5 Jun 2010

Welcoming summer at Culzean Castle

If there is a place to well and truly welcome summer into your life, the 600 acres of manicured splendour that surrounds Culzean Castle is enough to make you babble deliriously at the bees.

I achieved just such a state of dreamy awe during our most recent visit. Imagine me, half strolling and half gliding across the lawns in front of the tiered gardens and the light caramel exterior of the castle itself.
“Hello fountain…hello palm trees…hello lovely giant stone planter filled with perky yellow flowers.” Every few minutes I lower my camera and grin dopily over at JP, who shakes his head and tries to keep me moving before all my limbs turn to rubber and I collapse.

All of this before we take the stairs that lead down to the banks of the Forth of Clyde. From here it is easy to get a sense of what an imposing sight this estate would have been several hundred years ago, gleaming from its cliff top, a delicate gem and a impenetrable fortress rolled into one.
It is low tide so we take our time walking around rocks and boulders, staring into pools and even turning over a couple of stones to see if there are any wee beasties hiding there. A blood red sea anemone gleams in the water, its tentacles waving lazily in the tiny current as the tide begins to push back in.
With the rare treat of a cloudless Scottish sky calling us to remain outside, we take only a quick tour of the Castle’s interior before heading back out. The history of Culzean is tied to the Kennedy family, who trace their ancestry back to Robert the Bruce.
There are two elements of the castle interior that I adore above all, and since no photos are allowed inside, I share two that I have borrowed from the property’s web site.

The red and white flourishes of the oval staircase makes you feel like you're walking up the swirling insides of a Willy Wonka candy, only to emerge into the ultimate sugary centre, the round drawing room.

This room was used for entertaining and was usually kept sparsely furnished. After all, who would want to risk adding anything that might detract from the gasp-inducing sea views available out of each and every window.
As stunning as the interior of the castle is, on the cusp of summer there is nothing that compares to the lush beauty of the larger estate, from the gardens to the forest walks and the wide blue belly of the Forth of Clyde.

Everywhere we turn, scenes of idyllic grandeur fold open like a living pop up book. The sunlight pushes through the trees, causing the already intense green to glow even brighter.
Within a month the plants that line the main path through the walled gardens will be waist high, but for now the last of the apple blossoms are slowly fading, the breeze plucking some off their branches and sweeping them down on us as we walk. How can anything be this romantic? Jane Austen would have swooned. Even the estate’s deer seem amazed by it all.
Today we have just the swan pond (which today holds only ducks) and the pagoda left to see. The pagoda has been rebuilt in the same design as the original. Back in the 1800s it housed exotic birds and animals, and as it is set on a hill and surrounded by tall trees, I can’t help thinking it would make a dream fort for children (or an ideal escape nook for adults).

This was my second visit to Culzean and I am more in love with it than ever. A property like this calls for some additional planning in order to get the most of it:

-Come early. Culzean is one of Ayrshire’s most popular tourist destinations, including tour buses and school outings. Arriving when the grounds open gives you the best opportunity to bask in a bit of solitude. Also, on days that start out sunny, clouds can often start to sweep in by 11am, so an early start could mean more blue sky views.

-Give yourself the whole day. It’s 600 acres, remember? If you don’t have a picnic lunch along, go to the cafĂ© and eat chocolate cake while overlooking the Ayrshire coastline.

Thus ends our summertime tour of Culzean. I can’t believe it’s over. Sigh.

Wait - shall we go again? Why not. Here’s a lovely forest path, with the sun shining through just so. Let’s see where it takes us, shall we?

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