When most people think of Turnberry, they immediately think of golf. And not just any kind of golf, but world-renowned, bucket-list golf. The history of golf at Turnberry spans back to 1901 when the first man-made links were designed and opened with the clubhouse following shortly thereafter. As enticing as it is to talk about the fascinating history of the resort, we will save that for another day. Today we will go back much, much further than 1901.
As an American, I have a deep appreciation and admiration for anything of antiquity. From the moment I stepped foot in Scotland, I knew that it was a very special place. There is such a sense of history here and it is an integral part of Scottish culture, tradition, and architecture. We are reminded of it daily as we drive past ruins and restored castles, hear the sound of bagpipes, or experience the fun of Ceilidh dancing at a Scottish wedding or festival.
Near Turnberry Lighthouse, overlooking the sea, you will find what remains of what was once a vast fortress, Turnberry Castle. By whom or exactly when the castle was built remains a mystery. In the late 13th century, the castle belonged to the widowed Countess of Carrick. According to medieval legend, she held a visiting knight, Robert de Brus, captive until he agreed to marry her. In 1271 they married and the went on to have a son, "Robert the Bruce", who later became known as the King of Scots. While it is unknown whether Robert the Bruce was actually born at Turnberry Castle, it is known is that he spent his childhood there and when young Robert was just 12 years old, several Scottish barons secretly met at the castle in support of him becoming the rightful successor to the crown. The English eventually gained control of the castle and in 1307, Robert tried to reclaim the castle from them which marked the beginning of a long battle. And just 3 years later, he ordered Turnberry Castle to be destroyed in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of the English once again. Sadly, all that remains are the cellars and lower vaults.
Built in what was once the moat of Turnberry Castle, stands the Turnberry Lighthouse. At 24-metres high, this iconic structure has marked this coastline for 150 years. This location for the lighthouse was chosen to prevent shipwrecks caused by nearby Bristo Rock which were prevalent at the time. The first light was lit 30 August 1873.
As of 2016, the lighthouse has been home to the Turnberry Golf halfway house and a Turnberry Hotel luxury 2-bedroom suite. Visitors can take in spectacular views of Arran, Ailsa Craig, and passing ships while enjoying a coffee & light snack.
The Turnberry Castle ruins and Lighthouse are about a 30-40 minute walk from Carlyon Lodge. Alternatively, guests can drive and park at the small carpark located just past the Turnberry Golf Clubhouse & practice area (not the dirt track which is for the golf course maintenance...keep going). From the car park, it's about a 20 minute walk. Please mind the golfers as they tee off at various holes along the path and note that dogs should be on leads.
Photos: Julie Morrison
About 10 minutes northeast of Turnberry lies the small village of Kirkoswald. In fact, you likely drove through it on your way to Carlyon Lodge. I was initially interested in mentioning Kirkoswald because of its modern attractions, but as I began researching the village, I quickly stumbled upon its rich history. Like many villages in Scotland, it has its own story to tell. (And on a side note, my husband grew up here - in the old Manse house - and spent his first several years of primary school in the old village school.)
Firstly, Kirkoswald gets its name from the word kirk (church), dedicated to Oswald of Northumbria who was said to have won an important battle here in the 7th century. Oswald was the king of Northumbria from 634 until his death and was a revered saint for his work spreading Christianity. The old kirk was built in 1244 and houses the baptismal font of Robert the Bruce. It kirk lies in ruin now, but can easily be viewed when visiting the village (see photos below).
Moving forward in time, we arrive at 1775 when a budding poet of just 16 spends a summer visiting his maternal grandparents, The Brouns, learning mathematics at the local school. It is here where Scotland’s poet, Robert “Rabbie” Burns, was inspired to write one of his most famous works, Tam O Shanter, based on some of the local characters - Douglas Graham, John Davidson, and John Davidson. Douglas Graham rented a farm called Shanter became Tam O Shanter, John Davidson, owner of the Cottage and the local Souter (Shoemaker), became Souter Johnnie, and Jean Kennedy, who ran Kirkton Inn, became Kirkton Jean.
During the time of Rabbie Burns, coastal villages like Kirkoswald were well-known for smuggling and Douglas Graham/Tam o Shanter was said to have been a smuggler. The government had imposed heavy taxes on imported goods like tea, gin, brandy, and textiles during that time. But we will save that part of history for another day!
Today, you can find the graves of Rabbie Burns’ relatives along with Douglas Graham, John Davidson, and Jean Kennedy in the Auld Kirk cemetery. There is a plaque on the gate that shows where each historic grave is situated. Across the road you can find what was once the Kirkton Inn and the Shanter Inn which were rebuilt in 2007. The Kirkton Inn is now a shop and the Shanter Inn is now Souters Inn, which has fantastic food and is definitely worth a visit. It is certainly a local favourite and a regular haunt for our family. You can also visit Souter Johnnie's Cottage, which is now a museum (temporarily closed).
Another local attraction, A.D. Rattray's Whisky Experience, is definitely worth a visit as well. Located within the beautifully renovated old village school, this little gem offers a wide range of whisky, wine, beer, gin, rum, gifts and Scottish fare. They also have 2 single malt casks “on tap” where you can have a bottle filled, sealed in wax, and personalised with your hand-written label. It is highly unlikely that you will leave this shop empty-handed!
Kirkland's House and Garden is also a great shop to visit. They offer a selection of lovely home & garden wares.
Photos: Julie Morrison