Scottie's Diary

- Culzean Castle and Country Park

<LI>Culzean Castle</LI>

Understandably one of the most popular properties of the National Trust for Scotland, Culzean (pronounced Kull-ANE with the accent on the second syllable) Castle and Country Park is above a cliff on the Ayrshire coast overlooking the estuary of the river Clyde, with the island of Arran seen in the distance. It is often called the "jewel in the crown" of all the National Trust properties. When asked "What is your favourite place to visit in Scotland?" I invariably reply Culzean. It's an easy 75 minute drive from my home, north of Glasgow and in recent years I have been known to make between 15 and 18 trips there during the spring, summer and autumn. The country park is open all year round but the castle and visitor centre are open only from 1 April to the end of October. You can find its location and the surrounding roads on this map.

It was a Kennedy family who established a tower there from the 12th century and an L-shaped tower house was built in the 1590s. James Kennedy of Dunure married Mary, a daughter of King Robert III in 1407 and the descendants of James and his five brothers spread over the south-west of Scotland, at one stage owning nearly 40 estates between them.

But it was not until the 18th century that the wealthy family, now known as the Earls of Cassillis, engaged Robert Adam to design a splendid castle, both inside and out. It was David Kennedy, the 10th Earl of Cassillis who began the work in 1777 but it was not completed until 1792. And to add to the wonders, a 565 acre parkland surrounding the castle was designed by pupils of Capability Brown.

The extended castle designed by Adam incorporated a large drum tower with a circular saloon inside (which overlooks the sea), a magnificent oval staircase and a suite of well-appointed apartments. The current owner, The National Trust for Scotland, has retained a large selection of beautiful furniture, armour, weapons and paintings. Regrettably, photography is not allowed inside the castle (as in all their properties), but even so, a conducted tour is well worth while.

When Culzean Castle was given by the Kennedy family to the National Trust in 1945, they asked that part of the castle should be given to General Eisenhower for his lifetime, as recognition for his role as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. There is an exhibition showing his connection with Culzean and his visits to the castle.

If you want to see more pictures illustrating the castle, there is a Slide Show and there are more videos on Culzean covering the country park, flowers (and even food) to be found at the Slide Show Index.

Walled Garden

Many Scottish castles had walled gardens added to them in later centuries and Culzean is no exception. It is an extensive affair with a long herbaceous border full of colour in high summer and other large borders near the wall in which swathes of dahlias, gladioli, cosmos and other flowers catch the eye in summer and autumn. There is also an apple orchard and many visitors are surprised to see tall date palms soaring into the sky. The greenhouse too is well worth a visit, with its colourful display of more tender plants such as passion flower and a vinery with clusters of grapes.

Each year, the border beside the full length of the greenhouse is filled with an eye-catching display of annuals such as gazanias and marigolds

Having taken hundreds of photos of flowers in the Culzean walled garden, it was difficult to select the ones to leave out of the video of the walled garden Slide Show, so this one is a wee bit longer (five minutes) than I intended! This, and the other slide show in this feature page, can be found at the Slide Show Index

Fountain and Castle Garden
In addition to the walled garden, which is a short walk from the castle, there are terraces filled with plants below the castle itself and below that is the Fountain Court Garden, an area of grass with an impressive fountain, surrounded by trees, shrubs and a long flower border which manages to produce something colourful from spring right through to autumn.

Country Park

The woodlands of the estate are a maze of pathways through woodlands and along cliff-top walks, past a deer park, an old ice house, an enchanting Camellia House and drifts of wild flowers. You can also get down to a beach, overlooked by the castle. In the spring, the woods are full of snowdrops and later there are drifts of bluebells. It is little wonder that many people make return visits to Culzean.

Rhododendrons are a major feature of the Culzean and although many are long established species, some magnificent new varieties have been planted in recent years, with huge blooms cultivated by modern horticulturalists. There are azaleas too, in the spring time and if you go to Culzean early enough in the year, there is an impressive display of long-established, towering magnolia trees. There is a video Slide Show dedicated to the rhododendrons and magnolias.

Wild Life
With all those trees around, Culzean is a haven for birds, including summer visitors such as chiffchaff as well as the residents who, like the chaffinch (pictured here), robin and sparrows have learned to hang around the eating areas to grab any crumbs that we messy humans leave behind. Over the years I've had the opportunity to photograph many of these birds and here is a video Slide Show of a selection of them, namely blackcap, bullfinch, chaffinch (2), chiffchaff, cormorant, cygnets and swans, heron, madarin duck (2), robin (2), swan, thrush, tree creeper, wagtail.

I have a particular interest in butterflies and all those flowers attract them on a regular basis. Most of the common butterflies can be seen here each year and a few of the rarer ones too, like the Common Blue. Of course, I had to create a video Slide Show of the various butterflies too.

With a number of ponds and lochans around the estate, water-loving insects such as dragonflies and damselflies have made their home there. Sometimes they will stray from the water and the woods to the walled garden where they can be seen by more visitors.

The herd of red deer at Culzean is in a large field not far from one of the car parks, so these normally shy animals have become fairly used to humans. They are therefore usually easy to see - including rival stags fighting in the rutting season and fawns being born and taking their first staggering steps in the spring. That's not something most of us can see in the wild. Recently, a stag with a light brown/creamy white coat has been introduced and many of his offspring have inherited his colouring.

There is a composite video Slide Show covering the woods, woodland flowers, red deer, dragonflies and some of the other wildlife to be seen at Culzean.

Visitor Centre and Places to Eat

The Adam-designed home farm has been converted into a Country Park visitor centre with a restaurant and shop. Food there ranges from hot meals at lunch time (my favourite is haggis and baked potato!) to scones and cakes and sandwiches. The visitor centre has an exhibition area above showing some of the history of the estate.

Close to the castle, on the Clock Tower Courtyard, a former coach house has been converted into a gift shop and behind that the Old stables on the cliff-top has been turned into a coffee shop. It's a delight on a warm summer's day to sit outside munching scones, butter and jam and feeding crumbs to the local birds that boldly hop down to feed.

After a long walk (or a short drive in a car if you are feeling lazy), to the Swan Pond, I often call in at the ice cream cafe there (pictured here) which, in addition to tea and coffee and snacks, sells delicious flavours of ice cream made in Arran - I can recommend the raspberry ripple! Behind the cafe is a courtyard with picnic tables sheltered by low buildings.

There is not space here to illustrate all these buildings (and the food) but to give you a flavour (sorry for the pun) of what is on offer, there is a short video Slide Show. If the Windows Media Video doesn't start when you click the link, just right click and download the file and play it on your PC. (If you have an Apple Mac PC, see How to play Windows Media Video (WMV) on Mac OS X ). As with all the slide shows on this page, it can also be accessed via the Slide Show Index.

Special Events
So as to provide additional income to maintain the estate, the National Trust for Scotland runs a number of special events at Culzean. These are extremely popular and attract large numbers of people. In recent years, there has been an annual medieval tournament with jousting and as part of the The Burns an' a' That Festival"" there has been a Gala orchestral concert in the Fountain Court Garden, overlooked by the castle - a magical amphitheatre.

In my view, Culzean isn't just the "jewel in the crown" of the National Trust for Scotland, it is the crowning glory of the heritage organisation and rightly the most visited property in the trust's portfolio.

You can find out more about Culzean Castle and its country park at the National Trust for Scotland's own Web Site, including details of Staying at Culzean, either in the Eisenhower apartments or in one of the holiday cottages on the estate.

October 2009

Where else would you like to go in Scotland?

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