Rig and Furrow marks

Rig and Furrow marks

Dovecote (doocot)

Dovecote (doocot)


National Museums Scotland and partners have developed the National Museum of Rural Life, previously known as the Museum of Scottish Country Life, which is based at Wester Kittochside farm, lying between the town of East Kilbride in South Lanarkshire and the village of Carmunnock in Glasgow. The National Museum of Rural Life has greatly extended the work of the former Scottish Agricultural Museum, founded in 1949, latterly located within the Royal Highland Showground at Ingliston, west of Edinburgh. The completed National Museum of Rural Life features a 50,000-square-foot (4,600square metre) museum and visitor centre, the Georgian buildings of Wester Kittochside farm, the species-rich fields and hedgerows around it and a 24 hectare (60 acre) events area.


The hill on which Dundonald stands has a been occupied since around 2000 BCE. The first hill fort was built around 500 – 200 BCE and remained in use until around 1000 AD. The first castle on the site, of which nothing survives, was a ‘motte and bailey’ of timber construction built around the mid 12th century, probably by Walter FitzAllan , first Steward of Scotland. It was replaced in the late 13th century by a much larger stone castle consisting of two large blocks facing each other across a circular courtyard and four round towers at intervals in a high curtain wall. Each of the two main blocks were also fronted by round towers and the base of one of these can be seen in the north wall of the present structure, and the old arched entrance can be seen in the wall of the lower vault. The castle was destroyed in the early 14th century during the wars with England.


The present ruin was built in the latter half of the 14th century by King Robert II, who died here in 1390. The main block consisted of two pointed barrel vaults, the lower one was split to form two floors. The ground floor was for storage, it has an entrance (current) in the east wall and mural stair in the north wall led to the service area of the laigh or lower hall on the first floor. There was a minstrel’s gallery, with its own latrine, above the service area. Today entry is by the service entrance on the ground floor but the principal entrance was at first floor level and would have been reached by movable staircase. From the first floor a turnpike stair in the south-east angle, now replaced with a metal one, gave access to the upper vault which formed the great hall, and to the parapet above.


The great hall had an elaborate ribbed vault, with transverse and diagonal ribs. These were a purely decorative feature and did not support the vault. There was a canopied fireplace in the west wall but this has now gone. At the south end of the hall a service area would have been screened from the main room, there is also a wall closet at this end. At the north end, the dias end, a pointed doorway leads to two wall closets, one containing a latrine. A small area of ribbed vault survives above the entrance to the great hall. Strangely the tower was built without any bedrooms or any other chambers. This was quickly resolved with the construction of an extension to the south. The ground floor of the extension contained a bakehouse, and small prison with its own fireplace and drain. Below the prison is a pit, there were no such luxuries down there. King James III sold Dundonald estate to the Cathcarts in 1482, it then passed to the Wallaces in 1526 but was in ruins by the end of the 17th century.


One of the most important developments over the years was the creation of a visitor centre (although without the castle the centre wwould be redundant) at the foot of the hill, which includes a cafe, souvenir shop and an interpretive exhibition. The exhibition outlines the history of the Castle and its preceding buildings with detailed models of the earlier castles on the site. Some of the artefacts, which were unearthed in the archaeological dig, are also on show, and there is a colourful display showing the heraldic shields in their original colours. In addition to its strong Stewart connections Dundonald is also closely associated with the Cochranes of Cowden, who took the title of Earls of Dundonald in the 17th century and some items relating to this illustrious family are available for viewing in the Centre. The visitor centre is owned by South Ayrshire Council and is operated on their behalf by The Friends of Dundonald Castle. The friendly staff will be delighted to assist you during your visit and will try to answer any questions you may wish to ask. The cafe sells a selection of hot and cold drinks, home baking and confectionery and the shop sells a range of quality goods and a small selection of appropriate books.


All parts of the castle are accessible to the reasonably fit, but the visit does involve a climb of about 30 metres up a winding path to the top of the castle hill. On a clear day the hill commands very extensive views, including the Isle of Arran, the mountains of the Southern Highlands and much of the central Ayrshire plain. The visitor centre is wheelchair accessible with a ramp to the main entrance. There are toilets, including facilities for the disabled, on site at the cafe. Large print guides are available. Assistance dogs are welcome.


Location : Visitor Centre, Winehouse Yett, Dundonald, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire KA2 9HD

Transport: Troon (ScotRail) then bus (110). Bus Routes : 10, 21, 110 and X78 stop close by.

Opening Times Castle: 1st April - 31st October, Daily, 10:00 to 17:00

Tickets : Adults £4.50;  Concessions £3.60  Children (to 16) £2.70

Tel. : 01655 884455