One of Kelburn Castle’s claims to fame is that it’s the oldest building in Scotland to have been continuously inhabited by the same family. The Boyles of Kelburn took up residence nearly 900 years ago and have been here ever since.
Although the same dynasty has lived in the castle since 1143, these days their ancestral seat is so much more than just a home; it has now become a fabulous day-trip destination for families.
Thanks to a unique graffiti mural, the castle – and this is another of its claims to fame – can categorically declare itself the most colourful in Scotland. As well as a fascinating history, the estate also boasts lovely gardens with some ancient and extraordinary plants. And, for younger visitors, there’s also a spooky forest that’s been turned into one of the country’s largest and most imaginative play areas.
Hit the trail
Kelburn stands on a dramatic stretch of the Ayrshire coast, looking over the Firth of Clyde to the Isle of Arran. The best way to explore it is to follow the waymarked History Trail, which starts at the converted farm buildings that now serve as a café, information point and petting zoo.
The chief landmark, of course, is the castle itself. This intriguing building (which is generally not open to the public, as the Boyles still live here) comprises a 13th-century Norman keep enclosed in a 16th-century castle alongside an 18th-century century mansion house.
Remarkably, parts of the castle have been decorated (with permission) by a squad of Brazilian graffiti artists who have turned the walls and turrets into a riotous hotchpotch of characters.
Nearby is the Plaisance, the castle’s walled garden, where colourful flowers and shrubs thrive, sheltered from the salty westerly gales. Particularly impressive are two 1,000-year-old yew trees and the Weeping Larch, a 200-year-old specimen that has re-rooted in spectacular fashion.
Another waymarked path, the Natural History Trail, follows a tree-lined gorge containing the Kell Burn. En route you can see the Waterfall Pool and enjoy gorgeous mature woodlands. There are also longer trails that venture to the furthest boundaries of the estate, while for children over eight there’s an adventure course, and for the very youngest there’s an indoor play barn.
The Secret Forest
Perhaps the most magical part of the estate is the Secret Forest – a huge fenced-off area of dense woodland with a network of paths and boardwalks leading to a bewildering variety of hidden places to explore. The Maze of the Green Man is a bamboozling puzzle, while the Chinese Tower contains a steep staircase that leads to a superb view of the forest as well as totem poles and a witch’s cottage.
HOW TO GET THERE
Kelburn Castle and Country Centre lies two miles south of Largs on the A78.
FIND OUT MORE
Fairlie, Ayrshire, KA29 0BE
Open Apr-end Oct, 10am-6pm daily; plus restricted opening in winter. Adults £7.50, children/OAPs/concessions £5.
Kelburn estate Cafe
A courtyard of old farm
buildings on the estate has been converted to a visitor centre, which now houses an ice cream parlour plus a licensed café (open 10am-5pm) serving breakfast, sandwiches and main meals.
No 62 B&B
62 Irvine Road, Largs KA30 8HP
Contemporary bed and breakfast accommodation in nearby
Largs. Rooms are en-suite with fine views.