Eglinton Country Park
Eglinton Country Park is located in the grounds of the old Eglinton Castle estate, Irvine, on the outskirts of Kilwinning, North Ayrshire, Scotland (map reference NS 3227 4220). Eglinton Park is situated in the parish of Kilwinning, part of the former district of Cunninghame, and covers an area of 400 hectares (98 acres (40 ha) of which are woodland). The central iconic feature of the country park is the ruined Eglinton Castle, once home to the Eglinton family and later the Montgomeries, Earls of Eglinton and chiefs of the Clan Montgomery. Eglinton Country Park is managed and maintained by North Ayrshire Council and its Ranger Service.

Eglinton is a one hour drive from Glasgow, accessed via the M77 to Kilmarnock, followed by the A71 to Irvine, and then the A78(T) to Eglinton Junction on the outskirts of Kilwinning. It is a 30 minute walk from Kilwinning town centre along the banks of the River Garnock or by the A737 Irvine - Kilwinning road. A regular bus service also runs by the western entrance to the park. Eglinton is mostly a free facility, with no parking charges or entry fee, however permits are required for fishing and horse riding; some facilities are charged for, such as the quaint holiday cottage located next to the Racquet Hall, the Visitor Facilty Block and the use of the events fields.

Facilities within the park
Eglinton is a place for having a quiet walk in the woodlands, around the loch or through the Clement Wilson Gardens; also having a relaxing day out, a picnic and enjoying the visitor centre, children's play areas, bird watching, etc. Plenty of car parking is available (119 cars), with an overflow or auxiliary 'grass' car park (93 cars). A dedicated bus park has spaces for 5 coaches. The visitors centre is the place to find out what's on at the park. It houses an exhibition on the history of the park, has stocks of all the park leaflets and the gift shop is well stocked with souvenirs and books. The Tournament Cafe supplies snacks and meals. Full wheelchair access and facilities for disabled visitors are provided. A free mobility scooter and wheelchair loan service operates from the Visitor Centre, with advanced booking advisable. The Racquet Hall Cottage in the park has been renovated to be let as self-catering accommodation. It sleeps six and is available throughout the year. A campsite field is available for organised groups such as Scouts, Guides, etc. The visitor facility block has toilets, showers and a dayroom. A charge is made for these facilities. Eglinton Country Park is served by the North Ayrshire Countryside Ranger Service who offer a programme of guided walks (lasting from 1 to 2 hours) and events from Easter and July - September. The Visitor Centre is open from 10 am 12 am and 1 pm to 4 pm, 7 days a week from Easter to October. The park is open all year, dawn to dusk. The Acorn Club and Oak Conservation teams run from October to March on Saturday mornings. Applications are taken from September 1. The park is a contact for pupils and teachers taking part in 'Eco Schools' projects and the rangers are also a contact for 'Scottish Outdoor Access', the code and further details of access to the countryside. Dogs are welcome as long as they are kept under control; the park is listed as 'Friendly Venue' by the Dog's Trust.

Spier's outstation
Spier's Old School Grounds on Barrmill Road, Beith are an outstation for Eglinton Country Park, serving as a multi-purpose facility for the communities of the Garnock valley (Dalry, Glengarnock, Kilbirnie, Longbar, Beith, and Barrmill). Spier's parklands are staffed by an NAC Garnock Valley Ranger three weeks out of every four. The Friends of Spiers (FoS) are a group based at the outstation, dedicated to the enhancement and maintenance of Spier's Old School Grounds. Spier's is owned by the Spier's Trust and leased by NAC.

Two childrens playparks are provided, one near the Visitor Centre and the other near the castle ruins. There are wet weather shelters. The Rackets Hall can be hired for birthday parties, conferences, exhibitions, and other events. A soft play facility is located for hire within the Rackets Hall. Equestrian rides (Bridle paths) Within the park there is an extensive bridle path network extending to around 11 km. Of this route a shared paths makes up about 5 km of the route on which riders must give way to walkers and cyclists. The track meanders pleasantly beside fields and woodlands. Eglinton loch and the Lugton Water The 6.5 ha loch, 6 metres deep, was created in 1975 through the extraction of materials used in the construction of the A 78 (T) Irvine and Kilwinning bypass. It is marked on old maps as being an area liable to flooding and was the site of the jousting matches at the 1839 Eglinton Tournament. It is well stocked with coarse fish, and is a popular spot for anglers and bird watchers. The Lugton Water runs through the park and several weirs were built at intervals along the river to raise the water level for ornamental reasons. Several mills were powered by the Lugton Water as shown by names such as 'North and South Millburn', situated near the hamlet of Benslie. The 12th Earl (1740–1819) altered the course of the Lugton Water.

The Irvine New Town Trail
The Irvine New Town Trail is a 19 km (12 mi) long cycle path used by many joggers, walkers, dog walkers and cyclists in the area. The route forms a ring as there are no start and end points. The trail passes through Irvine's low green, and goes up to Kilwinning's Woodwynd and Blackland's area. The route passes through the Eglinton Country Park, carries on to Girdle Toll, Bourtreehill, Broomlands, Dreghorn and carries on to the Irvine Riverside and back to the Mall and the Low Green again.

The Belvedere Hill and other pedestrian areas
A plantation is situated on 'Belvedere Hill' (the term 'Belvedere or Belvidere' literally means 'beautiful view') with a classical central ' folly' feature and vistas radiating out from a central hub, technically termed 'rond-points' (plantations located on rising ground with several vistas radiating from a central point). This style of woodlands and vistas or rides is a restoration of the layout of the entire area surrounding the castle in the 1750s prior to the remodeling which was completed by 1802. General Roy's map of 1747 - 52 shows that the ornamental woodlands were a series of these radiating rond-points of different sizes, sometimes overlapping each other. The 'old' Eglinton Park farm, circa 1950s, lies to one side of this feature. Many other footpaths are present, a number of which are not shared with cyclists or horses.

Views within Eglinton Country Park - 2007

Birds i) Recent resident breeding species include: Robins, finches, tits, Thrush, Pheasant, Grey Partridge, Tawny Owl, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Yellowhammer, Tree-creeper. ii) Resident (but non-breeding): Buzzard. Winter visitors: Fieldfares, Redwings, occasional Waxwings and sightings of Hen Harrier and Kingfisher. iii) Wildfowl include: Goldeneye, Wigeon, Tufted and Mallard ducks with Whooper Swans and geese on passage. Also Woodcock, Snipe, Curlew and Lapwing. iv) Summer migrants: Swifts, Swallows and Martins; Willow, Sedge and Grasshopper Warblers, Blackcap and Chiffchaff. Exotic sightings include cuckoos, White Stork, Black Swan a Flamingo!. Mammals Hedgehogs, foxes, moles, pipistrelle bats, mink and roe deer are found in the park and may be seen with luck or by being patient and silent. Other wildlife Robin's Pincushion gall on a wild rose Surveys carried out by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and others have shown that the park also has a good variety of mushroom, bracket, jelly and other species of fungi. The park has a good gall diversity, such as knopper on acorns, tongue on alders, robin's pincushion or rose bedeguar gall on wild rose, cola nut on oak and witch's broom on birch. The 'Old Wood' containing the ice house has a good plant diversity due to the fact that it is long established and relatively undisturbed, unlike the park's plantations which are of a comparatively recent origin. Chapelholms wood shows a similar high biodiversity. Plants such as Dog's Mercury, Tussock grass, bluebells and Honeysuckle are indicators of old deciduous woodlands. Snowdrops are a highlight of spring in the park. A few specimen trees from the estate days survive, especially Sycamores (Acer pseudoplatanus) or Plane trees as they are traditionally known in Scotland. The park is one of the relatively few sites in Scotland where the Upright Hedge Bedstraw ( Galium album) grows. Species conservation The park is acting as a part of the conservation effort to ensure the survival of three species of the rare indigenous and endemic trees commonly called the Arran Whitebeams, native to that island and found nowhere else in the World. Chapelholms Wood has been designated as a Wildlife Site by the Scottish Wildlife Trust in recognition of the quality of its habitats and the species diversity it exhibits.

The History of Eglinton Country Park

The castle, gardens and estate
The castle Main article: Eglinton Castle The original castle of the Eglintons may have been near Kidsneuk, Bogside (NS 309 409) where a substantial earth mound or motte stands and excavated pottery was found tentatively dating the site to the thirteenth century. The Eglinton Tournament bridge and castle in 1876 The original bridge had three arches and stood a little further up towards the castle. Eglinton Castle and the Eglinton Tournament Bridge The usual spelling is 'Eglinton', however Eglintoun, Eglintoune or Eglintown are encountered in old books and maps. The Eglinton Castle ruins, despite their appearance, are of a relatively modern building, the mansion having been completed as recently as 1802. Eglinton was the most notable post-Adam Georgian castle in Ayrshire. The older castle was completely demolished in 1796; having been first modified by the 9th Earl who commissioned William Adam (1689–1748) to build a kitchen block and associated back court. This engraving shows three arches and other differences compare with the Tournament bridge. It was the bridge that preceded it. The earliest known castle, which even then was the chief seat of the Montgomeries, was burned by the Cunninghames of Glencairn in 1528 and rebuilt afterwards. The mill was also destroyed as well as the muniment chests containing the Montgomerie charters, etc. Tournament Bridge in a state of partial dismantlement during renovation in May 2008 Jousting activities on the restored bridge. One of the side wings of the 1802 castle was known to the servants as Bedlam, this being where the Montgomerie's children had their rooms. The central saloon of the castle was 36 feet (11 m) in diameter and reached up the whole height of the castle, some 100 feet (30 m). The Category B Listed 1802 castle was un-roofed in 1929, being in poor structural condition after the contents sale of 1925, and fell into ruins. Amongst many items of interest, the castle contained a chair built from the oak timbers of Alloway kirk and the back of the chair was inlaid with a brass plaque which bore the whole of Burn's poem 'Tam o' Shanter'. This was old off, together with much of the family paintings, the Earl's suit of armour, etc. at the 1925 sale of centents. 4 Commando and the Royal Engineers used it for exercises during the second world war, destroying two of the towers, and it was also used for naval gunnery practice. In the 1950s further damage was done and the remains were finally demolished to the level they are today (2007) in 1973. The house reputedly had 365 windows, one for each day of the year. Groome in 1903 had stated that Everything about the castle contributes to an imposing display of splendid elegance and refined taste. An escape tunnel is said to run from the old castle to the area of the rockery on the castle lawns. The appearance of the old waterfall may have inspired this story as it looks like a sealed doorway. The park and gardens Eglinton Castle circa 1830 The park was used as a training camp; for vehicle maintenance and as a preparation depot for the Normandys and North Africa landings during World War II. The remnants of this era are visible in the form of Nissen huts, still in use today and the foundations of other wartime buildings. The army left the estate in a very dilapidated condition with abandoned vehicles left in a number of places. The partly buried remains of vehicles still exist in places. Eglintoune Castle from the south, prior to the rebuild of 1802 The architect had been John Paterson (1796–1802) and John Baxter designed the Redburn Gateway & lodges; the cast-iron Tournament bridge may have been originally designed by the famous architect David Hamilton. An older bridge with three arches, the one actually used for the 1839 Tournament, had stood further up the river towards the castle as described and shown in several contemporary prints, books and maps The landscape gardens, were designed by John Tweedie (1775–1862), and laid out for Alexander, the 10th Earl, together with extensive tree plantings. The earl was a noted agricultural reformer and pioneer. The landscaping works were finished by 1801 and replaced an older style, now represented by the replanted Belvedere Woods. The gardens were laid out by John Tweedie (1775–1862), a native of Lanarkshire who also worked at Blairquhan Castle in 1816, Castlehill in Ayr; in 1825 he emigrated to Argentina where he became a leading agriculturist and plant-hunter. The old rockery garden. In the foreground is a yew tree, the ' Wish' tree of Eglinton, growing on what had been an island when the nearby weir was intact Detail of a section of the old deer park wall near Millburn At their peak the policies (from the Latin word ‘politus’ meaning embellished ) and gardens of the estate covered 1346 acres (1500 Scots acres ), made up from 624 acres (253 ha) of grassy glades, 650 of plantations, 12 acres (4.9 ha) of gardens, etc. A high stone wall surrounded much of the park, which had one six mile (10 km) long carriage drive and another drive of two miles (3 km) length inside this wall. Gates and / or lodges existed in many places, such as at Corsehill, Chapelholms, Redburn, Weirstone (Flushes), Kilwinning, Mid, Millburn, Girdle, Hill and Stanecastle. John Stoddart visited in 1800 on his tour of Scotland and wrote glowingly of the estate as a creation of art. The total acreage of the Earl of Eglinton's holdings was 34,716 Scots Acres in 1788. A Scots acre was 1.5 English acres. The estate offices, coach house and stables block were probably built in the 18th-century by John Paterson, however it is suggested that the architect was Robert Adam. Old photographs show that a pair of matching entrances to the central 'archway' existed, but were replaced by windows and walling at an unknown date. The building was first converted and extended to form a factory, opened by the 17th Earl in 1958 for Newforge Canning Factories (Ireland), otherwise known as Wilson's canning factory. This factory has been out of use for some years and is likely to be re-developed in the near future. A bowling green, a little to the west of the Tournament Bridge in what is now the Clement Wilson gardens, was said to be the finest in Britain; a bowling house also existed. A tennis court was situated on the grass to the west of the castle. A deer park surrounded the castle and this is recorded as having contained many fine old trees and unusually, a 'Deer shelter'. The whole deer herd from Auchans Castle near Dundonald was removed in the 1820s by the Earl of Eglinton to the Eglinton Castle policies. The woods around the property were extensive and old; Auchans had been famed as a preserve for game. An area called 'Ladyha Park' used to contain a colliery; it lies towards the Kilwinning gate lodge (previously the Weirston gate); on the other side of Ladyha (Lady hall) park lies the old fish pond in a field called the 'Bull Park' and the 'Swine Park' is nearby. The Garden Cottage, circa 1950 A Mason's Mark on a stone from the old deer park wall, suggesting that some at least of the stones came from old Kilwinning Abbey Other features in the grounds of the estate were the 'Formal Gardens' lying between the walled garden and Lady Jane's cottage, commemorative marble pillar, Eglinton house (previously the 'Garden Cottage'), Weirstone house, the Fish Pond, the Redburn 'Dower' House (demolished circa 2006), Eglinton Mains farm (home of the estate foresters), etc. The curtain walls of the Walled Kitchen Garden with two roofless Gazebos or temples survive. One was used as a resting parlour and the other was an aviary. They were both topped with statues as shown in surviving photographs. A handsome gate of cast-iron stood at the end of the bridge and its pilasters had two of the four statues representing the four seasons, the other two being on the temples. Loudon in 1824 comments the trees of the park are large, of picturesque form and much admired. The kitchen garden is one of the best in the country. The park trees were mainly beech, with oak and elm also present. An article in 1833 in the Gardeners' Magazine makes similar remarks and comments on the ... many hundred feet of hot houses; however, it also notes that the ... grounds are not kept up as they ought to be. A hedge maze or labyrinth existed in the grounds up until the 1920s. The Lugton Water was diverted in the 1790s to run behind the Garden Cottage, rather than in front of it. Five ponds were created by weirs. The gardens, amongst other things, possessed a peach house, an orangery, a vinery, a melon house and a mushroom house. A large number of cottages, such as Fergushill, Higgins (on the old toll road), Millburn, Chapel Croft, Diamond, Gravel, Flush and Hill, and some miners rows existed at one time or other, together with place names such as Swine Park, Chapelholm, Knadgerhill, Irvine March wood, Meadow plantations and Long Drive; an area close to Eglinton Mains called 'The Circle', Crow and Old Woods, The Hill, also known locally as Foxes Lodge, etc., etc. Thomas and Anne Main once lived at The Hill cottage and their daughter Hetty was born there; they moved to Eglinton Mains farm. The 'Circle' was the large circle in the middle of a 'star burst' belvedere feature of the 1747 estate plantings. The area between Corsehillhead and Five Roads was known as 'Brotherswell'.

Captain Moreton's Eglinton Castle croquet
A croquet lawn existed on the northern terrace, between the castle and the Lugton Water, also the old site of the marquee for the tournament banquet. The 13th Earl developed a variation on croquet named 'Captain Moreton's Eglinton Castle Croquet', which had small bells on the hoops 'to ring the changes' and two tunnels for the ball to pass through. Several incomplete sets of this form of croquet are known to exist. It is not known why the earl named it thus.

Views of the old walled gardens and temples

The Baroque landscape feature
Main article: Benslie The appearance of the landscape feature in 1747 A highly unusual landscape feature of some considerable size was laid out as a bilaterally symmetrical design near Benslie hamlet and is shown on the 1750s Roy map. It lies outside the ornamental woodlands and has the 'appearance' of the foundations of a large building, although it was made up of trees. 55°39′0.8″N 4°38′37.7″W  /  55.650222°N 4.643806°W  / 55.650222; -4.643806 This odd shaped park or 'baroque park' feature has similarities to a 'Celtic' cross shape, a topographical feature mapped by Roy's surveyors. It may be a small deer hunting park or baroque garden layout possibly similar to one that existed at the Optagon Park, Alloa Estate, Clackmannanshire; which in turn was after the Dutch taste and modelled on Hampton Court, the favourite home of King William; a Dutchman. On the 1938 OS map the Montgreenan side of Benslie wood retains the shape of that part of the baroque garden. It is possible that this area was incomplete when mapped by Roy in the 1750s.

Listed structures in the park
The ruined castle is listed C (S) and the Rackets Hall is listed B. The Tournament Bridge by David Hamilton, which has lost its original Gothic parapet, is listed B. The offices and stables built around 1800 are also listed B; the stables are being converted into housing, but the office frontages have been preserved. Other listed buildings within the park are the Kilwinning Gates, B; the Doocot at the mains Farm, B; the Garden Cottage 1798, B; the walled kitchen gardens and the two derelict gazebos or temples, C (S); the Eglinton Park Bridge, B. The Ice House, Belvedere Gates, and the Mid Gates are no longer listed.

The Stables, coach house and offices
The 1828 map marks this building as 'offices', however it clearly served the function of coach house and stables for coach horses as well. It was also known as Adam's Block. More stables were built in the 1890s for the farm carthorses. Some of the dressed stone blocks from which the old stables and offices are constructed have masons marks cut into them. This suggests that they were taken from the ruins of Kilwinning Abbey in 1792 when one of the Earls had the stables built on the site of a 16th-century cottage. Ness states that the stone came from a building called 'Easter Chaumers' which was part of the abbey. The design of the Montgomerie family crest above the entrance is identical to that on the castle ruins. The architect John Paterson built both, one being the 'trial piece' for the other. Kerelaw Castle near Stevenston contained many carved stone coats of arms taken from the old abbey, which was clearly seen as being a convenient source of dressed or ornately carved stone for many a 'new' building in 'old' Cunninghame. The stables at Rozelle House in Ayr bear a more than passing resemblance to those at Eglinton.

Views of Eglinton Castle and the old offices / stables / factory

The carthorse stables, gas and electricity works The old working horse stables, etc. have been converted into offices, a tea room, toilets, etc. A small Doocot is present in the courtyard. The old OS maps show that by 1897 a gas works had been established here to supply the castle and offices. By 1911 this gas works had been replaced by an electricity power station in a new building which has been restored and is the present day park workshop. The Rackets Hall Rackets or Racquets in American English, is an indoor sport played in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada. The sport is infrequently called "hard rackets", to distinguish it from squash (formerly called "squash rackets"). Eglinton has a 'Racket Hall' which is first shown on the 1860 OS map, but was built shortly after 1839, the first match being recorded in 1846. The floor is of large granite slabs, now hidden by the wooden floor. It is the very first covered racquet court, built before the court size was standardised and is now the oldest surviving court in the World, as well as being the oldest indoor sports building in Scotland. It has been restored and converted into an exhibition area. In 1860 the earl employed a rackets professional, John Charles Mitchell (fourteen times champion) and Patrick Devitt replaced him. Mitchell owned a pub in Bristol with its own rackets court and this was named the "Eglinton Arms", having been the "Sea Horse" previously. As a player, Devitt once lost a £100 wager to a Mr Young. Lady Jane's cottage ornee Lady Jane's cottage ornee The site of Lady Jane's cottage overlooking the Lugton Water Aiton states that "Near to the gardens, in a remote corner, more than half encircled by the river, a remarkably handsome cottage has been reared, and furnished, under the direction of Lady Jean Montgomery, who has contrived to unite neatness and simplicity, with great taste, in the construction of this enchanting hut. That amiable lady, spends occasionally, some part of her leisure hours, about this delightful cottage: viewing the beauties, and contemplating the operations of nature, in the foliage of leaves, blowing of flowers, and maturation of fruits; with other rational entertainments, which her enlightened mind is capable of enjoying." Such a romantic cottage was called a 'cottage ornee'. Lady Jane Hamilton, the Earl's Aunt built or extended 'Lady Jane's Cottage' which lay beside the Lugton Water. She used this thatched building to teach domestic economy to peasant girls. This may represent a later use of Lady Jane's cottage. Nothing now remains of this cottage, other than a 'crop' mark on aerial photographs, although the 1938 OS map still shows it. A persistent local tradition is that Lady Jane had in fact been banished to this cottage for some misdemeanour and was led back to the castle by a manservant every evening. It was a ruin by 1928. A similar style of cottage existed on the Fullarton estate in Troon as a lodge house near the Crosbie Kirk ruins. Lilliput Lane has produced a model of Lady Jane's cottage. The gravestone to a faithful family pet dog, Toby, stood near Lady Jane's cottage and the ornamental pillar memorial; but has since been m The old Racket Hall exhibition centre Contemporary park seating Sorbus arranensis in flower at the park The Giant Puff-Ball Mushroom ( Calvatia gigantea) near the castle The Jelly Ear ( Auricularia auricula-judae) The oyster Mushroom ( Pleurotus ostreatus) A part of the old walled 'Kitchen Garden'; a Gazebo, a matching partner still exists at the other end towards the Castle Bridge An old entrance to the walled 'kitchen Gardens' The site of the old 'Formal Gardens' from the walled gardens Surviving walls from the old 'Formal Gardens' beside the Lugton Water The ruins of one of the two listed 'temples'; one was a resting parlour and the other an aviary The Montgomerie family crest and motto - 'Gardez bien' - 'Guard Well' or literally 'Watch Out'! The old Eglinton offices and stables Weirston House, home of the estate factor A clear view of the tower and the remaining side wall The Montgomerie family crest on the castle ruins. The Motto reads as 'Garde Bien' translating as 'Hazard Yet Forward' or 'Guard Well'. The Montgomerie family crest on the Stables/offices/coach house Adam's Block, once stables, coach house and estate offices The old board room in Wilson's factory Inside the old stable's courtyard Demolition of old factory buildings in 2009 Stables frontage restoration in 2009