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Eglinton Country Park

Eglinton Country Park is a park 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 (988 acres), 175 hectares 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.

Location

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.

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. 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 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.

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 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 to 4.30 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.

Activities

There is are wet weather shelters with small indoor soft play areas and outdoor play areas. The Racquet Hall can also be hired for birthday parties.

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.

Eglinton loch and the Lugton Water gallery

The Irvine New Town Trail

The Irvine New Town Trail is a 19 km (12 mile) 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' 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.

Eglinton Gallery 2007

Wildlife

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 can be seen with luck or by being patient and silent.

Other wildlife

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.

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.

The History of Eglinton Country Park

The castle, gardens and estate

The castle

The usual spelling is 'Eglinton', however Eglintoun, Eglintoune or Eglintown are encountered in old books and on old maps. The Eglinton Castle ruins, despite their appearance, are of a relatively modern building, the mansion having been completed as recently as 1802. 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.

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.

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 in diameter and reached up the whole height of the castle, some 100 feet. 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.

The park and gardens

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.

The architect had been John Paterson (1796 - 1802) and John Baxter designed the Redburn Gateway & lodges; the cast-iron Tournament bridge was designed by 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 desribed and shown in several contemporary prints, books and maps

The landscape gardens, were designed by Tweedie and laid out by Alexander, the 10th Earl, together with extensive tree plantings. He 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.

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 of grassy glades, 650 of plantations, 12 acres 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, and Stanecastle. John Stoddart visited in 1800 on his tour of Scotland and wrote glowingly of the estate as a creation of art.

The estate offices, coach house and stables block were built in the 18th-century by John Paterson. 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 croquet lawn also existed between the castle and the Lugton Water, later the site of the marquee for the tournament banquet. A tennis court was situated 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'.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 park lies the old fish pond in a field called the 'Bull Park'.

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 nd of the bridge and its pilaster s 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 Higgins, Millburn, Diamond, Gravel, Flush and Hill, and some miners rows existed at one time or other, together with place names such as Higgins, Chapelholme, Knadgerhill, Irvine March wood, Meadow plantations and Long Drive; an area close to Eglinton Mains called 'The Circle', Crow and Old Woods, The Hill, etc., etc. The 'Circle' was the large circle in the middle of a 'star burst' belvedere feature of the 1747 estate plantings.

The gardens and temple gallery

The Baroque landscape feature

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 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. 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). 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 stable court has been converted into a factory, but the office frontage has been preserved. Other listed buildings within the park are the Ice House, C; the Belvedere Gates, C; 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 Park Bridge, B. There is some ornamentation in the formal garden, but this has been vandalised.

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.

Eglinton castle and offices / stables / factory Gallery

The Carthorse stables, Racquet hall, gas and electricity works

The old carthorse 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, whilst by 1911 this had been replaced by an electricity works; it has been restored and is the present day park workshop.

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 and is now the oldest surviving court in the world, as well as being the oldest indoor sports building in Scotland. has been restored and converted into an exhibition area.

Lady Jane's cottage ornee

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.

The gravestone to a faithful family pet dog, Toby, stood near Lady Jane's cottage and the ornamental pillar memorial; but has since been moved to the walled kitchen garden (See photograph). The inscription reads They take the good, Too good on Earth to stay; The bad was left, Too bad to take away.

The Ice house

An Ice House lies in the Old Wood fairly near to the doocot on the Draught Burn, built by the 10th Earl for £25. It was not very successful and was later modified to increase its efficiency. It had a total of three doors to reduce the entrance of heat. It required extensive restoration and it is not known if the present structure accurately represents the original, other than that slates covered the exterior of the original structure. During the winter ice and snow was taken from the fishpond, etc. or even imported via Ardrossan harbour if the winter had been too mild. A second ice house is recorded on the 1860 OS on the edge of the Ladyha park close to the bordering Weirston to Eglinton Kennels estate road; the design and location suggest that this was a venison larder.

To keep the ice frozen, doors or openings were usually built facing north and barley straw, reeds, fern fronds or sawdust was added between layers of ice or snow to act as insulation. Treated this way the ice would stay frozen for many months, or even a few years if a solution of ice and salt was added, and could be used to keep food fresh, make ice cream, sorbets, chilled drinks, syllabubs and so on consumed during the summer months and the ability to provide these exotic luxuries would raise the owner's social status. Ice could also be used to help keep food fresh in the kitchens or game larders during the summer months. The development of compressor driven refrigeration in the latter part of the 19th century rang the death knell for these structures. They were not used for the preservation of foodstuffs.

Ice or snow houses were introduced to the United Kingdom in around 1660 and were commonly brick lined, domed structures, with most of their volume underground. Many were 'ice cream cone ' shaped, however Eglinton's was a n oval shape. They were often sited under trees and some way from the 'mansion' house. Ice houses varied in design depending on the date and builder, but were mainly conical or rounded at the bottom to hold the melted ice. Rufford Abbey in Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, England had five ice houses! A drain at the bottom took meltwater away; ice houses were often built into earth banks to give extra insulation and to allow for the necessary drainage. As ice houses were mainly the reserve of large manor houses, there are not many good examples left in the UK and those that are found are usually in a state of disrepair.

Game larders

These were partly underground structures used to store pheasants, rabbits, and other game, apart from venison. Ice was taken from the ice houses to the larders, which were placed conveniently in Ladyha beside the footpath to the laundry, as close to the castle kitchens as possible. Nothing remains today.

Venison larder

The Eglinton Vension Larder was located in the Deer Park, close to the road leading to Eglinton Kennels from the Tournament Bridge. It is marked as an Ice House on the OS maps, however its construction shows that it was a place for storing venison in ice supplied by the ice house in the Old Wood.

The venison larder at some point was converted into a cattle shelter by the opening up of one end of the larder, the cutting of two skylight windows into the roof, the insertion of two air vents in the remaining end wall and the blocking up of the original entrance. The larder may also have been partly uncovered and the brick roof coated with concrete. The venison larder was demolished, circa 1990.

Venison larder gallery

Doocots and Ice house gallery

Landscape features and miscellaneous gallery

Eglinton's burns, ponds and bridges

The Doocots

A large ornamental Gothic lectern style Doocot or dovecot (English spelling) is located near the scanty remains of the Eglinton Mains farm, situated on the B 7080 'Long Drive' towards Sourlie Hill interchange. It is said to have come from Kilwinning Abbey which was a possession of the Earls. However the design is one from the 16th or 17th-centuries, the abbey having been dissolved in around 1560. The building suffered a fire and when rebuilt the crow steps and battlements may have been left out. Its style is in keeping with the 1802 castle, however the ornamental door carvings and the stones may have all come from the old abbey. The line of stone jutting out from the walls was a 'rat course' to keep these vermin out of the doocot. Ness categorically states that the dovecot was moved to its present position in 1898 - 1900 and was hopeful that it would be restored to the abbey grounds.

It was used to breed house doves and pigeons which the 15th Earl was particularly partial to. Doocots were not built to supply meat over the winter as the preferred bird was the young squab or squeakers, which were tender and fatty. A smaller doocot is built into the stable buildings overlooking the open courtyard. The larger doocot may have been built as a pheasantry, as it is not marked on OS maps as a doocot and old photographs do not show any internal nesting boxes. It does not appear until 1911 on OS maps & is located at the edge of a pheasantry enclosure. A second pheasantry was based at Gravel House according to the OS maps; a kennels was also being located there. Pheasantries were used for raising pheasants for field-sports on the old estate.

Doocots became so popular that by 1617 the right of owning one was limited by law to lairds who had lands producing at least ten chalders of victual, or about 10 tons. Doocots have even been said to have been one of the factors that lead to the French Revolution as the peasants had no choice but to watch their precious grain being taken by the landowners pigeons. Once turnips were grown and it became possible to over winter cattle, the need for pigeons as fresh meat in the winter therefore vanished and doocots fell out of use.

Curling Ponds

Old OS Maps show that the estate had at least two curling ponds, one near to Weirston House beside the A 737 Kilwinning road and the other in between the Stanecastle and Girdle gates on the old Lochlibo road. The Stanecastle pond had a tarred bottom, giving better quality ice that could also be used for stocking the ice house. A third curling pond cluster also existed to the north-west of the castle, with three separate ponds, according to Historic Scotland and the OS map near Weirston House. A contemporary watercolour (See gallery) shows a game being played at this site.

Curling can be a dangerous sport, for Paterson reports that in 1812 Captain Robert Montgomerie of Craighouse, Deputy-Lieutenant of the County of Ayr, died from a contusion of his foot acquired from a curling stone whilst playing at Eglinton castle!

Cricket ground and pavilion

From 1911 the OS maps show a cricket ground and a substantial pavilion built by the 16th Earl, the latter being parallel to the Lugton Water. Two English cricket professionals were employed to provide tuition and they lived in the 'Mid Gates' lodge (just off the main A 78 (T) entrance), which still survives. Neither the cricket ground nor the pavilion still exist, but part of the cricket ground area forms the site for caravaners, etc.

The Cadgers' Racecourse

During each August, Irvine's Marymass Festival takes place as it has done for several centuries. Part of the celebrations are horse racing held on the Cadgers racecourse (a cadger was a person who transported goods on horseback in the days before carts were introduced) on the 'Towns Moor' which was part of the Eglinton estate. The course is clearly shown on a number of old maps, such as the 1775 map by Captain Armstrong, where it is called the 'Race Ground'. Later the Montgomeries purchased the Bogside area and built a new racecourse at which the Scottish Grand National used to be held. The race moved to Ayr Racecourse in 1966 after the closure of Bogside Racecourse, where the race had been run over a distance of 3 miles 7 furlongs (6,236 m) since 1867. The 13th Earl brought steeplechasing to Scotland. His racing colours were his own tartan with yellow and his most successful horse, Flying Dutchman, won the Derby and the Saint Leger. The 13th Earl was not much interested in hunting, however he did take part in 'point to points' at Eglinton.

The Gate and gatehouse 2007 gallery

The Feudal lords of Eglinton

The Eglintouns

Eglin, Lord of Eglintoun is the first of the family recorded, living during the reign of King Malcolm Canmore who is better known for his father being King Duncan, murdered by Macbeth of Shakespeare fame. He may have been one of the Saxon barons who accompanied Malcolm (who died in 1093) on his successful return to Scotland. The name is also recorded as Eglun of Eglunstone in 1205; a Saxon name. The family continued to live at Eglinton until Elizabeth de Eglintoun, the sole heir, married Sir John de Montgomerie of Eaglesham. Elizabeth's mother was Giles, daughter of Walter, lord high steward of Scotland, and sister of King Robert II. When Hugh Eglintoun of that Ilk, her father, died soon after 1378 the Montgomerie family inherited the lands and hereafter Eglinton's history is bound up with that family.

The Earls of Eglinton and the Clan Montgomery

The Montgomerie family were involved in many historical events, however they are best known for the feud between themselves and the Cunninghames, Earls of Glencairn, living in and around Stewarton and Kilmaurs. In 1488 the Clan Montgomery burned down the Clan Cunningham's Kerelaw Castle. These two clans had a long feud, partly based on the rights of feudal superiority in old Cunninghame. In 1507 the 3rd Lord Eglinton was made the 1st Earl of Eglinton. During the 16th-century the long running feud continued between the Clan Montgomery and the Clan Cunningham. Eglinton Castle was burned down by the Cunninghams and then the Montgomery chief, the 4th Earl of Eglinton was ambushed and murdered by the Cunninghams at the Annick Water ford in Stewarton. The government of King James VI of Scotland eventually managed to get the rival chiefs to shake hands and keep the peace.

The family crest on the castle ruins and the old stables represents a wife of one the Earls holding a severed head, plus an anchor. She was reputedly kidnapped in the 1600s and taken to Horse Island off Ardrossan. Whilst on the island she developed the trust of her captor and promptly beheaded him. She was able to persuade her remaining captors to release her forthwith. Another version has a Danish Prince as an ardent admirer who abducted her, only for her to kill him and then persuade the crew of his ship to return her.

The present earl is Archibald George Montgomerie, 18th Earl of Eglinton, and 6th Earl of Winton (b. 1939). The heir-Apparent is his son, Hugh Archibald William Montgomerie, Lord Montgomerie (b. 1966). Skelmorlie Castle, near Largs, is the seat of the earl, who is also chief of Clan Montgomery. In 1995 the family moved to Perthshire.

The Eglinton Tournament

Main Article Eglinton Tournament

Eglinton is best known for a lavish, if ill-fated medieval tournament, organised by the 13th Earl. It opened on Friday, August 30th 1839 and it is said that the grand folly of the Eglinton Tournament, sprang directly from the disappointment of the so-called "penny coronation". The Government had decided to scale down the pomp of Victoria's Coronation; one role abolished was that of the Queen's Champion and his ritual challenge in full armour. This role would have fallen to the Knight Marshal of the Royal Household, Sir Charles Lamb of Beaufort, the stepfather of the 13th Earl of Eglinton. 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, torrential rain washed the proceedings out. The tenantry of the Earl were provided with accommodation to view the proceedings. The participants, in full medieval dress or armour, gamely attempting to participate in events such as jousting, held at what is now the Eglinton loch. Amongst the participants was the future Napoleon III of France.

Friends and admirers of the 13th Earl presented him with a magnificent silver commemorative 'trophy' designed by Edmund Cotterill, made in a medieval Gothic style by Messrs. Garrad of London at a cost of £1,775. This trophy is now kept in Cunninghame House, headquarters of North Ayrshire Council.

Amongst others, Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, described the tournament, 'weaving' it into in his romantic novel Endymion.

Within 100 years, Eglinton was deserted. The tournament marked a turning point, being a severe drain on the family fortune which, together with huge expenditure on the Ardrossan Harbour and the Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal, undermined the resources of a family who had been among the greatest landowning families of Ayrshire.

Tournament re-enactment

1989 was the 150th anniversary of the Eglinton Tournament and the Country Park staff organised a re-enactment which took place on 18 - 20 August that year. This included jousting, other aspects of the original tournament and a large craft fair.

The decline and the rebirth of Eglinton

The Eaglesham lands, including the Polnoon estate, were sold in the late 19th-century after 700 years of ownership by the Montgomeries. The failure of the Glasgow Bank in 1878 lead to financial difficulties, which together with the poor state of the castle, resulted in the sale of the entire contents of the house between 1st and 5th of December 1925. Subsequently the house was un-roofed and the windows removed so that tax and rates were no longer payable.

By 1938 the OS map shows a municipal cemetery at Knadgerhill (opened in 1926) and Ayrshire Central Hospital near the Redburn gate in the Meadow Plantation. In 1948 the Trustees of the late 16th Earl sold most of the remaining parts of the estate to Robert Howie and Sons of Dunlop for £24,000.The 17th Earl officiated at the opening of a food processing establishment in the old stables and later a large factory was built in the Crow Wood area (this became Volvo Trucks) and the A 78 (T) with its interchanges and access roads cut through the southern section of the estate (mainly the deer park and the Irvine March wood). Numerous housing schemes were to follow at Girdle Tool, Stanecastle, Knadgerhill, etc.

The rebirth

The establishment of Eglinton Country Park by the old Irvine Development Corporation (IDC) and North Ayrshire Council saved much of the estate for the benefit of all the people of Ayshire and beyond. Eglinton was designated as the 34th of 36 Country Parks in Scotland in 1986, officially opened by Professor Sir Robert Grieve and Kerry Anne Paterson. Mr. George Clark was the first Country Park Manager at Eglinton, now retired and succeeded by Mr. Cameron Sharp.

The Wilson family had purchased the old offices, castle ruins, and other land from Robert Howie and Sons in 1950. Clement Wilson, the food processing factory owner, established the Clement Wilson Foundation (now known as the Barcapel Foundation Ltd.) which opened part of the grounds to the public, spending around £400,000 (around £4,317,000 in 2008 terms) on consolidating the castle ruins, planting trees, landscaping, making paths, creating a rockery and waterfall feature, restoring the Tournament Bridge, etc., etc. The waterfall no longer operates, but the waterfall feature and the large cistern that supplied the 'head of water' still exists at the bottom of the Belvedere in line with the old waterfall.

The gifting of the park by the Wilson family to Cunninghame District Council in 1978 made it possible to establish Eglinton Country Park, a resource which now attracts over 250,000 visitors a year.

Gallery

Palaeontology

During the open-cast mining operations at Sourlie several sub-fossil antlers of Reindeer and also bones of the Wooly Rhinoceros were found. Both of these species was hunted by early humans, who may have caused their extinction.

Archaeology

Prehistoric sites and finds

A small cordened cinerary urn or beaker was found with several other urns in a tumulus very near to Eglinton Castle; it is now in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland. A search for the tumulus in the 1960s found that no traces remained. A greenstone axe-hammer was found at Eglinton between the stables and the offices by a Mr. John Palmer in the 19th-century. It is about 8 inches long and perforated near the blunt end. At Pytebog near Eglinton Kennels a stone axe was found in the 1890s. Near 'The Circle' close to old Eglinton Mains farm are the remains of a short cist and aerial surveys show that the Belvidere Hill had a circular enclosure and ditch around its summit. Mesolithic flints and scrapers were found near North Millburn and in Chapelholm woods.

Lawthorn mount

A large and well preserved prehistoric cairn or barrow is present at Lawthorn. Its name is suggestive of a court hill or justice hill, which is indeed the oral tradition. It is 21 paces in diameter at the base, in diameter at the top and high; largely composed of boulders and one large boulder of graywacke stone, long, is partially buried on the top edge facing south. An unofficial dig in the 20th-century revealed no finds. See the 'gallery' for a photograph.

Pre-reformation Chapels

Two chapels existed before the reformation, one in the vicinity of Chapelholm or Benslie woods and South Fergushill farm, the other at Stanecastle gate. The foundations of the chapel were found at Stanecastle by Mr W Gray when digging drains. Judging from the foundations, the building must have been of considerable extent. Local tradition (J Fisher, Sevenacres) supports the findings, makes it more than probable that such a building once existed here. A chapel near Bourtreehill is mentioned by some sources. The 1858 OS map marks the site of a nearby cemetery and an intriguing subterranean passage or vault four feet below the surface; nothing is visible at the site today. A small village once existed here and one source has it that Stanecastle was once part of a nunnery before it became the home of the Francis family; eventually passing to the Montgomeries.

Industrial archaeology

An unusually complex network of mineral railway lines, mainly running through the outer parts of the park, existed in the 19th and 20th centuries; the trackbed now being used as cycle paths in several places. A rare waggon-way bridge for the original 1.37 metres / 4 ft 6 in horse drawn railway (later relaid as standard gauge) still survives near South Fergushill farm on the B 785 Fergushill Road (see photograph), this being part of a long line running from Doura to Ardrossan. A very complex set of collieries, coal pits and fire-clay works are evident from records such as old maps. Very little remains (above ground at least!) of the buildings and railway lines, apart from at Ladyha (previously Lady ha') Colliery, but odd depressions in the ground, old embankments, coal bings and abandoned bridges all bear witness to what was at one time a very active coalfield with associated businesses and infrastructure.

In the Chapelholms wood the 1938 map marks a hydraulic ram and cistern in a bend of the Lugton Water close to one of the old Fergushill collieries. Hydraulic rams harnesses the flow or current force of water to pump a portion of the water being used to power the pump to a point higher than where the water originally started. Rams were often used in remote locations, since it requires no outside source of power other than the kinetic energy of falling water.

The existing workshops at the Visitor Centre were, as stated, the site of the electricity 'power station.' This supplied the castle and a number of the estate houses with a 110 volt electricity supply. A Mr.Dickie was the last manager of the power station.

Diamond was the name of a coalpit in the vicinity of Chapelholms which may explain the modern name 'Diamond Bridge' which is given to Chapelholms bridge and the name 'Diamond Lodge' which may have been the now demolished Chapel cottage. Black Diamond was a favourite horse of one of the Earls, but any connection is pure speculation.

Dykeshead farm, near the existing Tournament Interchange, was the site of an estate smithy.

Railway gallery

Ladyha colliery

Key to plan; 1 - Downcast shaft & winding engine house; 2 - upcast shaft and winding engine/cum pump house; 3 - engineer's and blacksmith's shops; 4 - winch house; 5 - store; 6 - office; 7 - boiler house and chimney; 8 - screening house; 9 - fan/compressor house; 10 - wagon traverser; 11 - underground band haulage.

Ladyha' No.2 pit was sunk in 1885 to a depth of and closed in May 1934, having struggled since its main customer, the Eglinton Iron Company, closed in 1928. The Eglinton Iron Company had opened in 1845 and at one point covered 28 hectares / 70 acres with eight furnaces and a 100,000 ton iron production per year. A fairly substantial brick-lined tunnel still survives which once carried a standard gauge railway line unobtrusively to Ladyha colliery, out of sight and the smoke kept away from the kitchen gardens' greenhouses and plants. The tunnel was used during World War II as a bomb shelter and remains in good condition.

Ladyha colliery tunnel gallery

Scottish Wildlife Trust reserves

Three areas within the old boundaries of the Eglinton estate have become nature reserves, first developed by the old Irvine Development Corporation, but now owned and managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust with free access to the public at all times. They are within easy reach of the park. Sourlie woods are situated on the cycle route and the A736 Glasgow road. It shows unmistakable signs of the areas intensive and complex industrial past in the shape of remains of old railway embankments from the London, Midland and Scottish Railway's Perceton branch to Perceton colliery, soil heaps and other signs of coal workings.

Etymology
The meaning of Corsehillmuir is 'Cross' with hill and 'Muir' meaning moorland. All the more ironic when it is recalled that witches and other criminals were burned at the stake here.

Lawthorn woods (locally pronounced 'L'thorn' ) is a remnant of the Lawthorn plantation, which together with the 'Longwalk' and 'Stanecastle' plantations formed a much larger wood that once ran in an unbroken swathe down as far as Stanecastle and the old Stanecastle gate lodges. Lawthorn wood has easy access with a raised boardwalk running through it as a circular path. The other 'half' of the wood has long been reverted to pasture as old maps clearly show.

Corsehillmuir plantation is another woodland reserve in an area which was mainly open pasture and moorland prior to the 19th-century. It is situated off the B 785 between Mid Moncur and Bannoch farms. The historian John Smith records that this was the site of the ecclesiastical burning of witches and other criminals from the barony. The supposed witch Bessie Graham is said to have been burned at the stake at Corsehill Moor in 1649. It might have been the site of the old churchyard of Segdoune, the name of Kilwinning prior to the establishment of the abbey. The summits of the three low hills within the reserve are each surrounded by a circular ditch and dike, called 'Roundels' or 'hursts' (an embanked wood, formerly coppiced);the actual purpose of the ditch and dike is unknown, but the exclusion of cattle is the most likely explanation. Ness and others record that the 'Seggan' grew at Corsehillmuir, known also as the 'Messenger of the Gods', better known to us as the Yellow flag Iris.

Geocaches

There are a few geoaches within Eglinton park. Visit www.geocaching.com for more information

Sourlie, Lawthorn and Corsehillmuir gallery

Benslie and Fergushill

The hamlet of Benslie, previously Benislay (1205), Benslee or Benslee square (1860), is situated next to the wood which once formed the 'Baroque garden.' Part of the garden outline survives on the Benslie Fauld farm side. The name 'fauld' may hold a clue at this is Scots for an area manured by sheep, cattle or possibly deer. Fergushill church in Benslie was built to serve Montgreenan, Doura and Benslie. It was consecrated on Sunday, 3 November 1879 and the first minister was then Rev. William McAlpine. It got its name from the Fergushill Mission which was based at Fergushill school. The old school house is still in existence at the junction of the road to Seven Acres Mill. The manse is now a private house called Janburrow and stands at the entrance to the old Montgreenan railway station drive. Opposite is Burnbrae cottage, built as the Montgreenan Estate factor's house in 1846.

Fergushill church in Benslie was built to serve Fergushill, Doura and Benslie. It was consecrated on Sunday, 3 November 1879 and the first minister was then Rev. William McAlpine.

Fergushill Cottage faced the Lugton Water just below the point at which the Fergushill Burn joins the river. Nothing much remains, however a Mrs. Miller once lived here and she recollected collecting water from the well which still exists as a circular low brick wall near to the site.

Fergushill Tile Works existed in 1858, but is not shown on the 1897 OS map. A number of freight lines have run through the village, connecting the main line near Montgreenan with the Doura branch.

The area is named after the family of that name. Fergushill of that Ilk, the local laird, Robert de Fergushill de Eodem had an extensive estate here in 1417..

The Robbie Burns connection

Robbie Burns wrote to Richard Brown, saying Do you remember a Sunday we spent together in Eglinton Woods and going on to say how he might never have continued with his efforts without this support.

The Scottish Campsite at Knadgerhill

In 1297 Edward I sent a punitive expedition under Sir Henry Percy to Irvine to quash an armed uprising against his dethronement of John Balliol. The Earl of Carrick, Robert Bruce and others led the Scottish army, however after much argument they decided to submit without a fight. The story became embellished with a purely fanciful involvement of William Wallace in a brave action here. The memorial is therefore inaccurate and commemorates an event that might be best forgotten.

The Eglinton geocaches

The country park's adjoining Scottish Wildlife Trust's Soulie nature reserve is the location for the Eglinton Buddha Geocache, which is to be found at N 55 degrees 38.351 / W 004degrees 38.098 or . The 'Eglinton Doocot in the Main' geocache is at N 55° 38.324 / W 004° 39.418, the 'Of corse it's a hill!' is at N 55 degrees 39.212 / W 004 degrees 40.706 and finally the 'Holmes! It's in the Chapel' is at N 55 degrees 38.913 / W 004 degrees 39.699. You will need a GPS device to locate these caches.

The Eglinton Wildlife Site

The Scottish Wildlife Trust have designated part of the park as a 'Wildlife Site' through an agreement with the local council. The site is of 47 ha, with 6 ha of that being woodland. The map reference is NS 327 427, and the area covers Chapelholms Woods and the wetland associated with Eglinton Loch.

The 1774 Toll Road

The Drucken Steps were stepping stones on the course of the old Toll Road which ran from the west end of Irvine through the Eglinton policies to Kilwinning via Milnburn or Millburn; crossing the Redburn near Knadgerhill and running past 'The Higgins' cottage, which was occupied at one time by John Brown, gardener, and his wife Mary Ann. It may be that the otherwise seemingly pointless Draughtburn Gate near Eglinton Mains was built to control or even prevent the movement of people along this old toll road. The course of the road can be followed until it is cut by the 'Long Drive' expressway.

Eglinton, Ireland

Eglinton in Northern Ireland was previously called Muff, however several places had this name, especially one in Donegal nearby, this caused so much confusion that the residents decided to change its name. Therefore on August 19th 1858 the village of Muff became 'Eglinton' in honour of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Archibald, 13th Earl of Eglinton who was visiting Templemoyle Agricultural School at that time.

Micro history

The Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal was never completed and the section from Paisley to Glasgow was converted into a railway. The Glasgow terminus had been known as Port Eglinton and the Caledonian Railway station that replaced it was known as Eglinton Street Station.

Dr. Duguid visited Bonshaw, circa the 1840s and lists some of the items in the owners collection, including the stirrups from the horse that the 10th Earl of Eglinton was riding when he was shot and killed by gauger Mungo Campbell in 1769.

Persistent rumours exist of a tunnel which is said to from Kilwinning Abbey, under the 'Bean Yaird', below the 'Easter Chaumers' and the 'Leddy firs', and then underneath the Garnock and on to Eglinton Castle. No evidence exists for it, although it may be related to the underground burial vault of the Montgomeries which does exist under the old abbey

A Charter of the time of Mary, Queen of Scots, refers to Eglinton's 'cunningaries' or rabbit-warrens.

The 'gem ring' on the Ardrossan Academy badge is taken from the Eglinton coat of arms; the Earl of Eglinton having been one of the founders of the school.

Another Eglinton Park (Toronto) is a public park located in the North Toronto neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, just west of the Eglinton Subway Station.

Knadgerhill was only acquired by the Earls of Eglinton in 1851 when they excambied part of the lands of Bogside Flats for them. This allowed the construction of the new entrance to the policies at Stanecastle via Long Drive. A Saint Inan's well once existed in Fullarton, south of the present harbour.

Eglinton castle is said by one of the gardeners to have had a room which was never opened. In about 1925 a young man from Kilwinning decided to take some of the panelling from a room in the castle as it was all being allowed to rot in the rain anyway, the roof had been removed. He went the castle to take away as much as he could carry, however one of the last pieces he selected left exposed the skeletal hand of a woman. The whole skeleton was later removed by a student doctor, but for fear of prosecution the matter was never reported to the police.

The commercial park near Irvine, situated in what was called the 'Crow Wood', has been named 'Tournament Park' and a 'castle' folly has been constructed on the nearby roundabout, commemorating the event. One of the main entrances to the castle, the Redburn gates, ran through this commercial park, however nothing now is left of the old ornamental gates and lodges that existed here, with just a portion of sandstone walling existing at the side of a layby. It is not known what happened to this sundial, but it may survive at another site.

Redburn House, a dower house of the estate, used to be situated opposite the Redburn gates. It had fine gardens with a summer house and a sundial; most likely the characteristic Scottish sundial type, although its present whereabouts are unknown.

A pet's grave, that of the dog Toby, was located near Lady Jane's cottage, as was a marble memorial pillar to the 13th Earl's elder brother who died when he was six; the pillar being placed here because this was the site of the boys garden.. This pillar is now located in the woods next to the Visitor centre. Parts of the sculpture that sat on top of this pillar were found at the 'new' site in 2007 by the North Ayrshire Rangers Service. The base of the pillar carries this inscription:

"To the memory of his beloved grandson, Hugh
Who died the 13th July 1817
at the age of six years and a few months:
A child of promise.
On this spot once his little garden
this stone is erected
by his afflicted and disconsolate grandfather
Hugh, Earl of Eglinton."

The Barony Courthouse, owned by the Montgomeries, was situated opposite the old Abbey Green close to the Abbey grounds. It was demolished in 1970.

After the castle had be un-roofed circa 1925 the estate largely continued for some time to be in the hands of the Montgomeries. Eglinton Mains farm was eventually abandoned and all the stock and equipment moved by a special train from Montgreenan railway station to Tonbridge Wells in Kent.

The Redburn burn runs through the Eglinton estate from near Stanecastle and is named after the very high red iron salt content. It runs through the nearby 'Garnock Floods' Scottish Wildlife Trust nature reserve before flowing into the Garnock.

The Earls of Eglinton were keen hunters and the Eglinton Kennels (previously called Laigh Moncur) are situated off the B 785 Kilwinning to Benslie road.

Beside the Irvine New Town trail at the Old Wood is a large piece of machinery that appears to be of a military nature. This is actually a 'grubber' or 'rooter' which Robert Howie & Sons brought in to remove many of the old estate trees and create new pasture land. It was restored recently as part of a Countryside Ranger led project.

Of the old farms that are shown on the park guide, only Corsehillhead is still operating.

A boat house was present in 1828 beside the Garnock, just below the old Redburn House. The same map shows an area called 'Game Keppers' near Corsehill, presumably the abode of the estate Game keepers.

The small gates from Stanecastle were purchased and restored by Lord Robert Crichton-Stuart circa 1970, husband of Lady Janet Montgomerie, daughter of Archibald Montgomerie, 16th Earl of Eglinton and Winton. Upon Lord Robert's death in 1976 they passed to a Mr. Simon Younger, in Haddington. The large gates were beyond 'economic' restoration.

John Thomson's map of 1820 marks the 'Gallow Muir' near Bogside. The name suggests that this was the site of the Gallows, probably linked with the medieval right of 'Pit & gallows', held by the Lord of the Barony. This right was removed in 1747. In 1813, 31 unemployed men were given work levelling the Gallows Knowe at the muir prior to the construction of the new Academy. The wooden base of the gallows and several other associated finds were made.

In woodland near to the near the Doura Burn at North Millburn is a Glacial erratic boulder. Such boulders were usually broken up by farmers and such a rare survival as this, is one more indicator that the site may be a genuine ancient woodland.

The A 78 (T) and B7080 are partially built on the old estate's 'Long Drive' carriageway to Stanecastle. The road from the Eglinton interchange to the Hill roundabout and onwards towards Dreghorn has been named 'Long Drive'.

A piggery was built at the park before it was purchased by the local authority. A few of its buildings survive.

£100,000 was spent by the Montgomeries on creating Ardrossan's harbour and they intended to make it the principal port for Glasgow. Construction of the Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone Canal began in 1807 and the first boat, the passenger boat, The Countess of Eglinton, was launched in 1810; completion to Glasgow's Port Eglinton from Paisley was achieved in 1811, but the section to Ardrossan was never built. The Head gardener at Eglinton Castle laid out the policies and gardens at Speir's school, Beith in 1887.

HMS Eglinton was a WWII Hunt Class escort Destroyer built by Vickers Armstrong of Newcastle and launched on 28/12/1939. A previous HMS Eglinton was a WWI minesweeper; both were named after the Eglinton Foxhunt.

A Gauging station operated by SEPA is located just above the weir on the Lugton Water at the suspension bridge; it appears as a small building and a set of cables and wires stretched across the river.

See also

References

Bibliography

  • Adam, W (1812) Vitruvius Scoticus: being a collection of plans, elevations, and sections of public buildings, noblemen's and gentlemen's houses in Scotland: principally from the designs of the late William Adam Esq., architect, Edinburgh, plate 123.
  • Anon (1916) The House of Montgomerie and its Chiefs, (Eglinton Castle). Scot Country Life, 3, 10, 1916, October, P. 437 - 441.
  • Bryden, R. (1908). Ayrshire castles.
  • Fenwick, H. (1976). Scotland's castles, London, P. 302.
  • Macintosh, John (1894). Ayrshire Nights' Entertainments. Pub. Dunlop & Drennan. P. 316 - 325.
  • Millar, A. H. (1885a) The castles and mansions of Ayrshire illustrated in seventy views with historical and descriptive accounts, Edinburgh.
  • Shaw, J. E. (1953). Ayrshire 1745-1950: a social and industrial history of the county, Edinburgh.

External links

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