AFTER five years, East Ayrshire’s dramatic and historical Dean Castle re-opened to the public on April 1 after an extensive £5.2 million renovation and modernisation project. And in its first three days of opening, the castle welcomed over 3000 visitors through its doors.

We travelled to Dean Castle Country Park in Kilmarnock to see for ourselves what notable highlights people can look forward to at the culturally significant landmark.

A medieval keep, ancient arms and armour (including a Viking sword), 600 years old tapestries, and an incredibly rare musical instrument collection, are just some of the jewels on offer.

First thoughts upon entering the castle grounds are that there’s so much to take in, and secondly, we can’t believe all this is entirely free to the public.


As soon as we walked through the gates, the ‘modernisation’ elements of the project are immediately felt in the courtyard. This expansive area has been specially designed with new level flooring to host open-air events at the castle including gigs, theatre, or craft markets.

The entire project was funded by East Ayrshire Council, Historic Environment Scotland, and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. “It’s a really big deal,” Paul Mathieson, Head of Operational Services at East Ayrshire Leisure Trust, explains. “It’s been a long five years…Dean Castle really means a lot to people locally, it’s been missed as a resource.


“A significant amount of work has gone into the project. Externally this was mostly sandstone repairs and looking at all the external brickworks, and internally, we have done a lot of alterations and up-grades to future-proof and maintain sustainability of the site.

“The project was important for making it easier to access and for making sure that the castle will remain here for the next 200 years.

“It’s free to get into, and it has a remarkable level of collections – it’s a fantastic place to visit.”

When exploring the castle grounds – the courtyard, the Keep, the Great Hall, the Palace – it really fires the imagination. Particularly the Keep, which dates back to around 1350 and wholeheartedly embraces its medieval roots with an impressive display of arms and armour, ancient tapestries, and banners draped from the ceiling. Within the keep is the Great Hall, Minstrels’ Gallery, kitchen, dungeon and Solar, which would have been the private chambers of the Lord and Lady.


Dean Castle pays respectful homage to the two families with the greatest historical ties to it, that is, the Boyds and the de Walden family. Both families’ Coat of Arms are carved into sections of the castle.

The Castle was the home and stronghold of the Boyd Family for over 400 years, and in 1899 it was inherited by the 8th Lord Howard de Walden who lovingly began restoring it. In 1975 the castle was then gifted to the people of Kilmarnock by Lord de Walden.

“My grandfather owned this castle,” Steven Lindsay of the De Walden family tells us.


“I think it’s absolutely outstanding what’s been done. I live not far from here, and over the years I’ve visited quite frequently, and it used to be all rather grey and sad, but now it’s looking beautiful.  The instruments and armour have been superbly preserved and it’s a great joy to us as a family.”

The musical instrument collection includes many interesting and unusual samples of instruments such as miniature viols, early ivory recorders, flutes, harps and drums. There are examples from the lute family which date from as early as 1570 that are products of the most famous instrument makers of their time.

Stuart Housden, a member of the National Lottery Heritage Fund (one of the main funders of the project) comments: “I’m blown away by what a fantastic project this is. The history and amazing architecture of these historic buildings as well as the collections housed within are fantastic. Hopefully lots of people from around the local area and further afield in Scotland can come and see what a wonderful castle it is.


“I thought the Keep was brilliant and I just love all the collections of all the armour but particularly the tapestries on display, I think they’re around 600 years old. I would like to thank the National Lottery players because without them we wouldn’t have grants to give to fantastic projects like this.”

We thoroughly enjoyed exploring and learning more about the history of Dean Castle, we may have even indulged in a bit of medieval dress up – a feature children (and some adults) will love.

Dean Castle is free to access and open daily Monday – Friday 11am-3pm, and 10am-4pm at weekends.