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Day 3

Stair – Ayr (12 miles)

Last nights reception committee gathered again to see me off!

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 fishing pools past Annbank

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!

Do you think he has food for us?

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 view from Tarholm Bridge

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!

Wallace's Seat - not the original I might add

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.

Oswald Hall, Auchincruive

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?

The Auld Brig - whoever designed the M&S - what were they thinking!

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).

Erm.....

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.

Ayr beach

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.

This is about as far as I can go - I suppose that means it's the end

While it is a shorter trail, the River Ayr Way fully deserves its status as one of “Scotlands Great Trails”!

 

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Day 2

Sorn(ish) – Stair (17 Miles)

The river early in the morning

It hadn’t been the most comfortable night I’ve ever had in the tent, in fact, if I’m honest it was pretty damn cold, especially early in the morning before the sun had come up properly.  In an attempt to warm up, the sleeping bag was dispensed with and I began to take the tent down, getting the stove going for something hot.

Two deer graze peacefully just as I set off

The sky at this point was a rather ugly grey colour, leaving the impression that the forecast of sun might not materialise.  Packed up and ready to go with some soup inside me, the sun began to break through, along with a little warmth.  As I sat there having breakfast, a few Herons flew past, another Cormorant and Wren was singing its heart out from the opposite bank.  It was in a word – serene.

Secret Valley?

Packed up, and a little warmer, I set off along the path at a gentle stroll.  The sun had appeared and was warming me up nicely.  A couple of Deer were grazing peacefully on one of the slopes above me, moving off calmly as I passed.

It was a mile or so into Sorn, through an almost hidden valley that the river has carved out the surrounding sandstone.  The floodplain here is often ploughed for crops, small fields on the meander of the river, while the slopes leading away from the river were covered by unspoiled woodland – a feature that endures along the entirety of the route.  The river never seems to hurry, and here the river seems to be a place that the outside world has forgotten.  The sun was lighting up some of the upper slopes, and as I passed a farm on the opposite bank, a large Hare was running, seemingly unconcerned, around the yard.

Through woodland approaching Sorn

A short climb to the top of the bank signalled that Sorn was close.  The only shop in town was open at 9am on a Sunday morning.  Bonus!  Sandwiches and sausage roll purchased I was on my way in fine sunshine, passing through what is a lovely little village.  At the end of the main street is the Parish Church, a delightful sandstone building, and opposite is the “old brig”.  There is even an option to bypass the village using some local waymarked paths which pass through the woodland to the North.

Sorn Parish Church

Here the way is diverted off the official route due to a landslip between Sorn and Catrine, meaning a section of extended road walking.  The diversion isn’t too bad though, it gains height quickly, passing the gated entrance to Sorn Castle, and once near the trig point on Sorn Hill there are superb views towards the heads of Ayr, some 20 miles or so distant.

The Catrine war memorial stands high above the village on the diversion route, and from there it was simply a case of descending via some steps to re-emerge on the official path.  Catrine itself has plenty of facilities, including shops and pubs, but the village does look a little worse for wear in places, which is a pity – it could be a really nice place.  The route marking through the town is virtually non-existent, but as long as the river is followed you can’t really go wrong.

The view to the West

Once out of Catrine, the first spectacular section of the walk begins.  The river has carved out a gorge here – soon you approach the first bridge, built in the early 60’s, carrying the A76  across the Ayr.  It is a fine looking structure, but what (in a way) is more impressive, is the graffiti that adorns the two lower arches of the bridge – it must have taken some bottle, even by a neds (Scottish term for “chav” meaning Non Educated Delinquent) standard.

The bridge carrying the A76 over the river, complete with daring graffiti

The way passes under this and soon crosses the river itself, using the original bridge dating from the 18th Century before following what had been the A76 before the new bridge was built.  Further up the road I left the way to take a small and rather precarious path to the top of a rocky promontory, which got a bit hairy with a large heavy backpack on.  It was worth the effort though with fantastic views over the river – luckily there was a much less dangerous way back down to the official route.  One of the frustrating things when taking photos is the number of trees – it is often very difficult to get clear shots of the river.

The rather obscured view from the top of the gorge

The gorge itself is heavily wooded, and there are cup and ring markings carved into the rock which have been designated one of the most important sites of its kind in the UK.  Add to this the railway bridge over the gorge – complete with the worlds largest single span masonry arch.  Very, very impressive.

The route here keeps to the high ground in the gorge, and is easy walking, but there is no need to stay with the official path.  There are plenty of options that all head in the same direction and it is easy enough to drop to the riverside to follow a clear path when the water is low.  At the end of the gorge all routes meet up at Haugh Farm, with the Mauchline creamery building visible and undergoing some renovation work.

A section of rather mundane road walking followed and there was now a chill to the air, the sun having long since been covered up by a large steadily advancing bank of cloud.  On entering a field the path runs between two fences.  There is no need to worry about where you are going – the route is decided for you as there is only one way to go.  Again it becomes clear how much has been invested into the route – the extensive stock fencing, kissing gates and boardwalk.  The dark Kipplemoss Plantation even has a well engineered guard rail next to the path, presumably to discourage people from trying to take a shortcut through the middle!  All very impressive.

The creamery

Next is the worst section of the way.  The last mile or so into Failford is along a busy B road.  As far as I am aware there are still ongoing negotiations with a view to finding a suitable alternative.  For now it is a little bit of an unpleasant walk, but there is a wide verge for most of the distance allowing relative safety.  Failford itself is not much more than a pub, and this is really well worth a visit.  It is amazing how much pain relief you get from two pints of Old Speckled Hen.

Through the fields

The locals here are well aware of the route, and are likely to start chatting to you.  This whole section is probably the most used of the sites along the river, expect a lot of dog walkers.  On leaving the pub a wee lad of about 3 or 4 commented on my walking poles and gaiters – his dad said I was a serious walker – do I need to smile more?

Failford woods are a delight to walk through.  It is a Scottish Wildlife trust reserve and has been well managed over the years.  The mixed woodland is stunning with really old Oak and Beech as well as extensive bird life, giving the place a constant soundtrack.  There are a few ups and downs, but there have been benches thoughtfully placed at the top of each slope – I of course only sat down to enjoy the views and the bird song.  Honest guv!

Once out of Failford I began to look forward to a visit to the Stair Inn, where I planned to eat before finding a place to pitch for the night.  The path dropped back down to the riverside and was a gentle walk, although in a couple of places the bank had collapsed leaving a bit of a hole in the ground!  The way reached Daldorch, and here there was a second diversion because of a landslip.  This diversion must have added about a mile onto the journey, most of it uphill.  Eventually I reached the Stair Inn, which was pretty busy for such a small place.

Looking through the trees in Failford Wood

The food (and beer) was excellent, along with the local banter, most of whom were really enthusiastic about the River Ayr Way.

After leaving the pub I wandered down the path for a mile or so, looking for a suitable pitch.  I found a spot, next to a field in which some cows were grazing some distance away.  No sooner had the backpack come off, they all started ambling over to have a nosey.  As a result I had an audience of around 25 young bulls who quite happily stood and watched me put the tent up, even muscling each other out the way to get a better view.  It was really quite surreal!  They really must be starved of entertainment in the bovine world.

Soon I was comfortably tucked up in my sleeping bag, the only sounds the river flowing gently past and a cow having a good scratch on the fence.

Day Rating 9/10

Cracking days walk through pretty varied terrain.  The walking is gentle and for the most part the way is easy to follow.  Poor section along the road to Failford, but the pub and the walk through the nature reserve more than makes up for it.  As the day before the way just gets better and better as you progress.

 

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Day 1

Glenbuck – Sorn(ish) (16 miles)

Glenbuck Loch at the start of the River Ayr Way

With the good weather coming to an end (20 plus degrees in Scotland in March!?) I had a small window of opportunity to bag a short trail, and one that was relatively local to boot.

The River Ayr Way had been on the radar for a while, the path itself has been in existence since 2006, so it is not really a “new” route as such and sports a pretty decent website and reasonable guide-book.  The purchase of this a couple of weeks ago may have had some influence on the choice of walk!

A totem pole marks the way

With public transport to the start non-existent, the plan was to leave the car at Glenbuck, walk to Ayr, bus out to Muirkirk and walk back to the car.  Fortunately I had to do none of this and instead was offered a lift to the start (thanks Dad!) which made life so much easier.

10 o’clock Saturday morning found me stood at the Lochside raring to go.  A hide marks the start, and there are plenty of information boards around about the walk and the wildlife.  The only things moving on the Loch though were a couple of fishermen out on their boat, enjoying the fine weather.

The Loch from the hide at the start

The Loch is as close to the source as the walker gets and the fledgling river flows out of it, heading towards the coast.  A rather (in my opinion) ugly sculpture is found at the start as well, its twin situated at the finish, the two acting as a symbolic “gate” that the river flows through.

The village of Glenbuck itself has all but disappeared, an opencast coal mine virtually destroying a community that had struggled for many years.  It is probably most famous as the home town of the Liverpool FC legend Bill Shankly – not only him but the place produced 50 professional footballers, seven of whom went on to International careers with Scotland.  At the entrance to the Loch a Liverpool Supporters Club has erected a memorial to Shankly, which the path passes on its way to the crossing with the A70.

Once across the road the way takes to an old railway line and passes the steadily rotting platform that is all that remains of Glenbuck station.

There is a bleak and wild feel to the route here and it feels like the very North edge of the Southern Uplands.  It soon becomes apparent why there are so many villages dotted around this part of Ayrshire – coal – to the North of the path (and roughly where Glenbuck used to be) is a huge opencast mine.  One of the more obvious hints of the local industrial heritage.

The view back towards Glenbuck Loch

The railway path gives a direct and fairly quick route to Muirkirk and can get a little tedious in places, but is a real eye opener in certain ways.  The number of dismantled railways crisscrossing each other here just shows how important Ayrshire was to Scottish and British industry, although the remains over the River Ayr of what must have been a spectacular viaduct is somewhat deceiving.

The fledgling River Ayr

Apparently this was built at some expense as a link to the Lanarkshire town of Lesmahagow – the line never opened and it is said that not even one train passed its length.  Can’t blame Mr Beeching for that one!  The piers of the bridge seem to be lying as large piles of rubble – the Army blew them up for demolition practice during the Second World War.

Once in Muirkirk there is a café a short way down the road from the walkers car park at the campsite.  It had just opened as I passed, but makes a good spot to stop for lunch.  There are plenty of good walks round the town, of varying lengths, and, while the town isn’t that attractive, there is some very interesting industrial history to the area.  This includes the worlds first “surfaced” road (the town was the home of a certain Mr McAdam – and no his first name was not Tar), the first town in Britain to have gas lighting, and an important producer of coal and iron.  There is also an audio tour of the town which follows the route of the River Ayr Way for a couple of kilometers.

A certain Tibby Pagan lived in the town.  She had a club foot, but she was well-regarded – probably because she was running an unofficial “howff” – best described as a bootleg pub.  She wrote her own verse (and apparently a fine singer), and is reputedly responsible for the penning of the Burns song “Ca’ the Yowes”.

Tibbies Brig and memorial just behind

Once away from Muirkirk the way finally left the old railways and dropped, for the first time to the banks of the river.  The land is still has a wild feel here, and there are hints of what is to come where even now the river carves fairly deep channels through the soft sandstone.  There had been a few walkers through Muirkirk, but now I was in splendid isolation, apart from the wildlife.  Over Airds Moss were a large number of Curlew and Oystercatchers, not to mention the smaller birds – Pied Wagtails a plenty!  Industry was never far away, with plenty of ruins having almost been reclaimed by nature, leaving just enough to hint at what had been there, including the very large and unsubtle hint of an open cast coal mine just before the Airds Moss reserve.

The view West, crossing a footbridge at the entrance to Airds Moss Nature Reserve

Something that becomes apparent rather quickly is how good the infrastructure is on the path.  There has been a lot of money invested in the path, and as a result the surface has pretty much been laid down for the whole route, but the bridges provided are impressive.

Even at this stage, the river has a surprisingly large floodplain, and it makes for a green oasis amongst the rougher moorland that surrounds it.  The path now avoids leaving the river, except on a couple of occasions where it is forced up high to avoid what would be impassable terrain.

As I was getting close to where I had planned to stop, I began looking for a suitable place to camp, following on from a rather impressive boardwalk that had been constructed high up the steep bank of a meander.  Eventually, reasoning that I was still a reasonable distance from Sorn, and I hadn’t seen a soul all day, I pitched next to a deep pool on a quite serene spot at the river.  A sign declared “no fishing”, but this hadn’t put off the Herons, with no less than five of the birds making this part of the river their home.  A Cormorant even flew past, surprising me as I was getting the stove going to cook some dinner – a rather nice surprise this far up the river.

It was still fairly early, but it gave an opportunity to lie back and enjoy the gentle birdsong from the woodland opposite, a delightful finish to the day.

Day Rating 8/10

Part of a boardwalk

Glenbuck loch is a lovely spot, and a cracking place (if a little problematic in getting there) to start the trail.  The walk along the old railway line is a little… meh… but I tend to not be a fan of that kind of walking.  I probably do this section a bit of a disservice as it takes a fairly high line and gives some good views over the local area.  There is a great deal of historic interest (including many bloody killings revolving around Covenanters) and there are plenty of interpretation boards around, providing some great background information on the route.

The campsite!

Once the route hits the riverbank the Way gradually gets better and better, and despite several ups and downs, it is very easy walking.  Very enjoyable with much to look forward to!

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