Detours and new sights
Walking this section was delayed due to the construction of the Dalry bypass. Some information on the Whithorn Way website indicated the path was affected by these roadworks. Hoping they might be finished by late July, I waited until August but determined to try it then.
The location of religious settlements along the Whithorn Way is not a matter of chance. The route (from Paisley to Whithorn, the official terminal points in the early medieval period) is exactly bisected at Crossraguel Abbey, a mile or two south of Maybole. Kilwinning Abbey is precisely half-way between Paisley and Crossraguel Abbeys whilst Glenluce Abbey sits similarly halfway between Crossraguel Abbey and Whithorn Priory.
The distances between these major religious premises are too great for them to have been made by foot in one day. Pilgrims would have had to find lodging in other spots to complete the route, but every second night could have been spent in a place of prayer, safety, relative comfort and, for the times, in some of the most impressive buildings in south-west Scotland.
This section of the route starts in Lochwinnoch and ends at the first of these sites south of Paisley. The National Cycle Network path 7 continues past Lochwinnoch and can be easily accessed from the railway station in the town.
To the left of the path walking away from Lochwinnoch is Barr Loch while Barr Castle, a medieval tower house constructed around 1600 and a rather plain building, sits in what is now a field a few hundred yards to the right of the route. Its few, small windows ─ none near ground level ─ suggest it was built with defence rather than decoration principally in mind, a view supported by the fact that the original entrance door was on the first floor and not at ground level. It is the formal seat of the Clan MacDowall though for most of its life it was owned by the Hamiltons of Ferguslie.
Kilbirnie is soon reached, though the path skirts the eastern edge of the town and a detour is required to visit its centre, including Kilbirnie Auld Kirk. Parking is easy, particularly in Glengarnock, though some care needs to be taken navigating from the entry of the path at Caledonian Road before turning into Garnock View then Kirkland Road which is followed, crossing the railway line at Glengarnock Station, until the junction with Auchengree Road. From here it should be possible to walk directly to Kilwinning.
Sadly, the bypass construction still had some way to go and the road was closed at Highfield.
Whilst an alternative walking path had been signposted, I decided instead to walk via Dalry. The A737 from Highfield into Dalry is busy and there is no footpath, so care is needed though there is a reasonably wide verge. This diversion did give me a good view of the rail bridge over the Garnock Water just north of Dalry; soon after that there is a footpath into the town.
Turning left at Bridgend takes the route back across the railway and, now, over the bypass. From that vantage point it was clear that in the summer of 2018 much work needed to be completed.
It is possible to walk through Blair Estate, but I chose to remain on Blair Road until the junction with the road to Kilwinning: a right turn here is not signposted. This is a narrow but quiet and pleasant walk initially through a forested section which opens out to give a good view of Kilwinning (the Abbey can be seen in the far distance on a good day) on a fairly undulating road.
A right turn onto a signposted footpath makes use of the viaduct over the Garnock Water and there is an attractive milepost showing Carlisle is a mere 176 miles away. It made the hundred or so miles to Whithorn seem more feasible!
The detour caused by the bypass construction added some three-quarters of an hour to each leg of the walk, a total additional walking time of about ninety minutes. There was an element of inconvenience, but had I not walked into Dalry I would have missed the quite attractive north end of the town, and not seen the construction work on the new road. The alternative walking route, which I did not attempt in either direction fearing it would take me too far east, would have caused to miss the new bridge over the bypass altogether.
While the detour was a bit of a bind, in reality it was much less than I had feared. That’s true in other diversions I make, not just when I travel. I might need to check something out, and research can take a bit of valuable time ─ but I find in the process I learn more than I had anticipated. A visit to someone might take longer than I had timetabled, but the richness of the conversation and the sense of value often exceeds the additional time spent.
It’s not only wise men around Christmas who might find benefit in going by another route. I think I might be helped to take all sorts of diversions as opportunities to travel by a different road, and to see more.
The founding of Kilwinning Abbey in 1162 predates, by one year, Paisley Abbey. While the latter looked to Cluny (as did Crossraguel) and monks from Scotland would have travelled there to receive orders, Kilwinning Abbey looked to the mother abbey in Tiron, some thirty-five miles west of Chartres. This had been founded by Bernard of Tiron after his nomination as an abbot was disapproved by Cluny. The Tironesian Order would include, in Scotland and before the end of the twelfth century, Kelso and Arbroath as well as Kilwinning.
The site of Kilwinning Abbey has Christian roots going back at least five centuries before the Abbey’s founding; the partial remains of the Abbey, though, may date from around the 1180s. It is an impressive structure though the decay of the years, perhaps more than Reformation vandalism, has taken its toll.
It is thought that foreign stonemasons working on Kilwinning Abbey mixed with Scottish masons; the first lodge of the Freemasons in Scotland, and therefore in the world, is Lodge Nothing, the Lodge Mother in Kilwinning (though the Grand Lodge of Scotland was not formed until 1736).
One of the benefits of the Abbey’s central location is the range of shops available for a bit to eat, or to purchase fresh supplies. It is also possible to catch trains from the frequent services calling at Kilwinning Station.