Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Culzean Slingshot

Culzean Castle, as seen from the rocky section just before the Gas House entrance to the Park 

The Culzean Slingshot gives a great mix of beach, trail & road running along South Ayrshire's finest coastal strip.

Culzean Castle is possibly the finest castle in all Ayrshire; route aside, the Park is worth exploration.

Turnberry Lighthouse is one of Ayrshire's most conspicuous coastal landmarks: also well worth a visit outwith the route.

Go fast: the route is relatively flat!  


Route = 11.2 miles

Video overview Here


Getting There

Croy beach marks the start/finish of the route.  

If travelling from Ayr, head along the A719 coastal road.  Beyond Dunure you'll reach the 'Electric Brae'.  Just after the Brae, the road swings R; the turn-off for Croy beach is on the R (signed) in only a few hundred yards.  Drop down, following the road to the beach.

If driving, there's a car park at the beach.  If busy (it should be quiet most of the year aside from the warmest summer days), there's a car park to the R before the final drop down to the beach.

Take note: the beach car park opening time varies, depending on time of year.  In general, the gate is locked at sunset.

Tide Times

The route can be run under most tidal conditions, but Croy Beach is far easier when the tide is out.  Try to time your route according to the tides.  

At high tide, you'll be forced to hug the high tide line; the going is slower.  

As many will know, sand is firmer underfoot the further out you go.  

Tide tables Here.  The link is for tides at Ayr, but the difference for Croy tides compared to Ayr is minimal.  

If you wish to be super-precise, subtract about 8 minutes from the Ayr tide times (e.g. 1510 high tide @ Ayr = 1502 high tide @ Croy).

Culzean Castle/Country Park

"Do I have to pay to enter the grounds?  It says so on the Culzean Website."

The website is for those driving into the grounds via the main entrance.  

Walkers (and runners, of course!) can enter the grounds for free.  

Most walkers enter from the caravan park at Maidens, and some walk in from Croy.

"It also says the grounds close at a certain time.  Does that mean I'll be locked in the castle grounds?"

Again, this is closing time for drivers.  

The grounds are open/accessible at any time of day/night.    

Have no fear RE the white gates on the castle walls: they are never locked.

You won't be locked in; only specific Park features are locked (i.e. the Walled Garden, the Castle, the Orangery etc) - but the Park itself is never closed.

It couldn't be closed, as 'closing' the Park would violate the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.  

Best Time to Run the Route

Take two factors into consideration:

1) Tides

2) Park opening/closing times

Point 1 has already been discussed above.  

With regards park opening/closing times: I'd strongly suggest running the route outwith Park opening hours.  

During opening hours the grounds can be busy; you'll likely lose a lot of speed in the park dodging other visitors (especially so on the steps/at the Castle etc).

If you aren't bothered about running fast, by all means run through the park during opening hours (you can then also run through certain areas i.e. the Walled Garden), but if you're looking for speed, go before opening hours.  Or after, if it's summer (the route makes a great sunset run).  

On the route video (filmed Sat 8th Oct 2016) I started the route at about 8:30am.  This meant lowest tide for the return along Croy beach, and almost no-one in the Park itself (it doesn't 'officially' open until 9:30am).  

Hence the quietness of the Park during filming.  

Turnberry Lighthouse/Golf Course

Turnberry Lighthouse, sitting on the former location of the Castle (alleged birthplace of Robert The Bruce)

Turnberry Lighthouse is on the grounds of Turnberry Golf Course.  

Again, there's no access issues.  Everyone has the right to pass through the grounds.  

Of course, if a golfer is about to swing, don't cough & put them off!  But you are doing no wrong by being there.  


The Route

Much variation within Culzean possible.  The route described is likely the most obvious.

The route video should suffice for all key navigation points.

The concept of the route is simple: run from Croy to Turnberry Lighthouse (& back), through the grounds of Culzean.

Time yourself from the gate on the slip at Croy beach.  

On the route video you'll notice I ran to the Lighthouse, but then turned R on to the old Castle ruins: this was simply to show the ruins/views back to Croy.  By running standards, it makes more sense to run to the Lighthouse gate.  

Running to the high point of the old Castle will add about 30 seconds or so to the route.

Croy Beach

Croy beach, Culzean Castle, and Ailsa Craig

On the route video at about 0:15 you'll see a shot of a sandstone crag; at this point you'll likely have to hug the high tide line (irrespective of tide).  Nothing too difficult, though.

There's one tricky point where you'll have to run over a bouldery section around a small promontory (just before the Gas House enters view).  Watch the ankles if you aren't familiar with this kind of terrain; the rocks can be slippery.  You'll likely lose some speed at this section.

Running on Sand

Consider this a small inclusion - but the subject could be a book in itself.  

If you frequently run on sand, be sure to run the sand in both directions.  

If, for example, you have a route where the outward journey is along a beach, with the return journey on a road, you could possibly build a mechanical bias into your running (due to the slant of the beach towards the sea).

The above may not seem like a big issue - but after a few years of running such a route, you'd probably develop a mechanical imbalance.

If you haven't ran on sand before, it'll probably feel difficult.  

...You'll sweat a lot!

Build your sand mileage slowly.  If a large percentage of your weekly mileage suddenly becomes beach running, you could expose yourself to a bad achilles injury.

Sand is a very varied surface; to talk in general of 'running on sand' is probably too vague to be useful.  

Dry sand is very difficult to run on.  The wetter the sand, the easier a running surface it makes.  

Hence it is best to run far out during a low tide.

Fore-warning with regards one specific surface: running across Ripple Marks when the tide is out will be speedy - but can be painful if your trail shoe doesn't have a rockplate (you'll feel more pain the faster you go due to the higher impact forces generated).


Culzean Grounds

You'll enter the grounds at the Gas House building:

The Gas House, entry point to Culzean grounds from Croy beach

Head up both sets of steps, then follow the gravel up to the Castle.  

If you haven't visited the Castle before, prepare to be impressed - it's a stunning building.  

You'll know the building from RBS £5 notes, though.  

Views from the cannon platform are great (on a clear day Arran looks fantastic).  

Follow the route video for details on where to go through the grounds.  It should be obvious enough from the video. 

Continue straight through at the Swan Pond car park.  You'll pass a small house (on your R), and a road swings R just after the house.  Ignore this, and continue straight through (small sign next to the tree).  

Leaving the grounds at the back of the Park, it's possible to simply jump over the small metal bar next to the gate.  I probably added about 8 seconds or so to the route by avoiding jumping over.  

Caravan Park/Maidens

Take a L to enter the caravan park grounds (the R heads on to the beach).  Very simple through the park: just follow the main road.  It leads out of the caravan park, swinging round to the L, then R at the houses, heading into Maidens.  

Maidenhead Rocks, as seen from the route

Nothing difficult through Maidens: head for Turnberry!  

The pull up the hill when leaving Maidens can be tough if you're trying to run the route at full-speed.  


Simply follow the pavement that runs alongside the A719.  You'll pass a former landing strip on your R; ignore this, and continue along the pavement, soon reaching a gate leading on to the golf course.  There's an Ayrshire Coastal Path kissing gate; pass through this to enter the golf course grounds.  

Follow the fine tarmac road all the way to the lighthouse.  There are a few turn-offs: keep to the main road.  

Note the small drinking fountains at certain points: if just out for an enjoyable jog on a hot summer's day, keep the fountains in mind!  No need to carry a waterbottle.  

Off to your R en route to the Lighthouse you'll see a monument: it's a war memorial:

The Celtic cross of Turnberry War Memorial

In no time at all you'll reach the Lighthouse.  It's a great building; very impressive; and pristine!  Designed by the Stevenson family: the most notable family member to most of the general public isn't a lighthouse engineer, but author of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Turnberry Lighthouse looking resplendent from the castle ruins

 At the Lighthouse, simply turn round and retrace your steps back to Maidens.  

Maidens Beach/Barwhin Hill

To add some variety to what could easily be a direct out & back, drop down on to Maidens beach (again, refer to the video).  

Remember: the further out the tide is, the easier you can make the beach running for yourself.  

Aim for the rocks at Barwhin Point.  This point looks like an impasse - but you'll be turning off before the rocks.  

Not far from Barwhin Point you'll see a wooden staircase heading up Barwhin Hill: head up the staircase to re-enter the grounds of Culzean:

Staircase re-entering the grounds of Culzean just before Barwhin Point.  Run all of it if you can!

Culzean Return Route

At the top of the staircase follow the path and in a few yards you'll reach a y-fork.  

Head R to enter a wider, level track through the forest.  The Pagoda will soon come into view.  

At the Pagoda, drop down the grass to reach the Swan Pond, where you'll join a track:

At the Swan Pond.  It's impressive: more of a lake than a pond!

Follow the track round the Pond, and you'll reach another small junction.  Take a R (the L heads round the far side of the Pond), and follow the main track, avoiding any break-off secondary paths.  

You're now on the Cliff Path/Walk: great views down to the sea throughout.

Continue straight through at the barrier (tarmac road drops downhill to your L; ignore this), shortly after heading straight through at the fork to reach the grass just before the Castle.  

Aim to the far R corner of the castle and you'll see a hole in the wall leading back to the Orangery.  

Purely for variety, run to the far steps after the Orangery.  

At the top of these steps, simply retrace your path all the way back to Croy.

Moody skies from Croy beach.  The small island far distant is Arran's Holy Island

Ailsa Craig

A quick look back along the route from the A719 road, just above the Electric Brae.  Turnberry Lighthouse is on the rightmost distant piece of land, with Barwhin Hill the small bump forward & to its L.  Culzean Castle & Croy beach clearly visible (the bay is known as Culzean Bay)

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