Eglinton Country Park – Helen Rose Outdoors

Eglinton Castle Ruins

September, 2021

Eglinton Country Park

Eglinton Country Park is located in the grounds of the old Eglinton Castle estate, Kilwinning, North Ayrshire in Scotland and covers an area of 400 hectares. The current castle was built between 1797 and 1802 in Gothic castellated style dominated by a central 100 foot (30m) large round keep and four 70 foot (21 m) outer tower. It was second only to Culzean Castle on the Ayrshire coast in appearance and grandeur. The foundation stone of the new Eglinton Castle was laid in 1797 and the 12th Earl of Eglinton, was proud to have the ceremony performed by Alexander Hamilton of Grange, grandfather of the American Hero Alexander Hamilton. The walk starting from Kilwinning Station was organised by Glasgow Ramblers.

The surname Eglinton was first found in Ayrshire (Gaelic: Siorrachd Inbhir Àir) where the family held a family seat from very ancient times, some say well before the Norman Conquest in 1066.

Kilwinning Abbey

After arriving by train from Glasgow to Kilwinning, we visited the Kilwinning Abbey in the centre of the village. The Abbey is linked to the Borders Abbeys I wrote about last month. Kilwinning was a Tironesian Benedictine monastic community, named after Tiron in the diocese of Chartres in France and the abbey was dedicated to Saint Winning and the Virgin Mary. It was founded sometime between 1162 and 1188 with monks coming from Kelso Abbey. The patron is not known for certain but it may have been Richard de Morville, Lord of Cunninghame and Great Constable of Scotland, perhaps with the backing and assistance of King William of Scotland. A connection that does exist is the founding of Arbroath Abbey in the east of Scotland in 1178, also a Tironensian abbey, in memory of Thomas Becket by William the Lion (1165–1214).

I liked the site of the Warming House where the monks could warm themselves but the abbey must have been cold and unpleasant to live in. The abbey, located far away in the west at a distance from the core of Lowland Scotland, is not very well recorded, and few of its records have come down to posterity as the chartulary (a register in volume form) has been destroyed or lost. In 1571 the records are said to have been carried away by “a furious horseman” following an attack upon the abbey. In 1591 William Melville took legal action against Jean Blair or Cunninghame, widow of Alexander Cunninghame to force the return of the records but they were not forthcoming. Timothy Pont in the 17th century claimed to have studied the abbey’s chartulary, possibly at Eglinton Castle and certainly the seal of the monastery was preserved at the castle. At the beginning of the 17th century they had been seen in the possession of the Earl of Eglinton. It is significant that Kilwinning Abbey was not founded by a monarch and its beginnings were accordingly less grand than would have otherwise been the case. All that remains today is a ruin.

It was good to see local boys enjoying a game of football in the grassy grounds of the ruined abbey. We walked on to the entrance to Eglinton Country Park.

Castle and Doocot

We could see the Castle once had a very grand entrance with the statues on top of pillars. The immense cost of upkeep, the poor condition of the castle and death duties took their toll on the Eglinton family finances and  the castle was abandoned in 1925. De-roofed in 1926, the lead being removed and sold, after a house contents sale in December 1925 and progressively ruinous, the building finally came to an undignified end during the Second World War when it was seriously damaged during army training held there. The army also partly destroyed the iron bridge running to the old walled gardens. Such is the price off war.

The Eglinton Doocot (dovecot) in the grounds of the Palace was probably built as a pheasantry. Latter day use was by the local council as a vehicle store but it has since been restored. I really like the word doocot as in Glasgow it means the housing for racing pigeons but pronounced ‘ducat’.

Tournament Bridge

After lunch at the Visitors Centre, we walked to the Tournament Bridge which is very interesting historically. Eglinton is best remembered for the lavish, if ill-fated Eglinton Tournament, a medieval style tournament organised in 1839 by the 13th Earl. The expense and extent of the preparations became news across Scotland and the railway line was even opened in advance of its official opening to ferry guests to Eglinton. Although high summer, in typical Scottish style torrential rain washed the proceedings out, despite the participants, in full period dress, gamely attempting to participate in events such as jousting. Amongst the participants was Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (the future Emperor Napoléon III of the French). The tournament in 1839 was held in a meadow near the Lugton Water.

The surviving Tournament Bridge was built to provide an appropriate crossing point to gain access to the far side of the Lugton Water and the Eglinton Kennels around 1845. Archibald Montgomerie, the 13th Earl of Eglinton had the bridge built in a Gothic style using cast iron for the arches, pinnacles, etc. and stone for the two pairs of miniature ornamental towers at either end. Incidentally, the Earl of Eglinton is chief of the Clan Montgomery.

Water and Stones

The river running through the park is the Lugton Water. The course through Eglinton Park has been greatly improved through the construction of several weirs, canalisation, ‘loops’ infilled, small lochs removed, etc. The 6.5 hectares Eglinton loch at, 6 metres deep, was created in 1975 through the extraction of materials used in the construction of the A 78 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.

On our route through the park, we passed some large standing stones but could not find out their origins. Any ideas, let me know?

Eglinton Park was interesting historically and we took in all the sights on our walk in very changeable weather. The total walk mileage was about 12 miles including the walk from the station to the park and return. A big thanks to John for leading the walk.

Coming attraction; Rigging Hill at Largs


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