THE historic Culzean Castle looming over the Ayrshire coast attracts over 200,000 visitors each year and there are plenty of reasons to follow in their footsteps.
There have been records of a stone tower house near the burgh of Maybole since the 1500s, but Culzean Castle has since grown and evolved into one of Scotland’s most stunning pieces of architecture in the centuries following.
If you were still unsure as to why Culzean Castle should be the next destination on your travel list, we’ve listed eight reasons why you should make some time for National Trust for Scotland site.
The history of Clan Kennedy
One of the country’s most affluent family lines who can trace their ancestry back to Robert the Bruce, generations of the Kennedy family made their own mark on Culzean Castle. None more so than David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis - who instructed renowned Scottish architect Robert Adam to build a house which reflected the family’s status and wealth. The expansive project was started in the 1770s but wasn’t completed until 1792, at which point both Earl and architect had passed away.
The history of Clan Kennedy and Culzean Castle is an interesting look at many facets of Scottish history. For instance, a walled garden on the grounds of the site was built over the home of Scipio Kennedy, a West African slave of the family from the early 1700s who was granted freedom in 1725. Scipio continued to work for the family after this and went on to marry and have eight children, the descendants of whom can be found across Scotland today.
The presidential links
Whilst the ‘Kennedy’ name has had a long connection with Culzean Castle, it was actually American President Eisenhower who was made his holiday residence at the Ayrshire site.
In 1945, the Kennedy family handed over Culzean Castle to the National Trust for Scotland. To honour his services during the Second World War, General Eisenhower was gifted the very top room in the castle which was converted into a luxury suite.
Eisenhower was said to be flattered by the gift and made several trips to the location throughout his life, including once during his tenure in the Oval Office. For a short period of time, the castle became known as the Scottish White House. Following Eisenhower’s death, the building was returned to the NTS and is now a popular hotel.
The film appearances
Despite being on the Scottish mainland, the grand structure of Culzean Castle meant it was chosen as the manor house on the fictional Hebridean island of Summerisle in 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man.
Exterior shots of the castle were used for the home of Lord Summerisle (played expertly by Christopher Lee), whilst Dumfries and Galloway’s Lochinch Castle was filmed for the interior of the building. This fact doesn’t stop many horror enthusiasts heading to the Ayshire coast to explore Lord Summerisle’s mansion.
Although the historical connections are some of Culzean’s biggest selling points, the architecture is intrinsically linked to the twists and turns of history.
The main structure put together by the aforementioned Robert Adam is one of the most renowned examples of his neoclassical architectural style, complete with delicate plasterwork detail as a well unique oval-shaped spiral staircase.
Accompanying the impressive work by Adam in the 1700s was the further adjustments by Edinburgh architects Wardrop & Reid, who constructed a new entrance as well as a three-story west wing.
Culzean Castle has been renovated during its time as a public attraction after an wealthy American left a large sum of money to the NTS for the restoration. Works were completed in 2011, with many of Adam’s original features restored based on the architect’s original watercolours.
The cliff-top views
One of the most striking features of a trip around the Castle resort is the views from the window from the Round Drawing Room, across on the rocky cliffs below. Culzean’s placement on a clifftop means striking views of the choppy waves of the Firth of Clyde as well as the Isle of Arran on a clear day.
The stunning scenery from the Castle’s vantage point has been a prominent feature in many artistic impressions throughout the years and continues to leave visitors gawping.
The country park
As well as the panoramic viewpoint across the choppy seas, the opposite direction offers some equally impressive scenery with over 600 acres of surrounding Ayrshire woodland. The country park is home to a plethora of wildlife including geese, swans, herons and kingfishers. It’s also one of the best locations to spot bats in Scotland. If you’re looking for an expert guide, then tours can be arranged with park rangers.
If the allure of the spirit world is what influences your choice of destination, then Culzean Castle has had some longstanding brushes with the paranormal.
There have been reports of a ghostly piper, who can be heard playing on particularly stormy nights as well in celebration a marriage in the Kennedy family. There was also a number of sightings during the 1970s of a woman in a ball gown as well as ‘The White Lady’ who is said to be the spirit of a badly treated servant.
Another tale is of the sound of crackling embers and screams from the vaults of the castle, which said to be spirit of Alan Stewart, a local cleric who was roasted over a spit by Gilbert Kennedy in order to coax him into signing over the lands of nearby Crossraguel Abbey.
The sea caves
If you happen to be making the trip to Culzean Castle in the summer months, you may be lucky enough to be part of the ranger-led tours of the sea caves located below the cliffs.
The caves dug into the rock were originally formed by medieval smugglers to bring into contraband goods across the Firth of Clyde from Ireland.
The sea cave tours shine a different light on the grandiose Kennedy family, who were likely to have been aware, if not extensively involved, in the illegal activities happening beneath their decadent home.