Eglinton country park is a beautiful open space for everyone to enjoy with 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of countryside, in Kilwinning, near Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland.
I have visited the park a few times over the years. The Eglinton Parkrun (5k) is always challenging and fun but it’s an early rise on a Saturday morning for a 9.30am start!
I’ve always wanted to visit again and explore the grounds properly, so a last-minute decision took us there over the Easter holidays. It was a short visit yet again. We were late in leaving and it was around 5pm before we arrived. I thought it would be quieter at that time on a Saturday night but it was busy with people enjoying the spring weather and the now lighter nights.
What’s left of the castle ruins looked so pretty sitting there surrounded by trees and lush green grass. I know ‘pretty’ doesn’t seem like the right word to describe castle ruins, but I personally didn’t feel it looked majestic or atmospheric. Sadly, there’s not much left of this once impressive home of the Mongomeries, Earls of Eglinton.
The current castle was built between 1797 and 1802 and was a similar gothic design to Culzean Castle. Before this there was another castle but it was burned to the ground in the early 16th century. This was a revenge attack by the Cunninghames of Kerelaw Castle in Stevenston.
The Montgomerie family crest still survives on what’s left of the castle. The clan motto is “Garde bien” which means “Watch well”.
The signs of spring had well and truly arrived with daffodils complimenting the grounds of the park.
We walked further into the park to look for the ice house. It was sad to see some of the park looking messy with dirt being dug up for water works. I realise that it needs to be done and will look beautifully green again. After a short walk we found the ice house nestled in the Old Wood just off the path.
My first impression was, it’s a hobbit house! While the castle ruins didn’t give me any feelings being around it, the ice house did. Why a stone fridge affected me more than castle ruins I don’t know… possibly its surroundings and the quietness?
The ice house was built by the 10th Earl of Eglinton for £25. Ice and snow was taken from the fish pond, or sometimes imported from Scandinavia via Ardrossan harbour. I was also told that there was possibly a tunnel that ran from the castle to the ice house.
The ice house sits next to the Draught Burn surrounded by trees with a wee wooden bridge across the water. The sunlight was peeking through the trees creating dancing shadows and light. All I could hear were the birds singing their songs and the rippling water flowing down stream.
I wanted to walk along the burn and enjoy the reflections but it was a longer walk and we were losing the sunlight. The next place of interest to see was the Dovecote (Doocot).
The Dovecote sits beside a busy road now, but it’s still an interesting gothic style building to visit. This was used to breed house doves and pigeons. Pidgeon or dove pie anyone?
We followed the path until we came to a hill where we thought the Belvedere Folly would be. The water in the pond was so still that the trees mirrored themselves.
When we reached the top of the hill sadly there was no Folly, only the stone base was left. I then read that it was in disrepair and taken down for safety reasons. I hope that once the park is restored after the water works it will be put back.
Back to the castle ruins
When we returned to the castle ruins it was quiet and empty. The sun was setting and lighting up the front of the ruins casting shadows behind. I thought this was more than pretty now, it was atmospheric. Isn’t it strange that I needed silence, shadows and light to feel a place.
The dark clouds looked like they were going drop lots of water right on top of us. Then a rainbow appeared right in front of us!
We went back to Eglinton early in the morning a few times over April. The morning light reflected on different parts of the ruins. I really enjoyed being there at that time. I could hear the traffic on the nearby road, but also the park waking up to a new dawn.
The tower is locked and has become a popular place for the nesting birds and pigeons. They’ve moved to more luxurious lodgings from the Dovecote to the castle. I bet not being dinner must be a relief too!
Running round the park
We were hoping to record some drone footage of the ruins and Tournament Bridge but the wind was being quite menacing with us. So while Alan practised with his drone I went for my 5k run around the park.
I’m training for my first half marathon at the end of May 2017 and raising funds for Bloodwise as part of My Peak Challenge. It’s always nice to run somewhere different and the Parkrun trail is just perfect. I love running across the Tournament Bridge, a huge piece of history under my feet.
Tournament Bridge partly collapsed in the late 1930s. Over the years it was gradually restored to bring it back to its original gothic appearance with it eventually reopening in 2009. It does need a bit of a wash though … this is something the park will do as part of their annual clean-up, so hopefully it will be white again soon.
There’s a nice artist’s impression of knights riding across the Tournament Bridge on page 39 of the Landscape of the Knights brochure.
Eglinton medieval tournament ~ 1839 re-enactment
I try not to write too much detailed history about the places I visit. I’m still learning and I get overwhelmed with dates, people’s names and the research needed to bring all the information together. I couldn’t pass on this one though as the visual in my mind, in a ‘shire’ where I live, was really exciting!
The 13th Earl of Eglinton loved his sport, especially horses. He decided to stage a three-day medieval tournament re-enactment at Eglinton Castle bringing back to life the romanticism of the 14th century with jousting, large melee, procession of banners, pinnacled canopies and a grand ball.
Railway lines were opened and steamships also brought visitors. Over 100,000 people came to Eglinton from all over the British Isles to watch the competition. Accommodation in 1839 was limited, as you would expect. The Eglinton Arms Hotel in Irvine and Ardrossan were fully booked. Most visitors found somewhere else to stay. The people of the surrounding towns and villages rented out their rooms, including the Minister of Irvine Parish Church. Big events bring lots of people and money!
The 14 competing Knights wore full armour and were equipped with arms. The first day, Wednesday 28 August 1839, was sadly a wash out with heavy rain. Typical weather for the west coast of Scotland! It was Friday before all the action happened and I imagine that fun was had by all who stayed.
I read a paragraph from the Landscape of the Knights brochure that really caught my attention. Well, to be honest with you, the first time I read this it didn’t sink in (my slow reading). I was reading out in the garden on a warm sunny day. When I returned to my chair the wind had blown the pages back a few so I started from this paragraph again. Second time round I got it:
“Fondness for times past grew with the ever-increasing speed of change in society. The stability and simplicity of the Middle Ages had a strong appeal, especially to aristocrats with real life Knights amongst their ancestors.
The past grew more and more attractive, particularly amongst those most threatened by the changes; the gentlemen of the aristocracy.”
So even in the 18th century fast moving times were a struggle. Recreating history was more fun and appealing. Amazingly we still do this today.
I started thinking about change and what life is like for us in this modern digital world. I’m sure most of you would agree it’s more demanding and stressful to get through each day.
That’s why I like to get out in nature, look at everything around me, take a deep breath and enjoy the golden silence. One thing that did cross my mind is that our trees, flowers and shrubbery naturally change all year round and almost always come back stronger, taller and different. Just amazing!
Tournament cafe and visitor centre
After our wee jaunt round the park we were feeling quite hungry so a visit to the Tournament Cafe was next. A warm breakfast roll and a hot drink was just the thing after being up for three hours.
There’s a fun all ability swing park next to the cafe if you’re bringing the children for a day out. You could also bring a picnic! The Eglinton Country Park website has more information. Also check out the New Town Trail. This is a 12 mile (19km) circular route that passes through the park and has links to National Cycle Network Routes 7 and 73. I will definitely go back and walk or cycle this trail.
Watch the cafe gallery
Sadly the visitor centre was closed. I was keen to pick up a few brochures, see the displays and tournament trophy. I then found out that I could see the trophy at the Council buildings in Irvine so we stopped off there on the way home.
The tournament trophy is a stunning “piece of plate” that was made to mark the Eglinton Tournament. It was designed by Edmund Cotterhill who worked in R&S Garrads in London and took almost four years to complete. I can see why, pure perfection!
Watch the trophy gallery
Susanna Mongomery (nee Kennedy of Culzean), Countess of Eglinton and third wife of the 9th Earl of Eglinton, lived and died at Old Auchans House in Dundonald. I suppose many major Ayrshire families must have been connected.
Thanks for reading!