The Horizon Hotel - Ayr
The Horizon Hotel in Ayr was our base for this outing. The hotel was recently refurbished with comfortable rooms and a good restaurant. Room rates around £76 per couple and £48 for single occupancy are typical for hotels chosen for group visits.
For those who have not been on a weekend tour, many members arrive on the Friday evening but the tour is always scheduled to start at 9.30 a.m. prompt on the Saturday morning, by coach. On this outing around 30 people attended and we were privileged to be guided on both days by our colleague James Brown who entertained us with his extensive knowledge of the buildings, local peculiarities of place names and the rich history of Ayrshire.
SATURDAY, 16TH FEBRUARY
THE KENNEDYS - The all powerful House of Kennedy dominated this part of Ayrshire. Their land holding at its heightamounted to some 80,000 acres in 40 estates. The history of the Kennedys is documented by Michael Moss in the Edinburgh University Press publication "The Magnificent Castle of Culzean and the Kennedy Family".
Crossraguel Abbey, Tower and Gatehouse
Within the Abbey complex is the Abbot's Tower, dating from the 16th century and probably occupied for the first time by Abbot Quentin Kennedy. Interestingly, little remains of the north and east facades. Although protected from prevailing winds, the condition is most likely due to frost damage. This well illustrates the importance of reducing water ingress, even in ruins. An unusual feature to note is …the rectangular opening at the mid floor dining room accessing a "dumb waiter". The accommodation below served as a meeting room.
Beyond the tower is the gate house. Notice the square cap house on the round tower, similar for example to Tolquhan which the SCA visited in 2007. The round tower associated with the French influence on Scottish architecture in the early 16th century is symbolic of the influence of Catholicism and the square cap house may have been a deliberate snub, showing Protestant affiliations.
The story of Crossraguel Abbey is documented by Historic Scotland who now manage the site.
Our guide and SCA Councilmember James Brown has spentmany years developing Baltersanand his excellent website is at www.baltersan.com. This is acomprehensive site giving history,events, proposals, latestnews, and extensive gallery. An article from James, on Baltersan, was included in SCA Journal Issue 14.
A late 16th century square tower, defined by the crow step gables with 17th century additions. From the mid 17th century theproperty was acquired by the Kennedy family. The building has been the farmhouse since restoration some 150 years ago.As with many castles, a mason's hole is clearly visible, with archway above. This would be used originally as the main accessfor building works with ramped approach. This feature is also clearly visible at Baltersan.
Maybole Castle is beautifully illustrated by McGibbon and Rossand two sections are appended. Maybole was a nobleman's townhousebelonging to the Earls of Cassillis. The Kennedys similarlybuilt a vertical town house at the other end of Maybole. Maybolecontained within its burgh 28 baronial dwellings., Lady JeanHamilton, wife of the 6th Earl of Cassillis, was imprisoned withinthe top storey for running off with Sir John Faa, King of the Gypsies. The Earl was also famed for "roasting in sop" Allan Stewart,Commendator of Crossragueal Abbey in order to "persuade" himto sign over the Abbey lands. The local history society are currentlycustodians of the castle and hope to acquire the building inorder to conserve it. Maybole itself was a market town, embracingthe weaving industry. In time this industry was replaced with bootand shoe manufacturing on a grand scale. Both industries havenow disappeared.
The lands belonged to Thomas Bruce, nephew of King Robert. The present ruined tower, however, is later, possible early 16th century. McGibbon and Ross state "It is unfortunate that such a good specimen of our domestic style of the sixteenth century should have been allowed to fall into the neglected and semi-ruinous state in which it now is." The squat tower stood at the corner of a courtyard unusually accessed through an arched tunnel below the main house.
The Electric Brae
We were treated to the mystery of Ayrshire's Electric Brae on our journey to Dunure. The illusion of free wheeling uphill is astonishing. Perhaps if all roads were built this way we could half our petrol bills.
Dunure Castle was one of the principle fortresses of mediaeval Carrick. Dunure or "Fort of the Yew Tree" demonstrates an early defence on this natural strong point. Successfully developed by the Kennedy family from the 13th c to the 16th c eclipsing the once great Bruce fortress at Turnberry by the 15th c. The castle consists of two distinct parts - the irregular shaped keep hanging over the rock and at lower level a later block with kitchens, hall and chambers. It was here that Allan Steward of Crossraguel Abbey was "roasted". The Castle was a ruin from the late 17th c. In 1999 Strathclyde Building Preservation Trust undertook major works to secure public access and ensure the long term integrity of the structure. Financial support came from Enterprise Ayrshire, South Ayrshire Council, Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Scotland. Unfortunately Dunure now has an air of neglect.
To round off our day, a brisk walk on the beach was an ideal appetiser prior to dinner. Another acquisition by the Kennedys in 1588, this ruined 16th c tower house is precariously perched on the cliff edge overlooking Ayr across the bay. With the numerous rock pools providing picture postcard views, we could reflect upon how long Greenan will survive before tumbling into the sea! And so, at the end of 'Day One', we retreated to the hotel for the customary refreshment and evening meal.
When the itinerary permits, a slightly later start on a Sunday is appreciated by all … breakfast, checking out and boarding the bus for a prompt 10.00 a.m. start.
A £40 million luxury hotel, spa and golf resort with an 18 hole Jack Nicholaus designed golf course created by the American Ritz Carlton organisation! For those SCA members who stayed in the Jack Nicolaus promoted Polaris World in 2006 beware the chalets!
The magnificent grey stone Robert Adam building overlooking the 300 acre site is stunning. Not to everyone's taste, with Nigel Tranter referring to it as "a huge and unsightly mansion". As is becoming the norm in Scotland, "enabling development", i.e. houses, is the catch.
Having been stripped of the roof to avoid rates, the building is still remarkably sound. Those of us who visited Melville Castle during the early days of restoration will appreciate that this project probably will happen.
Old Dalquharran Castle
Old Dalquharran Castle also is in ruins, but there are no such plans for restoration. The 15th c rectangular tower (c.f. Thomaston) is dominating from the south whilst a 17th c gable mansion presents a totally different character from the north. A sculpted buttress at one corner indicates ground problems and the cracking to the round tower mirrors the problem. Hopefully preservation and consolidation will be an integral part of the overall development. Needless to say, Dalquharran was a seat successively to various branches of the Kennedy family.
Is a fine example of a tall 16th c tower of L plan with a dominant round tower. The main stair, however, occupies most of the opposite north wing. The massive "pyramid" window is an original feature.
Brunston Golf Club was our venue for lunch, overlooking in the distance the few remain of Brunston Castle. Built by the Kennedys the T plan tower dates from the 17th c.
Penkill Castle entrance
Built by William Boyd, the grandson of Robert, Lord Kilmarnock, in the 16th c as a square plan tower, it was extended in the 17thc. The building fell into ruin and was restored by William Bell Scot, the Pre Raphaelite poet and artist. The house became a retreat for artists including William Morris and the rich interior is compelling. Asset stripping in the 1960s and late 1980s was criminal. Fortunately many of the artefacts have been returned by the generosity of local friends and supporters, Undoubtedly the highlight of our tour, the photographs should give a taste of this fine house.
CONCLUSION Returning to the hotel late afternoon, I am sure everyone had enjoyed the tour. Unusually we visited more ruins than normal but Penkill certainly redressed the balance. Only by visiting restored or largely intact buildings can we visualise and interpret the many ruins and the stylistic changes so closely linked to our country's history.
THANKS TO OUR HOSTS