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Arts and culture in Ayrshire and Arran

Ayrshire and Arran certainly pack a punch when it comes to arts and culture. With ancient abbeys and castles, marvellous museums, dynamic theatres, and modern galleries, there’s something to attract history buffs, music fans, culture vultures and art lovers.

Ayrshire

You may not know much about Kelburn Castle’s rooms but you could be familiar with its quirky exterior. This was famously given a radical and very colourful graffiti makeover by a group of Brazilian artists in 2007. Kelburn Estate near Largs is also notable for its wealth of eclectic arts events, which draw tourists from far and wide, including a Peaky Blinders-themed murder mystery weekend, adventure days featuring Wild West, Jurassic and Knights and Warriors themes and even its own well-established annual music festival. Taking place at the end of June, the Kelburn Garden Party is a self-proclaimed “cultural safari for the mind, body soul”. With a wide range of musicians performing, including Goldie and Krafty Kuts, as well as the fascinating Museum of the Moon, circus performers, The Neverending Glen Art Trail and more, it’s now a firm favourite in the summer festival calendar. Suitable for all ages, the Kelburn Garden Party is not to be missed.

Kelburn Castle

Enjoy a fun-filled day out at Kelburn Castle

Theatre and concerts

Just 10 minutes over the water from Largs, the tiny island of Great Cumbrae has a wealth of cultural attractions for visitors to enjoy. Garrison House – once the residence of customs officers charged with preventing smuggling on the River Clyde – is now a major community hub for the island’s only town of Millport. As well as housing the GP surgery, council offices and a state-of-the-art library, it is also home to The Museum of the Cumbraes. This showcases the rich history of the islands, with artefacts on display from more than 4,000 years ago and right up to the present day. With smugglers, sailors and even scientists all playing an important role in island life throughout the ages, the museum is a worthy testament to the people who shaped the Cumbraes.

The Palace Theatre, located in the town of Kilmarnock, is a 500-seat venue with a year-round programme of drama, music and comedy. Its Cafe Bar hosts monthly comedy slots that promote up-and-coming comedians. Next door in the Grand Hall is the best place in Ayrshire to enjoy live music, with regular large-scale concerts featuring the likes of superstar DJ, Calvin Harris. Also in Kilmarnock, at the heart of 200 acres of woodland, sits Dean Castle, which takes its name from the dean or wooded valley. The original keep dates from around 1350 and the Palace was added 110 years later. Today the castle is home to world-class collections of historic weapons, tapestries, armour and musical instruments. It’s currently undergoing restoration work, but when the castle reopens visitors will be able to enjoy free tours and even try on the ancient suits of armour. There is also a visitor centre, shop and a tearoom.

Kelburn Estate near Largs is also notable for its wealth of eclectic arts events, which draw tourists from far and wide

Crafts and culture

Craft Town Scotland in West Kilbride is an essential stop-off point for anyone intrigued by locally-produced art and design. Set within former church The Barony Centre, it is made up of nine active studios, exhibitions, activities, an events space and a cafe. Visitors can gain a unique insight in to the techniques and craftsmanship of the talented local designers, enjoy some fabulous exhibitions and even take part in creative activities. With plenty of independent craft shops dotted around the village of West Kilbride, it’s a good idea to bring some spending money to collect your very own art pieces.

Based at Dalgarven Mill in Kilwinning, the Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume offers visitors a detailed insight in to the rural history of the region. Comprising a former grain mill, a comprehensive agricultural museum and a vast costume collection of more than 2,000 pieces, a day out at Dalgarven feels just like stepping back in time and experiencing a first-hand perspective of Ayrshire culture. History buffs and bookworms can also enjoy the outstanding archives. Moreover, with a stunning rural riverside location, Dalgarven is a peaceful as it is informative.

Dalgarven Mill-Museum-art-culture

Learn about the fascinating history of the region at the Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume

The Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine is a vibrant cultural hub serving the North Ayrshire area and beyond. With two multi-purpose studio spaces, a gallery and a cafe bar, the centre is well-equipped to host its numerous events and activities that run throughout the year. Drama, theatre, comedy, music and art exhibitions are all on offer, and there are even classes and workshops available for eager beginners and budding thespians. Exploring the fascinating history and legacy of Robert Burns is a reason to visit Ayrshire in itself, and a trip to Alloway – the birthplace of Scotland’s national bard – is the perfect place to start. As well as the fascinating museum, the town acts as a living monument to the poet, and boasts Burns Cottage, Brig o’ Doon, Alloway Auld Kirk and a Poet’s Path. A truly immersive Burns experience, visitors can really explore the life and works of the bard. Throughout the year, there is also a full calendar of events taking place, including artisan food fayres, open-music sessions, ceilidhs and even a Hallowe’en tea party.

Based at Dalgarven Mill in Kilwinning, the Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume offers visitors a detailed insight in to the rural history of the region

Museums and galleries

At more than 100 years old, The Dick Institute is one of the most important museums and cultural spaces in the south west of Scotland. Located in Kilmarnock, the museum is Ayrshire’s largest and its reputation it second to none. As well as several permanent displays, the museum often attracts internationally-renowned exhibitions, including Miffy, Quentin Blake and Wallace and Gromit, and works from some of Scotland’s most prolific contemporary artists. All this, plus archaeology, social history, natural history displays and East Ayrshire’s central library ensure a trip to The Dick Institute is always engrossing.

Set within the magnificent grounds of Rozelle House in Ayr, the McLaurin Gallery homes one of the finest collections of 20th-century art in the country and often exhibits works from local, national and internationally-acclaimed artists. Actually comprised of four different galleries in what was originally the servants’ quarters at Rozelle House, the McLaurin Gallery boasts a robust programme of exhibitions, events, talks and workshops that take place throughout the year too, so there is always a reason to return.

At more than 100 years old, The Dick Institute is one of the most important museums and cultural spaces in the south west of Scotland

Arran

Despite its compact size, the island of Arran is a fulsome cornucopia of arts and culture, both ancient and modern. Located just north of Brodick, the Isle of Arran Heritage Museum is a must-see for visitors. The facility is a comprehensive guide to the social, archaeological and geological history of Arran, and features some wonderful artefacts and curiosities that showcase the lengthy and illustrious heritage of the island. Children can enjoy the many hands-on exhibits, such as spinning wool. Special events also take place throughout the summer season; these have included motorcycle displays, tractor shows and a fabulous celebration of MG sports cars. As is the case on much of the west coast of Scotland, Arran has an abundance of fascinating archaeological sites waiting to be explored. Some of the most significant are concentrated around the Blackwaterfoot area, and are easily accessible by car and on foot.

Glass workshop-art-culture

Take part in a creative workshop during your trip

Three miles north of the village lies the Bronze Age Machrie Moor Stone Circle and The Moss Farm Road Stone Circle. Another mile north of these leads to Auchagallon Cairn; a Bronze Age burial cairn surrounded by 14 domineering standing stones. South of Blackwaterfoot, visitors can view Kilpatrick Dun, Torr A’Chaisteal Iron Age Fort and the Neolithic Torrylin Cairn. Now in its 13th year, the Arran Art Gallery in Whiting Bay is operated by successful experimental artist Nick Giles. As well as displaying a vast collection of his own works, the gallery exhibits the works of more than 80 other artists. Painting, sculpture, jewellery, glass and printmaking are just some of the media represented and, with exhibits constantly changing, the gallery continues to attract art lovers time and time again. Open every day, the gallery prides itself on stocking some of the best quality affordable artworks in the country – so bring some of that holiday spending money.

Despite its compact size, the island of Arran is a fulsome cornucopia of arts and culture, both ancient and modern

Open studios

Another offering to satisfy the aesthetic hunger is the Arran Art Trail and Open Studios. A year-round attraction, this allows visitors and locals the opportunity to visit local artists, designers and crafters in their own studio spaces. There are currently 17 exhibitors featured on the trail. One weekend a year the artists throw open their doors for an art extravaganza, which attracts visitors from as far afield as Germany and the USA. More than 40 participants create everything from painting to needlework and furniture to etching.

Visitors lucky enough to be on the island at the beginning of September can enjoy the annual McLellan Art Festival, a certified island institution. Held in honour of writer and dramatist Robert McLellan, who spent much of his working life on the island, the Arran Theatre and Arts Trust established the mixed-media cultural arts festival. Focusing on poetry, film, music and drama, the festival also offers engaging workshops for adults and children.


Everything you need to know about Ayrshire and Arran

Where to eat in Ayrshire and Arran

The best things to do in Ayrshire and Arran

The best shopping in Ayrshire and Arran

The best nightlife Ayrshire and Arran

Image credits: ©Austin Neill/Juliet Furst/Khara Woods/Unsplash; VisitScotland/Paul Tomkins

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