Loudon Castle is situated in the picturesque countryside just above the small town of Galston and the Irvine Valley in East Ayrshire, Scotland. It was originally built as a keep and owned by the Crawford family in the 14th century before being passed on to the Campbell’s by way of marriage. In 1527, Sir Hugh Campbell of Loudoun assassinated the 2nd Earl of Cassilis, Gilbert Kennedy. Historians believe this was revenge by the Campbells after Kennedy’s men burnt down the original castle in a clan feud.
The Campbell family were Royalists who supported Charles the 1st in the English Civil War and Loudoun castle went on to be besieged by the armies of Oliver Cromwell in 1650. During this siege, part of the original castle was destroyed. After the family surrendered, it is reported that a portrait of Charles the 1st had its nose cut off by Oliver Cromwell’s men.
In 1804 the castle was rebuilt by Archibald Elliot for the then Countess of Loudoun. Further works were carried out on the castle in 1811. Locally, the castle was known as the “Windsor of Scotland” due to its size and no expense being spared during its renovation. Over a million trees for the garden were even shipped in from as far as America.
In 1942, the castle was on the verge of being handed over to the war office to be used as a billet for troops as the castle contained over 90 apartments. Unfortunately, a fire broke out on the roof which rendered the castle inhabitable. It is rumoured locally that an SAS training camp nearby may have contributed to the fire starting. As no funds have ever been available to restore the castle, it has been left in ruins to this day.
For over 50 years the site remained empty until 1995 when Loudoun Castle Theme Park opened as “Scotland’s Premier Theme Park.” Almost £2.5 million went into creating the 500-acre theme park. It boasted of having Britain’s largest carousel. There was additionally a red-deer park and an indoor play barn that was suitable for all ages. The development of the theme park created 30 jobs in the area and cost £6 to enter.
In its first year of business, it attracted over 225,000 visitors. In 1998, the park was temporarily closed due to financial issues before being sold to Raymond Codona, whose family have operated fairgrounds and circuses for generations.
In 2002, Raymond Codona decided to retire and went on to place the theme park on the market. It then went on to be purchased by Henk Bembom of Parkware Ltd for £1.25 million. Henk invested £5m in 2002 and £2 million in 2003 on bringing new rides and attractions to the theme park. In 2007, another £2 million was invested. Henk also transferred several rides from his other theme park, Dreamland, in Margate to Loudoun Castle.
By 2003, the theme park’s attendance had dropped to an average of 110,000 visitors per year – far below what was projected by Parkware Ltd. The addition of new rides every year and dwindling visitors led to a squeeze on the park’s finances due to costly maintenance bills and finance repayments.
Then on the 15th of July, 2007, the theme park was hit with tragedy when 18-year-old Mark Blackwood fell 80 feet from a ride known as The Rat, and died at hospital the following day. Mark was a ride operator on his first day at Loudoun Castle Theme Park. A roller coaster car became stuck and had stopped moving. Mark stepped in to push it forward and held on as it moved along the tracks – unfortunately the ride quickly spun round a bend which flung Mark off.
In 2009, after a 2-week trial at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court, a jury found Parkware Ltd not guilty of failing to provide sufficient training and supervision. During the trial it was alleged that only 20 minutes of training was provided to Mark. Evidence was presented that staff were instructed to never enter a ride area and to call maintenance staff in case of a breakdown. The jury also heard testimony that staff would routinely give cars a push to restart them on the roller coaster.
During September 2010, the park closed it gates. The owner, Henk Bembom stated the park was closing not due to the death of Mark Blackwood but due to the park being “no longer economically viable.” Accounts filed on Companies House implied that the park never made a profit under Henk’s management. 11 permanent jobs and 160 seasonal jobs were lost.
In 2011, many of the theme parks favourite rides were put up for sale including Twist ‘n’ Shout, Gold Rush, Wacky Worm and Jammy Dodgems.
In 2014, plans were submitted to Ayrshire Council for a £450m redevelopment of the 576-acre site. The plans included 1,000 new homes being built along with 450 holiday lodges, glamping pitches, a sub-tropical water park plus a distillery. The plans were rejected by the local council and the Scottish Government as the housing plans were inadequate. The Scottish Government also said there was “no certainty” the plans would lead to the castle being restored.
Ayrshire Council have stated they would like the castle to be restored within a leisure development.
The theme park has been completely dismantled and removed and the site remains empty to this day with the castle being fenced off. In Halloween of 2021, it was used as a drive-in cinema and provided the perfect eerie backdrop for some of the most well-known horror movies, including a Nightmare on Elm Street, IT, and The Conjuring. It cost each car £36.
List of rides at Loudoun Castle:
- Twist ‘n’ Shout – a looping speed rollercoaster (2003-2010)
- Rat – a Wild Mouse type roller coaster (2005-2009)
- Slitherin – a Jet 400 roller coaster (2002-2009)
- Gold Rush – a 4-man bob roller coaster (2007-2010)
- Wacky Worm – a gentle children’s roller coaster (1999-2002)
- Wacky Worm (2003-2010)
- Crazy Croc (2001-2004)
- Galaxy (1999-2002)
- Thunder Loop Express (1995-1998)
- Wilde Maus (1998-2001)
- Dragon (1995-?)
- Barnstormer – a 140ft drop tower (2007-2010)
- Black Pearl – a pirate ship ride
- The Captain’s Wheel – an enterprise ride
- The Plough – the world’s largest Chair-O-Plane ride when active at Loudon Castle
- The Crow’s Nest s troika ride
- Loggers Leap – a log plume ride
- Tractor Ride
- Drunken Barrels
- HMS Flora McDougal – a swinging ship ride
- Pony Express
- Jammy Dodgems
- Helter Skelter
As previously mentioned, Henk transferred several rides from Dreamland Margate to Loudoun Castle. These rides can be spotted in the 1989 Only Fools and Horses Christmas Special “The Jolly Boys’ Outing.”