Culzean Castle & Country Park

One of the most spectacular castles in Scotland, Culzean Castle was built in the late 18th century by Clan Kennedy chief David Kennedy (10th Earl of Cassillis) as a family home. One of the most spectacular, but probably one of the least historical.

Clan Kennedy

The Clan Kennedy were a fairly powerful family, operating primarily in the old Ayrshire district of Carrick. They weren’t particularly known for being ugly- despite the name Kennedy arising from the Irish Gaelic term Cinneidigh, which means “an ugly headed person”. The clan are believed to have crossed the Irish seas at somepoint in the 11th century- settling in Carrick, Ayrshire. The clans rise to power will have much to do with them coming into the blood line of Robert the Bruce. James Kennedy, one of the early most prominent chiefs of the clan, married the daughter of Robert III, who is the son of Robert II, who was the grandson of Robert I (the Bruce).

James Kennedy then is the most notable of the clan members. He is the founder of At Andrews University, while he also served as High Chancellor of Scotland and Bishop of St Andrews, and went on to create the title of Earl of Cassillis with his brother Gilbert- who had obtained lands in the Carrick area and became Lord Kennedy. This title seemed to be cursed though- the 1st Earl of Cassillis, David Kennedy, was killed during the Battle of Flooden in 1513. The second Earl, Andrew Kennedy, was murdered in Dunkeld, while the 3rd (and potentially 4th) Earls, Andrew and Robert, were poisoned and killed during Mary Queen of Scots wedding to the Dauphin of France, Francis. Nevertheless the Earl of Cassillis line continued..

There is no significant events in large periods of the Clan Kennedy history, although some of there decedents have held notability. None more so than Clark Kennedy, who served as Lieutenant General in the military, and more importantly was the commander of the Royal Dragoons as the famous Battle of Waterloo. It was at Waterloo that Clark personally captured the eagle of the French infantry (most likely why he was knighted).

The Clan Kennedy did, however, leave behind an impressive collection of castles. Aswell as Culzean, they are also the owners/builders of Dunure Castle, Maybole Castle, Greenan Castle, and Cassillis House amongst a few others. A couple are in ruins while there is a few still intact, though are on privately owned estates. There is today many descendent’s of the Kennedy’s in the United States- it was a country that the Kennedy’s thrived in, following Captain Archibald Kennedy being very successful in what was to become New York. However, this does not include the most famous Kennedy- John F. Kennedy, who comes from the original Irish Kennedy’s.

Scipio Kennedy

The story of Scipio Kennedy gives several different perspectives of the use of slaves for domestic service. The word ‘slave’ is at most appropriate when applied to the early life of Scipio. He was captured (against his will) at the age of 6 in West Africa and spent some time in the Caribbeans and West Indies before being brought to Scotland by Andrew Douglas. His wife, a woman named Jean (Douglas), later married John Kennedy and took Scipio to Culzean with her. Involuntary domestic service would be his new life. So far a story of abuse. Even his name, Scipio, has abusive origins- it was common for masters to tease there slaves with the names of old and powerful Romans- this being in general mockery at their powerless position. However, the word slave may not be entirely appropriate for Scipio’s later life.

It seems he was treated as one of the family in the Kennedy household, and maybe a butler or job title such as family assistant, would be better applied than slave. This can be further concluded if you look at the will of Jean Kennedy- who left Scipio the same amount of money as her own children and grandchildren. Furthermore, upon receiving an act of affranchisement (freedom) from the Scottish Government in 1725, Scipio stayed with the family- and even built his own house on the grounds of Culzean Castle.

Scipio died aged 80 in 1774. He had married Margaret Gray, who had previously worked for the Kennedy’s, and they fathered 8 children together. There is little record of his descendants, other than Douglas Kennedy- who erected a memorial stone at the Kirkoswald old church-graveyard in South Ayrshire in tribute to him.

You can read ore about Scipio, and the search for his history here-

A young Scipio with master Jean Kennedy (Image courtesy of

Roasting of the Commendator

The reformation in Scotland in the 16th century brought about a bit of a scramble for land across much of the country. These lands had been held by the Abbey’s but the reformation brought about an end to the authority of these abbeys, with clan leaders ready to battle for their property. Gilbert Kennedy was amongst these land battlers. Initially seizing of the land of Glenluce Abbey in Galloway, Gilbert was soon eyeing up the lands of the nearby Crossraguel Abbey.

The lands were being Commendated (administered) by a man named Alan Stewart, following the death of the Abbot of Crossraguel in 1564. In late 1569, after 5 years of constant pursuit of him by the Kennedy clan, Alan Stewart was kidnapped and roasted like a pig under an open fire- until he signed over the lands, which he did. This poem about those events by Richard Bannatyne better describes the goings-on. The lyrical-wax is called The Roasting of the Commendator.

Commendator Stewart was taking his walk
   In Crossraguel woods one day,
Doing his lawful errands and work
   As any Commendator may;
“When, lo! a band of steel-clad men,
   Who all in ambush lay,
Have seized and bound him fast and sure,
   And carried him away.
They bore him off to the lone sea-shore,
   Where sits in sullen state
Dunure’s strong hold—where many a carle
   Has met a gruesome fate.
And his fate, too, is fixed and sure
   As any fate can be,
Unless his lands to Cassillis’s lord
   To sign he straight agree.
But Commendator Stewart is stiff and dour,
   And stands by his rights like a man;
And won’t give in to Cassillis’s chief,
   Let him argue as he can.
But Cassillis’s chief has an argument strong,
   Which he keeps in his vaults so black;
And Commendator Stewart must give up his lands,
   Or answer on the rack.
Oh, dark are the vaults of grim Dunure,
   On its rocks by the sounding sea;
And deaf are its walls to mercy’s calls,
   Or the prisoner’s misery !
And so the poor Commendator now
   May well lose heart of grace,
When naked and bound before a fire
   They roasted him apace.
He signed the deed, with nervous dread,
   As still is plain to see ;
But signing by force is no legal bond
   In a land of liberty.
So the cruel Earl made nought by that deed
   Of violence, as you may be sure,
Except to wind this story dark
   ‘Bout the Castle of Dunure.

Alan Stewart was not killed, though he was severely injured for the rest of his life, with the Scottish Privy Council ordering the Kennedy’s to pay him a generous lifetime pension as compensation.

The Commendator was caught wandering

The Fortress

Their has been a castle on the site since around the 13th centruy. The lands and estate have always been in the possession of the Kennedy family since they came here from Ireland. The current tower-house (pictured somewhere) was the main building on the grounds. Where the castle sits today was considered to be risky by the older generations of Kennedy’s due to its position on the edge of the cliff- though the sea level is much lower today. Formally known as the House of Coves, the tower-house acted as the fort for what considered a very strategically placed lands, and it must have been as the Kennedy have never lost possession of this land.

Below the castle there are old caves, believed to have been lived in by Monks (no doubt Irish again). Many generations of the Kennedy’s have used to caves to participate in smuggling (which was a big problem on the Ayrshire coast). They had significant room and would hide large cargos taken from ships in these caves- it was a very profitable link too, and they were particularly notable in the 18th century for this (in what was considered the golden age of smuggling). It allowed them to stop the tobacco lords becoming equally, if not more, powerful.

It was in the late 18th century that the 10th Earl of Cassillis, David, commissioned the renowned architect Robert Adam to put together a new castle-like palace for his family, who he considered to be undervalued in their ‘basic’ and run down Dunure Castle. Feeling his family were deserving of royalty, Culzean Castle would be built as their new family home in 1775. The architecture of Culzean is what can only be described as a classical-gothic masterpiece.

The gardens of the ground were already in place at the time, with the castle being built somewhat sporadically- over a ten year period. Included in the construction was a new drum tower, a three storey wing, a grand staircase, aswell as a new brewhouse and milkhouse. Neither David Kennedy nor architect Robert Adam would live to see the finished product though, as they both died in 1794.

The castle and estate was donated by the Kennedy’s to the Nation Trust of Scotland in 1945. Later on an american businesswomen would come forward with a 4 million donation to the trust for the renovation and maintenance of Culzean Castle. The businesswoman, William Lindsay, had never even been to Scotland, never-mind Culzean, though she was apparently a major supporter of Eisenhower and had taken up admiration for his holiday home. $4 million is an outrageous amount and a very generous donation, and it went a long way to seeing the park reopened to the public in 2011- having been closed due to financial pressure.

Knowing this country- she would probably still have to buy a ticket if she visited!

The clock tower, just opposite to the Castle entrance (below) this was the old towerhouse- which was the main house of the estate, it has been renovated over the years (by both the Kennedys and the NTS)

The upper floor of the castle is a hotel, called the Eisenhower- named after the American president following his heroics in WW2 as one of the commanders of the allied forces. As a gift, the general of the army was given this floor as a holiday apartment, with Eisenhower himself subsequently visited the castle numerous times, referring to it as “the only place I get peace”. Pictured is Dwight (on the left) with son John infront of the castle looking into the pond. (Image courtesy of

Ghosts of Culzean Castle

Like most castles in Scotland, Culzean is haunted by a troubled past. The main perpetrator here is a missing piper. There was long a myth amongst the Kennedy’s that the basement caves of their castle was haunted- and the story goes that one day there was a wedding being held on the estate, and the guests had been discussing the prospect of ghosts roaming below. One of the pipers of the wedding stepped forward and offered to check it out. The deal was that the piper would go into the caves and continue to play his pipes- and if the sound of bagpipes stopped, then that was the call that he was in trouble and needed help.

The piper and his dog made his way down to explore, playing the pipes as they moved forward, when all of a sudden- the pipes stopped. At first the group of guests had believed that the piper was at it, playing games. So they subsequently became annoyed and left him (and the dog) and returned to the party. The next day the police were called to the castle after the piper was reported missing. He was never found, neither was the dog.

Annoyed about being left, having agreed that if the bagpipes stopped help would be sent, the piper is said to be intent of terrorising the castle guests in particular. On numerous occasions visitors to the castle have reported hearing bagpipes coming from below them. Its strange though, as there doesn’t ever seem to have been any reporting on any barking noises- unless the dog is still alive or incapable of becoming a ghost.

Elsewhere, Thomas Kennedy (the 9th Earl) is said to haunt guests visiting his old bedroom- the State bedroom. Many guests have reported feeling nudges to their back when inside the room, with the Earl seemingly trying to show them the door.

The Country Park

David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassilis, clearly had very big plans for the garden and estate. It seems as if the Earl was intent on creating a hideaway estate- maybe it was living in Ayr that pushed him into this bid for a luxury sanctuary. Though in his lifetime it remained very much a work in progress, today it is very very extensive. There is a huge wildlife woodland park, which includes a deer park. Even though it is called a deer park, there is also Highland Cows, and Lamas. The animals that the Kennedy’s brought to the older park were deer- still there today. Although there isn’t that many of them. There is 12 Highland Cows on the castles estate. Definitely more than deer- so it should technically be called a Highland Cow Park.

The woodland park is recognised to be one of the biggest, and most important, in Ayrshire. Aswell as holding the deer park, it is also home to two forests, two large ponds (filled with fish), aswell as the walled garden, several car-parks, and trees older than any individual. The small trees at either side of the main path- this is the path leading from the deer park to the walled garden, where John Kennedy was keen to create a spectacular walk-way to the walled garden, a passage fit for a King. It will be ready in about 100 years.

These walled gardens at the other side were built around the 1750s, a few decades before the new fortress. The garden features a restored 19th century peach house acting as the glasshouse. While an old tea house, and an early 20th century grotto and vinery are also located here.

25 Photos of Culzean Castle & Country Park

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