Welcome to Troon
Troon is a small and lively town on the Firth of Clyde on Scotland’s west coast about 30 miles south-west of Glasgow. The name is derived from the Gaelic ‘Al Trone’ meaning ‘bill’ or ‘nose’, which is fairly descriptive of the bold promontory jutting out into the Firth where the harbour now sits. Whilst Troon is probably most famous for the Royal Troon Golf Club, which has played host to a number of British Open Championships (most recently in 2004), the town offers a great deal more: sandy beaches and stunning views out towards the mountainous scenery of the Island of Arran, a large bustling port with a marina for leisure craft and a speedy catamaran ferry crossing to Belfast, a close by international airport at Prestwick and, a little to the north, the Scottish Maritime Museum at Irvine.
Troon Beach, Ayrshire
In and around Troon there is arguably no other site which can surpass Dundonald Castle (just a stone’s throw inland) in terms of historical interest. The castle is everything that you would hope for from a medieval keep; perched upon a 100 foot high mound this austere fortress dominates Dundonald Village and the surrounding countryside with its massive grey stone tower house, turrets and buttresses. On the western wall of the main tower five carved stone shields, amongst the earliest examples of stone heraldry in Scotland, remain as testament to the families that once called Dundonald Castle home. The castle we see today started life with the building project instigated by Robert II in the late 14th century. Dundonald Castle was Robert’s preferred residence: where he lived, held court and eventually died in 1390. Accordingly, the interior is as impressive as the exterior. There are just two rooms inside the main tower, the most remarkable of which is the surprisingly well preserved Laigh Hall (Lower Hall), which is where the king’s public duties would have been carried out. In the annex is the Great Hall (now roofless), the king’s living quarters and, below, a space which was used as a prison.
Given the obvious defensive advantage afforded by the mound on which Dundonald Castle now sits it is perhaps not surprising that Robert’s keep was not the first to have been built on this spot. In fact, archaeological evidence suggests that the site was occupied from at least 500 AD, from which time the remains of a Dark Age settlement have been identified. This early fort was largely constructed of wood, which perhaps helps to explain how it came to be almost completely destroyed by fire around 1000 AD - be it by accident or during attack. Despite this catastrophe, in the 1200s the following castle was also constructed from wood: a Motte-and-Bailey fort of Norman influenced design. In the 1300s the first stone fort was begun, a project that was interrupted by the damage it was to receive during the Wars of Independence. It was this fort which finally gave way to the stone fortress constructed for Robert II, which was not to be completed until well into the 15th century, long after the king’s death. In any case, Dundonald Castle fell out of favour as a royal residence in the 16th century, which may have had something to do with what is obvious from one glance at its grey medieval bulk: its design as fort was not wholly compatible with that of residence.
While Troon itself may very well share an equally ancient heritage little is known about its early origins. Troon and the surrounding lands were granted to the Fullerton family in 1344, in whose hands it was to remain until 1805 when it was sold to the 4th Duke of Portland due to the family’s impending bankruptcy. In 1707 Troon was given the status of Free Port in recognition of its importance on the trading routes along the Firth of Clyde. Yet by 1800 it remained a small town: consisting of little more than a collection of cottages lying around the area of today’s marina. In the coming decades the town would receive a boost, firstly from the development of the harbour and later, and more importantly, from the arrival of Scotland’s first railway in 1812. The wagons, which were originally horse drawn, were designed to carry coal from nearby Kilmarnock to Troon’s harbour for export. Before too long steam powered locomotives were carrying not just goods but also passengers. With the opening of a second line to Irvine, later extended to Glasgow, Troon began to grow significantly. The railway brought industrialisation to Troon. It developed a shipbuilding and shipbreaking yard, a locomotive repair yard, as well as a salt works. The industrial heyday was in the 50s and 60s before Troon’s economy became another victim of Scotland’s industrial decline.
Despite this decline the town has remained active because of its harbour, marina and location on the sandy and temperate Ayrshire coast. Day trippers from nearby Glasgow and holiday makers from abroad appear in fairly large numbers during the summer months whilst leisure craft at the marina can be seen throughout the year. And then there is golf. The Royal Troon Golf Club was opened in 1878 and has held The Open Championships since 1923. The town’s courses not only provide employment but have made golf part of the culture of the town. When the championship comes, Troon is transformed for a week into the pulsating heart of a multimillion dollar industry. Those who stay on after all the hurly-burly’s done will discover the real Troon: one of Scotland’s most charming west coast towns.