Ayr

Overview

Introduction

Set in the heart of Scotland's Robert Burns country, approximately 30 mi/50 km southwest of Glasgow, Ayr will appeal to literary mavens. Attractions include the parish church where Burns was baptized, as well as the two bridges the poet immortalized in Twa Brigs. Also in town are 16th-century Loudon Hall and the 17th-century church Ayr Auld Kirk. No place in Scotland is complete without a golf course, and Ayr has three—their settings along the coastline are stunning.

South of Ayr is Alloway, where Burns was born. Located in the village is the Robert Burns National Heritage Park (which includes the cottage where he was born), the Robert Burns Centre, the Burns Monument and Gardens, Alloway's Auld Haunted Kirk and the Brig O' Doon, over which Tam O'Shanter escaped from witches in Burns's epic poem. http://www.burnsmuseum.org.uk.

On the coast road south from Alloway is Culzean (http://www.culzeanexperience.org), a castle designed by Robert Adam and the most-visited property belonging to the National Trust for Scotland. Set along the coast in a wooded estate that's one of Scotland's finest parks, the castle exudes a sense of history and tradition and houses a fine collection of military memorabilia dating from the 1800s. Mementos of former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, who was given lifetime use of an apartment in the castle, are on display. (The Eisenhower Rooms, part of the National Guest Flat, can be rented.) The cliff below the castle is riddled with old smuggler's caves.

From there, it's not far to Kirkoswald and Souter Johnnie's Cottage, home of the man Robert Burns used as the inspiration for a character in Tam O'Shanter (http://www.nts.org.uk/Property/Souter-Johnnies-Cottage). The Souter and Thomas ("Tam") Graham of Shanter farm are both buried in the ruined kirkyard opposite the cottage. Burns received part of his education there in a small schoolroom that is now part of the thatched Souter Johnnies Hotel. The hotel was badly damaged by fire in 2012 but is being rebuilt. Also nearby are the impressive ruins of Crossraguel Abbey. South of Culzean is Turnberry Resort with its excellent golf course (rated in the top 20 worldwide) and the ruins of Turnberry Castle, where Robert the Bruce was born.

South of Kirkoswald on the coast is the fishing town of Girvan. Once a thriving holiday resort, it has fallen on hard times, but the area round the harbor and along the beach is still very pretty and worth a visit.

The main attraction at Troon (north of Ayr) is Royal Troon golf course (http://www.royaltroon.co.uk). Northwest of Troon lies Kilmarnock, where a grocer by the name of Johnnie Walker experimented blending various whiskies and gave his name to the world-famous brand. Robert Burns published his first edition of poetry in Kilmarnock.

Also worth seeing in the area is Dean Castle Country Park: The castle, which dates from the mid-14th century, has one of the world's best collections of early European musical instruments, as well as impressive holdings of armor and tapestries. http://www.deancastle.com.

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