The first objective of the Arran Civic Trust is to stimulate public interest in, and care for, the beauty, history and character of the island and its surroundings. Organising excursions is a good way to pursue this and, in order to widen the interest, we have made several trips to mainland properties.

Some previous excursions we have made:

Boswell Book Festival Chatelherault Little Sparta Drumlanrig Castle Dumfries House Kinneil House


You can view the reports of our previous events here.


Forthcoming Excursions

There are no excursions planned.


Boswell Book Festival outing with Arran Civic Trust

On Sunday 11th May Arran Civic Trust took a party by coach to the Boswell Book Festival near Cumnock, East Ayrshire. There were three venues on the itinerary, the first being the village of Knockroon on the outskirts of Cumnock. The village is a well planned affair initiated by the Duke of Rothesay, intended to consist eventually of 500 houses of which 16 had been built, just sufficient to give an impression of its likely atmosphere which is comforting and reassuring. Although the house styles looked back to Scottish rural Regency the houses and flats were varied in size and appearance and gave the impression of belonging to the area and having had a recent renovation rather than built from new. The concept is the same as that of the Dorset village of Poundbury but Knockroon is not so easily mocked.

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After travelling a few miles and enjoying lunch at theBbookFfestival the party was treated to a tour of Auchinleck house and a talk on its famous occupant James Boswell, Dr Johnson’s biographer. The house is a classical Adam house similar to nearbye Dumfries House but smaller. A large marquee in the grounds housed the festival itself where James Naughtie gave a one hour talk on his first novel with all the wit and insight to be expected of a professional broadcaster. Neither the talk nor the trip as a whole was spoiled by a monsoon size shower which abated as the party left Auchinleck for Ardrossan and the boat back to Arran amid expressions of satisfaction at the day out.

John Inglis, chairman



On Tuesday 30th April Arran Civic Trust took a party of 19 by ferry and coach to three venues in Hamilton. All three venues had an association with the Duke of Hamilton. The first of these, Hamilton Mausoleum, built by the tenth Duke, known as El Magnifico, in the 1840s as a family burial crypt. It is a massively imposing, domed structure built of interlocking sandstone blocks with huge sculpted lions guarding the entrance. There are no coffins in the multiple crypt recesses as a result of fear of flooding. Above the crypt is a magnificent chapel with an exotic, inlaid marble floor and a towering ceiling capped by a circular window, the only light source in the building. Two bronze doors cast with biblical scenes lie on display inside having originally been the Mausoleum’s entrance doors. Despite sinking over its lifetime, due to coal mining, by a staggering 18 feet, the building held together, a tribute to the masons who built it. In one sense it is a monument to outrageous vanity and can be seen as grotesque in its arrogance, opulence and the muscular assertiveness of the stonework but it is certainly fascinating and everyone was pleased to have seen it and listened to a well constructed talk from the Hamilton Museum guide.

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!The second venue, Hamilton Old Parish Church is a masterpiece built by William Adam, father of Robert in the 1730s. Inevitably, it has had later alterations particularly to the interior, but the original fabric still stands. It is in the form of a circular hub with outlying cruciform, classical Italianate in feeling and well preserved and looked after by its congregation. The interior has an imposing circular balcony and a massive organ. A member of the congregation David Gibbs led a conducted tour. In the churchyard is a Covenanting memorial and the famous Netherton Cross of early Celtic period. During the visit the local press arrived to photograph the Arran party.


!The third venue was Chatelherault, A hunting lodge and stables again built for the Duke by William Adam not long after the Old Parish Church. It consists of four joined blocks with a central Italianate gateway and faces a magnificent panorama stretching as far as the Cobbler at Arrochar with the Mausoleum and the now demolished Hamilton Palace in its foreground. The interior has been faithfully and skilfully rebuilt after a fire in the forties and the decorative classical plasterwork has been a worthwhile job-creation scheme. Nearby in the same High Parks is the deep gorge of the Avon and the old Cadzow (original name for Hamilton) castle now undergoing restoration. There are ancient oaks over 500 years old and white cattle of a mediaeval breed.

The whole day was capped by unexpected, beautiful weather, which enhanced everything and everyone returned happy and satisfied with the day out.



Little Sparta


On Wednesday 13th June, a party from Arran Civic Trust visited one of Scotland’s hidden gems. Little Sparta, a garden full of works of art created from the late sixties on by the artist Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006) and his wife, lies in the south west of the Pentland Hills near the village of Dunsyre. The site is rather remote and not easy to find, being at the end of about half a mile of rough farm track, but once located, a visit repays the effort a hundredfold.

LittleSparta1_tn.jpgThe name Little Sparta was deliberately chosen in contrast to the nickname of nearby Edinburgh, the “Athens of the North” (Sparta being Athens’ traditional enemy). The garden does indeed contain references to ancient Greece and Rome in its sculptures and monuments, but Finlay’s imagination roams far wider. The visitor can pick up references to the French Revolution, the sea, and the Second World War, as well as inscriptions with wise aphorisms, proverbs, puns, pure flights of stream-of-consciousness word association and similar verbal fancies. Some of the imagery is undoubtedly violent - for example the pair of stone hand-grenades topping brick gateposts - but paradoxically the whole gives a feeling of wonderful peace, relaxation and freedom. One could lose oneself for hours there.

But it is not all just “works of art”. Little Sparta is a garden, or rather a set of individual but interconnected gardens. There is a Woodland Garden, a Roman Garden, an Allotment, English Parkland, and so on. Effective use is made of water in the Temple Pool Garden and with the completely natural-looking Lochan Eck. And there are special features, such as little temples, the Hortus Conclusus (Enclosed Garden) set in a roofless former farm building, and a curving path neatly edged with cunningly trimmed longer grass in the English Parkland. The maintenance of all this must be constant hard work, but it is beautifully done, and the staff are to be congratulated on their efforts.

Since 1994, and especially since Ian Hamilton Finlay’s death, responsibility for the upkeep of the garden rests with the Little Sparta Trust. Needless to say, this needs the support of the public, through charitable donations, of course, but also through admission charges and sales. If you are thinking of going to see it, first check the details on www.littlesparta.co.uk.

In the words of the art expert Sir Roy Strong: “The garden is one of the few made post-1945 which must not be lost. It remains to me still the only really original garden made in this country since that date”.



Drumlanrig Castle

Drumlanrig2010_tn.jpgDaniel Defoe described the countryside round Drumlanrig as ‘hideous’ but Arran Civic Trust members, being of a more modern sensibility, disagree. Drumlanrig is in a magnificent setting, surrounded by high hills and woods but we did agree with Defoe that Drumlanrig, a C17th building, was a gem, built of a local pink sandstone and sporting turrets and cupolas with crisply laid out gardens and wild parts beyond. It was packed full of fine artefacts and paintings including a magnificent Rembrandt. Some of the detail on French style furniture was staggering in its complexity and vastly overdone by modern taste. There were a lot of family portraits, perhaps of more interest to the family but overall, the visit was richly rewarding and enjoyable. The fine weather was an added bonus.

Drumlanrig Castle, the ancient Douglas stronghold and Dumfriesshire home of the Duke & Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry. It is set on the spectacular 90,000 acre Queensberry Estate complete with Country Park and Victorian Gardens. Constructed from distinctive pink sandstone, Drumlanrig was commissioned in 1691 by William Douglas, the first Duke of Queensberry and represents one of the first and most important Renaissance buildings in the country. It is a large country house near to Thornhill in Dumfries and Galloway. Despite its name, it is actually a baroque country house, and had no military function, although two earlier defensive castles had stood on the site. It has a "grand avenue" leading to the front of the Castle.


Dumfries House

Dumfries House is one of Britain's most beautiful stately homes. It has sumptuous interiors and magnificent furnishings, all set in two thousand acres of land. Built between 1754 and 1759 for the 5th Earl of Dumfries, and with a unique collection of Chippendale furniture, the house has been described as an 18th century time-capsule since the principal rooms and their contents have remained virtually unchanged for 250 years. In June 2007, HRH The Prince of Wales, under his title as the Great Steward of Scotland, headed a consortium of charities and heritage bodies to purchase this unique house, its contents and adjoining land, in order to keep this house and grounds accessible to the public.


Kinneil House

Kinneil House is a historic house to the west of Bo'ness in east-central Scotland. It was once the principal seat of the Hamilton family in the east of Scotland. The house was saved from demolition in 1936 when 16th-century mural paintings were discovered, and it is now in the care of Historic Scotland. It sits within a public park, which also incorporates a section of the Roman Antonine Wall. The house now consists of a symmetrical mansion built in 1677 on the remains of an earlier 16th- or 15th-century tower house, with two rows of gunloops for early cannon still visible. A smaller east wing, of the mid 16th century, contains the two painted rooms. The house is protected as a Category A listed building and as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

The Arran Civic Trust is a registered Scottish charity, number 023504 and is affiliated to The Scottish Civic Trust