Although the British have never shirked from their responsibility of massacring foreign types in their own countries for their own enlightenment we have been somewhat reluctant to engage in bloody revolution on our own patch. Of course, there was that embarrassing incident of regicide back in the seventeenth century but as soon as Oliver Cromwell had descended into hell we decapitated the puritanical puritan leaders, stuck their heads on sharp sticks on our city walls, reopened the theatres, started celebrating Christmas again and went back to doing what our betters told us to do. This is a bit strange as our aristocracy are all French (even now over 50% of the land in the UK is owned by descendants of the genocidal barons who came over with William the Conqueror) and so, being foreign, should be subject to a good massacring for their own good.

However, although our society is class ridden in the extreme your average British pleb has never respected the well to do and the rest of the establishment (including the clergy). Therefore, we have always paid lip service to the class system whilst seeking to undermine the toffs and relieve them of their ancient, stolen wealth. Probably the most effective way we have so far come up with to make the hereditary rich suffer is the inheritance tax (death duties) introduced fully in 1894. This is a tax on the property of the rich when they die. Although, in our current right wing political climate it has become a somewhat impotent tax (most landowners have found ways round paying it), during the twentieth century many of the landed gentry and aristocracy had to sell up (or donate to the nation) their stately homes in order to pay the tax following the death of their previous owners. Because the Treasury was always willing to cut a deal if the grand houses and estates were bequeathed to the British people we have ended up with a large number of aristocrat's homes now in (pseudo) public ownership.

I say "pseudo" public because most of them are in the care of an institution known as the National Trust. Like all of the agencies responsible for the delivering of culture in Britain, the National Trust is funded, one way or another, by the working classes and the middle classes (the upper class, as in most of the world, don't pay taxes and the like). Like all the agencies responsible for the delivering of culture in Britain, the National Trust is run by the middle classes and so what it provides is aimed at satisfying the cultural needs of the middle classes. However, the working classes have always had a fascination for stately homes and the like and love to visit them. The middle classes don't want this and so they price the admission to these, so called, "national" treasures in such a way that it encourages the middle classes to visit whilst excluding those on low incomes. For example, there is a castle and estate called Culzean, down the road from where we are now camped. It costs fifteen pounds each to get in. Now, for a doctor on eighty grand plus a year, or even a teacher on thirty grand plus, thirty pounds for a couple is no great expense. But for those earning the minimum wage it is a huge amount of money. So the National Trust is not a national trust. Like the National Theatre, The National Opera and even the Sage Concert Hall in Gateshead (my local venue) it is just another way of relieving the working class of its limited wealth in order to entertain the middle classes at a cost conducive to their wage packets.

However, there are some councils in the UK who still believe that they serve all the people under their jurisdiction rather than just those living in the leafy suburbs of their towns. When a "national treasure" ends up under their control it is common for entry to such places  to be free for everybody. These are the places that the MadGang search out when they are on holiday and on Tuesday we struck gold.

I don't know why but I had expected the town of Kilmarnock to be a really grotty place, similar to Irvine which we visited at the beginning of our time in the Ayrshires. However, although a little sombre, it turned out to be a tidy, well preserved town bordering on the attractive in places. The jewel in its crown has to be Dean Castle Country Park situated on the town's northern edges.

DEAN CASTLE COUNTRY PARK is a fantastic free day out for all the family. The country park, covering over 200 acres, is nestled in the heart of Kilmarnock and offers something for kids and adults alike to enjoy. It boasts beautiful woodland walks, adventure playground, urban farm, visitor centre, tearoom, shop and a fantastic 14th century castle housing world class collections including historic weapons, armour and musical instruments.
Explore the park using scenic paths and trails - each season brings with it ever changing plants and wildlife that you might spy along the way. With over 80 hectares of countryside within a very urban area, the park is a great place to get away from the stresses of everyday life and see some fantastic wildlife. Visit our urban farm area and meet some of the residents– Bruno, Lucy and Murron the kune kune pigs, our fallow deer herd, llamas and highland cattle and let’s not forget old favourites - Scott the Clydesdale and Timmy and Pip the donkeys. Take a free tour of the castle and find out what it’s like to wear some real armour or have a go at playing some replica musical instruments. Take part in some fun environmental education with the resident Ranger Service who will also answer any natural history related questions that you may have.
From classic car rallies to minibeast hunts, Dean Castle Country Park offers an extensive and varied events programme throughout the year.

A highland coo.


When the machines take over this is what sheep will look like.

The yellow bird in this photo is a fledgling budgerigar. A pair of lovebirds stole the egg and when it hatched they cared for the newborn as if it was their own. However, so did its true parents. You can have too much love. A lady from the nearby cafe told us that the "little fella" spent most of its time hiding from its four parents who were all determined to feed it constantly. It seems to have survived its ordeal and it's certainly a well fed chick.

A Clydesdale.

Peaty, Scottish water.

Dean Castle is situated in the Dean Castle Country Park in Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire, Scotland. It was the stronghold for the Boyd Family, who were lords of Kilmarnock for over 400 years. The Castle takes its name from ‘The Dean’ or wooded valley, a common place name in Scotland. However, until about 1700 it was called Kilmarnock Castle. Owned originally by the Boyd family, it has strong historical connections with many people and events famous in Scottish history. Robert the Bruce who gave the Boyds these lands; James III of Scotland whose sister married a Boyd; the Covenanters, some of whom were imprisoned here; Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose rebellion was joined by the 4th Earl of Kilmarnock and Robert Burns who was encouraged to publish his poetry by the Earl of Glencairn who owned the Castle at that time.

In 1975 the 9th Lord Howard de Walden gifted the castle, estate, his father’s collections of arms and armour, and his grandfather’s collection of musical instruments to the people of Kilmarnock. The collections of arms and armour are on display in the Great Hall of the keep and the musical instruments are on display in the Solar of the keep. The banqueting hall displays many items owned by East Ayrshire council including Kilmarnock Edition of Robert Burns poetry and many works of art. The private chamber of the Earls of Kilmarnock has a complete model of the castle. Legend has it that after the 4th Earl of Kilmarnock was beheaded for treason in London on 18 August 1746 his head was carried back to Dean castle and was stored in a large chest which is still present in the Laigh Tower. The story of the 4th Earl’s head being kept in the castle has attracted many ghost hunters who have studied the castle and believe there is a presence in the palace. A large bust of William Wallace is on display on the ground floor of the palace.

The Robert Burns World Federation recently unveiled a plaque to the memory of those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. The plaque reads: Dedicated to the victims of terrorism in the USA on 11 September 2001 "Man’s Inhumanity to man Makes countless thousands mourn!" Robert Burns (1759 – 1796)

After our walk around Dean Castle Country Park we popped down the road to Mauchline to visit the BURNS HOUSE museum. Unlike the Alloway Burns Museum it was free to get in. Although it is not very big, the curators have put together a fascinating exhibition, majoring on the things about Robert Burns people really want to know about - his rakish sex life for example. Whilst at Mauchline, Burns managed to get one woman pregnant twice and, more than likely, another woman pregnant just the once - both out of wedlock. He had to confess his sins three times in the local kirk, but, embarrassing as that might have been, the minister reaffirmed his bachelor status after he had been through the ordeal. As for the two women, one of them died and the other ended up marrying Burns after her father relented and allowed the marriage shortly after Burns made his fortune in Edinburgh.

Then we drove to the beach near the Royal Troon Golf Club (where I think hitting a small ball into a small hole with a stick was invented). The dogs didn't want to play golf, they preferred running around on the sand like lunatics.

A massive, washed up jellyfish. I hate them. When Glenna finds one on the beach she pees on it. That'll teach the blighters.

After all that it was too late to start cooking dinner for ourselves and so we went to the newly reopened hostelry in the village of Kirkmichael. The food was delicious and beautifully presented and (above all) extremely reasonable pricewise. To be exact it was the best pub grub either of us had eaten in our lives. It was gastro-pub standard plus for the cost of a bar snack. After our meal I told the waitress how brilliant I thought the chef was and how lucky they were to have such a culinary genius working in their village pub. She thanked me for my compliment and then pointed out that it was, in fact, the chef's day off and the meals had been prepared by his assistant. All I can say is if you are ever in South Ayrshire do make a point of visiting THE KIRKMICHAEL ARMS. They serve food all day and they also serve the best pint of real ale in Scotland.



  1. What a terrific post!

    Random thoughts—

    For example, there is a castle and estate called Culzean, down the road from where we are now camped. It costs fifteen pounds each to get in.

    Good googly-moogly, that’s ridiculous! [I had no idea re the Natl Trust. From my one trip to Blightey, I thought they were good guys.]

    Love the pic of “the girls” and the piggies! [Well, all the pics of {{{Glenna and Delphi}}}. But esp. w/ the pigs.]

    “Peaty, Scottish water”: for peaty, Scottish whiskey. Mmmmm, Scotch! [Making me want a “a wee dram” right now. ;-)]

    What’s the story on the circular sculpture/monument? Clearly, it left an impression.

    “The Kirkmichael Arms”: got it! [I’ll even tell ’em I come from a parish named St Michael’s!] You DO know it’s possible that the Chef’s Assistant is superior to the regular chef (or perhaps there’s a helpful gastronomic rat involved? ;-p)

    Thanks again, MP!

  2. Dogs on leads! No wonder they hit the beach running.
    Peaty Scottish water – I love it. I was flummoxed when I first saw it on the isle of Lewis, because as it run under the bridge it made a left turn and headed for the beach where, as it ran over the beach in a gully, and into the sea, it turned the sea the most beautiful shade of deep purple for quite some ways out. I am so enjoying your vacation, MadGang. Thank you!

  3. Love the photos and the travelogue! You have the best little jaunts, and that they’re low-cost is even better.

    Last Saturday David & I ended up at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, WV and paid $6 each for the little bus tour. Best $6 we’ve spend in a long time – especially since the honkin’ 110-meter telescope realigned whilst we were in front of it.

  4. No mention of scotch tours and buying stuff you can only purchase at the distillery…are you not a single-malt guy? Oh, please, say it isn’t so…

  5. A quick note:

    …they price the admission to these, so called, “national” treasures in such a way that it encourages the middle classes to visit whilst excluding those on low incomes

    Admission price into one Walt Disney World park (such as the Magic Kingdom) for one adult, one day: $94.79

    Children age 3-9: $88.40

    At least your National Trust is controlling prices far better than a private company like Disney. I wouldn’t bitch too much.

    • Yes, it does now. When WDW first opened, guests had to buy individual tickets for individual attractions, OR one could buy what was called an “E ticket” which allowed access by the guest to all the attractions.

  6. Oh, and a further note: when I left Walt Disney World’s employment in 1996, one adult admission for one park, one day was just under $40. Goes to show how sharply/rapidly the prices increased over the years.

  7. Mrs MP is a single malt connoisseur, LA. I’m afraid supermarket single malt is not good enough for her. She expects to pay £70+ for a bottle. So, as we don’t have that sort of spare cash at the moment it has been a whiskey free holiday. Anyway, the nearest craft distillery is on the island of Arran and we haven’t been there as we decided it would make a good a holiday destination in its own right another year.

    • Ah, she and I are in common there…I belong to the Whiskey Exchange’s club and have been known to drop egregious sums for my precioussssssss

  8. What a wonderful photo-essay. I really want to visit that park some day after seeing your photos. Which leads me to wonder, is there a career in photo-essays anywhere in GB? I think you have quite a portfolio to show.

    Any road, I should much rather be there seeing the sights (and the pub) than here dealing with my son’s being in Cook County Jail. I hope you continue to find wonderful things. I gives me something to smile over.


  9. MP, at risk of being pedantic the National Trust is a private charity and has no connection to the government. Bequeathing a country house to it was counted as a charitable donation and therefore exempted from inheritance tax. It was specifically not a bequest to the nation – properties bequeathed to the nation are managed, often even more ineptly, by English Heritage and its equivalents. Agree with much of what you say about them apart from that.

    Hope you’re still enjoying the holiday (lousy weather and high prices apart).

  10. My point still stands, they are not a “national” trust. And at least English Heritage properties are considerably cheaper to get into and often free (and their custodians and stewards are nowhere near as snotty nosed as the National Trust ones).