From the Highlands to the Lowlands, Scotland offers an abundance of beautiful and majestic castles. In this article, we will take a tour of Culzean Castle and Country Park – one of our absolute favourite castles in Scotland.
Why You Should Take a Day Trip to Culzean Castle?
So by now I think we are all aware of the fact that I love Scottish castles, right?
I mean, what’s not to like?! Scottish castles can offer beautiful scenery, amazing history, wonderful libraries and mysterious, hidden staircases… I love castles, I really do, and during my past three years in Scotland I’ve visited more than just a handful of them. During the last year alone, I’ve seen the sun set on Urquhart Castle, I’ve had a sip of whisky at the shores of Eilean Donan Castle, I’ve followed the steps of both Monty Python, Outlander and Game of Thrones at Doune Castle near Stirling, and I’ve walked along the ruins of St Andrew’s Castle.
If you’re a castle enthusiast, just like me, I recommend that you have a look at the Castle Trail Itinerary created by Visit Scotland. This trail, taking you all over the Scottish Highlands, does indeed sound like a magnificent roadtrip!
Today, on the other hand, I’m going to show you something a wee bit different. You see, I’ve officially found my favourite Scottish castle, and I can promise you that this is a real treat! Culzean Castle, my new love, is actually considered to be a bit of an underdog in the Scottish castle-world: Culzean is located on the Ayrshire Coast, in the Lowlands rather than the Highlands (where all visitors love to go!); I have local sources claiming that this castle has never been involved in a direct conflict with the English (impressive, Culzean!) and it’s certainly not as well-known and popular as Eilean Donan or Urquhart Castle. Also, on the plus side, this is not a ruin. You can actually take a guided castle tour inside Culzean Castle!
I think we can all agree that a day trip to Culzean Castle sounds like an absolutely magnificent idea by now. But what if I tell you that the castle has something even more valuable to offer…
Let’s break it down, shall we? Here are the main reason why your next castle visit should be to Culzean:
- Location, Location, Location: Culzean Castle is located only a few hours outside Glasgow. In other words, a trip to Culzean Castle might be the perfect day trip from both Glasgow and Edinburgh.
- Location, Location, Location vol 2: Culzean Castle is located on the breathtakingly beautiful Ayrshire Coast. On a sunny day, you can see all the way to Northern Ireland. On a less sunny day, you can look over at Isle of Arran. Bonus points: the castle is in close proximity to Isle of Arran, so the two places can easily be combined for a great roadtrip of the Scottish isles and the Scottish lowlands.
- Amazing history – which you can dive right into during one of their amazing castle tours. This comes highly recommended, and you can read more about my experience further down in this article.
Yes, you read that right, my friend. This Scottish castle has its own llamas.
But hey, I’m getting a ahead of myself now. Let’s do a wee castle tour before we meet up with the llamas. Grab a cup of tea though, this might take a while!
Eisenhower and Clan Kennedy – Uncovering the History of Culzean Castle
Culzean Castle – pronounced Cul-layn – is mostly known for being the home of Marquess of Ailsa, a famous member of Clan Kennedy. Today, the castle is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and it’s open to the public. Built between 1777-1792, the castle was meant to function as a fine country house for members of the Kennedy Clan.
The history of Clan Kennedy starts long before the building of Culzean Castle. During the First War of Scottish Independence (1296-1328), the Kennedy’s supported Robert the Bruce. After being excommunicated by the Pope, Robert still managed to seize the crown and he became one of the most revered Scottish kings in history. It was under his rule that the Kennedy’s rose to the title Earls of Cassillis.
|A Grand Castle for the New Earl|
In the 1760s, Thomas Kennedy, the 9th Earl of Cassilis, decided to rebuild an old tower house into the perfect country home. The plan came to an unfortunate halt when Thomas died in 1775. He was immediately succeeded by his younger brother, David. The new Earl decided that Thomas’ plans weren’t grand enough for a man of his class, so he called in one of the most popular architects of that time – Robert Adam. Kennedy and Adam spent a total of 15 years trying to transform Culzean Castle into what must surely have been one of the most stately and imposing houses in 18th century Scotland.
However, it turned out that castle ownership is a rather expensive business.
After the castle had suffered for decades under lack of funding and reparations, the Kennedy heirs decided to donate the castle and its park to the National Trust in 1945. The agreement also included a note stating that the apartment at the top of Culzean Castle should be given to Dwight. D Eisenhower – a man that would soon be the President of the United States. Eisenhower received the apartment as a gratitude for his role as Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WW2.
Eisenhower did in fact visit Culzean on several occasions: his first visit was in 1946, and he later wrote letters back to his American friends encouraging them to come over to Scotland to try the ”fine golf” and to meet the friendly locals. Eisenhower stayed at Culzean only once while we was President.
While the apartment is closed for visitors, it’s actually possible to rent the flat during your stay at Culzean – if you have lots of $$$, that is.
Strolling Around the Culzean Castle and Country Park
The Culzean Castle is undoubtedly one of the most impressive Scottish architectural pieces of the 18th century. Despite this, a lot of visitors seem to prefer the astonishingly beautiful country park that surrounds the castle.
The country park, with its impressive size, is a paradise for both locals and tourists alike. You can wander freely around the grounds, admire the stunning ocean view from the cliff top, get wanderfully lost in the forest, or search for new hiking trails. My favourite trail was the Dolphin trail – a narrow pathway taking you down towards the beach and past the Old Gas House. I’m pretty convinced that the sound of waves can soothe even the most anxious of souls (at least it worked wonders on this fragile soul right here). Leaving the castle grounds behind, the Dolphin trails takes you for a 3 miles walk along the coast. You’ll get extra bonus point if you take your better (or worse) half for a walk here around sunset. It doesn’t get more romantic than that.
If ocean views are not your thing, I recommend that you stay in the country park itself and find your way to the Camellia House – an old, beautiful orangerie. The house was built in 1818, and it was supposed to be an orangerie with a very modern underfloor heating system. For unknown reasons, the orangerie failed to produce fruit. Later, the Kennedy’s used the house as a conservatory for Camellia flowers – hence its later name. It’s a stunning little house, and you can even have the orangerie as your wedding venue!
Llamas & Wildlife at Culzean Castle
Oh, we finally made it to my favourite part! Llamas!
To be fair, the fact that there are llamas at Culzean Castle came as a complete surprise to me. I was simply minding my own business and excitedly preparing for my guided castle tour, when a toddler in pink tutu suddenly threw a temper tantrum and yelled “llamas!!!!” at her poor dad.
“No, Sarah” said the father while he rather magically made a plastic tiara appear out of nowhere. The tiara found its way onto the head of the little, furious toddler. “Remember what I told you, all princesses have to visit the castle first to get their magic powers. Then we can see the llamas later”.
Faced with the importance of her royal duties, Sarah the Furious Toddler gave up on her tantrum and followed her dad into the castle. I, on the other hand, performed a 180 degrees turn and ran straight out of the castle entrance. As I have now reached the golden age of 25, I can (most of the time, at least) do exactly what I want, and my highest priority that day was llamas. It took me two minutes to locate a map, and it took me probably two nanoseconds to locate the llamas. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that I sprinted all the way over to the llamas, my heart pounding heavily in my chest and the sweat dripping like never before.
In my head, I was imagining all the things we would do together, the llamas and I. We could go for hikes together, get to know each other a bit better, have a soft and warm llama cuddle… I was even thinking about how my boyfriend would react if I told him that I had adopted a llama.
However, none of my scenarios survived once I was faced with this reality check:
If this does not immediately strike you as a deal breaker, then I assume that you have never experienced a tall, angry animal spitting you right in the face.
You might laugh, but this actually happened to me last year. While I was glamping in the Sahara, my friend Briar and I decided to head over to our camels to give them a pet before going to bed. ”Shouldn’t we be careful?” Briar whispered, suddenly stopping a few steps behind me.
”What do you mean?”
”I’ve heard that camels spit. Pretty hard, too,” Briar said.
”Oh, Briar, don’t be silly!” I laughed ”It’s the llamas that spit, not the camels! And they don’t spit very hard, so there’s nothing to worry about!”
Two seconds later I choked on my laugh, as two huge camels spat both me and Briar directly in the face.
I must admit, that experience gave me a whole new level of respect for spitting animals – llamas included.
Anyway, as of last year Culzean Country Park now has 8 llamas roaming around with a herd of deer. But why llamas, really? When faced with this question, head forester Ian Cornelius responded that “The Kennedy family (…) traditionally kept a menagerie in the castle grounds. This (…) contained exotic animals like bison and emus. We have therefore re-homed the llamas in order to keep up this tradition (…)”. The llamas originate from Dalkeith Country Park, so they should already be used to the Scottish climate. While I don’t recommend that you pet or feed them, you can still admire them and their flatmates, the deers, from afar. This certainly makes for an interesting day out!
Accommodation at Culzean Castle
As previously mentioned, Culzean Castle is not too far away from both Glasgow and Edinburgh, so it’s far from challenging to do this tour as a day trip.
However, if you are looking for hotels near Culzean Castle, you will find an abundance of them in Ayrshire. Besides the normal B&B budget-friendly options, I also recommend that you look into the accommodation offered by the National Trust for Scotland. Not only will you get the chance to sleep in a historical building, but your money will go to good use within the organization. Maybe your cash will help renovate an old castle or plant new trees in one of the national parks?
It’s also possible to rent one of the six available suits in Culzean Castle, but in return you’ll have to be more than willing to part with quite a considerable amount of your hard-earned $$$$. You can book your royal suite here. While it undoubtedly seem a bit pompous, I assume there’s quite a bunch of Americans out there that would be keen to sleep in Ike’s bed. But be warned – Culzean is an old castle and it’s reportedly the home of seven different ghosts. Do you dare to sleep here?
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