Round Britain: Luss to Culzean

On a quiet dull morning in Luss, several mallard ducks appeared at the site just before we set off southbound on the old military road through the village to rejoin the A82. The road crossed the border into West Dunbartonshire before crossing the Erskine Bridge over the River Clyde. The A8 continues along the south bank of the Clyde past Langbank and then through Port Glasgow and to Greenock where we took the A770 to Gourock stopping for coffee and enjoying the views over the water.

Gourock was a port before Greenock was and has the Kempock Stone which I didn’t see but is surrounded by superstitions. It is said that sailors would march around it with baskets of sand chanting incantations for safe voyages. Continuing we passed the Cloch Lighthouse and Lunderston Bay before rejoining the A78. The road passes Inverkip, Wemyss Bay and parallels the railway line. We saw the ferry to Rothesay and entered North Ayrshire near Skelmorlie where the sun came out. Largs had a fair taking place on the shore. We passed Hunterston Nuclear Power Stations.  A closed in 1990 and B in 2022. The decommission processes are ongoing. After West Kilbride we passed Adrosssan, Saltcoats and Irvine. After Prestwick Airport the A719 coastal route ran through the town where people were coming out of the churches. We crossed the River Ayr before heading through the town where an Air show was taking place on the shore. Over the River Doon and past Dunure which has a ruined castle, we saw the Ailsa Craig for the first time on this trip. Shortly afterwards we arrived at the campsite at Culzean which has views over the sea to Arran although rather hazy at the moment.

The following morning, we walked from the site down to Culzean Castle and Country Park. Fallen leaves by the side of the road made it look rather autumnal.

The Home Farm is now the visitor centre with a café and gift shop.

In the nearby Gas House was a small collection of bath chairs and a small carriage.

Culzean Castle was originally called Coif or Cove Castle and belonged to the Kennedy family for several hundred years. The original building was defensive and military but in the 18th century it began to be converted into its current state involving the architect Robert Adam. It has belonged to the National Trust for Scotland since 1945. After walking through the woods, we entered through the ‘ruined arch’.

You can join a guided tour around the interior or as we did, just wander around by yourselves. There are information sheets in several languages in each room.

Afterwards we visited the secondhand bookshop and then the deer park. It has been at Culzean since the 1750s and now has red and fallow deer and llamas.

There are lots of other things to see in the park but we decided to return to the site for lunch and relaxation.

A Meander around Melrose

The Melrose Sevens rugby competition has been running since 1883. Our friends in Inverness were coming down for it and had a spare ticket so James joined them for most of the matches on the Saturday running up to the final. I spent the time wandering around the town which lies on the River Tweed at the foot of the Eildon Hills. I had not visited it since 2016.

The Sevens are a big event for the town and a pipe band were playing in the High Street.

I then spent some time in Priorwood Garden. It was originally part of an abbey estate, the kitchen garden for a large house and a market garden in World War II. It has belonged to the National Trust for Scotland since 1974.
It covers 2 acres in total and was the first garden in Scotland devoted to the cultivation of flowers for drying and preservation. It has an orchard with more than twenty varieties of apples.

I had an appointment to visit Melrose Abbey at 2pm. The guy at the entrance said that he had seen a number of ‘rugby widows’ on that day.

It is not possible to go inside the building at present because there is a huge backlog of surveys and repairs to damage underway in many historic buildings. The abbey was founded around 1136 by the Cistercian Order and originally had fairly simple architecture. The original church was destroyed by the English army in 1385 leaving only one wall remaining. The large nave was built around 1400 and is in a grander and more ornate style.

In the grounds is a museum which has many relics from the abbey and a list of all the abbots.

There were also relics some from Newstead which was known as Trimontium in Roman times relating to its position at the foot of three Eildon Hills. There is a museum devoted to this in town but like many businesses was closed for the Sevens. My next stop was Harmony Garden.

The house was built in 1907 and gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1996. It has a kitchen garden and glasshouse

and in summer the fruit and vegetables grown are sold from a trolley at the main gate. I enjoyed the flowers and some of last years seeds still hanging from trees and shrubs.

I then had a river walk along the banks of the Tweed, crossing the chain bridge.

Some of the riverside walks and the bridge are part of the Southern Upland Way.

Eventually it was time to meet up with my friend, have something to eat and to return home in the evening.

Exploring Eyemouth

Eyemouth is Scotland’s most south-eastern port, only five miles from the English Border. James had a vestry away-day meeting at St Ebba’s church there last week, so I used the time to explore the town. It lies where the Eye Water runs down from the Lammermuir Hills and meets the sea. The current population is around 5,000. In the 17th century it was one of the major Scottish centres of witchcraft. At least two dozen women and one man were found guilty. There was no jail in town, so they were kept in the ‘common pit’ until they were burnt at the stake. I began by walking down to the harbour

and then on to the beach. It was quiet with a few dog walkers and one birdwatcher. The tide was out leaving patterns on the wet sand.

I followed a section of the Coastal Path which runs from Berwick to St Abbs up to the headland where Eyemouth Fort was situated.

The first Trace Italienne Fortification in Britain was constructed by the English in 1547 as part of the Rough Wooing campaign which tried to force a marriage between Prince Edward and the infant Mary Queen of Scots. After the Treaty of Boulogne in 1550 the English troops withdrew from Scotland and the fort was demolished. In 1557 the Scots and their French allies began to rebuild it. However, a treaty in 1559 led to it being demolished. Today all that remains are some earthworks and these cannons.

There were views over Killiedraught Bay towards St Abbs Head.

After a coffee, I wandered over to the other side of town. The harbour was busy with boats bringing in their catches and repair works going on.

There is a regeneration project underway on the waterfront which should be complete by 2023. There was also a seal-feeding stall where children can buy fish to throw to them.

I crossed the swing bridge and walked along the other side of the harbour and up the slope to Gunsgreen House.

The house was designed by Robert Adam for a local merchant, John Nisbet who was also a smuggler. It contains the Smugglers’ House of Secrets Museum but this was closed on my visit. Nearby is Nisbet’s Tower which was a dove cote for Gunsgreen House that was restored in 2005 and is now a holiday cottage.

There is also the memorial to the 189 fishermen who died in the fishing disaster of 1881 when boats went out despite weather warnings. They encountered hurricane force winds which destroyed 26 of the town’s 46 fishing boats. Incoming tides washed wreckage, bodies and personal effects ashore for days afterwards. It took around 80 years for the population to return to the levels of 1881.

The town museum has a moving exhibition about the disaster and lots of other information about the town. It is in the Auld Kirk – the bell still rang on the hours while I was in it. Afterwards, I re-joined James and the others for lunch.