“ Address: Dean Road / Kilmarnock / Ayrshire KA3 1XB / Scotland „
We are lucky enough to stay around a 20 minute drive away from Dean castle Country Park and this is often one of the first places we head if the weather turns nice as it is a perfect day out for all the family. **The castle** The tours of the castle run every hour and you do need to book a guided tour but this is free to do and well worth the visit. We just rang the castle to arrange to take part in one of the tours and they gave us a number of possible dates and times to choose from.You are taken around the castle to view a range of historical arms and amour and there are many things on show for you to explore including old instruments and tapestries. There really is a range of historical features on show including art work and there is even a set of amour you can try on to get the feel of just how heavy it was to wear. As we were taken around the castle we had a guide telling us about the history of the castle and my children although rather young really enjoyed seeing inside the castle and the treasures it has hidden in there. In the hall is a large display which includes replica instruments little ones can try and other activity to keep children interested while we really enjoyed the tour too so it is perfect for all the family. There are some steps to take you up on to the second level but other than that the castle is easy to walk around even with small children and there is something to see each way you turn your head. They have an impressive range of collections to view and it is really worth a visit if you are in the area. **Visitor centre** In the visitor centre there are toilets and a cafe so you can grab a spot of lunch although we always take a picnic along as we find that more enjoyable in one of the many picnic areas but if you decided to have lunch at the cafe they offer hot and cold food. Also in the visitor centre is information about all the different wildlife you can see around the park itself and this is great for children to explore. They have recently installed cameras so you can watch the animals nesting and get closer to them animals and what they do while no one is watching which I think is a great idea. There is also a small shop offering souvenirs to take away with you after your trip to dean castle including key rings, postcards and such and it seemed very reasonable. **Trails** There are a number of different trails available at dean castle the grounds cover 200 acres and there are routes planed out for cyclists and every type of walker. When you reach the park entrance there is a map showing the different trails how far they are and who they are best suited for so you are able to choose from which would suit you best. Taking a walk around the trails is lovely they are very well maintained and although you do need a good pair of walking shoes we enjoy the two river trail as you are surrounded by wildlife and you can take a leisurely walk enjoying the views around which can be really amazing. The trails do meet up at places meaning if you have taken the longest walk and feel like heading back there is always a path to follow back to the main area and everywhere is signposted and marked with maps so you do not loose you way. Pet corner This is one of my children's favourite parts of visiting dean castle there is an area right next to the play park where little ones can view a range of animals including horses, rabbits and goats and this is a good 20 minute walk which will both tire them out but also keep them entertained the whole way around the trail. All of the grounds are really looked after and the animals look very happy although each time we visit a different animal seems to be missing and there are some empty areas as it is completely free to get in it is an impressive collection of animals I have been to farm parks that charge an entrance fee that have half the amount of animals. **Park and picnic areas** Once you have walked around the trails they all lead back towards the play park. There are two different play parks in the grounds one is aimed towards younger children and includes a rope bridge, roundabout, slide and swings which my children tend to use. Although the park is always very busy and one of the more popular areas of the grounds there are a range of things for the children to use which means it is never too full for them to enter and enjoy. There is a larger play area too and this includes large climbing frames and a zip line which my five year old son tends to enjoy but I would say it is more for children a little older maybe eight years plus as some of the park is a little dangerous for younger children but again there is a lot of things for them to take part in so even if it is busy children should be able to find something to play on. Next to the two parks are a large picnic area with a number of benches and a large green area in the middle meaning little ones can play on the grass while we sit back and watch while enjoying our picnic. There are a number of bins around which was great for us to put our rubbish in and the whole area were kept perfectly and it really is enjoyable on a nice warm day. **What we love** We really do love dean castle and as soon as we get the chance we pack the car up with a picnic and games so we can head up there to spend the day. As the whole area is so large you can take a different trail each time and see something different rather than seeing the same route over and over again. You do need a good pair of walking shoes as even if you are only going to the pet area and park you still need to do rather a lot of walking. There is so much on offer for the children from viewing the historical pieces in the castle to looking at the animals and insects on the nature trail so they never become bored. My children are only young but they love what is on offer and enjoy learning about new things but also when my family come to visit with children who are a little older around nine and ten they also love the freedom of the outdoors and this is always one of the first places we visit. There are a number of events that take place all year round but mainly in the summer which are great for occupying the children in the summer holidays and all the information on what is coming to dean castle can be found on there website. Of course if it has been raining as the trails are mainly grassy areas apart from the animal trail it can get very muddy and you will need a good pair of wellington boots to walk around but it really is worth it. There are toilets dotted around the park which means you do not need to walk back to the visitor centre which is located at the front entrance of the park which is very important when you have small children with you. **Parking and other information** Parking is an issue at dean castle they do have a parking area and it can be really hard to find a space especially when the weather is nice as everyone visits the park to enjoy the sunshine and the parking area is very limited. There are areas around the country park to leave the car but sometimes you will have to park a good 10 minute walk away from the park which is not great when you have a lot to carry with you. It is completely free to get into dean Country Park there are no fees for entering, the pet are and park are also free and of course the trails are free to use. The only area you need money for is if you are planning to eat at the cafe or buy an ice cream or drink at the different kiosks around the park. Dogs and cyclists are welcome at the park which is perfect as we can take our dog Skye along with us and she gets a good walk along with the children. Opening Times The grounds of the country park are open all year round Castle and Visitor Centre Opening Times April - September - Daily from 11am - 5pm October - March - Wednesday - Sunday 10am - 4pm Dean Castle Country Park Dean Road Kilmarnock, Ayrshire KA3 1XB Scotland TEL: 01563 554734 I would highly recommend visiting dean Country Park if you are in the area it really is a fantastic free day out that all the family can enjoy that is both fun and educational.