Dunure Castle at Kennedy Park

Written by Chris Thornton | 15th of March 2024
Dunure Castle

Dunure Castle was our first destination on our wee mini trip to Ayr in southwestern Scotland. Staying at Craig Tara, it was less than a 10-minute drive to the west to reach the castle ruin via the A719.

This castle was very accessible, with a large car park, play park and toilet facilities.

Dunure Castle is historically the seat of the Kennedy family, the Lords of Carrck, and later the Earls of Cassillis. The name Dunure is Celtic and said to be derived from "fort of the yew tree" or simply from "hill".

Kennedy Park. Most ancient habitation of the Kennedy family.
The park around Dunure is well-maintained.

Kennedy Park

We pulled into the car park at Kennedy Park and were met by a ticket office; however, it was unmanned, so we just continued past. The park here was nicely maintained and had a play park, sports court and toilets.

A path arcs down to the castle; for photographers, there is a plethora of shots to be gained of this castle from both the north and south coastal views and the foot of the castle looking up from the beach.

The path to Dunure Castle.
The main path leads to the castle.

We followed the main path to the castle and explored the interior areas. Informational boards are placed throughout the castle, but some have weathered almost to the point of being illegible.

Metal gantries allow access to areas higher up the castle leading to some fantastic views of the beach below and out towards Ailsa Craig to the southwest. The keeps' highest point is blocked by a large metal gate, which is a pity; I imagine the views would be amazing. There was quite a lot of freshly fallen stone within the castle interior; I'm surprised it wasn't closed like many other castle ruins across Scotland at the moment—something to be aware of if you are visiting in high winds.

Dunure ruin.
The ruinous remnants.
 
Modern repairs to the castle.
Modern mortar has been used to strengthen the castle.
 
Dunure internal structure.
Was this where the Abbot was roasted?
 
Dunure stonework.
The original stonework is fascinating.
 
Metal gantry.
Part of the metal stair to gain access to the higher parts of the castle.
 
Dunure battlements.
Battlements detail.
 
Internal layout of Dunure.
The internal structure gives evidence of floor levels.
 
Exploring Dunure.
The girls explore the castle.
 
Fallen rocks at Dunure.
Note the fallen rocks; I wouldn't visit on windy days.
 
Exploring via the metal gantry.
Ascending to the higher areas of the castle.
 
The highest public level of Dunure Castle.
The highest point that can be accessed by the public.
 
Dunure town.
Looking over the castle ruin, back towards Dunure town.
 
View from the top level of Dunure Castle.
A great view from the upper level.
 
Ailsa Craig.
Ailsa Craig dominates the horizon.
 
Dunure town view.
Another view of Dunure.
 
Inaccessible area of Dunure Castle.
Peering through the bars to the inaccessible area.
 
Nesting birds in castle tower.
Birds are now the kings of this castle.
 
Good accessibility.
The gantries make the castle much more accessible.
 
Dunure ruin.
The ruin is fairly small but interesting.
 
West view of Dunure.
View of the ruin looking west.

Dovecot and beach

Leaving the interior, we made our way to the DooCot (Dovecot), which was used to supply fresh eggs and meat to the castle from its 200 nesting boxes. The path then meandered down to the beach below. Looking back at this hulking castle built on its rocky promontory was quite dizzying - it's no wonder it was used as a filming location for Outlander.

Dovecot / Doocot at Dunure Castle.
The "beehive" Dovecot.
 
Dunure Keep.
The castle reveals more secrets as you descend to the beach.
 
Dunure south view.
It's good to see work has been done to stop further degradation of the castle.
 
Keep walls preservation work.
Conservation work is seen to the left to prop up to keep walls.

Large chunks of masonry could be found on the beach, fallen from the castle.

Fallen masonry at Dunure Castle.
A large piece of the castle can be found on the shore.

I did spot a little cave at the foot of the castle, but it didn't seem to go that deep. Legends say that secret Ley tunnels connect Dunure Castle to nearby Greenan Castle.

Climbing back up the hill, I did feel a little out of breath! I really need to improve my fitness!

Beach view of Dunure Castle. Secret tunnel leading to Greenan Castle.
View looking up from the beach.
 
South beach view of Dunure Castle. Ancient seat of the Kennedy family.
View from the south from the beach.
 
Dunure Castle view
A view from the picnic tables.

Dunure Labyrinth

Returning to the main path, we finally made our way to the south viewpoint of the castle, which overlooks Dunure Labyrinth - a small maze comprised of gravel and shrubs. It makes for a good foreground for the impressive castle ruin in the background.

Dunure Labyrinth
Dunure Labyrinth and Castle.

History of Dunure Castle

Here is a brief history of Dunure Castle:

1256 - The earliest charter for the lands where Dunure Castle is situated dates from this year.

1357 - The Kennedys of Carrick, who once ruled over much of south western Scotland, were granted the lands of Dunure Castle.

James Campbell and John Mor Macdonald

1429 - A meeting occurred at Dunure between James Campbell, representing King James I of Scotland, and John Mor MacDonald, representing the Lord of the Isles. Violence broke out, and MacDonald was killed.

1509 - David Kennedy becomes the first Earl of Cassillis, reflecting the rising power of the Kennedy family.

Gilbert Kennedy

1563 - Mary, Queen of Scots, visited the castle for three days during her third progress around the west of the country.

1570 - A dispute arose between Gilbert Kennedy, 4th Earl of Cassilis, and Alan Stewart, the succeeding lay Commendator of Crossraguel Abbey, over the ownership of some of the abbey lands and their rental income. Stewart was tricked into journeying to Dunure Castle and was tortured by Earl Gilbert (by roasting!) until he signed over the lands. He was eventually rescued by the Laird of Bargany, Allan's brother-in-law.

The Scottish Privy Council ordered Gilbert Kennedy to pay Alan Stewart a pension for life as compensation for his harsh treatment.

1694 - The castle's decline began. By 1694, it was described as "wholly ruined". Recovery of building materials for the construction of the Cromwellian citadel in Ayr may also account for its ruination.

Thomas Kennedy

Late 17th Century - The castle and estate of Dunure, together with Dalquharran, were purchased by Sir Thomas Kennedy of Kirkhill.

1990s - Excavations showed that a hall house was built across the 13th-century court in the 14th century.

Present Day - The castle has been excavated and consolidated to ensure safe public access. It dominates Kennedy Park, which has numerous facilities for visitors.

Dunure Castle seen from the south. Allan Stewart.
View from the south.

Dunure Castle in the Outlander TV show

The renowned television series, Outlander, discovered the unique charm of Dunure, Ayrshire, in its third season in 2017, thereby projecting the region onto the global stage. Dunure Castle and the quaint village harbour served as the backdrop to some of the show's pivotal scenes.

One unforgettable sequence involved Jamie swimming to Silkies Island to retrieve Jacobite treasure and look for Claire as the rumoured "white witch". This gripping episode was primarily shot at the ruins of Dunure Castle, which, thanks to the magic of CGI, was skillfully transformed into an isolated island fortress. This scene can be seen in Season 3, episode 8.

Many of the internal shots also seem to be filmed in the castle, including when Jamie actually climbs into the castle.

CGI Dunure Castle.
The CGI version of Dunure Castle from the Outlander TV show.

How to get to Dunure Castle?

Here are the directions to Dunure Castle.

From Ayr:

  1. Leave Ayr on Dunure Road / A719.

  2. Look for a right turn to Dunure along Station Road.

  3. Stay on this road, passing the picturesque harbour on your right.

  4. You will join onto Castle Road and see the Castle and Kennedy Park on your right.

  5. Check with the ticket office for fees.

Dunure Castle on Google Maps
What3words: ///relishes.fashion.havens

Address: Dunure, Ayrshire, Scotland, KA7 4LX
OS: NS252158

Kennedy Park car park and toilet block.
The car park and toilets as seen from the castle.

FAQs on Dunure Castle

Here are a few frequently asked questions about Dunure Castle:

How much does Dunure Castle cost?

It was free when we visited, as the ticket office was unmanned; I'm unsure if this is now defunct. The charges are £2.50 per car and £1 for a motorbike. We didn't use the toilets, but I believe they were 50p.

Kennedy Park play park.
The play park at Kennedy Park is directly next to Dunure Castle.

Who lived in Dunure Castle?

The Kennedys of Carrick, the Lords of Carrick and the Earls of Cassillis.

Who built Dunure Castle?

The castle that stands today is accredited to the Kennedy family, but earlier fortifications have been linked to the Danes and Alexander III.

Are overnight stays allowed at Dunure Castle/Kennedy Park?

No, the signage at the site says no overnight stays are permitted, including campervans and motorhomes. The signs say that the front gate will be locked each night.

Was Dunure Castle featured in the Outlander TV show?

Yes, it featured in Season 3, episode 8, with Jamie swimming to a CGI island version of Dunure Castle. The harbour nearby has been featured in other episodes.

Is it possible to access the highest point of the castle?

No, this is locked behind a metal gate; the ruin must be unsafe past this point.

Dunure.
View of Dunure seen from the castle looking north.

Videos of Dunure Castle

Here are a few video clips taken on our visit to Dunure Castle.

Castle interior.
 
View from the upper level.
 
The inaccessible area of the castle.
 
Looking up at the keep from the beach.
 
Another video from the beach.
 
Labyrinth and castle.
 
View from the south.
 
Another video taken from the south.

Key information on Dunure Castle

  • Dunure Castle can be found in Kennedy Park within the small village of Dunure on the southwest coast of Scotland.

  • Dunure Castle and Harbour are featured in the famous Outlander TV series.

  • Dunure Castle dates from the 1200s and was built by the Kennedys.

  • Earl Gilbert is the most renowned inhabitant of the castle, infamous for roasting an abbot over a fire (the Black Vault) in order to gain lands from Glenluce Abbey.

  • An intact Dovecot exists near the castle.

  • The Kennedy family of Dunure Castle is the same family who built nearby Culzean Castle.

  • The castle was fully abandoned by 1694.

  • Kennedy Park, next to the castle, has a play park, toilets, a sports pitch and picnic benches.

Dunure Castle north view. Curtain wall.
Another view looking north towards the castle.

Conclusion

We loved our little visit to Dunure Castle; not only did we explore the many different areas of the castle, from the interior to the beach, but the kids also loved the park. For photographers, there are many opportunities for great photos of the castle with many vantage points available also taking in the Firth of Clyde.

I wholeheartedly recommend visiting Dunure Castle while in the Ayr area. Why not check out my free Ayr Itinerary?

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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