UK Destinations 2019 - Isle of Bute to Ayrshire, Scotland

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After two nights near Stirling, we'll pass back through Glasgow on the way to the west coast.  Less than an hour from the City is the tiny port village of Wemyss ("weems") where we'll embark with the car upon a CalMac ferry, headed to Rothesay, 35 minutes away on the Isle of Bute, for one B&B night.  CalMac is short for Caledonia-MacBrayne.  (that exquisite & haunting name Caledonia was a legacy of the Roman map makers)  

One of my guidebooks describes Rothesay as "a faded Georgian city".  Our main destination today is Mount Stuart, a Baronial Manor house & garden located a few miles south of Rothesay, which has belonged to the Marquesses of Bute, since the 1870s.  It's often referred to as "a Victorian Jewel".

Wikipedia states that Mount Stuart is  a "flamboyant example of 19th Century Gothic Revival architecture".  Visitors (Google map comments) rave about their experiences here, and mention Arts & Crafts furniture and beautiful stained glass windows, and walks through the woods or to the beach. Tourists really seem to connect with this place, and come away impressed. 

We're going to drop off our luggage at our B&B and will then drive to Mt. Stuart.  Our overnight B&B stay is located on the Rothesay waterfront, a short walk from modest Rothesay Castle and the local restaurants.     

where we are in Scotland Wemyss Bay the Highlands are north of here  
  Rothesay Mount Stuart

The next morning we take a return ferry to Wemyss and then drive south. We'll see a few coastal towns before we get to Ayr & Alloway, Robert Burns territory.   

beach at Irvine Maritime Museum, in Irvine  

From Irvine it's only a short drive east to Kilmarnock to see authentic & impressive Dean Castle. One of the four of us travelers may have a historical connection to this place.  Update - this Castle is closed for renovation until 2021, although the scenic Castle grounds are still open.        

We may stop for a photo or two....

Dean Castle in winter beautiful stone work

Coming back to the coastal drive from the Castle places us at Troon, with two seafood restaurants, MacCallums Oyster Bar, or the less expensive Wee Hurrie, both located on the main boat harbor.  I mention this only because Fodor's highly rates both places, and, the setting sounds atmospheric, being right on the waterfront.  

Having had another huge UK B&B breakfast in Rothesay, I doubt we'd be ready for lunch...and we have a dinner reservation ahead.  

four images of Troon   Royal Troon golf course summer sports

When we arrive in the colorful old town of Ayr, I think we'll head a little further south, bypassing the town to go to Culzean Castle, one of the most-visited Castles in Scotland, in a spectacular setting.  We'll get back to Ayr & Robbie Burns later.  (its "Cullean" Castle because the z is silent)

Culzean Castle and Country Park    
    Ike was here

Culzean Castle was designed & built by Robert Adam, Scotland's foremost neo-Palladian architect, constructed between 1777 and 1792. 

This was during Robert Burn's lifetime, his family living & farming just a few miles further inland.      

Besides having elegant interiors, outside is an impressive walled garden, and this is a huge property, with walking trails all around, some going through the woods, or along the cliff, or, dropping down to the ocean.  

Eisenhower Hotel at the Castle - During WWII, the upper floors of this Castle were remodeled for the private use of General Dwight W. Eisenhower, the US Military Commander in Chief for the D-Day invasion of France and for all that followed after.  Whenever General Eisenhower needed time off to relax, he came here, traveling in a clandestine manner.  He stayed here 3 times during the war, and once when he was President.  

These days, visitors can rent the same rooms which Ike stayed in, from 250 quid & up a night, in a one-of-a-kind place. 

Fodor's Scotland:  "It would be hard to imagine a more spectacular location for an overnight stay than the upper floors of Culzean Castle, which looks out towards (the Inner Hebrides Isle of) Arran and the Atlantic Ocean.  Pros - beautiful setting; luxurious lodging; a strong sense of history.  Cons - a little remote; rather formal; not for minimalists."   

Robt. Burns country


small coastal town  
  he became 'larger than life' Robt. Burns birthplace museum 'Auld Kirk' in Alloway

About Robert Burns -

"Native of Ayrshire, Robert Burns (1759-96) is one of Scotland's treasures. The National Poet of Scotland had a style that was his and his alone. His most famous song Auld Lang Syne is heard everywhere around the world, on New Year's Day. Burns' talent, charisma, and good looks made him popular with both upper and lower classes, especially with the ladies, and their servants, during his celebrity period in Edinburgh." (paraphrased from Wikipedia)  

Back in Ayr we have an early dinner reservation at Chestnuts Hotel, and two blocks away is the endless beach on the Irish Sea.  We might also go for a walk there prior to dinner.   

Chestnuts Hotel

looks a bit rich, no?


Then we stay one night at a farmhouse B&B about 7 miles east and uphill from Ayr, at a tiny town called Tarbolton. Once again, we are out in the country. 

Robert Burns' Life

Burns' Mom Agnes Broun was from a family steeped in Scotland's musical traditions. When Robert was a child, she and her sisters or other relatives daily sang old Scots Ballads about legends & myths, fairies & evil spirits. They sang bawdy songs too. Red-haired Agnes supposedly had a beautiful voice, and early biographers of Burns credited her with being hugely influential on his development as a poet & ballad writer. 

About his Mom's relative Betty Davidson, a live-in helper during much of his childhood, Robert later wrote that she "had, I suppose, the largest collection in the county of tales & songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies, ....giants, enchanted towers, dragons, and other trumpery."       

In his late teenage years, Robbie Burns began to compile traditional Scots folk songs.  His innate wit and sense of both irony & sentimentality lead him to revise many of the old tunes & he often improved the lyrics.  Burns became a self-taught musicologist, deeply immersed in Scotland's traditional language & culture.  

Burns would eventually publish three huge editions of poems & traditional songs, which were immediately sold out.  Unfortunately, this did not translate into income for him, because he tended to underestimate how popular his writings would be, and badly undersold his publishing rights, the outcome being that other people became rich on publishing his writings.   

Also, at that time there were no legal 'royalties' for authors, and should their book become a best-seller, and lead to additional printings, they got nothing.  

Once he rocketed to fame, Burns became the toast of Edinburgh's high society, and he was very successful and made a huge impression wherever he went. Robbie was in truth a real original, but his story reveals he is a farm kid, perhaps a bit naive about contractual issues.

Robert Burns was indeed a farm kid.  He "grew up in poverty and hardship, with years of severe manual farm labor, leaving its tracks in his premature stoop and a weakened constitution." (Wikipedia) 

After his success as a poet and balladeer, Burns, nearly broke, moved his family to Ellisland Farm, way down south at Dumfries.  Once again (just like his father) he found it very rough going, and he couldn't break even.  The ups and downs of the Scottish economy also played a part, and Scottish trade suffered terribly during the American Revolution, during Robert's lifetime.  Scotland seaports suddenly lost access to all of their global-reach ports, because of an English Embargo.  Times became pretty tough.    

Burns was finally recommended for a government job as an Excise Agent, requiring riding 30 to 40 miles a day on horseback, in Cumbria (where the Lake District is) looking for moonshiners, or illegal whisky distilleries.  Cumbria is not exactly close to Dumfries, so it was a long commute.    

Over time he proved competent and was promoted 2 or 3 times into management.  For a few precious years Robert Burns worked at an office in Dumfries, a mile from home, and his little family grew & thrived.  His wife was a very strong character.  Best of all, farming and hard scrabble times were finally over for both of them. 

The Burns House in Dumfries is supposedly a good place to visit, because it reflects those good times.  But that's on a later page.

Unfortunately Burns lost two staff members to illness during the excessively long & harsh winter of 1795-96, and he had to fill in for them.  He was a dedicated employee and by spring Burns was physically spent and he passed away in July 1796, at the age of 37, from rheumatic fever.   

Though his life was short, he has cast a long shadow, over the centuries.

Being translated into at least 50 languages implies that he's 'gone global' and you could say that his old Scot's dialect & lyrics are fairly well-traveled. 

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