Stair – Ayr (12 miles)
Unlike the previous night I had a comfortable nights sleep, I would imagine mainly due to the cloud cover keeping things fairly mild. I could even go as far as saying that it was too warm in the tent – I was in fact sweating my nads off, as we say in Scotland.
The pitch had been good, with nice thick soft grass under the tent, so no hard ground to lie on was a bonus. I woke up at 6am, and conscious of a forecast of rain starting at around 9am I decided to go early and try to beat the weather.
It took only a few minutes to pack down my gear, before heading outside to start on the tent. The cattle were just showing signs of stirring as well, and a few that were already up and about decided to wander across and have a nosey. As things progressed the remainder decided that they wanted to see what was going on resulting in a 10 or so strong departure committee.
I resumed walking, leaving the cattle behind, and returned to the steady plod along the bank. Here and there large clumps of Snowdrops were still in flower, although getting close to going to seed, and the Bluebells were tantalisingly close to being out in full bloom. A couple of weeks and much of the woodland along the way will have a spectacular blue carpet.
One of the most satisfying aspects of the walk has been the constantly changing nature of the river, from low sandy banks surrounded by pastureland, to heavily wooded steep banks with spectacular rocky outcrops, not to mention the two gorges that have been passed through. The way was gentle here, passing under another impressive railway bridge. A road was crossed and the path plunged into woodland adorning another steep bank on a meander of the river. The path is high above the water but it looks as if there is a danger that it could be subjected to landslides, as other sections of the path have.
Suddenly, you emerge from the trees at a small picnic area (which unfortunately seems to have a bit of a ned infestation) on the edge of the village of Annbank. There is quite a good shop here and a small pub but not a great deal else. It only being 9 in the morning, I felt it was a bit too early to go for a pint – not that the pub would have been open.
Once out of Annbank it was back to the river at an old mill, and this section was quite possibly the best of the walk. It is a well used path, and likely to be the one on which a Way walker will meet the most people. Steps lead up and down the bank to popular fishing spots, benches are in plentiful supply, and there are even a plethora of little fishermen huts that can provide shelter if the weather turns for the worse.
At one point the way entered a field of horses. The four of them came rushing over to see what was going on, then promptly investigated every possible place that might contain something edible. One in particular seemed to enjoy having its neck scratched, and spent a few minutes leaning into me while I obliged. Eventually I had to move on, although I will refrain from mentioning long faces and looks of disappointment!
Just on from this the river hit a rocky outcrop, forcing it into a chicane. Here an island has gathered up a substantial pile of timber that had been carried down the river, making it look like a large beaver dam. To top it all off I got a fine view of a small turquoise guided missile flying down the centre of the river – Kingfishers are fantastic little birds.
The river is crossed again at the Tarholm Bridge and enters the Auchincruive Estate, once a place of refuge for William Wallace who reputedly returned here after skirmishes with the English. A member of his family, Wallace of Auchincruive, hid him until things became calm enough to come out of hiding. Wallace’s Seat is a fine viewpoint over the river, nestled deep in the woodland that covers the steep banks over the river. Latterly, the estate became a campus of the Scottish Agricultural College which has now moved to a new state of the art facility in Ayr, which is passed by the river close to the town centre. In keeping with quite possibly the two most famous men to come out of Ayrshire there is a monument to both Robert Burns and William Wallace close to Oswalds Bridge. The inscription reads:
O never, never Scotia’s realm desert,
But still the patriot, and the patriot-bard,
In bright succession raise, her ornament and guard!
The way through the estate is undulating, swapping several times between riverside and high bank. The woodland is lush, but as you approach Oswald Bridge there is a very odd piece of routing for the path. An old wagon way has been followed through much of the wood, leading to a deep cutting. The official route ploughs straight through the cutting, missing out on some fine views across the estate. There is an option to take a path to the right which leads to the very top of the cutting bank, eventually reaching a stilethat opens into a field and a sublime view of Oswald Hall. Much better than wandering through a deep, dark and uninteresting railway cutting. Very odd!
The river is crossed once more (there are still three more crossings to go) and we leave the river for a time, wandering along a cycle track that leads past some smallholdings on the outskirts of the town. Eventually the bypass, the very busy A77, is reached, and you share the bridge with the heaviest traffic of the walk. It is only a brief interlude though as the way quickly returns to the river. Surprisingly fields line the south bank of the river here, when it would be expected that development would have eaten them by now, but the river retains a very rural feel almost all the way into the heart of the town. The River Ayr Walk here has been around just slightly longer than the River Ayr Way. The walk was gifted to the town in 1910 – fully 102 years ago – it is still a very enjoyable walk.
The river is crossed for the penultimate time via a rather ugly 1970′s bridge, probably the least attractive on the route. On the other side of the river though, there are well maintained gardens and the campus of the West of Scotland University.
I have to say at this point, some of the looks I was getting from the locals were priceless. I had to stop and check that there really wasn’t an elephant perched on my head. Ok, so a large backpack, walking gear, gaiters, tilley hat and a pair of walking poles aren’t usually associated with a place like Ayr, but create a Long Distance Path – what do you expect?
There was one more bridge to cross, the beautiful Auld Brig which dates from the 15th Century and used to have a “Bridge Port” which controlled entry into the town. The last mile or so, runs along the river edge, past the Citadel, and ends at the twin of the sculpture at the start. I finished the walk with a wander down to the end of the pier, where the Ayr truly meets the sea.
Thank you for walking River Ayr Ways….
I couldn’t resist!
Day Rating 9/10
The weather held off, which was a huge bonus. Another fine day of walking, and the urban section was surprisingly good. The only disappointment was really the finish, with the way markers petering out and no real sign that you were “on the River Ayr Way”, it was a huge anticlimax – and that includes the sculpture (still not convinced).
Trail Rating 26/30 (86%)
What a wee cracker. A well thought out and generally well maintained route. the infrastructure was superb, and as the walk grows in popularity (it certainly has a fantastic local following) the services along the remoter sections will only improve. For most of it I walked in splendid isolation, and out with the “popular” dogwalking spots, I think I only encountered two people that were out using the route as the River Ayr Way.
There are other historical aspects of the walk – links with pioneering industry, Wallace, Burns, religious turmoil, even prehistoric sites give much scope for wider interest along the way. It may even be worthwhile taking a number of days over the walk and sampling some of the integrated paths that spring up in the villages along the route.
The walking is easy and sedate, although there are a few short stiff climbs in places. Really, if you are interested in trying this type of walking and want to know it is for you, it is a great first trail to try. It is easily doable by the kids as well, if you take four or five days over it.
While it is a shorter trail, the River Ayr Way fully deserves its status as one of “Scotlands Great Trails”!