For the last leg of our tour, we went to the seaside – West Coast. Ayr is a cute little town that is great if you like to golf and if the weather is nice. Unfortunately for us, neither of us likes to golf and the first day we were there was miserable.
From the train station, we found our B&B after getting turned around a few times and a bird shit on my arm–one thing you should know about Ayr is that they aren’t very imaginative in their urban planning, what with Beresford Street, Beresford Road, Beresford Crescent and Bellevue Lane, Bellevue Street, Bellevue Place and Carrick Road where we stayed had 5 different names, so have a map and don’t get too drunk. Chalmers B&B was lovely and our room was spic and span with crown moldings to die for. It was my turn for the little bed. Even though it was windy as hell and a bit rainy, we headed out to find the Tourist Info and seaside.
Had lunch at a funky place in the downtown area called The Treehouse, and it poured while we were in there. We were the only people except for a crazy dog-walker that ventured on to the promenade in the afternoon and all we got for our troubles was a sand facial. I was envisioning a nice walk on the beach and maybe some lounging but it was not to be.
So in the end this day was a bit of a bust and if I had to do it over again, I’m thinking we would have booked elsewhere. Dinner was a pleasant surprise though – quite authentic Italian at a seaside hotel – the Ariabiata sauce was fresh and the olive oil was thick enough to run a luxury car. After dinner we had a yen for dessert and whisky and found the Beresford Wine Bar & Art Gallery which was marvelous in the way that only fabulous gay owners can muster: really interesting art on the walls, gorgeous cufflinks on the owners and sprite of a waiter who had a quick wit and a firm grasp on the nature of whisky and sweets. A real gem.
We caught the local bus the next morning out to Culzean Castle and Park. This was a very different castle experience, in that a) the castle is intact and b) it’s set up as it was in the 18th Century, which is pretty damned recent in castle time. The 500-acre estate includes a deer park, swan pond, walled gardens, walking trails in woods and across fields, as well as a stretch of beach. The castle has been in the Kennedy family since the middle ages (not those Irish Kennedys, one of the guides was quick to point out). But in the time-honoured way, some gambling, some drinking and all around profligacy left the clan in a situation: taxes owed were more than worth of estate. Ergo, now it’s a “national trust treasure”.
A Kennedy helped Mary Queen of Scots off her husband Lord Darnley in 1567, and it was another one who was arrested for drunk driving and go over 20 mph in the 1920′s.
The castle itself was redesigned and extended in the 18th Century by Robert Adam in the grand neoclassical style and it’s this phase of its life that has been preserved. We couldn’t take pictures inside (again) but the furnishings and design were quite something–gave me additional fodder for my imagination the next time I read some late 18thC parlour lit.
The grounds were gorgeous – we walked many kilometers I’m sure, through the gardens and to the pond and then I also found some crazy path through the woods to the steps down to the sea. The day was gorgeous as well -sunny and mid-20s, so it was quite a nice wander. By the end of the day, however, I think we were feeling it in our feet after a week of “hills go up”.
For our last dinner in Scotland, we went to the Carrick Inn up the street from our B&B. Dinner was good – and I had Cullen Skink as my appetizer, which is the very Scots version of chowder I guess, with smoked haddock (very good) and potatoes in a cream base. Definitely the kind of thing that would warm your innards on a cold and wet night. When it came time for my whisky though, our waiter, who was all of 16 (and looked 14), was at a loss on recommendations. I asked if they had any Caol Ila so he went off to check with the bartender. Came back and asked me if I meant “Kahlua” to which I replied, “what kind of Scot are you? Kahlua?” In the end, I had to walk over to the bar myself to find a suitable selection. I mean, really.
And that was it, pretty much. Our next morning was a leisurely breakfast before heading off to the airport (where I did find my Caol Ila, and a big bottle of it at that).
All in all, a wonderful week away.