“ Address: Maybole / Ayrshire / KA19 8LE / Scotland „
We are lucky enough to live in Ayrshire which has a number of attractions and family activities. Yesterday looked like it was going to be a lovely day so we decided to head down to Culzean Castle for a visit. We have been before once before but that was when we first moved here nearly 6 years ago. The thing that puts us off is the price. There are a number of country parks and castles within a 20 mile radius of where we live that offer free entry. This usually puts us off paying as we can still have a great day out at any of the free options, but sometimes a change of scenery does you a world of good.
The castle sits in the town of Maybole which is just outside of Ayr. We found it was very well signposted once you actually hit Ayr and it is very easily accessible by car. The number 60 bus also runs from Ayr to right outside the castle gates. There is a mile walk down to the castle if you take public transport, but if you're visiting Culzean you should expect to walk a number of miles through the day anyway.
The castle was built in stages between 1777 and 1792 and extended a smaller drum tower that sat on the Ayrshire coast. It was designed by the Robert Adam one of the most successful and fashionable architects in the country at the time. The castle was built for the Kennedy family who enjoyed it as their home, before they then gifted it to the National trust of Scotland who take care of the castle today. There is no doubt that this castle looks stunning sitting on a cliff overlooking the sea, and everywhere you turn there are stunning views. Inside the castle there are a number of rooms dedicated to both the Kennedy family and Robert Adam so you can learn a little more. You can either pay for entry to just the grounds, or pay an extra £5 to gain entrance to the castle as well.
Admission Prices - Summer 2013
Thursday 29 March until Sunday 27 October 2013 inclusive
Combined Castle & Country Park Ticket -
Adult - £15.00
Child / Concession - £11.00
Family - £37.00 (max 2 adults and up to 4 children)
Single Adult Family - £29.00 (max 1 adult and up to 4 children)
Country Park 'Only' Ticket :
Adult - £10.00 Child / Concession - £7.00
Family - £23.50
Single Adult Family - £17.50 (max 1 adult and up to 4 children)
We were greeted by some lovely ladies who took our admission fee and gave us leaflets with information about the grounds and gaining access to the castle. The map made it look as though everything was spread as far apart as possible. It explains that to walk from the castle to the play area is a good 25 minutes. We decided to do everything backwards. We visited the play are first and then worked backwards to the castle.
Parking is included in your entrance fee and there are a number of different areas you are able to park. The visitor centre, Swan pond, Silver Avenue and walled gardens all have their own parking area. We managed to find a spot with ease and loved that you could drive to the different areas rather than having to walk. The walk from the castle the swan pond is around 25 minutes one way. With young children we found it useful to be able to explore one area and then drive to next before exploring again.
There are toilets situated in all areas apart from the walled garden. We made a few visits throughout the day and found them to be clean and functional. There is also a kiosk at the Swan pond which we found helpful. You can purchase juice and ice cream but there was limited choice when we were there. There was only one lady serving and a huge queue that passed the door, but it was so hot we were all desperate to cool down. The prices were fair at around £1.20 for a small ice cream (which was actually very large) and juice around 80 pence.
There are a number of trails that you can take. Each one is labelled, signposted and there are posts detailing which are suitable for the type of walk you wish to take. There are lots to choose from and it really is a lovely way to see some wildlife. There are shorter walks for those who want a leisurely stole, or a trail that follows the acres of land for the more adventurous. We only followed the main trail around the swan pond and then towards the walled garden. We then walked back to the parking area at the swan pond, drove to the visitor centre and followed the path to the visitor centre and castle.
The castle and visitor centre
Of course the Castle itself is the main attraction. It is a very large and impressive castle that wows straight away. Once inside you can follow the information boards to find out about the years of history related to Culzean, or you can talk with a member of staff who is happy to talk to you about it all. You can prearrange a tour of the castle, which I believe costs a little extra but we found walking around ourselves suited us best with five young children.
Inside the castle are details about the connection to the Kennedy family, and the architect Robert Adam. There are items belonging to the Kennedy family, suits of armour, art and general information about the history of Culzean. The rooms are grand and the huge amount of armour and tapestry's on display are fantastic. There are different rooms with different expeditions on show so you can get a full idea of the past of this beautiful castle. It is visually stunning to look at, and we found the information to be interesting and engaging.
There are treasure hunts like find the Lego Man to keep children interested, but to be honest my children were just too young and itching to get back to the grounds. Our walk around the castle was brief for this reason, but we would like to return when the children are a little older, and hopefully a little more interested. I do think you could spent a good hour or two looking at the different pieces in the castle, but after around 30 minutes we returned to the castle grounds. There are sometimes guided tours to the caves beneath the castle, but as this relies on good weather and the Castle is located in Scotland, as you may expect the tours are very rare.
The visitor centre and castle hold the larger number of shops. The visitor centre is basically a huge courtyard. On one side you have the restaurant, and while we did not enter as we had prepared our self with a picnic, but it smelt lovely, and the prices seemed to be reasonable. As you would expect there is also a large souvenir shop that had everything from calendars, to T shirts. Again we took a miss on the shop and continued up to the castle. Finally in the same courtyard is a toy shop that also sells juice and ice creams and some toilets. We were looking forward to visiting the second hand book shop, which is just around the corner from the visitor centre but unfortunately it was closed when we got there.
Play area, Swan pond and Walled garden
As we started backwards the first thing we came across was the play area. It is a fantastic size and has a number of activities for children both large and small. On one side of the park is a small climbing frame area for younger preschool children, which includes an assault course, a climbing frame, slides and large caterpillars to sit on. On the opposite side of the park is the area designed for over five. It is very similar with a maze, a large climbing frame, slides and a zip slide. We visited in the school holidays, on one of the hottest days of the year and they were still able to play fairly freely, only waiting a minute or two for certain parts like the Zip slide.
The walled garden was my favourite part of our visit. It is absolutely beautiful and so tranquil. I think the title is self explanatory, it is a garden contained between some very large walls. There are everything from beautiful vibrant flowers, to a vinery and a vegetable patch. It is a large area that we managed to spend around 30 minutes exploring. Again we could have taken a lot more time admiring the range of offerings available, but my children became a little bored and wanted an ice cream, so we headed back down to the swan pond. I do think this is best enjoyed on a lovely summer day as the light just seems to make the whole area magical.
The swan pond is located right next to the play area which seemed fitting. There is a huge picnic area separating the two areas, so it is perfect for little ones to run wild in the park, then on to lunch in the picnic area, and finally we moved on to the pond with the spare bread from lunch. While it is called the swan pond there were no swans in sight. In fact the only wildlife we did manage to catch a glimpse of was the ducks eagerly swimming towards us for our leftovers. We did walk around the pond which was lovely, and feeding the ducks was also nice, but it's the appearance of the whole area that really pulled us in. It is just beautiful. As mentioned before it was a beautiful day when we visited, and the sun just makes everything glow and shimmer. Along the trail around the pond you can expect to see a huge amount of wildlife, but sadly I think my children were just too noisy and scared them all away.
When we first arrived at Culzean we were a little overwhelmed staring at the map we were given after paying our entrance fee. It seemed as if the different areas are set miles apart, but once you begin walking you realise that it is not actually that far at all. We decided to explore back to front, by starting at the play area and making our way to the castle at the end of the day we seemed to miss the crowds. I managed to walk the main trail in a pair of flip flops, but it had been very warm for a few weeks so the trails were dry and clear. I would opt for some more sensible shoes for future visits as there is a lot of walking to be done and some of the side trails would have been more of a challenge.
There really is something for everyone. My husband and I enjoyed the castle itself and the walled gardens the most. The views from the Castle overlooking the sea really are breathtaking. The sun made the walled garden look like a paradise and the walk really was relaxing and gives you time to enjoy your surroundings. My children on the other hand loved the play area, picnic area and swan pond. They could spend time burning off their energy, refuelling with a picnic lunch and then feeding the ducks with the leftovers.
My one downside is the lack of bins. We finished our picnic and set off to find a bin to get rid of our rubbish. I searched everywhere and was unable to find a bin anywhere around the play area, Swan pond or the walled gardens. We ended up having to put our rubbish underneath our pushchair until we reached the visitor centre where I finally found a bin. Considering how far they are apart it makes you wonder how many people really want to walk miles with leftover lunch in their arms.
We have found Culzean to be a great day out for the whole family. There are trails for everyone and you can choose one to suit you. The Swan pond is perfect to take a stroll around on a warm day and with the play park right next to it the children are entertained too. The walled gardens are fantastic and seemed to appeal to everyone, and the gorgeous views from the castle will really make you take a step back and wonder. The amount of history and character this castle has is endless and it really makes an interesting day out.
This is one of my favourite places to visit, not just in Ayrshire, but in the UK as a whole. Being an Ayrshire lass perhaps I am bias but I feel Culzean castle is unique with expansive grounds, breathtaking views and even residential ghosts! Culzean, once owned by the Kennedy's (one of scotland's oldest families) is now a national trust property. It is a relatively modern and grand castle which was designed by Robert Adams in the 1770s and is typical of this architect's grandiose style both inside and out. It lies on the coast approximately midway between Ayr and Girvan. It can be accessed from Ayr by bus (Stagecoach No 60 - Ayr to Girvan via Maidens), or by car either via the A77 at Maybole, or if you have a little more time, the A719 coastal road from Ayr/Girvan is quite beautiful. As a side line if you are coming from Ayr on the A719 do not pass the opportunity to stop at the Electric Brae (signposted) this is an optical illusion where the lay of the land makes it appear you are going uphill when you are really going downhill. Quite disconcerting when you stop the car and feel it sliding uphill!
The only downside I can see with Culzean is the entry cost which differs in summer and winter. Entry is free to national trust members. In summer it is very expensive £8.50/adult or £16/family for entry to the grounds alone and £13/adult or £32/family for the grounds and castle. In winter, with the exception of special events, the castle is closed and the entry cost to the park is £3/Adult and £1.50/Child. As a tip - you can enter the park (but not the castle) free of charge via the caravan park at the seafront at Maidens. There is an honesty box to make a donation on route. This walk is relatively easy and takes around 10 minutes bringing you out at the swan pond, also note that the swan pond is a further 10-15 minutes walk from the castle so entering via Maidens results in alot of walking
The castle is very grand, think embellished ceilings, ornate furnishings, huge portraits and antique furniture. While visitors do not have access to the entire castle they do get to see plenty of rooms, the library, armoury, state bedroom, dining room and kitchen to name but a few. Perhaps the most spectacular is the oval staircase - take a minute to look down when you are on the upper levels - you wont be disappointed! Each room has written information and also there are guides who are well informed and friendly. Okay all this sounds a little boring if you are under 8 years old ... but Culzean really has thought of everything. There are little legomen hidden throughout the castle. This certainly kept my kids (4 and 6 years old) entertained and gave their boring parents time to take in the rooms and read the information in relative peace.
Like alot of scottish castles, Culzean also has its spooky side. Paranormal investigations have allegedly caught a ghost on camcorder not to mention various premonitions of ladies dying in childbirth in one bedroom and girls dancing down the oval staircase. The investigation is well worth a read:
Should you be brave enough, and rich enough, you can actually stay (or EVEN get married!) in the castle in one of the six suites. Of these the Eisenhower suite is the most dramatic - and YES! Eisenhower really did stay in this very room in the 1940s.
The gardens at the actual castle are beautiful with expanses of grass - great for picnics and a large fountain for the kids to enjoy. There are several sets of steps up from here to the castle - and from this upper level you can look down on the gardens. While these gardens are beautiful, the Walled Gardens are even more so. In summer they are literally a mass of colour. They have a great array of flowers and trees and last summer I counted 6 different species of butterflies from this area alone!
Eating and shopping
There are two main places to eat: The visitors center (5-10 minutes from the castle) open year round, and the Old Stables Coffee House (maximum of 5 minutes walk from the castle) open during the summer only. The coffee house offers light snacks, coffees and scones while the visitor's centre offers a wider range of self service cooked meals (priced about £5-£6). Food is basic but hygenic and scones are fabulous! Both locations have inside and outside eating areas. In addition, you can get icecream and sweeties at the deer park and icecream/coffee/snacks at the Swan Pond.
The visitors center and the surrounding courtyard offer some retail opportunities. There is quite a nice toy shop which has lots of pocket money toys in addition to more expensive toys. The visitors center sells a number of quite tasteful scottish gifts (e.g. Books, Ness Purses, Arran Aromatics products) and local foods. Finally there is also a second hand bookshop, on route from the castle to the walled garden. This I have never been in so I am afraid I cannot comment on it.
The Swan Pond
The swan pond is a 10-15 minutes walk from the castle, although you can drive also. There are several walking routes from the castle to the swan pond. I would most recommend the coastal path which delivers delightful views of both the castle perched on its hillside, and the coast line of Ayrshire. The swanpond is actually a large pond which was made by flooding a meadow. It is home to a large number of waterbirds, however, the surrouding paths can be goose poopy so watch your feet. The monkey house, a rather out of place looking japanese pagoda, which, in its hayday was home to monkeys, can be found nearby as can an aviary and toilet! There is a large grass field (excellent for picnics) and a well equiped playpark suitable for all ages of children.
EVENTS AND CLUBS
Culzeans hosts a number of events during the season and these are well worth attending. We have experienced an easter egg hunt, princess and knight day, pirate day and fairytale christmas in the castle (the later was absolutely delightful). Culzean has a naturalist club for younger children and an ECOS club for older kids. It also has a garden and wildlife club for adults. Of these I only have experience of the naturalist club - kids explore rockpools, caves and ponds appealing most to kids who love being outside and don't mind getting dirty!
Culzean offers alot to those interested in natural history, there is a deer park with red deer, a wildlife garden and ranger led walks. For those wishing something a little more wild Culzean supports an ancient coastal deciduous woodland which forms part of a SSSI, and a designated wildlife area. Many birds can be found in Culzean including fulmars, rockpipits, woodcocks, treecreeper and barn owls.
Following some idyllic weather days at the end of May we went in search of a day trip that would offer us some time in the sunshine. Having lived in Scotland for several years we are really only just starting to branch out and see some of the amazing places that it has to offer. Following a Google search we came across Culzean Castle and Country Park. The photos of the location and the buildings were sufficient enough to whet the appetite and justify the midday hour and 15 minute long drive from Glasgow.
A designated National Trust site handed over by the Kennedy family in 1945 and declared as Scotland's first country park in 1969 it boasts an array of attractions and plenty of open space. The drive from Glasgow was really pleasant with fantastic views out to the coast from very early on in our journey. Traffic was reasonably heavy due to everyone else having the same idea I think but was simple to navigate straight down the M77 and then following signs for Maybole was signposted thereafter.
I am going to get the negative bit out of the way first.....and even the only negative thing I have to say has a clawback! It was expensive! We had expected free entry to the country park and then to pay for the castle but on you arrive immediately at a hut with the tariffs listed. For a family ticket that gave access to both park and castle it would set you back £32, for myself and my partner it was £13 each and for the country park only was still £8.50. Now I appreciate that these places are sustained by the monies they collect which is a travesty in itself, they have such cultural and historical importance they should be preserved by public money (would be better spent on this than on a duck pond or moat cleaning!), however I still thought it was a lot for a family day out in a park.
The clawback - on our entrance we were told that if we joined the National Trust our entrance money would be refunded. We had already spent £26 and the annual membership was £52. We declined at first but then later in the day got talking to one of the guides who said if we were under 25 a years membership was £12 and we got our entrance fee back. Being under 25 I promptly signed up which meant in effect Id been paid to go and I get to benefit from all these places in the future. Just a tip for you all!
Now I have had my little whinge I can get down to the important stuff.
The Country Park - it certainly fitted the bill for us. You can park up at several locations, the visitor centre, the castle, swan pond and the walled garden which is great for those who require disabled access as you don't then have to trek for miles to the different attractions. We parked at the visitor centre and walked the whole circuit which in the sunshine was magnificent. The park is incredible well kept easy to find your way round.
The Visitor Centre offered a self service restaurant (that we didn't try as we'd come prepared with a picnic), a shop selling local produce, bathrooms and a second hand bookshop. All very quaint with a sandstone courtyard and a good place to start our day. Guided walks begin from here by the park rangers at 2pm and now we have free entry we are planning to return to try one of these out.
We walked from the visitor centre in the direction of the castle but because the weather was so nice we had already chosen to leave the castle till last (entry ends at 4pm with the castle closing at 5pm). We went to the deer park which is populated by about 15, that's how many I managed to count, red deers. They were fabulously not bothered about the tourists presence and at only a few metres from the fence enabled you to take some great pictures.
We then headed towards the Swan Pond as it was listed as having plenty of picnic space but on the way we found loads of tables nestled in little alcoves with flowers and trees for company. Again because of the weather is was busy but not overly so, with the park being so large the distribution of people was good.
The walled garden was sensational, I know little about plants but the whole area was like a scene from the secret garden and again well maintained and beautifully fragranced. A very romantic spot with a restored Victorian vinery and plant sales if you fancy trying to recreate the magic in your own backyard. It was too hot to check out the summerhouse but gardening enthusiasts would love it.
The Swan Pond is in fact a 13 acre lake manmade at the start of the 20th Century and distinctly lacking in swans but featuring some very cute ducklings and a hive of midges who happily seemed content with pestering the ducks. There is a large picnic area and adventure playground which judging by the delighted whoops was keeping all the children entertained as was the ice cream seller.
We were rapidly running out of time so never made it down to the beach but we saw plenty of sandy buckets and spades so Im sure that would have been equally beautiful. There are caves located here but you can only view them during rare organised tours.
The Castle - sat on the cliff tops with the symmetrical and well organised Fountain Court garden in front of it the Castle is simply stunning. Well restored and preserved with panaormic views over the Isle of Arran and crystal clear water below, an exceptional place and I cannot stress enough how much it is worth a visit. The castle was converted by Robert Adam for the Earl of Cassilus in 1777. Adam is a famous Scottish architect and even me with my primitive knowledge of such things was very impressed by the centre of the castle, the Oval Staircase. Despite the throngs of tourists the castle was relatively quiet and all the guides so helpful and keen to tell us about the place. The rooms have been decked with portraits and items from the era and there is an information point in each room that contains cards with several different languages detailing the key information about each room. The views were simply stunning and anyone would have been privileged to live here. One of the guides told us that the grounds were used for the recent 'The Queen' movie as they couldn't gain access to the laurel gardens in London. It took us about half an hour to go round but I think next time we'll take one of the guided tours which start at 3pm.
Overall it was a great place to visit and wander round. I have only awarded 4 stars because of the price and also because it does need to be a good day for you to get the most out of it. It would be great for a family picnic day out as there is so much to keep everyone entertained and I have to see was a much better attraction for me than Edinburgh Castle. The only other shame was that the café/restaurant shut at 5pm when the park was less then empty and we could have done with a cold drink but hey that's down to our bad planning.
I'd love to know if any of you go.
One of Scotland's favoured castles.