The Really Gorgeous Country: A Scottish Holiday, Day 13

Alas, tomorrow we shall wake up in Scotland for one last time before we head back to Minnesota. But we couldn’t’ve asked for a more pleasant, final day here, as we spent the majority of our time at Culzean Castle and Country Park.

(That’s Culzean, by the way, pronounced kull-LEEN).

Culzean came highly recommended by one of our guidebooks. When we sat down to plan a route last month, we worried we wouldn’t be able to fit it in. But, we are all thankful that we managed to make our way here, as it’s a simply gorgeous area and a fantastic way to spend our final day. We also lucked out on some really fine weather of comfortable temps and no rain.

The whole park is a quite large area (260 hectares), and we managed to explore quite a bit of it. We started, naturally, with the castle itself. It was built for David Kennedy the 10th Earl of Cassilis between 1777 and 1792 and designed by architect Robert Adam. It eventually became the home of the chief of Clan Kennedy, Marquess of Ailsa.

The castle is a really quite grand, rectangular structure that overlooks the Firth of Clyde, it’s built of stones with a soft, yellow hue, it stands three tall stories high, it’s complete with several towers, and it has those classic battlements atop the roof. They’ve got a self-guided tour quite well organized as well, making your way from room to room with an elegant flow. Each room is decorated with the sheer opulence that you would expect from someone like the 10th Earl of Cassillis. You get to see the usual bedrooms, the usual drawing rooms, the usual kitchens, the usual dining rooms, the usual oil paintings, the usual ornate rugs, and the usual chandeliers (after you’ve seen this many historical places in the two weeks we’ve been here, these fancy things have now become usual and ordinary), but the real highlight was the central grand staircase. From the staircase you could see all three stories decked out with all three classical columns. The whole staircase reminded me very much of what the grand staircase of the Titanic once looked like.

After the castle we went to the visitor centre to purchase some final souvenirs, took a moment to enjoy a walk down to the shore to view the Firth of Clyde, and then we went to the deer park to enjoy the company of some, er, deer as well as some llamas.

Afterwards we were quite excited to head to the Aviary and the Swan Pond to, naturally, enjoy the company of various birds and, of course, swans. We were disappointed to find out that the Aviary isn’t an aviary at all, just a cafe called the Aviary. And, sadly, the so-called Swan Pond was severely lacking in, er, swans. There were plenty of ducks, but no swans. This was also the busiest part of the whole park with parents and their running children throwing frisbees and doing other annoying things childen do, and we didn’t quite like it.

So we quickly made our way to the Cat Gates. This was a really very nice walk through the forest located in the southern part of the park. We walked by a babbling brook, two shallow ponds called the Swinston Ponds, and a giant wood carving of two otters scurrying around a column. It only took ten minutes to walk from the aviary to the gates, and I highly recommend you visit this relatively remote part of the park. (We encountered no other people along this walk, you see.)

The Cat Gates are two stone arches that stand several meters high, and atop each of them are panther-like cats, one each for each arch. These arches, hidden away in a forest taken out of Narnia, were a quite majestic sight to behold. Now, the three of us really like animals (and cats in particular), so we’re biased, but these arches were a joy to see.

We spent a good couple hours at Culzean, and we worked up an appetite. So, we headed back towards Prestwick and stopped by a restaurant in Ayr called the No. 22 Bar and Grill. As it was our last night to enjoy a Scottish dinner, we all had fish and chips with mushy peas and for dessert a sticky toffee pudding (my mother opting instead for a coffee liqueur). It was quite good, but it didn’t quite beat our number one dining experience: MUMS in Edinburgh. But that’s a tall bar to beat!

Stray Observations:

1. If you’re coming from the north to visit Culzean, I highly recommend you drive on the A719, as this route provides gorgeous views of the Firth of Clyde.

2. One thing we noticed is how friendly it is driving over here. If you want to let someone in who’s been waiting to turn right, just allow a gap in the queue of cars, flash your lights, and let them in. If you need to leave room for oncoming traffic, flash your lights to indicate that you’ll be the one getting out of the way, pull over, and then let them pass. Friendly hand waves usually accompany the exchange as well.

3. Even the road signs are friendly. When you exit a work zone, the sign says something like, “Leaving work zone. Sorry for any delays.” (No, seriously. The sign really did apologize for delays.) Also, if the sign is indicating you’re traveling faster than the posted speed limit, it will flash your speed with a frowning face. When you drive at or below the speed limit, the face turns to a smile. (No, really. It really did.)

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