Unearthing Scotland’s Charm: A Trip Down Ayrshire & Galloway Coast

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Scotland's Ayrshire & Galloway Coast

This content is courtesy of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

We’re known as the Honest Men, a nickname that amuses me every time our team is caught bending the rules. Ayr United borrowed this appellation from a Robert Burns line dating back to 1791: ‘Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a toun surpasses, for honest men, and bonnie lasses.’ I often ponder if those virtues held true back then, as I know they don’t quite resonate today.

My birthplace is a charming Victorian coastal town that has slowly lost its vibrancy, resembling an age-worn photo, as years passed and tourists flocked towards the warmth of the Costa del Whatever. Despite the changes, we maintain our pride in our ice cream, and we still have our golden, vast beach stretching three miles, especially at low tide.

When I return to my roots, I view my home from both a native’s and visitor’s perspective. As I drive south from Glasgow, with Ayr shining under the sun and the Firth of Clyde and Isle of Arran setting a beautiful backdrop, I acknowledge the unique appeal of our diverse coastline, no matter one’s origins.

Heading south from Ayr, you will discover the remnants of castles at Greenan and the idyllic fishing hamlet of Dunure. The National Trust-supported Culzean Castle, standing proudly since the late 18th century, provides a more intact site. The castle’s elaborate gardens and forest paths are equally mesmerizing and intricate, the ideal setting for a child’s fantasy. The castle is situated atop cliffs, but rather than serving as a stronghold, it was built for its breathtaking views. From its elevated position, I could spot basking sharks in the sea, and on the clearest days, even glimpse the silhouette of Northern Ireland.

The scenic roads in this region of Scotland are enchantingly distracting. The most treacherous spot may be near Culzean, along the coastal route where cars often halt unexpectedly. The drivers are on a quest to experience the magic of the Electric Brae. While skeptics may attribute the optical illusion of a vehicle rolling uphill to the landscape’s trickery, I, as a loyal local, would argue it’s pure sorcery. Regardless, take a halt at the Electric Brae and see for yourself.

Further south lies Girvan, worth a stop for its ice cream and clear views of Ailsa Craig, a prehistoric volcanic plug serving as a massive bird sanctuary and source of most of the world’s green granite used for competitive curling stones. Although underutilized as a tourist attraction, Ailsa Craig Trips offers tours to this rarely visited island, allowing visitors a glimpse of extensive colonies of gannets and guillemots, and a walk along its deserted shores.

Continuing the journey, the road to Galloway runs so close to the sea that I can sense the salty air even now. Often overlooked by travellers racing north, Galloway was Europe’s first International Dark Sky Park. But I would recommend a detour to the coastal path around Loch Ryan, then heading towards the Rhins of Galloway.

This rugged peninsula, resembling a hammer’s head on a map, juts out from the country’s southwestern corner. My childhood memories are filled with family drives to Portpatrick, a charming seaside village boasting a cozy harbor and cafes vying for the title of best fish and chips.

The grand Portpatrick Hotel has been overlooking the village since 1905, a relatively new addition compared to the Corsewall Lighthouse, which has endured for nearly a century longer at the northern tip of the Rhins. This lighthouse was automated in 1994 and later transformed into a hotel. It was eventually saved and renovated by an ambitious couple during the pandemic after nearly a decade on the market.

Venturing further south on the single-track roads will lead you to the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse, majestically poised on a clifftop at Scotland’s southernmost tip. From here, on clear days, you can spot the Isle of Man and the Irish coast simultaneously. At this Celtic intersection, England feels a world away.

This piece was first seen in the UK & Ireland supplement, included with the Jul/Aug 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

To subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine, please click here. (Only available in selected countries).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Scotland’s Ayrshire & Galloway Coast

What are some of the attractions on Scotland’s Ayrshire & Galloway Coast?

The Ayrshire & Galloway Coast is known for its beautiful seaside spots, ruined castles like Greenan, the charming fishing village of Dunure, and the well-preserved Culzean Castle. Other attractions include the scenic roads, the Electric Brae optical illusion, ice cream in Girvan, and the clear views of Ailsa Craig. There’s also the International Dark Sky Park in Galloway, and the Rhins of Galloway, known for the Portpatrick Hotel and Corsewall Lighthouse.

What is the significance of the Electric Brae?

The Electric Brae is a place of interest due to an optical illusion that makes it seem like a stationary vehicle will roll uphill. Some attribute this to the landscape and perspective, while locals often jokingly refer to it as witchcraft.

What is the Ayr United’s nickname and its origin?

Ayr United’s nickname is ‘the Honest Men,’ which is derived from a Robert Burns line dating back to 1791: ‘Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a toun surpasses, for honest men, and bonnie lasses.’

What unique wildlife opportunities does Ailsa Craig offer?

Ailsa Craig is a prehistoric volcanic plug that serves as a large bird sanctuary. It is home to extensive colonies of gannets and guillemots. Ailsa Craig Trips offers tours to this rarely visited large island.

What are the Rhins of Galloway?

The Rhins of Galloway is a rugged peninsula that juts out from Scotland’s southwestern corner. It’s known for the charming seaside village of Portpatrick and the historic Corsewall Lighthouse, which has been transformed into a hotel.

More about Scotland’s Ayrshire & Galloway Coast

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