A sense of timing
The earlier sections of the walk were, in some ways, a bit of an optical illusion. For all it appeared the route passed through countryside, in fact there was often a main road, or a shopping centre, or a town close by. Thick vegetation or an embankment was sometimes all that separated the path from the bustle of the ‘real world’. South of Ayr, this changes.
I was also starting further from home, and so the drive to begin each section was taking longer. The best part of an hour after leaving home I arrived in Ayr where I parked just south of the town centre and walked north a little to meet the finishing-point from last time. Then I headed towards the shore to walk along the Esplanade, across the River Doon and hugged the coastline, where there is a path, though it soon peters out.
The online Whithorn Way walking guidance suggested following this route, which forms part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path. It comes, though, with a warning: the combination of high tides and high cliffs could make this section challenging. Whilst not expert with tide tables, the website I checked suggested I should be okay until the early afternoon. It did mean, though, that I needed to keep up a reasonable speed!
Walking along the pebble-strewn, and at times quite rocky, beach past Greenan Castle was more fun than difficult. This is a popular walking route and a number of people were out with their dogs, or for a stroll. Just south of the castle, however, came a choice: either to turn inland, following the Ayrshire Coastal Path route and join the main road to Dunure, or keep walking along the seashore.
I knew the road was reasonably busy, and that there was no footpath. The thought of the adventure of walking along the coast to Dunure from Ayr tipped the scales in favour of going by the sea, and I continued on past the headland and into a deserted world. The cliffs at this point are not high, but high enough to cut the shore off from the land just beyond. I was walking past the Heads of Ayr Farm Park on the cliffs above, no doubt with tourists and children, but I heard nothing.
In places the beach was sandy, but in other places I had to scramble over rocks. One section of seaweed-strewn cove was particularly demanding: with no rocks to guide my footing and seaweed which didn’t bear my weight, I found myself ankle-deep in seaweed, mud and salt water for the best part of a hundred yards until I made it to the next rocky promontory. Halfway across I did have second thoughts, and wondered whether there was a little river flowing underneath the seaweed cover! I pressed on, though, and with a bit of scrambling across large boulders I was back to the next section of flat and pebbly beach.
Half a mile or so north of Dunure, the shore gives way to grass which extends almost to the water-line and the path cuts across a number of hillocks. Some of these have a steep descent and so it took me a little back-tracking to work out the most straightforward, and safest, path through. The fields sit beside areas of large rocks through which the path weaves, offering interesting views of Dunure which was, happily, getting closer.
Almost at the edge of the harbour there is a rough path and I took this round the harbour wall, past some industrial fishing buildings – one with a lovely anchor decoration on its door, and a charity box which, for all it had seen better days, was still attractive. The Dunure Cafe provided a welcome break for coffee!
Refreshed, I turned from the shore and headed inland. Climbing Castle Road I crossed the Ayr Road past the tiny Fisherton Primary School and headed along a farm track uphill along the Dunure hill path. There is a sharp right to follow the vehicle track, then a sharp left onto a walking path.
Although the day had started cloudy, the sun was now out and had some heat behind it. In this almost perfect walking weather, the path took me through a plantation of pine trees near the summit of the hill. The mossy ground was soft and wet, and as I sank into it my boots were cleaned of the seaweed from the earlier part of the coastal path. It almost felt like a foot massage!
However, it was here I made the mistake of following the signs. The map I was using suggested the path continued on straight, but on the ground it was becoming less easy to discern a clear route. A single post suggested the ‘real’ route turned sharp right; since there was a more obvious pathway there, I followed. On reflection, that wasn’t the best move and after little more than a hundred yards this path, too, rather gave out. It would be better not to turn right at the sign but, rather, continue through the trees and then take the path to the right. Even if this was missed, the alternative path does not go far and finishes by a small lochan.
On this less clear route, I knew that if kept the trees close on my left I wouldn’t go far wrong, but it was reasonably hard work to fight through the grass and rough ground, following sheep paths where I could make these out. It was clear from the hoof-prints that cattle also used this area, but neither man nor beast was in sight. There were signs, though, this area had been inhabited before: the ruins of a cottage lay near the edge of a field and I thought of the harsh life a farming family would have eked out here. Wonderful views of the Clyde would have been some compensation, but life would still have been severe.
The trees to my left gave out, as did my courage. I was concerned that I was walking too far west, and that I’d end up back at the coast. Though I didn’t know it, I had in fact rejoined the Dunure Hill Path (which is not well marked or travelled). I jumped the fence at this point though, in retrospect I could more easily have continued on, and made my way along the side of a grassy field. Had I remained on the indistinct path at this point, or had I not turned right much earlier, I would probably have been on a clearer route. What I was doing, it turned out, was making up my own way between the two more regular pathways. In other words, I couldn’t have gone wrong or got lost for, if I had turned either way, I would eventually have come across one or other of them.
As it was, I got across the field, climbed the gate and followed another farm track now downhill until I met a country road serving the local farms. Perhaps a mile along this, to my right and back up the hill, was a well-made track clearly signposted as the pathway to Dunure! This road, all downhill, led into Maybole from the northeast and became the attractively-named Gardenrose Path; fifteen minutes later I was at Maybole railway station.
I was tempted to wait for the next train to Ayr and simply skip the return leg, but felt that since I’d made an effort on previous days to walk both ways, I should probably keep going on foot! Rather than retrace my steps, though, this was one of the few times I took a circular route and walked towards Ayr on Cargill Road which joined Alloway Road.
Just beside the station in Maybole is the Carrick Centre [55.35447, -4.6855], a modern development by the local Church of Scotland congregation which enables a wide range of community uses as well as worship on a Sunday. It is a bright, contemporary building – the church at the heart of its community – and, a little like Fullarton in Irvine, shows lively faith in action throughout the week, not just on Sundays.
Continuing on Alloway Road there is no footpath and care needs to be taken, though the walk through the Ayrshire countryside is pleasant. The hamlet of Culroy is small but interesting, with a sign indicating the miles to Maybole, Ayr – and London!
The road reaches the south of Alloway and passes over the River Doon where the Burns Memorial, Brig O’ Doon and the Burns Experience are all situated. The old Alloway Kirk, famous from Tam O’Shanter, is here, too, and the grave of Robert Burns’s father William is located in the graveyard.
Passing the Cambusdoon Sports Club on the right, Burns Cottage is situated on the left just after Doonholm Road. This whole area could easily fill an interesting day of discovery about Scotland’s national bard.
From here the road is straight and has a footpath. Passing Rozelle Park and several golf courses, two main roads merge and continuing along Carrick Road brings the route back to Ayr town centre.