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Ayrshire and Arran - a little jewel in the south west of Scotland

AlistairHorneAlistairHorne Member, VisitScotland Ambassador ✭✭
edited May 8 in Scotland's countryside

Having grown up in Glasgow, Ayrshire and Arran was a regular family holiday spot when I was younger, where we enjoyed the beaches, tranquility and the great food this area has to offer. So when Visit Scotland asked if I wanted to head back to the south west region of Scotland to photograph and promote the area, I had no hesitation in accepting. With my fingers crossed hoping for some decent weather, I drove to my first stop on the visit: Loudoun Hill. A volcanic plug in East Ayrshire, it's well known for being the battleground of the 1307 battle between the Scots led by Robert the Bruce against the English.


For my first day I was shown around by Craig Lawless, the Industry Relations Manager for Visit Scotland in Ayrshire. Having previously worked for Adventure Carrick, an outdoor adventure company, Craig was the perfect guide to have, showing me places I would never have found myself. Afterwards we drove further west to Mauchline and I visited the Burns Museum, as he lived in the village during his poetry writing. We then headed back on the road towards the highest railway viaduct in the UK - Ballochmyle Viaduct, built in the 1840's that is 52 metres high. 


Craig then recommended we headed south to Loch Doon that sits in the Galloway Forest Park, a world-renowned dark sky location. We ventured to Loch Doon Castle and then for a walk at Ness Glen, a beautiful stroll that has been carved into a wooded gorge. 


I headed to Ayr for my accommodation for the next two nights: the Kylestrome Hotel. Friendly staff, great food and lovely rooms: I couldn't recommend it enough. The forecast for the Saturday was pretty poor during the afternoon, so I got up early to explore the Ayrshire Coastal Path, a 161km hiking route along the west coast. My first stop was Greenan Castle, a 17th century tower house that sits perched on the cliff side. The next castle on the list was Dunure Castle, which is one of the first locations for season three of Outlander. The castle is known for being the spot where Alan Stewert was 'roasted', tortured via fire and heat to give up some surrounding lands. Thankfully, no such practices were taking place when I visited! 


Driving further south I reached Turnberry, a luxury paradise for any golf enthusiast, with two world class courses now under the ownership of the Trump business empire. I was visiting to photograph Turnberry Lighthouse, the supposed birthplace of Robert the Bruce. Now a halfway house for golfers, it makes for a great focal point for a photo on the Ayrshire coastline. 


You also get fantastic views of Ailsa Craig on the route with multiple occasions to stop and take in the sights and sounds. The island is the remains of another extinct volcano plug and is composed of strong granite. The island is now uninhabited, aside from the thousands of gannets and puffins who call it home. 


The last destination on my list for the day were the Sawney Bean Caves, located on the coast near Ballantrae. The caves were said to be the home of the Bean clan, apparent cannibals in the 16th Century. Although no proof exists, it has become local folklore. I found the entrance to one of these caves and whilst photographing inside, pigeons flew out and properly scared me. I made a hasty retreat incase the rumours were true and possibly still happening today! 


The next day I had breakfast with the hotel owner, Willie Stewart, founder of Stewart Travels. Willie had some great stories, including hearing he was on one of the last Concorde flights and is planning to drive coast to coast in America this summer. In his 70's, Willie was a great character and a pleasure to meet before the start of my third day. I then drove north to Largs to get the ferry over to Great Cumbrae - it is only a short 10 minute CalMac Ferry ride over to the island. Only four and a half square miles large, the island is a great place to cycle and enjoy the sights of the coast. After exploring all it has to offer, I returned to the mainland.


The other area I wanted to see this far north was Portencross Castle and like many spots along this coast has a great view of Arran. After, I headed to my hotel for the night, the Waterside Hotel, which also had nice food and welcoming staff during my short stay here. On my last day, I headed for a quick visit to the Isle of Arran, one of my favourite islands in Scotland. Known as 'Scotland in miniature', the island boats plentiful wildlife, rugged mountains and great local food. A 50 minute CalMac Ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick and you arrive. I had one plan for my day: to climb the highest mountain on the island, Goat Fell. At 874m, it is known for its panoramic vistas of the surrounding hills. The cloudy day created dramatic moments to photograph, but unfortunately I wasn't able to see the whole panorama from the top. 


In what seemed like no time, the last ferry of the day was set to leave and my day on the island and the whole trip had come to an end. I'm already planning to come back to Arran and Ayrshire in the summer time - if you have never been before, I would really recommend that it should be on your list!

Check out my Instagram to see more of my photos!

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