Scrambling over rocks to peer into the icy clear water to spot crabs, bracing walks with thick woollen hats pulled down over ears, rich hot chocolates in large mugs and stunning scenery to see at every turn. Boat trips to islands to cycle around and warm, inviting restaurants whose amber lights glowed from within, beckoning us inside to steaming bowls of sticky toffee pudding. These and so many more were our experiences in Scotland on our wonderful winter trip to Ayrshire with kids.
I adore Scotland. With school trips to the Isle of Arran starting my love affair and a trip with children in the spring to Fife a few years ago, it’s somewhere that is bewitching and every time I visit I wonder why I’ve left it so long to return.
We flew in to Glasgow in December and within half an hour were driving out in to the countryside. Beautiful, frosty fields leading to snow topped mountains beyond. It looked like a scene that would have been perfectly fitting on a Christmas card.
We stopped off at Auchengree, a sweet little farm shop in Glengarnock where we stocked up with cheeses from Arran, Ayrshire potatoes and local relishes. There was so much more to choose from including chocolates, crackers and breads.
Then we were off, heading down the coast to Ayr, our base for our week in Ayrshire. We were staying at the Donnini Apartments, functional and perfectly comfortable we could look out over the dramatic hills of Arran which for me was perfect. We enjoyed our time here, cooking up breakfasts in the little kitchen and always feeling warm once we returned from trips out.
Our week was absolutely full of all the delights of Ayrshire in winter.
We visited Blackstone farm, home to the Clydesdale horses which are the most beautiful, gentle giants. It was too icy to ride when we visited but we were treated to a lovely experience meeting each of the group, stroking noses and handing over big carrots for them to happily crunch. It was such a treat to be so close to these gorgeous creatures.
We rambled over beaches, spending mornings on the sand in Ayr as families have done for hundreds of years and spent time rock pooling on Maidens Beach, where Robert the Bruce landed on his determined march forward to eventually reconquer Scotland.
My favourite trip out was to the small island of Great Cumbrae. We travelled up to the picturesque little town of Largs and on to the small ferry that shuttles passengers backwards and forwards every half an hour.
Arriving on the island I fell in love with the ice cream coloured houses and tranquil views across the sea in every direction. We hired bikes at Mapes, a mixture of a toy shop, bike hire and hardware store and set off around the island.
There were seals to spot, lounging on distant rocks and otters that remained elusive to us. Pedalling around, breaths like icy clouds we felt warm and toasty from the cycling. It was such a wonderful experience to be out in the beautifully fresh air, looking out over neighbouring islands so picture perfect and just calling out to be explored and had us dreaming of an extended trip island hopping.
We stopped for a simple picnic of a mustardy Arran cheese on crusty bread, fizzy drinks and chocolate sponge cake before heading on and completing our circle of this beautiful island.
We visited our fair share of castles too, you can’t come to Scotland and not visit a castle or two. Our favourite was at Culzean, an imposing building right on the cliff edges, closed in winter but with its gardens open to explore and its playground one of the best I have ever come across, a huge wooden castle kingdom which the kids loved.
It was lovely to walk on to the beach here, the rhythmic pulling and pushing of the sea making us feel happy and centred. There’s something about the sound of those waves tinkling the pebbles and gently crashing that is so feel-good, even in winter. Especially in winter.
We walked through frozen paths to the beautiful Dean Castle in Kilmarnock where the light reflected off the glass and we imagined hundreds of years of history.
As we walked around an icy lake where local children shrieked as they ice skated across it in their shoes we spied a deer peering over at us curiously, the perfect winter image.
We also visited Dumfries House, again for its wonderful grounds and wooden play areas and where we stumbled upon an artisan market from which we returned back with armfuls of veggie pies, sourdough bread and more local cheeses for a perfect supper back in our apartment.
Ayrshire is synonymous with Robert Burns and we had a trip to his cottage planned. I don’t know what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t the amazing world we found. From a fun, interactive Robert Burns museum where we all crowded around the computerised table to play a tricky game of Auld Langs Syne where we had to keep everyone’s hands joined in time to the music.
A delightfully imaginative playground for the children, all based around Burns poetry.
Through to the cottage itself which was absolutely brought alive by Allan the guide. With its large flagstones and spaces for the livestock we all got such a glimpse into what life must have been like in the eighteenth century in this part of the world and the cottage felt so evocative.
We also had an adventure filled evening star-gazing at the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory in Loch Doon. Set in one of the country’s darkest locations this is one of the best places in the country to go star watching. We joined our little group and tramped through dark, snowy lanes to the observatory at the top. Unfortunately we got slightly lost on the way leading us to walk around the lanes for a while, torches weaving backwards and forwards, trying to find the way. We were soon rescued by the owner in her trusty jeep and shuttled up to the main building. The stars here shone so bright, millions of twinkling, dazzling little specks which were beautiful to look up at. It made me feel so small to see this wonderful world that is so often lost in the ambient light of city living and was such a treat to look through the telescope to see the hidden sky in more depth.
We ate well in Ayrshire, from some amazing vegetarian haggis complete with neeps and tatties at the Waterfront in Ayr to some delicious sticky toffee pudding in No.22 also in the town, a restaurant which was covered in tiny lights and just so warm and welcoming.
We really enjoyed a trip to Irvine where the Scottish Maritime Museum was an enthralling experience. Inside the Victorian Linthouse building there’s an involving tale of the area’s history with the sea. With an engaging children’s quiz around the former warehouse, we passed now silent machinery, ships figureheads and discovered how the successes of the local population rose and fell with the local maritime industry.
For me the best part of the museum trip was an accompanying visit to an original 1920s tenement building they own and have restored so visitors can look around and get a glimpse into this past world. The whole apartment is so authentically done and it was wonderful to watch my eleven year old son’s eyes grow wide with stories of children his age out to earn their keep.
The stories this building could tell, of laughter and hardship and lives come and gone felt so tangible and I wanted to linger there as long as I could, just to absorb them all and feel them.
The cold of a late December afternoon started to bite in the unheated tenement though and we all retreated to the museum’s cafe for hot chocolates and cake and to watch the winter sun rapidly fade. The snow topped peaks of Goat Fell on Arran were enveloped in to the darkness and the lights of the harbourside homes started to warm through the night making me feel cosy and happy.
Ayrshire is beautiful in all seasons I imagine but there’s something about the magic of winter, when invigorating beach walks, cheeks rosy and smiles wide allow for treats of the tastiest hot food and warming drinks. Castles look more fairytale like against the frosty floor and sandy beaches wait patiently for the world to turn and to be bathed in sunshine again whilst still allowing us time to shell hunt and search for washed up treasure. It’s the perfect location for family time, when we can come together and really enjoy the countryside and everything this picturesque region has to offer in winter.
Watch our video of our winter trip to Ayrshire with kids here –
Our winter trip to Ayrshire with kids is in collaboration with Visit Scotland.