A path less travelled
Maybole is a small but bustling town, accessible by rail and bus and with parking available in side streets. The A77 south, initially Whitehall, becomes Kirkoswald Road and has a footpath to Crossraguel Abbey, just over a mile from the town.
The abbey was founded in 1260 by the Cluniac Order (as Paisley Abbey had been a century earlier). Cluniac monks stressed the value of pilgrimage, and so it is little accident that Crossraguel Abbey sits precisely halfway between Paisley and Whithorn. The tortuous history of its development includes no little intrigue and infighting. Apparently funded to build an abbey, certain monks constructed a simple and modest chapel and kept the rest of the cash for themselves. Following a court case, monks from Paisley were sent to staff the abbey, and Crossraguel’s independence from Paisley was later assured. It also received much of Paisley Abbey’s assets in Carrick, providing it with significant means.
Today it is one of the most complete surviving medieval religious house in Scotland and remains, even ruined, a significant structure. The site is operated by Historic Environment Scotland whose website provides a good introduction to the abbey.
The name Crossraguel apparently refers to the more ancient Cross of Riaghail, St Regulus in Latin, a monk in Patras, Greece in the fourth century who, allegedly, fled to Scotland with the bones of the apostle Saint Andrew. Instructed in a dream to remove the mortal remains of the apostle as far as he could to the western ends of the earth, Regulus, according to legend, made it as far as Fife. That is, on any account, a fair way from Greece.
The benefit of this legend became political, for during the Wars of Independence Scotland was able to claim separate, and more ancient, apostolic authority than England. Pope Boniface VII was, apparently, persuaded by this and in 1299 issued a papal bull demanding the cessation of the English Edward I’s attacks on Scotland. A cross in memory of St Regulus was apparently extant on the site of the abbey which has retained the saint’s name in its title.
Highlights of the abbey include the Chapter House with inscribed crosses on the floor and deliberately separate seating arrangements for humble monks and the powerful abbot; a gatehouse which was intended to be an imposing entrance to the abbey and which, over eight centuries on, remains so; and the church whose walls are in remarkable good shape with a particularly noteworthy choir.
There is, sadly, no footpath south on the A77 from the abbey and care needs to be taken walking the hundred metres or so to the junction with the back road to Kirkoswald. While it involves more of an ascent and descent than the main road, it does give pleasant views over the Carrick countryside.
There is a ford, and a footbridge, close to the junction with the road leading to Kirkoswald Road, then into Kirkoswald itself. This town, smaller than Maybole, is famous as the home town of Robert Burns’s maternal relatives, and the place Burns went to school . Many of the characters in Tam O’Shanter are based on local people Burns knew.
The village cobbler, John Davidson, is the ‘Souter Johnnie’ of Burns’s poem and it is possible to visit the cottage today, and to see in the garden life-size statues of Tam, the innkeeper, and his wife.
The churchyard containing the former church building, disused since the late eighteenth century, is pleasant and has shared in history. Here in 1562 Abbot Kennedy preached against the Reformation in Scotland, prompting the rebuke of John Knox in the Debate at Maybole.
Leaving the picturesque village the A77 has no footpath and care again needs to be taken for the stretch to the first road on the left. This is signposted, and turning right up the slight hill takes one on the back, and scenic, road, towards Turnberry.
The route is, now, not far from the sea, though there is no indication of that around Kirkoswald. Coming to the summit of the road, however, the Firth of Clyde opens out with Ailsa Craig clearly visible on good days.
This road, little-used and quiet, runs parallel with the busy A77, but it couldn’t be more different. The contrast between the two, forced by the walk along the short section of trunk road coming from Kirkoswald, prompts the thought that there are times when it’s better to slow down, breathe deeply and take in the surroundings. Speed, efficiency and rush have a place; but it is difficult to beat the calm and quiet of the country walk here.
Looking closely it is possible to spot a green pillar box, now serving one of the houses along this stretch of road. Before the universal red, post boxes were painted green, a practice discontinued around 1875. It is unclear whether this is an original. Only a handful of green pillar boxes remain in the UK; this one is not in public service.
There are various junctions on this small road but the way is clearly marked and the route continues straight on offering good views of Turnberry Hotel and the iconic lighthouse at the golf course, designed by David and Thomas Stevenson and put in service in 1873.
The road turns sharp rightto rejoin the A77, but a better course is to continue down a path, fairly overgrown, to join another farm road and then turn right. Several hundred yards downhill, this road meets the busy A77. There is no footpath, so a safer route is to walk northwards along the A77 for fifty yards or so, cross the main road with care (it is not only busy, but vehicles travel quickly) and use the small road serving some houses to reach the beach.
The foreshore is rocky but walking is straightforward and there are no obstacles to overcome, and leaves the beach along a farm track through the farm courtyard. Turning right at the farm entrance leads to Golf Course Road.
From here the route is straightforward, past the Girvan and Maybole Railway line and Girvan Golf Course along, and then across, the Water of Girvan and into the town centre along Bridge Street and Knockushan Street.
The harbour is picturesque and there are plenty places nearby for food. In the warm sunny summer’s day, a visit to the Gelateria Italiana for a raspberry ripple set me up nicely for the return route!