Thanks to two previous holidays – one with the school and another with my family, both times at a Butlins Holiday Camp – I tend to associate Ayr with seaside fun. But because of the Covid restrictions only recently lifting, there felt a sense of shops, cafes and restaurants in the town centre just starting to reopen again. A sense of emerging from a spell of hibernation.
Ayr is not just about sea, sand and shops though. There’s a lot of history here too. The Scottish Bard Rabbie Burns was born in nearby Alloway in the 1700s. And the story of Ayr itself stretches back to 1197, when the Scottish king, King William the Lion, demanded a new castle should be built between the Rivers Ayr and Doon. Eight years later in 1205, the same king established Ayr as a royal burgh and market town.
There were a lot of curious heritage signs which illustrated Ayr’s long history. One such noted the oldest house in Ayr, an early town house, tucked away off a side street. It was called Loudoun Hall and dated from the 1500s. A plaque said Mary Queen of Scots stayed here in the 1560s.
Unlike Loudoun Hall, the thatched-roofed Tam O’Shanter Inn is situated prominently on the High Street. It’s the oldest pub in Ayr, dating from 1749, and could well have been frequented by Rabbie Burns himself. (One of his poems is actually called Tam O’Shanter, was his eponymous character drinking here?)
An old passageway takes the visitor from the main street to the 1650s Auld Kirk (parish church). Before one enters the churchyard, there is a lychgate with iron grave-covers. A sign explains that these were to deter body snatchers which were common in the 1800s. Why would anyone want to steal bodies of all things? Well, these grave robbers wanted to sell them to medical schools. More grisly horror than Butlins fun but fascinating to discover.
There’s a lot more to see in Ayr, we only had a quick preview over a couple of hours, but we still managed to fit in a wander along the wide esplanade, enjoying the scenic sea views. After all, this is why tourists come to Ayr in the first place.
Our next stop was a little seaside town called Troon, famous for its golf course. We didn’t have loads of time so the choice was explore or have a bite to eat. But it was lunchtime and our stomachs won the battle – it was time for food. We ate at the popular Swan Restaurant where we had a very reasonably priced lunch and dessert. The potato soup was nice but a little too spicy for me personally. The apple pie was scrumptious. Mum was rather startled to see the rather large size of her trifle dessert! My stomach was pleased but I will have to venture back to Troon to explore the town in more detail.
Loch Lomond was the highlight of our short break and the next day we would have the full day to discover Luss and Balloch, situated on the shores.
To be continued…