Written by: Anne Gavin
It is hard to believe that my time in Scotland is drawing to a close. I could not have asked for a better first visit. Everything far exceeded any expectations I had before arriving. All the planning and preparations had definitely been worth it. But, before I took my leave I was looking forward to yet more adventures along the west coast of Scotland with wonderful friends who had agreed to let me stay with them for the weekend. I had seen bits and pieces of the renowned Scottish hospitality up to this point in the trip. Frankly, every shopkeeper, B&B owner, café and pub worker I had met along the way showed me their gracious, kind and welcoming Scottish way. But, it was really nothing compared to spending the weekend in a Scottish home with friends and real Scots who love showing off their beautiful country. It was a fantastic way to wind up a dream vacation.
Read more after the jump…
Last hike of the trip completed, my friends, Peter and Evelyn Clark, picked me up at the Greenock Cut Centre and off we went. The Clarks live in charming Kilmarnock, about a half hour southwest of Glasgow. We took the scenic shore route stopping at the historic Royal Troon Golf Club all decked out for the upcoming Open tournament in July. We took a wee walk on the adjacent beach where we found a few stray golf balls. The course is lovely there. I always love a golf course by the sea.
The Clarks live in an inviting circa 1890s brownstone off Kay Park in Kilmarnock. Kilmarnock shares quite a bit of history with Scotland’s most well-known poet, Robert Burns. The first edition of Burns’ work was printed in Kilmarnock in 1786, by John Wilson, a local printer. Of this first edition only 612 copies were printed, and copies of this rare book are now known as Kilmarnock Editions. In 1877, a movement to elect a monument to Burns in Kilmarnock was begun. Two years later the Burns Monument was completed and sat atop Kay Park. Unfortunately, the monument was badly damaged by fire in November 2004. The two story museum section and the semi-octagonal two-story tower collapsed, leaving only the front stairs, porch, part of the ground floor outer walls and two of the main internal walls. The re-built Burns Monument Centre was opened in May 2009 as Scotland’s first purpose-built genealogy centre. Weddings often take place here, as well. In fact, we saw a wedding couple in the park upon arrival at the Clark’s home. The new building lacks the charm of the original Scots Baronial, neo-Gothic design of the old structure but it still houses the original life-size white marble statue of Burns by Edinburgh sculptor William Grant Stevenson. Fortunately, the statue survived the fire of 2004.
Dinner at home consisted of steaks and salad and lots of ales, lagers, whisky and port. It was a late night sitting cozily in the kitchen chatting as the sun set – at 10:30 p.m.! Perhaps this is why that third and fourth glass of ale and/or whisky seemed appropriate. As long as it was still light out, why not keep drinking? There were lots of laughs and stories exchanged as I felt right at home. Except I was in Scotland and in a Sottish home enjoying the fact that I had really mastered understanding the Glaswegian accent. A delightful evening all around and more escapades to come the following day.
The next morning after a full Scottish breakfast (heart attack on a plate, but so tasty) prepared by my hosts, we set off in search of castles by the sea. But, first we had to make a stop at the Dean Castle and Country Park – on the opposite side of Kay Park, just a mile and a half from the Clark’s home. We know now that the Castle was used as a filming location for Season 2 of Outlander. However, late last year, there had only been some speculation about this. The first weekend of December, 2015, Peter Clark had sent me a note one morning via Facebook to let me know that parents at the local primary school had received notice that the car park there was going to be used for television production trailers and crew trucks and would be off-limits for several days. He knew of my obsession with Outlander and thought I would find this particularly interesting. Indeed I did find it interesting and it was the first clue that the rumors about Outlander filming in Kilmarnock were on point. Of course, I knew I had to report on this for the Outlander Cast Blog, so coaxed Peter to take a walk over to Dean Castle and take some photos of sets and any prep being done for filming. I didn’t know when I asked him to do this that there was a spate of bad weather going on in that part of Scotland. They call it ‘stootin doon’ there – 30 to 40 mile per hour winds and driving rain. However, my intrepid Scottish friend did indeed get some great photos of the sets and props at Dean Castle which turned into this Blog post. Of course, when we visited there together, he wouldn’t let me forget what he had done for me – risking life and limb in horrible weather for the sake of the Blog!! Yep, that’s what friends do for each other.
On from Kilmarnock and toward Scotland’s West Coast. Beginning to sound like a broken record, but the weather was spectacular. It was so warm I stripped off half the layers I had on and ditched my coat altogether. What a beautiful drive. Peter joked that it was Scotland’s version of the 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, California. Not quite, Peter, but beautiful none-the-less. We had some great views of the Isle of Arran and the little island of Ailsa Craig. Interesting trivia about Ailsa Craig. It’s one of only two places in the world where Blue Hone granite is mined to make official “curling stones” for one of the U.K.’s most eclectic sports – Curling. The last “harvest” of Ailsa Craig granite took place in 2013, after a hiatus of 11 years; 2,000 tons were harvested, sufficient to fill anticipated orders until at least 2020. The island stands otherwise uninhabited and serves as sanctuary for sea birds.
Our first castle stop was at the medieval Dunure Castle. The castle sits high atop a rocky bluff overlooking the harbour town of Dunure. The castle is in ruins but despite that cuts a fine figure from afar. The remains of the buildings are 15th and 16th century and served as the point of origin for the Kennedys of Carrick. The castle ruins have been fortified to allow visitors to climb up to the near top of the existing tower providing some excellent views of the Ayshire coastline and the aforementioned Aisla Craig isle. One almost feels a bit child-like exploring the passages and scampering up the ruins. It was a thrilling visit and made for some great photos.
On the way to our next castle stop, the Clarks took me by the “Electric Brae” for a “demonstration.” The Electric Brae is a “gravity hill” and is actually a type of natural optical illusion. The curve of the verge side of the cliff road gives the impression of elevation but it is opposite to what actually is. Today, locals still have to beware of people stopped in the road amazed at their cars seemingly freewheeling uphill. Others will stop and put a ball in the middle of the road and watch it roll uphill. The road is one of the more famous gravity hills, and during WWII General Eisenhower would bring guests to marvel at it. The strange effect has nothing to do with electricity. Could it be magic? Are the fairies at work here? The explanation is quite simple but it would, perhaps, spoil the fun to give the simple truth!
Next we rolled into Culzean Castle and Country Park. A National Trust of Scotland property, the Castle was swarming that day with families enjoying the lush woods, seaside vistas, manicured gardens and picnic facilities that surround the main property. Dramatically set atop a cliff overlooking the coast, the main Castle now serves as a museum and special events venue. The famous top floor Eisenhower Apartment can be rented as lodging and there are several other luxury rooms available for rent. In 1945, the castle owners gave the Castle and its grounds to the National Trust for Scotland. In doing so, they stipulated that the apartment at the top of the castle be given to General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower in recognition of his role as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during the Second World War. The General first visited Culzean Castle in 1946 and stayed there four times, including once while President of the United States. We opted to tour the grounds instead of tour the castle, so I didn’t get to see the Eisenhower Apartment or any of the Castle interiors. Frankly, the Castle exteriors were magnificent and it was just too beautiful of a day to be stuck inside – antiquities be damned!
On our way back to Kilmarnock we took a detour and went by the famous Turnberry Golf Links & Resort. Modern golf dates back to 1751 in Girvan, the birthplace of the game, less than ten miles from Turnberry. However, a lack of formal transportation then made travel difficult. Without any permanent settlement to support the game at Turnberry, golf would remain absent in those parts for another 150 years. On July 6, 1902, the first man-made links were opened for play at Turnberry. The Clubhouse followed soon after. The epic links there have been built, destroyed and rebuilt again. Turnberry has hosted several Open championships including in 1977 – remembered for the epic show-down between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, famously referred to as the “Duel in the Sun.” I am not a golfer. But, I do have an appreciation for a fine golf course and I’ve often been known to drive a beer cart from time to time – traipsing after the real golfers and enjoying the views! I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the legendary Turnberry links. I was a witness to sacred Scottish golf history!
It had been a long day of castle hopping but thoroughly enjoyable. We sat outside in the garden after dinner once again – marveling at the warmth of the sun and chatting about the day. We agreed on a time to set off the next morning and I went to bed knowing it was my second to last sleep before I had to leave this beautiful country and these wonderful friends.
We left early the next morning bound for Loch Lomond. On my way back from Skye with Catriona we had driven past Loch Lomond but it was dark and I didn’t have a chance to see much. Evelyn and I were looking forward to doing a little shopping at Loch Lomond Shores, a small shopping mall near the Aquarium and point of departure for many of the Loch boat tours. As the morning mist burned off we were treated to some magnificent views of Ben Lomond in the distance and the far lengths of the Loch — Scotland’s longest loch, by the way. More Harris Tweed acquired (because I didn’t have enough!) and we set off again toward the Village of Luss. Utterly picturesque, Luss was buzzing with locals and tourists alike. Boaters were flocking to the boat launch to take advantage of the warm, clear day and children and families lined the small beach at the end of town. Luss Pier is a popular starting point for boat trips on the Loch and (much to our surprise) enthusiastic children somersaulting into the Loch from the end of the pier. Perfect day for a wedding too, as we followed a group of wedding-goers – men in kilts and women in brightly adorned hats – up the small esplanade at the end of town towards the Luss Parish church. The narrow “main street” of Luss is bordered on either side by prim, identical sandstone and slate cottages garlanded in rambling roses and other flowering vines. The cottages were inhabited at one time by workers from nearby slate quarries. Slate roofs decorate all of the old cottages that line the main street and slate from Luss still line the roofs of some old tenements in Glasgow today. The famous Loch Lomond Golf Course, where many Open players practice, is within the village’s borders. Luss is truly a quaint little town. I had such a light feeling walking around there amid the hustle and bustle of so many others who all seemed to be reveling in the summer-like weather and their outdoor activities.
Before calling it a day we took a ride over to the Cameron House – a well-known five-star resort on the shores of Loch Lomond. Again, we encountered a wedding taking place on the lawn in front of the castle-like main building. A well-appointed bagpiper accompanied the bride and her father to the waiting groom and groomsmen – all dressed in traditional kilts. Wonderful to witness. We had a wee cocktail at The Boat House down the road from the Main Hotel and took in more of the glorious views of the Loch and Ben Lomond looming in the distance. Such a nice day.
As the afternoon waned, we headed back to Kilmarnock and talked about having another barbecue in the garden. But, what we most looked forward to was viewing Outlander Episode 2.08 together that evening. Outlander airs on Amazon Prime in the UK on Sunday evenings. But, what was special about the episode was that we suspected it was the episode filmed at Dean Castle – yes, the Castle up the street from my friends’ home. The episode titled “The Fox’s Lair” was an introduction to Outlander protagonist Jamie Fraser’s grandfather, Lord Lovat of Fraser, known as the “Old Fox.” Lovat is actually a real historical figure that was co-opted by Outlander series author Diana Gabaldon to play a pivotal role in her novels. In the television series, Dean Castle was to be Lovat’s home where Jamie and Claire, his wife, would travel to meet with the somewhat irascible Old Fox. It was a bit surreal watching the episode, knowing it was filmed just up the street on the grounds where I had walked just a day earlier. Of, course, the Clarks got a kick out of seeing their home town castle on the small screen, as well, and Peter didn’t miss a chance to harass me yet again about how he braved life and limb back in December to get those photos for my Blog post! Ah, the Scots do love to tease.
As the night wound down, my mind turned to pressing matters such as how I was going to pack and close my suitcases per the seemingly dozens of Harris Tweed items I had bought as well as other trinkets from my travels. But, mostly, I was sad knowing I was not only leaving this wonderful place, but such wonderful people. Everywhere I went in Scotland, people were kind, gracious, helpful and most of all – extremely interested and talkative. They definitely relish talking about Scotland and they all seem to have such a deep knowledge of Scottish history. They love to spin a yarn and tell a good ghost story, too. I feel very blessed to have met so many of these wonderful Scottish people and experienced their unique brand of hospitality. And, especially grateful to have shared some quality time with Peter and Evelyn Clark of Kilmarnock.
|The Clarks of Kilmarnock|
I could not have asked for a better final weekend in Scotland or a better trip overall.
Robert Burns once wrote…
Here’s a bottle and an honest friend
What wad ye wish for mair, man?
Wha kens, before his life may end,
Then catch the moments as they fly,
And use them as ye ought, man;
Believe me, happiness shy,
I caught my moments as they flew in Scotland and shared some bottles with a few honest friends. But, my happiness was not shy. It was the happiest of times for me thanks to this completely mesmerizing country and the many people I met along the way. If you haven’t been to Scotland…then GO! If you have been, then begin to plan your next trip back.
And, with that, it’s a wrap for me and for The Scotland Diaries. I hope you enjoyed following along. I know I have enjoyed sharing it with you all. Remember – don’t make excuses for not doing things you wish to do in life, especially travel. Slainte!
Liberty is in every blow! Let us do or die.
– Robert Burns
Missed the previous entries in my Scotland Diaries? Find them here:
A Sassenach Abroad
Ready, Set, Scotland
May 13-14 Edinburgh
May 15-17 Castles, Kirks, Cairns and Culloden
May 19-21 The Highlands Part 2
May 24-27 Over the Sea to Skye
Will you be traveling to Scotland soon? If so, where do you plan to visit?