Culzean Castle perches atop the scenic Ayrshire cliffs on the west coast of Scotland. The isle of Arran is visible across the Firth of Clyde, and the castle itself overlooks a dramatic shoreline with many craggy caves. The 260 hectare estate is a stunning setting which ranges from sandy beach to towering cliff top, and features numerous follies, luxuriously planted gardens and glasshouses.
Though now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, Culzean Castle originally belonged to the Kennedys, an ancient Scottish family descended from Robert the Bruce. There was a stone tower house here in the 16th century, and over the centuries, various members of the Kennedy family made numerous alterations to the castle.
In the 1770s David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis and a peer in the House of Lords, commissioned the famous Scottish architect Robert Adam to design and build a castle which would reflect the family’s status and wealth. Culzean Castle began its transformation to the grand country seat it is today, with its decadent estate.
In 1945 the castle was passed by the widow of the 4th Marquess of Ailsa to the National Trust for Scotland, with two caveats. The first was that she should be allowed to retain the more modern West Wing for the remainder of her life. More unusually, that second caveat was that the top floor be converted into an apartment for use by General Eisenhower, as a gesture of gratitude for America’s support during the Second World War.
The park itself is impressive to this day: richly planted with conifers and beech trees, and boasting features including a Swan Pond, Ice House, formal gardens and glasshouses for cultivating fruit. The castle is a veritable treasure-trove of artefacts which today give an insight into the lives of its previous inhabitants.
Following initial meetings with the National Trust for Scotland at Culzean Castle, a brief was set out for the development of the new play space at one of Scotland’s most outstanding properties. The designs were to be unique to Culzean, drawing inspiration from its incredible history, stories, shapes, landscapes, people and knowledge.
The new play area was to be a one of a kind, world-class natural adventure play experience, befitting its stunning setting. It was to draw heavily on and be inspired by the many architectural and physical features of the breathtaking Culzean Castle and Country Park.
In the design of the adventure cove, CAP.CO’s design team set out to capture the incredible sense of place at Culzean. This aim led us to reference the smugglers’ coves on the shores of the castle, with its mysterious nooks and caves, creating play elements to evoke a sense of curiosity to explore what’s hidden within.
The ruins of the medieval gatehouse were represented in the design, alongside the impressive giant viaduct and Eisenhower tower. All elements are connected by a large sweeping walkway that surrounds the site. Creating an impressive boundary to the play area, this accessible walkway also gives access to all abilities to experience as much of the play space as possible.
The scale and variation in the facades of the cliff structures and surrounding castle-inspired elements invite adventurers inside through a myriad of different entrances and tunnels. Through holes in the cave walls, visitors discover a maze of crawl tunnels and ladders encouraging them to clamber up and through hidden passages before emerging triumphant at the highest point of the Eisenhower Tower!
The open areas within the surrounding raised walkway were designed to give space for further ground play elements and a self contained area dedicated to under 5’s.
The Adventure Cove at Culzean Castle is a project that the whole team at CAP.CO are very proud of. It’s a perfect example of our team working side by side with an engaged and enthusiastic client to create adventurous places that families love for playing together. In her interview on blooloop.com, Caroline Smith, General Manager at Culzean Castle, talks at length about the strategies she used to reverse the castle’s fortunes and the part that CAP.CO played in this transformation.
Photos by Lindsey Mackenzie Parker at Mack Photo.
For more information about visiting Culzean Castle, see National Trust for Scotland’s website.