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Culzean commands a fine cliff top position overlooking the entrance to the Firth of Clyde a few miles south of Ayr. Its name derives from 'Cuilean', meaning place of caves, for the shore hereabouts is honeycombed with natural caverns carved by the action of the sea. Robert Adam, who rebuilt the castle for the 10th Earl of Cassillis in the later eighteenth century, had to arrange for those directly beneath his new building to be filled in, lest they collapse under the weight of the structure above. Further down the coast, near Ballantrae, are the caves supposed to have been inhabited by the notorious Bean family, who robbed unwary travellers and ate their bodies. By this means they not only provided themselves with nourishment, but also removed trace of their crimes.
Like Dunrobin, Culzean consists of an older castle incorporated within more recent additions. The first building on the site was a medieval tower, formed into an L shape by placing the stairway in a tower of its own at right angles to the main block. A barmkin extended along the rocky plateau to the north. This castle was replaced in the seventeenth century by a fortified complex of buildings of no particular architectural merit, but which served well enough to house in reasonable comfort and security the family and household of successive generations of Kennedys. A wing built by the 9th Earl to extend his castle westwards towards the sea was knocked down when Adam began his improvements a few years later.
Culzean has been heralded as a masterpiece of Scottish Gothic Revival architecture. It is indeed a most attractive example of that genre and is undoubtably more successful than the other examples of revivalist building featured in this chapter. There is sufficient symmetry about the castle to avoid the impression, given by Dunrobin, of a kit built house put together by someone who had lost the instructions. It also displays none of the simple, almost naive uniformity of Inverary. Military features machiolation, bartizans, battlements and the like are presented with restraint and not permitted to dominate the form of the building. There is no attempt to clutter the skyline with a romantic excess of turret and cone. If the house had to be rebuilt in a form resembling a genuine castle, then the design probably could not have been better executed.
Within this romantic shell, the interior of Culzean is a Georgian delight. The only feature that jars is the obsession with weapons, something already noted at Inverary. An armoury may be permissible, but it it really necessary to place cannon at the foot of Adam's glorious staircase, the very epitome of harmony and cultured development?
As was his custom, Robert Adam concerned himself with every detail of the building for which he was responsible, designing the furniture, the decoration, and even, in one or two cases, the carpets. The craftsmanship is of the highest possible quality. Two rooms of contrasting style may be singled out. One is the Old Eating Room, a comfortable sitting room set in the base of the original tower house which exudes an atmosphere of relaxed security. It contains a number of pieces of Adam furniture and probably incorporates some medieval masonry. The circular Saloon on the first floor of the drum tower is an altogether different proposition. It is one of the most delightful rooms of any house in the country. Part of its effect is achieved by the juxtaposition of the wild coastal scenery outside the windows with the clean elegance within. The delicate ceiling has recently been restored according to Adam's design and on the floor the National Trust for Scotland, whose superb work at Culzean is a credit to both themselves and the nation, have laid a locally made carpet, a close copy of Adam's original. The crimson carpeted oval staircase, supported on Corinthian and Ionic columns (the usual order is cleverly reversed to emphasize the height