Why you should visit Culzean Castle, South Ayrshire.
If you are visiting Scotland then Culzean, often overlooked by tourists, should be a priority on your itinerary. If your budget stretches you can even stay in the castle, in the same room that was used by General Eisenhower during the Second World War.
Perched on a dramatic cliff top setting, Culzean Castle has to be one of the finest castles in Scotland and indeed the world. It is a spectacular historic building that offers stunning views across the Firth of Clyde to the Isle of Arran, Ailsa Craig and Northern Ireland. Personally speaking as iconic as Edinburgh Castle is, I actually think Culzean is nicer.
JJ Travel Tip: If you’re not familiar with the castle you may need a little help in pronouncing it’s name correctly. As everyone in Ayrshire should know, the “z” is not pronounced. So when you actually say it, phonetically, it’s “Cullain”.
It’s situated between the villages of Maybole and Maidens on the beautiful South Ayrshire coastline. From Glasgow it’s 48 miles. From Edinburgh 94.
Also nearby is the world famous Turnberry Golf Course, now of course pre-fixed with the word Trump.
I’ve taken the following information directly from the National Trust for Scotland:
“Culzean Castle originally belonged to the Kennedys, an ancient Scottish family descended from Robert the Bruce. There was a stone tower house here in the 16th century, and various Kennedys over the centuries made their mark on the castle with improvements and alterations.
But it wasn’t until the 1770s that it started to become the grand country seat it is today. David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis and a peer in the House of Lords, commissioned famed Scottish architect Robert Adam to design and build a castle that reflected the family’s status and wealth.
It was a no-expense-spared project, but neither Kennedy nor Adam survived to see the castle completed as they both died within months of each other in 1792, shortly before the castle was completed.
A new phase of works started in 1877 under the 3rd Marquess. Edinburgh architects Wardrop & Reid were employed to make further improvements to the castle in keeping with Adam’s style, including the additional three-storey west wing and a newly designed entrance.
In 1945, when the castle was passed to the National Trust for Scotland, the top floor was converted into a flat for use by General Eisenhower, as a gesture for America’s support during the Second World War.
General Eisenhower visited on four occasions including while president of the United States of America. These same rooms are now a country house hotel and you too can stay where the president himself stayed. There are also a number of holiday cottages available in the country park.”
The castle also appeared in the cult 1973 film The Wickerman, as the home of Lord Summerisle.
It is said to be home to at least seven ghosts, including a piper and a servant girl.
Also, if you pick up a Royal Bank of Scotland £5 note you’ll see Culzean Castle on the reverse side.
Things to see and do
Immediately beside the castle are beautiful, vibrant well cared for gardens. This area makes for a pleasant walk. The castle is surrounded by lush green woodland, through which you can walk and take in the wonderful nature and wildlife.
You can actually walk through the woodland onto the beach and then along the beach to the nearby village of Maidens. It’s a very small but picturesque place. There is a little shop next to a red phone box that sells fish & chips, or you could pay a visit to Wildings restaurant, which enjoys a fabulous reputation.
Within the Culzean grounds you’ll find plenty of opportunities to enjoy an afternoon tea or coffee, a bite to eat, ice cream and pick up souvenirs.
Tours of the castle are available, as are tours of the sea caves that sit underneath. On the subject of caves, you’re not too far from where the infamous cannibal Sawney Bean and his murderous clan lived in the 16th century.
I’ve visited this castle on many occasions. It’s a place that’s close to my heart. I even proposed to my fiancée here as the snow fell on a beautiful, freezing cold winters day.
You might want to combine a visit to Culzean with a visit to the Robert Burns Museum and Cottage in Alloway, Ayr. The A719 runs between the two.
Without a doubt the best way to get to Culzean is by car. Driving here from the north (Glasgow/Edinburgh) then I recommend taking the A719 Ayrshire Coastal road. It runs right along the Firth of Clyde and offers spectacular views, weather permitting, of the Isle of Arran and Ailsa Craig (an extinct volcano/wildlife reserve). If you take this route look out for the sign marking ‘The Electric Brae’. This is a 1/4 mile stretch of road that is a large natural optical illusion. It appears you’re going downhill when you’re actually going up, and vice versa. There’s a small layby you can stop in and experience it by ‘rolling uphill.’
Public transport does exist, but it’s not great – see Stagecoach West Scotland and look for Ayr-Turnberry/Maidens. If money is no object and you’re heading to Turnberry, Mr Trump has an aviation base at the nearby Prestwick (officially Glasgow Prestwick) Airport and will fly you by helicopter to the Turnberry.
Another nearby town, if you’re looking for food, drink or accommodation is the lovely little seaside town of Prestwick. It boasts the best array of eateries and drinking establishments in West Scotland outside of Glasgow.
Entry is free to members of the National Trust for Scotland. Otherwise, at time of writing, prices are as follows;
Castle grounds and castle entry
Adult – £15.50
Family (2 adults/2 children) – £38
Family (1 adult/2 children) – £30
Concession – £11.50
You can get slightly cheaper tickets if you only want to visit the grounds. The grounds are open in summer 0930-sunset. The castle is open 1030-1700. Please refer to their website for winter opening times.
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