An hour’s drive from the B&B brought us to the west coast in Ayrshire. Our first visit was to Dundonald Castle, which frankly I expected more from. The visitors centre was rather cramped, and their small museum had potential to be very interesting if it weren’t being used for storage as well.
The hill the current castle ruins sit on is believed to have been where royal families have resided since prehistory — meaning there is evidence of settlements from the late Bronze Age. Further evidence of roundhouses has been found establishing continued occupancy of the hill through the Iron Age, and onward.
Dundonald’s known history begins around 1160 with the FitzaAlan family from Normandy, arriving as Steward to David I. Walter FitzAlan’s descendant becomes the King of Scots in 1371, beginning the long line of Stewart monarchs with Robert Stewart, who was the grandson of Robert the Bruce. The current castle was built around that time, and was frequented by King Robert II, but by the 1630s it had been abandoned for the far more comfortable Auchans House.
What we actually found interesting, and actually an unexpected addition to one of our sub-themes, was that the first medieval castle (and hence all subsequent castles) was built on a motte. So we had another hill to climb today.
On the way back down the hill, I took a moment to contemplate how long it must have taken this snail to climb to the top of this weed (flower?).
Our next stop was at the Robert Burns Museum cafe for lunch (we did not go through the museum), followed by a walk through the beautiful gardens to the Brig O’ Doon., which is mentioned in the poet’s tome “Tam O’Shanter”. I’m pretty sure he probably references the bridge in other poems or songs, but I admit to not really being familiar with Robbie Burns’ works. We did feel compelled to pick up a copy of his complete poems and songs to correct that.
On to Crossraguel Abbey, which turned out to be the highlight of the day. Fantastic place, it just felt so right to be there. The architecture is beautiful, and the stonemasons who are currently doing conservation work on the building are being very respectful and true to the designs, endeavouring to keep the stones with stonemason’s markings in place.
“Crossraguel Abbey is one of Scotland’s most complete medieval monasteries. It was founded around 1250, as a daughter of the Cluniac Abbey at Paisley, and was still in use well after the Protestant Reformation of 1560, though in much reduced form.” [taken from Historic Scotland’s Official Souvenir Guide]
Jean, the Steward on duty while we were there, was fantastic, and so enthusiastic about the highlights and history of the Abbey.
Written history documents that Robert the Bruce was baptized at this Abbey, and he made particular efforts to ensure the prosperity of the Abbey. However, local oral histories suggest that not only was he baptized there, he was also born there, in the corner tower.
There were two architectural features of particular note (among many): the sewer system and the Chapter House.
Yes, that’s right, at a time when most places were throwing their piss out the window, the architects who built this Abbey had learned from the Romans, used the surrounding features of the landscape, and included private latrines in most rooms that let out into an aqueduct of sorts which flushed the waste away. An existing stream was rerouted underneath the Abbey compound with all of the sewers emptying into the stream. Good for the Abbey dwellers, but not for the people downstream. The stream is till flowing under the Abbey today.
The Chapter House is amazing! It’s a relatively small room, but with the most wonderful architectural features that create fantastic acoustics. The room was used for group meetings, and the acoustics were designed to make it impossible for more than one person to speak at a time. I’ve made a short video to try and capture just how fantastic it sounds, but I’m not sure it really does it justice. (I’m pretty sure I got the words wrong…)
Here is a link to a performance on flute of “The Water is Wide”, which really gives a better sense of the sound:
As we were leaving Jean recommended we go to Dunure for supper. With a twinkle in her eye, she also suggested we might recognize some of the areas from a particular TV show. Turns out, Ms Jean not only was one of many local extras in Outlander, she also actually interviewed and met Diana Gabaldon. So jealous! Her article can be found here:
Jean Brittain’s article about Diana Gabaldon
Dunure is a sleepy little fishing town with a castle ruin all its own (which we did not take time to explore) and the best seafood restaurant ever!
Before partaking of a meal, we found the harbour backdrop used for filming the Paris dock scenes when Jaimie and Claire board the Artemis to Jamaica to go after Young Ian.
Then we walked on the beach, for which the scenes at Silkies Island were filmed, when Young Ian swims out to the island and gets taken by the pirates.
Of course I had to get my feet wet in the North Sea of the Atlantic Ocean, too…
Then we were faced with the dilemma of choosing from this extensive and mouthwatering specials menu!
The hour-long drive back to the B&B through Galloway Park in the dark was worth it for the wonderful day we had today.
Adelle and Dan