Culzean Castle

Castles near Ayr: a guide

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If there’s one thing Scotland’s well known for, it’s castles. From Scottish baronial estates to medieval ruins, there are hundreds of awe-inspiring ancient buildings to visit, and many of them are just a short drive from us at Craig Tara

Some of these castles are beautifully maintained, and offer a fascinating insight into a bygone era, as well as offering activities, places to eat and gardens to stroll in. In many instances, you’re welcome to bring your dog along.  

Here are the best castles near Ayr to visit, with distances from Craig Tara.

Dunure Castle

Dunure Castle

3 miles from Craig Tara

Many of Scotland’s oldest castles are little more than picturesque ruins. Less than four miles from Craig Tara, you’ll find one such site. Dunure Castle, as featured in Season 3 of the TV show Outlander, stands in picturesque disarray on a promontory in Kennedy Park, just off Castle Road, Dunure. 

The structure dates back to the 13th century, although its builders aren’t known. It became the ancestral seat of the Kennedy clan of Carrick in the 14th century and was already in ruins by the 17th century. Needless to say, watch your step and enjoy!

Culzean Castle

Culzean Castle
Culzean Castle: coastal grandeur with lush gardens

10 miles from Craig Tara

When Hollywood imagines Scottish castles, Culzean is probably what they have in mind. This massive 16th century edifice boasts a presidential suite, a 10,000 estate, including a deer park, and a pristine ornamental garden. In fact, it did feature in a 1973 film, The Wicker Man, as Lord Summerisle’s home. 

Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, Culzean was formerly the home of the Marquess of Ailsa, the chief of the Clan Kennedy. It’s now open to the public, and you can even rent the Dwight G. Eisenhower suite, created to honour a presidential visitor, or get married here. 

Redesigned in the 18th century by Robert Adam, the castle towers over the Ayrshire cliffs. It has everything you’d want from a castle visit, offering tours inside, a farm shop, restaurant, a second-hand bookshop, and gardens to wander. For the kids, there’s an ice cream parlour and no less than two playparks. You could easily spend a day here and not see everything.  

Culzean’s grounds are very dog-friendly, and there are woodlands and a nearby beach to explore too. It’s one of the best days out near Craig Tara.

Thomason Castle

9 miles from Craig Tara

Rather less well preserved than Culzean, but darkly impressive, is the medieval Thomason Castle, which stands just off the road adjacent to the Culzean estate. It’s a surprisingly intact 13th-century castle built for a cousin of Robert the Bruce. 

There are no visitor facilities there, but it’s worth a photo or two if you’re visiting Culzean, and it’s interesting to note that it predates its famous neighbour by around 400 years.

Maybole Castle

8 miles from Craig Tara

Maybole Castle stands right in the middle of the small town of the same name. It’s yet another Kennedy clan property and dates to the 16th century. It's towering, and slightly sinister, with a dark history.

Privately owned, you can’t visit this property unfortunately. However, it can be viewed from the town’s High Street. Around a mile away, on Kirkoswald Road, you can see the ruins of Crossraguel Abbey, founded in the 1200s.

Newark Castle

Newark Castle

3 miles from Craig Tara

One of the nearest castles to us at Craig Tara is Newark Castle. It’s in private ownership and not open to the public but is easy to photograph from the road. Also known as New-Wark of Bargany, its yet another Kennedy property, built in the late 15th or early 16th centuries and expanded in later eras. 

You can see Newark Castle from the A719, two miles south of Ayr. It’s an attractive building, nestling against a wooded hillside, and well worth a photo as you head towards the city from Craig Tara.

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Baltersan Castle

10 miles from Craig Tara

A little southwest of Maybole stands Baltersan Castle, another partly ruined L-plan tower house, built in 1584 for John Kennedy of Pennyglen. It was constructed on the site of an earlier house belonging to one of Crossraguel Abbey’s major benefactors, Egidia Blair, Lady Row, who was buried at the Abbey in 1530. 

The walls of the castle are mostly intact, although its roof and interior has crumbled. It was briefly mooted for restoration on a 2005 episode of the show Dragon’s Den.

Greenan Castle

Greenan Castle

2 miles from Greenan Castle

One of the most appealing ruined castles in Ayrshire is Greenan Castle, which stands on the cliffs just southwest of Ayr. You can park at the Greenan Road car park and walk along the coastal path or stroll the beach at low tide and reach the castle at your leisure. It’s a dog-friendly route too. 

The ruined castle dates to around the 12th century and was built on the site of an earlier fort converted into a mott and bailey styled castle. It was further modernised in the 15th and 16th centuries. Like most of the nearby fortifications it belonged to the Kennedy clan, and you can see the inscription “JK 1603 FMD” over the door lintel which refers to John Kennedy of Baltersan and his wife Florence MacDowell. 

On a sunny day, the walk and neighbouring beach make a pleasant day out in their own right. A visit to the castle is the icing on the cake!

Cassillis Castle

8 miles from Craig Tara

Rather grander and more immaculate than other local castles, Cassillis Castle is privately owned.

Although you can’t visit the castle, you may be able to spot it from the road between Minishant and Dalrymple. Fortunately, the town of Maybole is just four miles away, and features several much more accessible castles also on this list.

Dalquharran Castle

Dalquharran Castle

16 miles from Craig Tara

This castle involves a longer drive from Craig Tara and is near the town of Girvan to the south. It’s another late Kennedy castle, built for Gilbert Kennedy by the celebrated architect Robert Adam in 1790. Sadly, it now lies in ruins, but it remains an imposing and remarkable folly. 

Much of the site is fenced off for safety but you can walk around it and imagine its initial grandeur. On the same site, there are the remains of an older castle, from around 1679, also ruined. This is one for the intrepid explorer or photographer but do be careful if you venture inside!

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