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Ayrshire is an area that is often overlooked by holiday makers, nevertheless it actually has a great deal to offer. For a start there is its coastline on the Firth of Clyde, from where there are easy ferry trips across to the Isles of Cumbrae, Bute and Arran and which is also the site of two of Scotland’s most prestigious golf courses, Troon and Turnberry.

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A Packed Itinerary

Another local attraction is Culzean Castle which is spectacularly perched on the clifftop, with its country Country Park. Inland, the country features a rolling landscape of rich farmland and you would expect nothing less from the home of Ayrshire cattle and Ayrshire bacon!

This is also Burns country, where Scotland's greatest poet lived and worked. You can visit many of the sites mentioned in the poems, Kirk Alloway, Souter Johnnie's Cottage and Burns' own home, to name but three.

North of Ayr

The main attraction in Kilmarnock, north-east of Ayr on the A77, is the 15th century Dean Castle and the 14th century keep, both of which were restored in the early 20th century. On display in the castle are 15th and 16th century Brussels tapestries, a collection of musical instruments and medieval armoury. The castle lies in a 81 hectare park with a visitor centre.

Dundonald Castle

    Prestwick, just north of Ayr on the A78, has a famous golf course and the Glasgow Prestwick international airport lies to the north-east of the town. Troon and Barassie, which lie north of Prestwick, have many golf courses, including the famous Royal Troon, and fine sandy beaches. The Firth of Clyde offers brilliant sailing for dinghies and large yachts and it's interesting to wander around the Troon Marina, its shops and restaurants. Dundonald Castle, a couple of miles north-east of Troon, is worth a visit. It was built by King Robert II in 1371 and acknowledged as one of the most important castles in Scotland.

    The Scottish Maritime Museum at the harbour in Irvine, 12 miles north of Ayr, consists of a number of interesting buildings depicting the importance of the town as a busy port - for example, the Engine Shop with its old turbines and boats, and the old tugs and steam yacht moored at the pontoon. Irvine also has a large leisure centre, Magnum, and nearby is the Big Idea with a variety of hands-on inventions - a great day out for the family. Ardrossan, a few miles north of Irvine on the A78, is the ferry port for travelling to Arran but does not have any tourist attractions.

    The Kelburn Castle and Country Centre, a mile south of Largs on the A78, has pleasant grounds including gardens, pony riding and an adventure playground. The 1263 Battle of Largs between the Vikings and Scots is depicted within Vikingar, which is a Viking-themed multi-media exhibition and leisure centre with swimming pool. There is a Viking festival in the first week of September which commemorates the Battle of Largs and the end of Viking political domination in Scotland. Largs is a popular seaside resort and is also known for its famous Nardini's ice-cream parlour. You can also take a trip on the old Waverley paddle steamer which sails up and down the Clyde in summer, stopping at Largs and various other harbours. The tourist office is within the train station. There is a ferry service from Largs to the island of Great Cumbrae which is popular for its beaches and cycling - Millport is the only town on the island and has a small 19th century cathedral, museums and an aquarium.

    South of Ayr

    The area south of Ayr is relatively quiet but has a number of excellent places to visit and long stretches of sandy beach. About 7 miles south of Ayr off the A719, lies the tiny village of Dunure and the ruins of the medieval Dunure Castle, formerly the seat of the Kennedys of Carrick. Keep an eye out for Croy Brae about a mile south on the A719 - this is an Electric Brae (which is when you believe you are driving downhill on the road, you are actually climbing uphill!).

    Culzean Castle

      Shortly after this, is the turning for Culzean Castle, one of Scotland's best stately homes and country park, which offers a varied day out for the whole family. Built in the 18th century by Robert Adam for the Kennedy family, it was sold to the National Trust for Scotland in 1945 - except for the top floor which was given to President Eisenhower for his lifetime. The mansion has a magnificent setting on the edge of the cliffs and is open to the public - the oval staircase being one of its best features, although the interior is most sumptuous. However, most visitors spend the day in the extensive grounds of this country park which include walled gardens, woodland walks, a swan pond, an old ice house, an orangery, an aviary, a deer park, a sandy beach and visitor centre.

      A few miles to the east of Kirkoswald, near the A77, stands the substantial ruins of the 13th century Crossraguel Abbey and its recently restored 16th century gatehouse.

      At the junction of the A719 and A77 is Turnberry with its famous golf course and the exclusive Turnberry Hotel, where you can land your private plane! Girvan lies 5 miles south of Turnberry but has little to offer the tourist apart from its sandy beach and the boat trip to Ailsa Craig, a volcanic rock and bird sanctuary, mainly gannets. The island's granite was quarried to make curling stones - a popular sport in Scotland. Trains run from Ayr to Girvan.