We piled into the bus and our first stop was Dean Castle Country Park near Kilmarnock where we parked and walked towards the imposing pile of Dean.
A stop for a briefing and then friendly staff conducted us around.
The lands of Dean Castle were presented to Sir Robert Boyd for services to Robert the Bruce. Boyd was captured at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 and his son, Sir Thomas, suffered the same fate at Neville's Cross in 1346. Both incurred heavy ransoms, which weakens the suggestion of an early 14th century date for construction of the main tower.
There is a mound in the grounds however, which would indicate a castle on this site that predates what we see today. Dean Castle is an assemblage of many periods the first being a massive tower (circa 1400) rising from a plinth and consisting of vaulted basement, great hall, minstrels' gallery, pit prison, upper chamber and a parapet flush with the walls. A great fire gutted the entire castle in 1735 and the tower lay unroofed until 1908. The interior necessarily reflects this renovation and now houses an internationally famous collection of arms, armour and musical instruments.
In the mid 15th century to castle was greatly extended by the addition of a detached tower and palace block that provided generous accommodation. The wall head was completed with a bold, corbelled parapet.
In 1905 Lord Howard de Walden set about restoring the castle ruin starting with the great tower. The gatehouse was completed in 1935 (it has nothing to do with the castle and was modelled on Tolquhon Castle in Aberdeen) and the palace block in 1946.
His son gifted the castle with its collections to Kilmarnock in 1975 and it is now maintained by East Ayrshire Council and is free to access.
After lunch at the Fenwick Hotel the bus took us to Rowallan Castle. Although administered by Historic Scotland there is an ongoing dispute regarding access so we were carefully 'herded' onto the site and warned not to wander! Rowallan is situated on the Carmel Water, which might at one time have run much closer to the eminence upon which the castle stands.
Rowallan consists of 2 distinct periods, the old tower, now much ruined and the handsome palace block with round towers flanking the entrance. This was erected in 1562 to judge by a date stone. The Royal Arms of Scotland are carved over the main entrance. Behind this show façade is a simple accommodation block and courtyard.
It is said that the earliest piece of lute music was written at Rowallan and James Brown had arranged to have this performed by a professional musician in one of the castle rooms. This thoughtful touch added much to the delight of our visit. By this time it was late afternoon and most people were becoming quite cold and it was time to go home.