As a Travel Writer in Lockdown I’ve started to look ever more closely at the wonders on my doorstep. Here’s what I found walking south along the coast from Ayr.
Brought up in the South Side of Glasgow, Ayr is a town of my earliest memories of sunshine and ‘the seaside’. Even nowadays, almost 50 years on, the population of the city of Glasgow had a pre-Pandemic tendency to empty out onto the beach at Ayr on those rare sunny days that sparsely populate the Scottish Summer. Now resident in the neighbouring town of Prestwick, I live close enough to take my daily ration of lockdown exercise along the coast around Ayr. It’s a walk through history, poetry and spectacular scenery.
I started my journey passing through the remains of the Station Hotel coming out of the Train Station and into the town. Serving rail passengers since the 19th Century, this hotel was still open when I first moved out to Ayrshire in 2010. It finally closed it’s doors in 2014 and currently sits within a huge white shroud and scaffolding after being issued a dangerous building warning in 2018.
The town of Ayr is a Market Town and Harbour which has been around since the 13th Century. As I wandered down the High Street I felt sad to look at a town that is slowly dying, commercially at least. With not too much to speculate about an uncertain future for the town, I headed towards the harbour and started walking into the past.
My journey started by crossing under an archway depicting Loudoun Hall. This was a building dating back to 1513 which was owned by various Ayrshire dignitaries until it fell into disrepair in the 1700s. Passing under this, the banks of the River Ayr are reached in it’s final run in to the open sea. Proceeding down towards the shore and turning left towards the promenade and our journey through history continues. This time we see the remains of the Cromwell’s Citadel build in 1654 as a fortified garrison which housed over 1,200 Officers and Men of Cromwell’s army. Established to assert military authority over southwest Scotland.
Here you will also find the start of the Lang Scot’s Mile. This is a measured mile spanning the entire promenade of Ayr. As I walked along I reflected on the days now past when this promenade and the surrounding park was utterly teeming with excited people. There were shallow paddling pools up in the grass beyond the beach back then and endless crowds laying out in the sun and paddling and swimming in the sea. Today, a chill winter breeze cut in from the sea as I passed a deserted playpark. Those few of us in the area kept our distance from each other. Some wearing masks, some walking dogs, everyone distant from everyone else.
The path beside the shore extends well beyond the promenade and is definitely worth following on as the next landmark and moment of history soon comes into view. Greenan Castle is a ruined fortified tower built in 1476 by the then Earl of Ross and Lord Of The Isles who was at the time in conflict with King James III. These days, the tower stands as a spectacular landmark to the south of Ayr atop a sheer 60ft cliff. Greenan shore surrounds the foot of the cliffs to the north and south of the castle. I walked the length of this shoreline passing under the castle and heading ever southward.
Negotiating an outcrop of Rock called the Deil’s Dyke, the next and final landmark of the day’s walking soon comes into view. The Heads Of Ayr is a spectacular rectangle of cliffs towering about 200ft above the shoreline. The shoreline approaching the Heads Of Ayr forms the beach at Craig Tara Holiday Park (Butlins back in the day). One has to be aware of the tide when walking along the foot of the cliffs at Heads Of Ayr because you can be cut off at high tide and the cliffs, though spectacular to see, would be extremely dangerous to climb.
Walking further south along a secluded beach just past Heads Of Ayr I found the Way marker I was looking for indicating the route up off the shore along the Ayrshire Coastal Path. After a short, steady climb, the main Coast Road connecting Ayr to the north and Culzaen Castle to the south is reached. I decided to turn left and head back along the road into Ayr. I soon found myself at a road junction which offered a route up onto the Carrick Hills and ultimately out towards Maybole. As the other sign nearby indicated 5 miles back to Ayr, I decided enough was enough and left the Carrick Hills and their viewpoint to another day.
Walking back down the coast road and then through the town of Ayr I pretty much just saw everything I’d explored on the shore from further inland. That said, as I trudged wearily back up towards the train station I noted with a smile the thatched roof of the Tam O Shanter Inn named after the most famous poem by the most famous poet ever to exist. Even with the Burns Museum, as short distance from the town centre of Ayr, currently closed due to the Pandemic, it is still possible to take an interesting and illustrative walk from the museum to the Brig O’Doon. This brings Burns and his poem, Tam O Shanter, very much to life. That walk is another day for me and another read for you.