Brazilian graffiti on Kelburn Castle
Kelburn Castle
Urban Sprawl by Zoe Scott
Giant fallen Monterey pine in front of the castle
Obelisk-shaped sundial in forecourt
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With artistic flair and a hodgepodge of architectural periods, this estate captivates and invigorates

Located by the waters of north Ayrshire, the sprawling property of Kelburn Castle and Estate covers approximately 772 acres. It is set on the northern end of its namesake, the Kel burn, a mountain stream that helped form the surrounding glen over thousands of years. Just over half a mile in length, it begins at the moors at a height of 800 feet above the castle, pouring over waterfalls and winding through gorges before it meets the sea. Believed to be the oldest Scottish castle continuously lived in by the same family, the Boyle family have called the grounds home since 1140. Originally surnamed “de Boyville”, in 1066 they joined William the Conqueror in his travels from Normandy to Britain. Strategically set on the high ground and offering a clear view of Largs, the Isle of Arran and the Firth of Clyde, the Boyle family’s first residence was a wooden tower believed to have been built around 1143. This was later replaced by a stone Norman keep in the 1200s for defensive purposes. Sections of the keep are still visible today – most notably the turret.

The sixth Earl of Glasgow, George Boyle, cared little for Kelburn estate, which he considered cold and draughty. Letting it out to a prosperous Glaswegian merchant, the Earl’s tenant was responsible for the development of the eastern Victorian wing, which houses the original large kitchen, billiard room, four additional bedrooms and a dining room with unobstructed views of the islands of the Firth of Clyde. Besides the stunning landscape of islands and sea, the dining room also provides views of three gardens. The Children’s Garden is designed in the shape of the Saltire (Scotland’s national flag) and is situated on the west lawn. Designed around 1760 during the third Earl’s time, each corner of the enclosure contains the initials of one of his four children. The garden was built in 1773 and is the only formal garden remaining on the estate. In front of the castle, you will find the forecourt, which is home to one of two obelisk-shaped sundials. A wrought iron gate prevents visitors from going down the stone steps that lead into the pleasance, which consists of a walled and terraced area to the north and west of the castle.

To ease these financial burdens, in 1977 the tenth Earl of Glasgow, Patrick Boyle, decided to open the castle to the public. Following his children’s inquiries into having the castle painted, the Earl commissioned a unique and controversial art installation. In a month in 2007, four of the world’s leading Brazilian graffiti artists (Franciso Rodrigues da Silva, Nina Pandolfo and the Os Gemeos twins) came and applied the vibrant form of Brazilian graffiti, reframing it from its typical urban context and onto the ancient and permanent walls of Kelburn’s historic rural castle. Beyond whimsy and shock, parts of the graffiti reflect the history of the Boyle family. Set in the foreground of the castle’s façade, a Māori woman stands as a homage to the seventh Earl of Glasgow, who had served as the Governor of New Zealand from 1892 to 1898. To the left of the Māori woman, a stone plaque sits in the middle of a wide and tall tree. The plaque, bearing the family crest as well as the initials of John Boyle (father of the first Earl) and his wife Marion Crawford Bilbirnie, indicates where the original front door stood.

Brimming with historical significance, natural splendours, and artistic marvels, Kelburn Castle and Estate is a fantastic site for families, hikers, historians and everyone in between.

Text & Photo Victoria Mae Martyn