Ayrshire was at one time Scotland’s largest Lowland county. Facing the Firth of Clyde, it is ringed by moorland and hills, which slope down to a rich agricultural patchwork of small fields, country lanes, woodland and picturesque villages. The poet Keats, when he made his pilgrimage in 1818 to the birthplace of Robert Burns in Alloway, compared its scenery to that of Devon. Indeed, in places you almost feel you are in an English rural landscape.
The county was formerly divided into three parts. Carrick is the most southerly, and owes a lot to neighbouring Galloway. It is separated from Kyle, a rich dairying area where the native Ayrshire cattle can be seen dotting the fields, by the River Doon. To the north, beyond the River Irvine, is Cunninghame, which at one time was the most industrialised of the three, though it managed his without losing too much of its rural aspect.
Ayrshire and Robert Burns, known to all Scottish people as Rabbie (never, ever Robbie!)are inextricably linked. He was born in Alloway, which nowadays is a prosperous suburb of Ayr, and spent the first 29 years of his life in the county before moving south to Dumfriesshire. We know a lot about the man, and all the places in Ayrshire where he lived, drank, courted and caroused are well signposted. A full week could easily be spent meandering along the main roads and narrow lanes of the county, visiting such towns and villages as Tarbolton, Mauchline, Ayr, Kilmarnock, Irvine, Failford and Kirkoswald. Every year in May, the Burns an’ a’ That Festival takes place throughout Ayrshire to celebrate his life and work. Venues include pubs, concert halls, theatres, museums and churches. The most spectacular concert is held out of doors at Culzean Castle.
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