Culzean Castle (Scots: Cullain) is a castle overlooking the Firth of Clyde, near Maybole, Carrick, on the Ayrshire coast of Scotland. It is the former home of the Marquess of Ailsa, the chief of Clan Kennedy, but is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland. The clifftop castle lies within the Culzean Castle Country Park and is opened to the public. Since 1987, an illustration of the castle has featured on the reverse side of five pound notes issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Culzean Castle originally belonged to the Kennedys, an ancient Scottish family descended from Robert the Bruce. There was a stone tower house here in the 16th century, and various Kennedys over the centuries made their mark on the castle with improvements and alterations. But it wasn’t until the 1770s that it started to become the grand country seat it is today. David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis and a peer in the House of Lords, commissioned famed Scottish architect Robert Adam to design and build a castle that reflected the family’s status and wealth. It was a no-expense-spared project, but neither Kennedy nor Adam survived to see the castle completed as they both died within months of each other in 1792, shortly before the castle was completed.
A new phase of works started in 1877 under the 3rd Marquess. Edinburgh architects Wardrop & Reid were employed to make further improvements to the castle in keeping with Adam’s style, including the additional three-storey west wing and a newly designed entrance. In 1945, when the castle was passed to the National Trust for Scotland, the top floor was converted into a flat for use by General Eisenhower, as a gesture for America’s support during the Second World War. General Eisenhower visited on four occasions including while president of the United States of America. These same rooms are now a country house hotel and you too can stay where the president himself stayed. There are also a number of holiday cottages available in the country park.
Packed to the turrets with antique furniture and furnishings, artworks, porcelain and other fascinating period objects, Culzean Castle is a superb example of high-class living, 18th-century style. Highlights include the Round Drawing Room with its panoramic view of the Clyde; the Armoury, which holds one of the world’s largest collections of swords and pistols; and the grand Oval Staircase. The armoury contains a propellor from a plane flown by Leefe Robinson when he shot down a German airship north of London in 1916. There are guided tours of the castle at 11.00 and 14.30 daily. There are family tours of the castle on Sat and Sun at 11.30 and 14.00. To help you make the most of your visit, there’s a short ‘History of Culzean’ video in the Visitor Centre, multi-media tours in the castle for a small cost, and information cards and guides in every room.
You’re spoilt for choice outside. If you want to get close to the sea, you have three miles of shoreline to explore, encompassing sandy beaches, shingle, caves and rock pools. If formal gardens are more your thing, then admire the Fountain Court with its orangery and terraces below the castle. Or head for the Walled Garden for colourful borders, a stone grotto and fruit-filled glasshouses, all in a peaceful setting. Don’t miss the tranquil ‘Happy Valley’ woodland trail to the Swan Pond, where you can sit at the café and watch the wildlife. There are around 40 other quirky historical buildings and follies hidden throughout the estate, from the Pagoda to the Gas House, as well as shops, cafés and restaurants. Whether you explore the grounds by yourself, or take one of the Ranger-led guided walks, there’s plenty to discover and enjoy.
The castle grounds include a walled garden, which is built on the site of the home of a former slave owned by the Kennedy family, Scipio Kennedy. The commercial success of the slave-worked plantations of the late seventeenth century led to a fashion for Scottish families of the gentry class to keep black African servants. Merchants importing goods from the Caribbean and Americas made regular contact with slave ships and some were "redeemed" (purchased) for domestic service. Men and boys were more likely than women and girls to be taken into service, often in highly visible roles such as page boys or footmen. They might be given pet names, or names that sarcastically poked fun at their powerlessness, such as "Caesar". Their lives were often much easier than that of their counterparts in the New World plantations, and they were often given an education so that they could read and write. They were also expected to become Christians and therefore after their baptism, they became recognised as having a soul. By the end of the eighteenth century, they were seen as equal human beings under the law.
In about the year 1700, when Scipio was aged five or six, he was captured in West Africa and taken onto a slave ship in the area known as the Gulf of Guinea. Given the normal route that these ships took, it is likely that he was transported to an island in the Caribbean before being redeemed by Andrew Douglas of Mains (which is near Milngavie in Dumbartonshire) and transported to Scotland in 1702. Douglas would probably have chosen the name Scipio, whose namesake Scipio Africanus served the Roman Empire, defeating the numerically superior forces of Hannibal in the Punic Wars. Douglas had a daughter, Jean, who married John Kennedy in 1705, and Scipio moved to Culzean with them. During this time Scipio learned to read, write and also some textile manufacture. In March 1711, John Kennedy assumed the title of Baronet Kennedy of Culzean from his father, the first Baronet. Scipio's manumission document is held at the National Archives of Scotland. It is dated 1725 and grants Scipio the freedom to take employment elsewhere. The document records the "clothing, maintenance and education with more than ordinary kindness" already given to Scipio by the Kennedy family. It also details the terms of his further employment by them in a nineteen-year breakable contract, to be rewarded with "the sum of twelve pounds Scots money yearly besides my share of the drink money". The document is signed by John Kennedy and Scipio. In 1728 Scipio was recorded as having fathered a daughter, Sarah, by fornication with Margaret Gray. This would have been considered a scandalous event within the parish. Scipio married Margaret later that year and the couple had further children.
An estate map was drawn up in the 1750s by John Foulis of Redburn, a copy of which is kept in Culzean Castle. The map shows a building on a piece of land about 800 metres from the castle, near to the current walled garden, and it is overwritten with the word "Sipios". The house cost £90 to build when new, and was probably an impressive building made of stone. The area of the grounds where the house once stood was excavated in 2007; some artifacts were found during the excavation which may have been Scipio's personal property. Jean Kennedy's will dated 1751, records the gift from her estate "to Scipio Kennedy my old servant, the sum of ten pounds sterling". As this figure is of a similar order to the amount given to each of her grandchildren (a third each of £40), this seems to show that Scipio was considered to be part of the Kennedy family. In Kirkoswald Old Church graveyard, there is a stone commemorating the life of Scipio, erected by one of his sons. The stone does not explicitly say that Scipio is buried in that place, but that his son is "also" buried there. The stone reads: "This stone is erected by Douglas Kennedy in Memory of his father Scipio Kennedy who died June 24, 1774 Aged 80 years. Also here lieth the body of said Douglas Kennedy who died July 21, 1781 aged 49 years." Some authors have raised the question of Scipio's descendants. In May 2012, The Scotsman published an article written by Jonathan Sharp, which details his personal research into his family history. He traced his lineage back through to one of Scipio's daughters, Elizabeth Kennedy in Kirkoswald, and thence to Scipio himself.
Disabled parking is available at Home Farm Visitor Centre, the deer park and Walled Garden. Parking is available in front of the Castle for disabled drivers only, disabled passengers may be dropped off. There is disabled access to the Castle. There is a lift – please phone the Castle for full details of access arrangements. Some parts of the gardens and Country Park are accessible. Manual wheelchairs and motorised scooters are available if booked in advance. There are disabled toliets at the Castle and Home Farm Visitor Centre. There is disabled access (level entry) to all shopping facilities. There is disabled access (level entry) to the Home Farm Restaurant and the Old Stables Coffee Shop. For the visually impaired there are large-print room guides available. In the grounds there are tapping rails on some paths. There is an induction loop in the auditorium. Explanatory text is available in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Spanish and Swedish. Visitors can also discover the history of Culzean Castle through a multimedia tour for iPhone and iPad. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Culzean Castle & Country Park, Culzean Castle, Maybole, Ayrshire & Arran KA19 8LE
Transport: Maybole (ScotRail) then bus (60, 360). Bus Routes : Stagecoach 60 and 360 stop at entrance - 1 mile to visitor centre.
Opening Times Castle: 25th March - 31st October, Daily, 10:30 to 17:00
Opening Times Country Park: Daily, 10:00 to 15:00
Opening Times Walled Garden: Daily, 09:30 to 17:30 or dusk
Tickets : Adults £15.50; Concession £11.50
Tickets Country Park: Adults £10.00; Concession £7.50
Tel. : 01655 884455