Scotland // Three Places to Visit in South Ayrshire

Robert Burns Brig O'Doon, Alloway, South Ayrshire

This summer marked 9 whole years since I graduated from university, left my Youth Work job and moved back to Aberdeenshire, yet some small part of me still thinks of Prestwick and South Ayrshire as my second home. It is a place filled with warming memories; with people who weren’t my family yet treated me as if I were theirs; and where I first stepped out into adult life, independently, and began to grow. For these reasons and more, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

I was delighted, then, to have an excuse to revisit the area last weekend and to introduce J, for the first time, to the people and place that were so important to me.

We didn’t have a huge amount of time to explore - between driving from Aberdeen and back again and fitting in some catch-ups over coffee - so I had to prioritise what I took him to see.

Here are three of my favourite places to visit in South Ayrshire, which we managed to fit in to one day...

Burns Cottage, Alloway, South Ayrshire

Alloway, aka Burns Country

Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, was born just outside of Ayr in a small village (now a suburb of the town) known as Alloway and South Ayrshire is very much Burns’ Country.

Preserved by the National Trust for Scotland, the thatched roof cottage in which he was born in 1759 and spent the first seven years of his life still remains, juxtaposed against the more modern buildings and passing cars on one of Alloway’s busier streets.

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Alloway, South Ayrshire

There are nods to the area’s most famous son scattered throughout Alloway, including the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, housing exhibits, a cafe and gift shop; the Poet’s Path, lined with references from his poetry (from a metal mouse sculpture, to an 'Ae Fond Kiss' engraving, to a great big haggis made of stone); and the Burns Monument, which you can climb for pretty views at the top.

Robert Burns - Alloway Auld Kirk, South Ayrshire

We were also able to visit Alloway’s Auld Kirk and graveyard, where some of Burns’ family were buried. If you’re at all familiar with Tam O’Shanter, this is the haunted site at which Tam was said to have spied the witches and warlocks who proceeded to give him chase. The same poem also refers to the nearby Brig O’Doon, a pretty medieval bridge, where Tam’s horse Meg loses her tail to the hands of a witch.

I’m not sure how much my English boyfriend appreciated my incessant recital of Scottish poetry throughout our visit, but I for one loved exploring and seeing the poems I grew up learning come to life.

Dunure Castle, South Ayrshire

Dunure Castle

Our next stop was just a 15 minute drive from Alloway, taking us to the harbour village of Dunure and its ruined castle, perched on the edge of the Ayrshire coast.

In my mind it will always be the home of youth group BBQs and many fond memories, but the castle dates back to the 13th century and has a long and complicated history as a fortress under the Kennedy family, including a kidnapping, the occasional murder, and a visit from Mary Queen of Scots.

Dunure, South Ayrshire

It’s been a ruin since the 1700s, but has seen more drama in recent years as a filming location - along with the local harbour - for the third and fourth seasons of the Outlander TV series.

The wind was wild at this point in the afternoon, but we explored the doocot, the labyrinth and the accessible parts of the ruin, and on a less blustery day the walk down to the beach is lovely.

Culzean Castle, South Ayrshire

Culzean Castle and Country Park

For our third stop of the day, we headed slightly further South along the coast to Maidens, with Culzean Castle our eventual aim.

Once belonging to the same family who owned Dunure, Culzean Castle and its 260 hectare estate - including a deer park and swan pond - are managed by the National Trust for Scotland these days. Entry to the country park alone will cost you £11.85, or £17 if you want to include castle entry. (It’s almost worth it just to see the stunning oval staircase.)

Culzean Castle, South Ayrshire

I’ll let you in on a little “secret” though: access to the grounds is entirely free if you enter through the wooden staircase up from Maidens beach.

Parking as far north as possible at Maidens (just before you end up in the caravan park) and heading on foot along the beach, it’s only a 15 minute walk to the stairway, which takes you up into the grounds beside the pagoda and swan pond, from which you’re free to explore the estate.

The castle itself is beautiful and wouldn’t be out of place in a princess story, and there is loads to see and do in the vast grounds, making it an ideal place for a walk and a picnic, or a whole day out with the family.

Food / Coffee

All that walking and fresh Scottish air left us in need of a good refuelling in the form of coffee and food.

We had multiple caffeine fixes throughout our short visit, sampling a small selection of the area’s coffee shops as we caught up with friends, but my favourite had to be Costley’s on Prestwick’s main street. 

A ‘Patisserie and Chocolatier’, one side of the venue sells handmade chocolates, ice-cream and exquisite looking desserts to take-away, while the other operates as a coffee shop, serving breakfasts, lunches, milkshakes and hot drinks. I’ve sampled their ice-cream before (of course!), but it was all about the coffee on this occasion, which ticked all the boxes for being good quality, having multiple dairy-free alternatives, and being reasonably priced too. 

When it came to food, we headed to No. 22 at the Fox and Willow in Ayr, in the building that used to be the Carrick Lodge. I happened across the Fox and Willow on Instagram and was won over by their beautiful pictures of food, cocktails and quirky decorative art, so booked a table for the Saturday night and hoped that expectation and reality would marry up.

It definitely did not disappoint.

The food in this award-winning restaurant was as well-presented as their photos suggested and equally tasty; the cocktail list was excellent and extensive; and the beautifully decorated venue was serving me warm and welcoming pub vibes, with a more sophisticated twist.

They had a good selection of vegetarian options throughout all courses and I opted for a bit of a Tex-Mex theme with the buffalo cauliflower to start, followed by fajitas for main - a mammoth and delicious portion of vegetables I wouldn't usually anticipate in such a dish (think butternut squash, potato wedges, and potentially some celeriac), which worked surprisingly well with the spicy sauce and accompaniments.

My not-so-vegetarian partner chose the whipped burrata cheese with a tomato salad and fennel crackers (all delicious) for his starter and then an epic-looking steak and ale pie for his main, with a side of onion rings to share.

I can't rate the food highly enough, with the only "disappointment" the fact that neither of us could clear our plates!

It was also excellent value for money, particularly on a Friday and Saturday night when they offer two courses and a cocktail for £16.50. (As you can imagine, this menu is very popular so it's probably best to book in advance for these days.)

Pretty much the perfect way to end a long and enjoyable day exploring South Ayrshire - an area of Scotland full of beautiful scenery, fascinating history and lots of friendly charm.


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  1. I had two places in mind for my next vacation i.e Switzerland & Scotland. However, I chose the former since Switzerland Ranked Best Country in 2020. I will be visiting there soon but, I will plan for a Scotland vacation in the second half of 2020.