Seaside resorts and golf courses along the coast south of Ayr
Sandy beaches and a mild climate combine to make Ayr, and the towns and villages that surround it, the main resort area of Scotland’s west coast. The area also has a strong literary and historical legacy: Robert Burns was born near Ayr in 1759, and ruined strongholds dating from the 13th to 17th centuries recall strife between warring factions in earlier days. A series of golf courses offers magnificent views westwards to Arran.
Long stone quays that run out towards the sea are a reminder that Ayr was once the chief port of western Scotland. Today, it is Scotland’s principal west-coast resort, with I ½ miles of safe, sandy beaches and a variety of seaside amusements. Early in the morning the beach is a favourite exercise ground for racehorses.
A swimming-pool complex close to the beach includes a sauna, Turkish baths and a fully equipped gymnasium. Sea-anglers catch flounders, dabs, dogfish, cod and mullet on the Newton shore. Boats may be hired at Ayr Bay, and there are sailing and sub-aqua clubs around the busy working harbour.
The River Ayr cuts through the centre of the town, where it is crossed by two bridges close together- the Twa Brigs. The Auld Brig dates from the 13th century and was the scene of a battle between the Kennedys of Cassillis and the rival Kennedys of Bargany in 1601. The bridge is very narrow, as Robert Burns observed in his poem The Brigs of Ayr, calling it a ‘poor, narrow footpath of astreet’. The Auld Brig was restored in 1910 and is now used by pedestrians. Its close neighbour, New Bridge, was built in 1788 and rebuilt in 1878.
At the southern end of New Bridge the 126 ft high steeple of the Town Buildings dominates the town. Built in 1828, its upper part consists of an octagonal turret with tall, narrow windows.
Benefactions from wealthy residents have given Ayr a number of public parks. Craigie Park has scenic riverside walks, Belleisle Park includes a walled garden, an aviary, a deer park and two of Ayr’s three golf courses, while Rozelle Park has a pond with swans, wooded walks, nature trails and an art gallery. A three-day flower show, the largest in western Scotland, is held in Ayr in August. On Tuesdays and Thursdays Ayr becomes a bustling market town, when farmers from round about arrive to sell their cattle.
A POET’S BIRTHPLACE
Ayr’s most notable link with the past is with Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, who was born in the village of Auoway, now part of Ayr, in 1759. Burns’ Cottage birthplace, the Burns Monument Gardens and the ruin of Alloway Kirk are all open to the public. The Land O’Burns Centre houses a permanent exhibition of the poet’s life and times. In Ayr itself is the Tarn O’Shanter Museum, a former ale house in which Burns and his friends once met. And it is still possible to stroll across the Auld Brig O’Doon, where the witches’ chase in the most famous of all Scottish ballads, Tain O’Shanter, came to its exciting close.
HEADS OF AYR
Beyond Doonfoot, where the sands of Ayr Bay end, a shoreline walk past the ruins of Greenan Castle, a 16th-century stronghold of the Kennedy family, leads after 2 miles to the Heads of Ayr, a line of cliffs topped with grazing land stretching outwards into the sea. Above the walk is a holiday camp.
Inland, a narrow and twisting road climbs over a shoulder of Brown Carrick Hill, past picnic areas with fine views over Arran, Ailsa Craig, Kintyre and the whole sweep of the Firth of Clyde.
Whitewashed stone houses line a small but- active harbour at the foot of the cliffs, and the rocky coastline round about is ideal for sub-aqua exploration. The harbour was once a base for smugglers who brought ‘Arran water’ from the illicit whisky stills on the Island of Arran, some 20 miles offshore. It is now used by yachtsmen and sea-anglers. South of the harbour the bay shelves steeply, and young swimmers risk finding themselves quickly out of their depth. The bay is dominated by the forbidding ruins of Dunure Castle, where the lay abbot of Crossraguel was roasted alive in 1570 to force him to hand over the rich abbey lands to the 4th Earl of Cassillis, head of one branch of the Kennedy family.
The architectural masterpiece of Culzean Castle was designed by Robert Adam and completed for the 10th Earl of Cassillis in 1790. Its splendid clifftop site is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland and open to the public in summer. Among its finest features are Adam’s imaginative oval staircase, and the round drawing room with its views over the Firth of Clyde. The top flat in the castle was given to President Eisenhower in recognition of his wartime achievements, and there is a display devoted to his life.
Culzean Castle was built around an ancient tower belonging to the Kennedy family, who are associated with many of the ancient strongholds on this stretch of coast. The family split in the 16th century into two warring factions, the Kennedys of Culzean, or Cassillis, and the Kennedys of Bargany. After long feuds the Cassillis branch of the family emerged triumphant.
Many of Adam’s plans for Culzean are on show in what was originally the Home Farm. Built of local sandstone, it was restored in 1971-3 to serve as the visitor centre for Culzean Country Park. The formal features of the park include a fountain court with an orangery, a walled garden and an aviary. But the network of informal walks is one of the major attractions of Culzean.
A clifftop walk starting on the west side of the castle runs along the top of the lava cliffs before dipping steeply down to a tiny bathing beach at Port Carrick. From there it is possible to walk back along the shoreline below the cliffs for about a mile to Seggan-well Gorge, which is deeply cut out of the softer sandstone east of the castle. Agates, chalcedony and other forms of quartz may be found along the shore. There are weathered natural arches and entrances to a network of interconnected caves.
Named after treacherous offshore rocks, this village nevertheless offers safe bathing on the sand-and-shingle beach north of the harbour. Maidens was once little more than a line of fishermen’s cottages and fish-curing sheds along the shore. In the 1950s the local villagers used rubble from abandoned wartime RAF buildings to provide Maidens with a new harbour wall, and shortly after that the present harbour was built. It is now used only for fishing and recreational sailing.
Burns’s Tarn O’Shanter was based on the real-life Douglas Graham, occasional smuggler and tenant of Shanter Farm, which stood on the hillside above the caravan sites which surround modern Maidens. Tarn O’Shanter was the name of Graham’s boat.
Fine silver sands stretching for Wi miles are protected from the east wind by grassy dunes. Access to the beach is by a pathway past the fourth tee on the Ailsa golf course -the tee is called Woe-be-Tide.
The Ailsa course is one of two famous settings for golf at Turnberry. It is notable for its fearsome shoreline holes and views across the Firth to Ailsa Craig. The neighbouring Arran course, downhill from the white-walled and red-tiled Turnberry Hotel, is equally spectacular.
At Castle Port, north of the golf courses, lies Turnberry Castle, once the home of the Countess of Carrick, mother of Robert Bruce who is said to have been born there. Turnberry lighthouse stands in the middle of the castle ruins.
Souter Johnnie’s House, 3 miles to the north-east, was the thatched cottage home of John Davidson, a village cobbler, or souter, at the end of the 18th century who was immortalised in Burns’s poem Tain O’Shanter. The cottage contains contemporary tools of the cobbler’s craft, and items associated with Burns.
Flanked by gardens and pathways, a sheltered and colourful harbour at the mouth of the winding Water of Girvan is the base of a fishing fleet. On the north side is a yard which specialises in building traditional wooden fishing boats. There is good swimming from the sands, which stretch for more than a mile to the south.
Girvan sailing club operates from the harbour, and boats may also be hired by sea-anglers. Cod, haddock, herring and mackerel are caught regularly, and record weights of whiting and wrasse have been caught. Fishing on the Girvan yields trout and occasional salmon.
The imposing 15th-century Penkill Castle, where Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote poetry, lies 4 miles east.
Reached only by boat from Girvan, 10 miles to the east, Ailsa Craig is the most impressive landmark in the Firth of Clyde. This huge granite island, 1,114 ft high and 2 miles in circumference, is the core of an ancient volcano. Most of the island is rimmed by spectacular cliffs, and off the exposed southwest corner is the rock of Little Ailsa, made up of hundreds of basalt pillars.
Ailsa Craig granite used to be quarried for curling stones, but since the quarries closed the island has become one of Scotland’s greatest gannetries. More than 10,000 pairs breed there every summer, and there are colonies of razorbills, guillemots and kit-tiwakes. In the past, tenants of the island used to pay their rents in gannet feathers.
A lighthouse was built on Foreland Point in 1868. Boats land there, and the pathway to the summit passes the ruins of a long-abandoned castle.
Overlooking a small shingle beach with rocky outcrops, Lendalfoot is a hamlet of whitewashed houses where the Water of Lendal pushes out from its steep-sided valley into the sea. Beyond a row of holiday chalets to the south is a picnic area just above the shoreline rocks.
On the hills above Lendalfoot is the ruin of Carleton Castle. Sir John Cathcart of Car-leton was the villain of a fictional ballad telling how he married seven rich heiresses in turn and threw them all to their deaths over the cliffs of Games Loup, south-west of the castle. However, Sir John’s eighth bride was more spirited, and threw him over instead.
As its Gaelic name Baile-an-Traigh makes clear, this is a ‘village on the shore’. Throughout the 18th century it was the headquarters of a highly organised smuggling ring. The village stands back from a sand-and-shingle beach which continues for l’/z miles to the north, beyond a harbour.
At the south end of the village stands the ruin of Ardstinchar Castle, built like Greenan Castle by the Kennedy family. It overlooks the River Stinchar’s meandering outflow of tidal creeks and lagoons, administered as a nature reserve by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The reserve is a breeding site for terns, and nesting areas should be avoided in late spring and early summer.
At the seaward end of Glen App, a side road and a rough track lead to a picnic area overlooking the entrance to Loch Ryan. Remains of wartime gun-sites are half-hidden among the scrub, and an abandoned observation post stands lonely guard on the clifftop north of the bay.
A fish farm at the mouth of the Water of App sells direct to the public. To the north, an exhilarating 6 mile walk goes high over Finnarts Hill and along the coastline northwards to Ballantrae.