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Why I Keep Coming Back to This Seaside Town in Scotland, With a Coastal Hiking Path, Seafood, and Plenty of Whisky

Jun 08, 2023

A U.K.-based writer heads back to Troon, Scotland, for a restorative vacation by the sea.

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The first and last time I went to Troon, a small town on Scotland's Ayrshire coast, I was an unknown singer-songwriter playing at a summer music festival. It was 2011, and I was 21. My memories of the trip are baked in sepia tones — a white marquee on a green lawn, a golden beach, an audience that cheered for me as if I were Freddie Mercury, returned to life for a single show.

Fast forward 12 years and I am now a writer in need of a break. Emails have piled up and my phone is abuzz with petty gossip. Even the seagulls outside my window sound strained. It is time for an escape.

I jump on the train at Glasgow Central, and soon, the high-rise buildings thin out to low hills and long grass, punctuated by silver flashes of ocean. In under 40 minutes, I’m back in Troon.

Though it's not a personal interest of mine, Scotland's golfing heritage is tightly tied to Troon and impossible to ignore. The first-ever Open Championship took place down the road in Prestwick, in 1860. Troon itself is home to three courses, and the wider Ayrshire area has almost 50. Royal Troon Golf Club will host the Open in 2024 — the 10th time it has done so. So, as I approach Royal Troon, on a blustery winter afternoon, I can't help but smile at the half-dozen golfers out there, undeterred by the weather.

Overlooking the 18th hole of Royal Troon Golf Club is Marine Troon, an 89-room hotel built in 1894. After reopening in June 2022, following a six-month refurbishment, it became part of the Marine & Lawn collection of boutique golf hotels, a group that includes the prestigious Rusacks St. Andrews and Marine North Berwick. Marine Troon has a bar and restaurant, both serving high-end Scottish cuisine, and a spa with a pool, steam room, and sauna. Wellness treatments use oils and masks by Ishga, a company making Scottish seaweed–based skin care products in the Outer Hebrides.

Courtesy of Marine Troon

As a non-golfer staying at a golf hotel, I’m apprehensive — I’ve even packed my red corduroy trousers in hopes of fitting in better — but I needn't have worried. Aside from a smattering of green accents and some historical photos, Marine Troon wears its heritage lightly. It's more about that phenomenal view, which extends past Troon Beach and the Firth of Clyde to the Isle of Arran. The interior is thoughtfully designed, and perhaps best described as Scottish coastal maximalism. It shouldn't work, but it does: paisley on paisley, green velvet and blue leather, tartan cushions and wicker chandeliers.

Courtesy of Marine Troon

Courtesy of Marine Troon

Cultural references are so abundant in the space that I’m surprised to discover an American team was behind the redesign. "We dig deep into the local history and culture, visiting antique shops and boutiques," says Philip Allen, president of Marine & Lawn and a native of Louisville, Kentucky, who now lives in London. "We really leaned into the idea of the nexus between sea and land. There's actually not a whole lot of golf iconography."

"There's much more to Troon than just golf; it doesn't feel as golf-centric as St. Andrews," he continues. "I think Americans really enjoy coming to Scotland and meeting the people, who are very friendly, very straightforward — I would say blunt, maybe, but in a positive way."

I encounter an archetype of friendly Scottish bluntness in David "Digger" Grant — owner of The Jar, a specialist whisky shop in the center of Troon that hosts whisky and gin tastings. He's so knowledgeable and loquacious that you could walk in with no prior knowledge of whisky and walk out with a diploma. He holds up a £95 ($116) bottle of The Macallan — a distillery of international renown — that has just arrived at the shop. "Ripoff," he says, examining the label. "‘No added color?' That's a first. Look — they’ve watered it down to 40 percent ABV so they can sell as many bottles as possible while still legally calling it whisky."

He points me instead to bottles from the nearby Arran and Lochlea distilleries. As I browse, he tells me about his side gig: saving lives at sea as a volunteer for the Royal National Lifeboat Association. "I learned to drive a boat before driving a car," he says.

Jim McDowall/Getty Images

The sea is in everything here. You could spend an entire weekend just exploring the Ayrshire Coastal Path, which runs both north (to Irvine) and south (to Ayr) from Troon. I spend a morning walking the southern path, with oystercatchers, curlews and the occasional dogwalker for company. Out at sea, a flock of kitesurfers perform gravity-defying tricks. Troon is home to Kitesurf Scotland, Scotland's leading kitesurfing school, owned by Troon local Grant Clayton, who has been kitesurfing since the age of 12.

There's also a wealth of fine seafood on offer here, from the Peterhead hake and halibut at Marine Troon's restaurant, The Rabbit, to the abundant platters at Scotts, a popular restaurant with glass walls that overlook Troon harbor. I order a sea bass and king prawn dish and it's a delight: tender, citrus-infused, and garlanded with peppery greens.

Beguiling as the sea is, it’d be a shame to miss out on some of Ayrshire's inland attractions. Most notable might be the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, which comprises the cottage where he was born, Burns Monument and a display of Burns relics. As Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns brought the Scots dialect to an international audience; the museum is a pilgrimage site for many people of Scottish heritage. "Rural imagery suffuses [Burns’] work," says Christopher Waddell, the museum's learning manager. "Burns has influenced American culture to such a strong degree: Steinbeck, Bob Dylan, the singing of ‘Auld Lang Syne.’"

Upon my return to Marine Troon, I plan to retire to The Seal bar for a quiet dram, but they have other ideas. It's the bar's weekly music night, and both hotel guests and locals are taking turns in joining musician Scott Nicol on stage. After a swig of Dutch courage, I feel brave enough to join them, and I get a cheer as loud as the one I received 12 years ago. That's Troon for you, though — a small town with an outsized heart.

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