12 Reasons to head to Ayrshire and Arran in 2022
By travel writer and broadcaster, Robin McKelvie
As a travel writer Robin McKelvie has spent over two decades on the road and visited over 100 countries. He loves his native Scotland, and Ayrshire and Arran is one of his favourite places. Join Robin as he shares with you 12 reasons you too must visit Ayrshire and Arran in 2022. . .
1. TO HEAR STORIES FROM AYRSHIRE AND ARRAN
- Visit Scotland have designated 2022 the Year of Stories. And there is no better place to be during this theme year than right here in Ayrshire and Arran, as this is a land of rich legends, swirling myths and endless stories. We are talking the spectacular corner of the country that gave Scotland Robert the Bruce, who historians reckon was born on the Ayrshire coast at Turnberry Castle. Then, of course, there is Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard. His life and work is celebrated at sites across the region with his birthplace of an essential pilgrimage spot for Burns devotees, which leads us to. . .
2. FIND BURNS IN THE AYRSHIRE VILLAGE OF ALLOWAY
- Burns was born in a tiny wee thatched cottage in the village of Alloway. Not just any cottage – it’s the one that stands today as a poignant testament to his simple beginnings. Burns sights dot the village, from the Brig o’ Doon – which appeared so dramatically in Tam o’ Shanter – to the hulking Burns Monument, with a highlight the modern Burns Birthplace Museum. Audio visual trickery is used to passionately bring the bard and both his colourful works and colourful life alive.
3. TERRIFIC AYRSHIRE TOWNS
- Ayrshire is famous for its gorgeous countryside, its rolling hills, rich farmland and its sandy beaches. But urban Ayrshire stars too. All the big towns are worth visiting, not least Ayr itself. I recommend spending time in Troon, Girvan and Kilmarnock too, and how about heading for a dip in the old world outdoor Clydeside swimming pool of Gourock? I like exploring picturesque villages like Kirkoswald and I’m – like Robert Louis Stevenson – a fan of the wee village of Ballantrae, with its views out to Ailsa Craig, plus West Kilbride, which peers out over Arran.
4. GO CASTLE CRAZY IN AYRSHIRE AND ARRAN
- One of my favourites castles in the world is right here in Ayrshire. I’m talking about mighty, clifftop-hugging Culzean Castle. It is, of course, more of a grand country house than a fortress, crafted beautifully by Robert Adam. It swims in history and when you’ve worked your way through the centuries, the expansive grounds await with glorious walks exploring the Culzean flora and fauna. If you love castles you’ve come to the right region of Scotland. You’ve still got Dean Castle, Dundonald Castle, Seagate Castle, Greenan Castle and Maybole Castle to check out. And then Dunure Castle, Hunterston Castle, Fairlie Castle, Newark Castle. Plenty more castles beside!
5. BOUNTIFUL BEACHES ACROSS AYRSHIRE AND ARRAN
When I think of Ayrshire & Arran I think of beaches as I’ve spent many a happy day on the local sands when I was a kid and with my own daughters now too. There are superb beaches sprinkled all the way down the Ayrshire coast from Largs in the north to Ballantrae in the south, even great beaches in towns like Ayr and Troon. Scotland’s Beach Awards in 2021 recognised not just Girvan, but Maidens, Prestwick and Troon too.
6. EXPLORE AYRSHIRE’S MAGIC MUSEUMS
- Culture vultures can dig deep in Ayrshire exploring its multitude of museums and cultural centres. The Dick Institute offers the largest museum and gallery space in Ayrshire, with its rich permanent collection backed up by an array of temporary exhibitions. The Scottish Maritime Museum pays testament to Ayrshire and Scotland’s fascinating maritime heritage, while, the West Kilbride Museum delves deep into local history. As does the North Ayrshire Heritage Centre.
7. FAMILY-FRIENDLY AYRSHIRE AND ARRAN
- I take my own kids a lot to Ayrshire and they love it. One of my earliest memories as a kid was heading to the old Butlin’s. So it was a joy to visit Heads of Ayr Farm Park with my own daughters. It’s brilliant fun here with a wealth of trampolines, bumper boats and quad bikes. We planned on staying a half day, but were here all day! We love exploring green spaces too and Ayrshire has those in abundance. A family favourite is the Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, with it 280 square kilometres of nature. Attractions in Ayrshire and Arran are really welcoming to families so your kids certainly won’t be bored!
8. ENJOY THE GREAT OUTDOORS
- If you enjoy heading out to explore the great outdoors you’ll feel at home in Ayrshire. Strap on your walking boots to explore regional parks with rugged hills, or ease along the sandy littoral. There are myriad opportunities for cyclists too. If you fancy getting away from it all Loch Doon awaits. Or how about a challenge in the forests with Tree Top Trials? For something completely different leave the modern world behind and bash out to the striking isle of Ailsa Craig and ramble up to the top to appreciate a view of Ayrshire and Arran that will have you promising to yourself to get back here asap!
9. AYRSHIRE GOLF
- It was no accident that when Donald Trump was looking for a brilliant, world-famous golf course to buy he headed for Ayrshire. You can play the Ailsa at Turnberry, where the famous ‘Duel in the Sun’ was fought to decide the winner of the British Open in 1977. Royal Troon has also, of course, hosted the British Open and indeed it will swing back into Troon in 2024. There are many more courses dotted around this spectacular corner of Scotland to suit all skill levels.
10. ESCAPE TO CUMBRAE
- Great Cumbrae and Little Cumbrae are a joyous brace of Ayrshire isles. The bigger isle is the most visited, especially the popular resort of Millport, whose recently revamped waterfront is looking back to its ‘doon the watter’ heyday best. Take a tour at Isle of Cumbrae Distillers, gawp in awe at the towering Cathedral of the Isles, or hike or take a bike around this compact isle. You can cycle around in a day – I suggest you stay on longer and enjoy this relaxed oasis. Then you’ll have time to pop over and explore wild and wildly beautiful Little Cumbrae. Sea Clyde can zoom you over in no time from Millport or Largs on the mainland. You can check out my Cumbrae blog here.
11. DISCOVER ARRAN
- This magical island is a destination in its own right, more than justifying its reputation as ‘Scotland in Miniature’. One rugged half soars beyond the Highland Boundary Fault in a vault of mountains and tumbling glens, while the south reclines with rolling hills and sandy beaches. Arran is the only island to sport all of Scotland’s ‘Big Five’ wildlife. And then there are a brace of whisky distilleries and craft brewers, and a Taste of Arran you can savour all round this island through its fine produce. Walkers, golfers (there are seven courses!), cyclists and history buffs all love Arran. I can see why – I always take my young family over every year! I’ve been over 50 times now. You can find my blog on Arran here.
12. SAVOUR THE NEW AYRSHIRE AND ARRAN TASTE TRAILS
- A very welcome new arrival for 2022 are a stable of six fantastic taste trails for foodies to get stuck into. Choose from the Farm To Fork Taste Trail – a guide to the great retail outlets, farm shops and food producers. Or the Arran Taste Trail, which reveals how to get the best out of the island’s world-class food and drink. Or maybe try the Tipple Taste Trail, which opens up Ayrshire and Arran’s wonderful world of gin, beer and whisky. Cider and cassis too!