Scotland’s hidden secrets.
There is something very exciting happening in Ayrshire right now. Often regarded as Scotland’s last known secret, Ayrshire is often passed by on the tourist ‘must see’ checklist while on their holidays in Scotland. All this is about to change as the new Coig project has been designed to bring in more tourism to the Ayrshire coast.
Gaelic for ‘five’ – The Coig is a series of five touring routes around Ayrshire, the Clyde Coast and Clyde Islands of Arran, Bute and Cumbrae. Each route is designed to showcase the area’s natural beauty, outdoor adventure, history, heritage and nature. Perfect for everything from one day to multi day tours.
Being an Ayrshire lad myself, I am extremely excited about this new venture as we feel that tourists who visit Scotland will be adding their trips to Ayrshire as one of their highlights of their holidays.
I decided to download the app and to put it to the test as we wanted to see how user friendly it really is. First of all I planned to use the app for a 3 day tour of Ayrshire, following The Arran and The Shire routes that are available. First of all I was struck on how user friendly the app was. Within a couple of clicks I could easily find the best route that I wanted to take on my journey, and so our adventures had begun.
Our first stop on the Shire route is one of my favourite locations in Scotland, Alloway. This charming little suburb of Ayr is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. It is here that you can visit the famous Burns Cottage where he was born. Other famous landmarks included in his work are the Burns Monument and Memorial Gardens, The Brig o’ Doon and the ruins of Alloway Kirk where Roberts father William is buried. A visit to The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum is a must as it includes over 5,000 Burns artefacts including his handwritten manuscripts, the pistol he carried while an excise man and a lock of his hair. Whether you’re a die-hard Burnsian or brand new to the bard, a day immersing yourself here will open your eyes and ears to an enduring hero of Scotland’s literary heritage.
A short drive down the Ayrshire coast offers some stunning views over the Firth of Clyde and this is where we took our first glimpse of the tiny 19th century fishing village called Dunure. Dunure is perhaps most famous for its ruined castle that hangs on the sea cliffs. Although it has been a ruin for at least three hundred years, Dunure Castle was once the main fortress of the powerful Kennedy family, the Earls of Cassilis. Today the Kennedys are much more closely associated with Culzean Castle, less than four miles down the coast.
The village of Dunure and the Castle was also used in the TV show Outlander, appearing in seasons 3 and 4. The village harbour was transformed into the port where Jamie and Claire met Jared, and board the Artemis for their journey to Jamaica. The castle was also used for the scenes where Claire and Jamie watch young Ian swim out to Silkies’ Island.
Culzean castle was our final location for the day as we followed the app route further down the coast. The castle itself is perched on the Ayrshire cliffs and was designed by the famous architect Robert Adam in the late 18th century. The castle is filled to the turrets with treasures that tell the stories of the people who lived here and guided tours are available. The castle also has strong link to President Eisenhower, as the top-floor apartment was presented to him for his lifetime in recognition of his role during World War II.
You could easily spend a full day exploring the castle and its beautiful gardens. If you are a keen walker, or enjoy admiring gardens, have an interest in architecture or just enjoy soaking up some history, this place is the perfect location for you.
Our next journey was something that I was getting really excited about as we were getting close to our Arran adventure. Visiting any one of Scotland’s islands is always a treat, but Arran for me is the jewel in the crown. Known to be called ‘Scotland in Miniature’, the north of the island is very mountainous and is home to the mighty Goatfell Mountain, and the south of the island is very flat and mainly used for agricultural use, which is very similar to the Scotland landscape.
I drove the short distance to the Cal Mac ferry terminal in Ardrossan and boarded the ferry that would take me to the Isle of Arran. A short 1 hour ferry ride and we had finally arrived in Brodick. Dominated by the towering peak of Goatfell, it’s one of the largest and busiest settlements on Arran and is the main commercial centre and ferry port on the island.
My first job on arriving on the island was to find my accommodation for the night. Arran has a wide range of B&B’S, hotels and Airbnb’s to choose from. I decided to stay in an Airbnb in Brodick for the night which wasn’t far from the local shops to buy some supplies for the following day. It was a comfortable stay with beautiful views on offer. What more could I have asked for.
The next day I got myself kitted out and ready for an awesome days hike up Arrans most famous peak, Goatfell. This walk can also be found on The Coig app for those outdoor adventurers. The route begins with a path approximately 5km long each way from Brodick Castle, and reaches the summit by the east ridge of the mountain. A well guided path will take you through the forests and up to the very top of the mountain making it easier to follow for those who are visiting the area for the first time.
Even though Goatfell isn’t a Munroe (a Scottish mountain over 3000ft), it offers the most amazing panoramic views of the surrounding areas from its summit. To the west you can see the Paps of Jura and to the east you can see the entire Ayrshire coast. Even when you look south, the ancient volcanic plug of Ailsa Craig comes into view as well as the coast of Northern Ireland. I have always loved the great outdoors and to get out there and breathe in the fresh air as I scale a mountain, for me there is no greater feeling. I managed to walk the entire route in less than 5 hours at a nice leisurely pace. This allowed me to sit down and enjoy the views and to take some nice photographs along the way. On the way back down the mountain as you follow the same route, you can visit the Arran Brewery or sit and reward yourself with a nice refreshment at the Wineport. These two are very popular locations for hill-walkers who have just climbed the mountain and who are looking for that perfect reward.
After the walk I decided that the day was still young and there could be more locations I could visit. I decided to follow the Wild and Free route on The Coig app through the north coast of Arran which would take me to some amazing places across the island.
One of the first locations I came across was Lochranza Castle. It sits on a peninsula overlooking the village of Lochranza, and extending into the beautiful Loch Ranza itself. Steeped in history, Robert the Bruce is said to have landed at Lochranza Castle en-route from Ireland to take the Scottish Throne.
The exploring continued and I took the journey towards one of Arrans hidden gems, The Machrie Standing Stones. What a site to behold! A Neolithic centre of ritual and domestic activity, scattered across a lonely moorland all dating to between 3500 and 1500 BC. There are many standing stones in Scotland but for me these group of stones have to be the most beautiful as they lie on an open moorland surrounded by sheep with the Arran mountain ranges sitting away in the distance. Rumours of glowing lights during the evening hours in this area of Arran are common and they continue to attract people from all over the world not only because of how ancient they are but also how mysterious they are to many.
Night was creeping in and I decided to call it a day and head back to Brodick for a decent feed and kip. The time was 7pm and my stomach was truly rumbling so one click of the app and a list of cafes and restaurants easily appeared on front of me. I decided having lost 4000 calories from today’s exploits, I could treat myself and have a nice pizza. What a great find it was at The Parlour. Smiling staff and the best pizza in the country makes this little place a must visit. You can even have some of Arrans Ice Cream to finish the day off in style.
Another day gone and only one left to go. Where did all the time disappear to? One things for sure is that the app has really helped make this trip more enjoyable and stress free.
No trip to Arran is ever complete till you visit the stunning Brodick Castle. This castle was once a fortress to be reckoned with due to its strategic position overlooking the Firth of Clyde. My time exploring Brodick Castle was great, the Castle Gardens are absolutely stunning especially when the weather is great. After two years of refurbishment, the castle has reopened with an exciting new visitor experience, focusing on the stories of the people who once lived here, and with interactive activities to bring the building to life.
Following the app I was able to journey towards the south side of Arran taking in the lovely seaside villages of Lamlash and Whiting Bay. The views across the Firth of Clyde from here were amazing, especially with the Holy Isle being so close.
The highlight of the day was visiting the brand new Lagg Distillery. It opened to the public in June 2019, and is a new distillery on the Isle of Arran offering distillery tours, whisky tastings and much more. I cannot thank the staff enough for their kind generosity and hospitality. They really made my visit here so enjoyable. It is now the second distillery opened on the Isle of Arran by renowned whisky makers Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd. The Lagg Distillery is a peated whisky distillery offering tours and a taste of their new make spirit as well as exclusive peated drams produced at their sister Lochranza Distillery, based on the northern tip of the Isle of Arran. The distillery itself is a beautiful building and has a very friendly feel about the place. It also boasts a charming restaurant that offers a fine menu and amazing views over the Firth of Clyde.
Time was running out which made me a little sad as I had such an amazing time on the island. One more stop before we I headed home had to be the Kings Caves, a place I had never been to for over 10 years. It was the perfect way to say goodbye as I strolled along the superb coastal path, enjoying the impressive views of Drumadoon Bay and the surrounding scenery. The King’s Caves is located around 2.5kms north of the carpark and is one of several locations in which Robert the Bruce is said to have had his famed encounter with a spider. The perfect way to end my time in Arran.
My overall experience on the Isle of Arran and the Ayrshire coast was brilliant and using the Coig app made it an even better experience which I am sure will be a big hit with future tourists visiting the area. Over time I am sure that this will do wonders for tourism in Ayrshire and to help unfold the hidden gems that the area has to offer.