)

Unfortunately, the rain had stopped because the wind apparently blew it away, and it was a bit blustery when we walked back to the seaside. We enjoyed looking at all the former seasonal cottages along the side streets, and the huge, elaborate bath house, which dominated the area.

Our plan/hope for the day had mostly just been to spend an afternoon relaxing by the water, gazing out to sea, dipping our toes in, etc. Yeah. No. The wind was strongest at the water, and we received sand facials as we walked. I had my hood up and sunglasses on to protect me from the worst of it. Not cool. However, Sherry was bound and determined to walk the sea wall, so we did. Only other people as crazy as we were were a handful of local dog owners and their frolicking charges. Got to see some nice, older houses on the walk back to the B&B later, so Sherry got another taste of good architecture.

All in all, a bit of a bust as tourist afternoons go, but oh well, live and learn. When we headed out for dinner later, we considered the place where they were having a psychic evening, but the place appeared to be packed with groups of women of a certain age with strappy sandals and bad ankle tattoos, so we hightailed it.

We ended up at a local boutique hotel restaurant, the name of which escapes me, but which appeared to be popular with golfers, and which was featuring “Italian Night”. We didn’t know what to expect, but the menu was Italian and the food did it proud. Whomever was in the kitchen knew what they were doing. The balsamic vinegar that came with the appetizer bread and olive oil was thick as paste (you’d be selling organs to buy that here), and I had possibly the best minestrone soup I’ve ever had, and a fantastic tortellini.

After dinner we were in the mood for dessert and scotch, so we headed to the Beresford Wine Bar & Art Gallery, which we’d passed a couple times earlier in the day. It had a great interior, fabulous gay owners, and appeared to be the spot for local sophisticates (largely gay men and cougars, by the look of it). The desserts were tasty and the scotch selection was good. Sherry was pronounced a “gooood woooman” by our sprightly and very gay waiter because she takes her scotch neat.

On our quietest day of the trip, we managed to head back to the B&B the latest. It was dark! Fortunately for the next day’s adventures, we only had to walk a stone’s throw from the B&B to the bus stop to catch the local bus to Culzean Castle.

Culzean CastleDay 7, our final full day in Scotland. After breakfasting and chatting with Graham, our host, we headed to the bus stop and took the 20-ish minute ride out to Culzean Castle, which is actually the Castle and extensive grounds, walking trails, and a stretch of beach. Speaking of walking, after alighting from the bus out at the main road, we walked a spell to arrive at the ticket booth/gatehouse, then walked another good kilometre or two to actually get to the Ruined Arch and access to the Castle.

Culzean (Cull-AY-n) is still intact, restored to its 18th century appearance (much of it courtesy of Robert Adam, which, as castles go, is practically brand new. The Kennedys, who’d owned it, ended up in the pickle I suspect any number of prominent families did — after inheritance and estate taxes added up to a certain point, they would have owed more in taxes than the place was worth (or that they had), and so they bestowed the estate upon the national trust, which then took it over and managed its upkeep. One of the family’s descendants still lives and farms nearby, and occasionally stops in with friends, so we were told.

And these are not the same Kennedys as the American family. Our guide was quick to clear that up. (A very proper gent with traditionally awful teeth and walleyes.) Those are Irish Kennedys (like there was never any crossover…) :), and apparently the snarky saying goes that if you can’t make it in Scotland, you go to Ireland, and if you can’t make it in Ireland, you go to America.

Ruined Arch, Culzean CastleWe toured the house (no photos allowed), which is quite grand. Impressive the condition of some of the furnishings and rugs, given they’re original. One room chronicles the family’s adventures over the past 500 years or so. They seem to be fond of gambling away a lot of money and getting into various scrapes. One of the family assisted in the “dispatching” of Lord Darnley for Mary Queen of Scots, another managed to elevate herself to the rank of countess, and was apparently quite a dish well into her dotage, and a third got himself a speeding ticket in the 1920s for going over 20mph. Those wacky Kennedys.

After a quick lunch at the Old Stables Cafe, in our typical travel tradition we walked a lot, around the main grounds, the Walled Garden, and out to the far reaches of the property to the Swan Pond, which appeared to be a popular picnic spot (though which did, indeed, have a pair of swans and their 10 fuzzy cygnets). Unfortunately, by that point, I was nursing a rather ugly blister, so I begged off the beach exploration Sherry wanted to do (especially since we had a bugger of a time locating the trail).

She headed off and I limped back to the Home Farm, where we initially arrived, and had myself a cup of tea and did some people watching in the sunshine. (Fortunately, the previous day’s weather was nowhere to be found, and it was gorgeous out.)

We knew to give ourselves plenty of time to get back to the bus stop — no repeat of Stonehaven for us — especially given how foot sore we were by that point, and headed back to Ayr in good time to mosey a few houses down to the well recommended Carrick Lodge, where Sherry had made reservations for dinner. This turned out to be possibly my favourite meal of the whole trip. I finally got around to eating some Scottish beef, and it did not disappoint.

Swan familyI started with a lovely salad that included figs, olives, and Parma ham. Sherry had the ever so Scottish Cullen Skink (which is a soup — potato and smoked haddock). I had the beef casserole for my main course, which was to die for. The menu listed “Beef Casserole with Redcurrant, Root Vegetables and Herb Dumplings”. The beef in its sauce (which it had clearly simmered in for hours) was over top of the veggies and whatnot. I forget what Sherry had, but lamb is a good guess, or possibly pork. 🙂 We washed it all down with a really nice bottle of South African Pinotage.

Dessert was both attractive and fantastic. I had sticky toffee pudding one more time. Sherry had a bit of a comedic problem trying to order scotch, as our waiter, who appeared to be about 14, had no idea what she was asking about. She asked if they had Caol Ila, and he said he’d check, and came back and asked if she meant Kahlua. Good Lord. And so she insisted on accompanying him to the bar to ensure procurement of something that was both actually whisky and worth drinking. Dinner ended up being entirely reasonably priced, and we moseyed back to the B&B for our final sleep in Scotland comfortably stuffed.

Before retiring, we enjoyed a bit of UK television (i.e. stuff you would NEVER see in North America), including a show called Embarrassing Bodies, which was about… exactly that. Roving doctors diagnosing, referring, and treating strange and revolting medical conditions, which people have been walking around with often for a decade. It was “can’t look away” tv to be sure. That said, it was admittedly a useful public service.

The morning of our departure dawned dreary and raining, and we congratulated ourselves for Sherry having booked a cab back to Glasgow airport (about an hour’s drive away, and a quite reasonable £50.) Glasgow airport is surprisingly small, really, though it did have two terminals. After a quick lunch and a successful browsing of the duty free (both of us picked up Glengoyne Whisky Fudge for the co-workers and Sherry got herself a bottle of Caol Ila), we boarded the plan to head back home. All in all, a fine week away, and some fine adventures in a new country (where people can easily pronounce and spell Sherry’s last name.)

Ayr and Culzean Castle Photos

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