When my friend and I planned our trip to the Isle of Arran, the original plan was to stay on the island itself. But when all the accommodation was booked or crazy expensive, we ended up staying in Saltcoats and going on a day trip to Arran instead. So, since we were staying 2 nights, we maximised our time by planning an Ayrshire day trip for the Sunday. This was mainly my literature nerd self wanting to visit Robert Burns’s birthplace really. But we soon found a few other sites to visit along the way!
So, the first stop of our Ayrshire day trip was a half-hour drive south from Saltcoats on the motorway. I decided we’d get this drive out of the way first, then work our way north again to reduce the drive back to Edinburgh that night. Culzean Castle is a huge stately home built right on the Ayrshire coast, designed by Robert Adams in the 18th century. It also boasts large grounds, including gardens and a deer park (we did spot a few!), which we wandered around first. In fact, one of our first stops was the Orangery, where we found a bird stuck inside. Some gentle shepherding and very concerning moments of it smacking into the glass some more, and we eventually caught it and let it loose outside again!
We walked a long loop through the grounds, passing by various large wicker sculptures along the way. We liked some more than others! My favourites were the gardener outside the cottage and the sea serpent in the pond! Our circuit took us past the lake and pagoda, then back along the coast towards the castle itself. We also caught a glimpse of Ailsa Craig, a small island off the coast.
We ventured inside and explored a series of grand, elegant rooms – I’d expect nothing less from a castle as fancy on the outside. The entrance was memorable, with elaborate wall displays of hunting equipment. Not exactly my personal taste, but to each their own! The castle’s centrepiece is the Oval Staircase with its double spiral. This leads up to rooms with stunning sea views out the tall windows. After several more rooms filled with Georgian decor, we also saw the servants’ quarters downstairs, including the huge kitchen. Then, we had enough time to pose for more photos in front of the castle before departing.
The second stop of our Ayrshire day trip was a rather impromptu one! While on the phone to my friend’s dad in the car about a totally unrelated topic, he mentioned this place when he realised where we were. It was en-route from Culzean to Alloway, so we figured we may as well check it out. Electric Brae is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it though. It’s essentially just a layby on the A719 near Knoweside. Pull into the layby, park facing south, stick the car in neutral and release the handbrake. Then watch as your car rolls uphill. Seriously.
Well, not really. There’s a strange optical illusion to the land here, which means that although the car is obviously going downhill, the illusion makes it look like it’s going uphill. You have to park south to get the full effect of the car reversing up the hill as well! It’s such a strange, quirky little spot and I still don’t quite understand how the illusion exists. But it was definitely a fun little location along our way! The drive along the A719 is also the coastal road (not the motorway) so we got lovely views of the Firth of Clyde as we drove.
Robert Burns – Alloway
Next up on the Ayrshire day trip was probably the most famous location on our itinerary. The small village of Alloway is world-famous as the birthplace of Scotland’s Bard, Robert Burns. Alloway is also the setting of one of his most famous poems, Tam o’ Shanter. As a lit student who particularly loves Romantic poetry, he is naturally one of my favourites. Also, growing up in Scotland, we all learn about him from about age four.
The village has several locations to visit, starting with the Birthplace Museum. This is packed full of objects and memorabilia from his life, including many of his own writings and belongings. It was also a great way to get a total overview of his life and inspirations. I also really liked that some of boards were written in both English and Scots (it’s a language, not a dialect)! And I may or may not have bought a complete set of his works from the gift shop…
Across the road we visited Alloway Kirk (mentioned in Tam o’ Shanter), where we quickly found the grave of his parents, William and Agnes Burns. Just down the street south is the Brig o’ Doon, also referenced in Tam o’ Shanter. I won’t lie, I was very excited to actually see these places for real! The bridge is next to the Burns Memorial Gardens, which features a Classical-style monument and floral gardens. It seemed very fitting that there were red roses in bloom too (a reference to another of his songs)!
Heading back through Alloway in the other direction, we followed the Poet’s Path up through a park, which has various statues inspired by Burns’s works. The mouse was cute, but I almost lost it laughing at the massive stone statue of a haggis – ridiculous but brilliant! At the end of the path is Burns Cottage, the very house he grew up in. It was closed that day, unfortunately, but from what I’d heard, most of the original items from inside were now in the museum anyway and the cottage only has replicas. So I was content to just admire this simple, thatched cottage from outside. I don’t know how exciting Alloway is to non-Burns fans, but I was utterly fascinating and awestruck by all of it!
The final stop of our Ayrshire day trip was the county’s namesake, the town of Ayr. I had some personal interest in visiting the town, as my brother went to university here. I never visited at the time though! We were conscious of the time by this point though, as it was mid-afternoon and we still had to drive back to Edinburgh. I say ‘we’ – it was my friend’s car and she does all the driving, but I knew she’d get tired on the way back so we didn’t want to leave it too late.
Ayr isn’t a huge town and most of its ‘tourist attractions’ just tell you to go to Alloway really. We wandered the streets, and the grey buildings and British high-street brands reminded me of our hometown a little. We even popped into Wetherspoons for a late lunch. The building was a converted church and a visit to the bathroom somehow meant you ended up descending the altar on your way back! Then it was time to head home.
Our weekend in Arran and Ayrshire was really fun overall. I’d highly recommend a similar trip for an easy weekend trip in Scotland. We definitely could have spent longer in each place, as there was more to see than we had time for. But we certainly ticked off a lot of the main sites on our Ayshire day trip! And I’m still super happy to have seen Burns’s birthplace at last!