Outdoors spotlight on Ayrshire

Photo: John McSporran

Photo: John McSporran

So close to the city of Glasgow yet so often overlooked, Ayrshire offers a surprising array of outdoors gems.

In times gone by, city people would travel “doon the watter” for a week or fortnight’s holiday in the Ayrshire seaside towns of Largs, Troon and Ayr.

Ayrshire-MapBut habits change and while the south-west corner of Scotland is now popular as a commuter belt for Glasgow and also as a destination for day trippers keen to enjoy an ice-cream or take a stroll on a beach, the wider region is all too often overlooked by outdoors fans.

Yet Ayrshire boasts a surprising number of highlights for walkers, cyclists and people who like to be out in the fresh air.

Ayrshire: Did you know?

  • The region is dissected by the Highland Fault Line, a striking geological feature that runs across the mainland and Island of Arran to create both lowlands and highlands scenery.
  • Arran is the seventh largest island in Scotland and the largest island in the Firth of Clyde.
  • Arran is often described as Scotland in Miniature thanks to its combined lowlands and highlands landscapes.
  • The parish church in Fairlie, near Largs, has a weather vane shaped like a yacht.
  • Prestwick Airport is the only part of Britain that Elvis set foot. He touched down briefly on March 3, 1960.
  • There is an Eisenhower Suite at Culzean Castle that was gifted to President Eisenhower for his exclusive use when visiting the region, until his death. Now it is available for guests to book.
  • Mauchline has the only curling stone factory in Britain. Andrew Kay & Co and their forerunners in the town have made curling stones there since 1851.
  • Scotland’s famous poet, Robert Burns, was born in Alloway and the Birthplace Museum here charts his life and works.

The best of Ayrshire outdoors

river Ayr way autumnWalk from source to sea: The River Ayr Way traces a route of 65km from the river source at Glenbuck Loch to the sea at the town of Ayr. The waymarked trail can be walked over around three days of six to eight hours of walking.

The landscape is varied and offers a mix of moorland, rolling farmland, woodlands, country estates, deep gorges and many, many miles of wildlife rich riverbanks.

river ayr wayYou will also discover an interesting industrial heritage. The river has been used through the ages as a waterway for transportation and to drive the once thriving mills.

See River Ayr Way

Cycle full circle: Families will enjoy a 10-mile circuit of the Island of Cumbrae. An easy-going and fairly flat road follows the coast of the entire island.

Take your own bikes on the Calmac ferry from the mainland to the main village of Millport, or hire a bike when you get to the island. See On Your Bike at Millport. And tell the kids to look out for the famous Crocodile Rock as they ride along.

Coast road on Arran. PIc credit- Freddie Phillips on Flickr creative commonsCycle a longer circle: If you are looking for more of a cycling challenge try the island of Arran. There’s a fairly strenuous 55-mile circuit of the island and for those with a desire for even more miles, try riding the high String Road that cuts across the island to create a longer figure-of-eight route.

The Ayrshire Alps: The hill roads of South Carrick are known locally as the Ayrshire Alps. Now a dozen or so hill climbs have been graded and  brought together under the title of Scotland’s first Road Cycling Park. There are also a number of suggested routes taking in some of these hills called The Shark, The Dailly 7UP, Rather Be Classic and Omnibus 8. See Ayrshire Alps for more details.

Trails skills: If you prefer to ride off-road and you are keen to learn the right skills, Newmilns Bike Park is a great discovery. For the less experienced there is the B-line, which includes technical flat turns, off-camber corners and the “Luge”, a series of fairly testing linked berms. There’s also a more challenging A-line trail with table top jumps, berms, drop-offs, rollers and rock gardens.

Ski all year: Learn to ski or snowboard, or brush up on your skills in preparation for skiing on real snow, at the dry ski slope of Newmilns Snow & Sports Complex.

More to the isles: Arran is a wonderful place to explore on two wheels, two feet or by swimming in  gorge. Arran Adventure Company offers a range of fun outdoor activities such as mountain biking, gorge walking, kayaking and archery.

Millport cumbrae sailing pic credit Paisely Scotland on flickrSet sail: The Ayrshire small isle of Cumbrae is home to a national sportscotland centre that provides tuition in watersports including dinghy sailing, windsurfing and kayaking. With bays and natural harbours, as well as surrounding islands such as Bute, Arran and Inchmarnock, there are a variety of locations to suit a range of abilities.

Cumbrae is accessed via Calmac ferry from Largs. See Cumbrae National sportscotland Centre

Paddle inland: It’s possible to travel extensively by canoe or kayak in Ayrshire on long and winding rivers, such as the Doon and Ayr, or head to picturesque Loch Doon or descend exciting rapids at Ness Glen.

Even more watery fun: The long and varied coast of the mainland and islands of Ayrshire provide almost limitless locations of a wealth of water sports. In recognition of this, Ayrshire & Arran Tourism have set up the Watersports Coast. Choose from, among others, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, kitesurfing, wind surfing, surfing, swimming, paddle boarding and yachting hotspots.

goatfell pic credit- andy on flickrClimb to the highest point: The summit of Goatfell at 874m is the highest point in Aryshire and Arran. The mountain is found on Arran and offers a rewarding day’s hiking. The walk starts from close to Brodick Castle, Garden and Country Park and reveals a dramatic and wild landscape. On a fine day the views take in the island itself and across to Ben Lomond in southern Scotland, the isle of Jura and even the coast of Ireland.

Walkers should keep to the path to avoid damaging the fragile natural environment. See Goat Fell route details.

cairn on cairn tableGreat views for less walking: Cairn Table hill walk heads to a peak of less than 600m yet the views on a clear day are breath-taking. From the summit of this hill, close to Kames in East Ayrshire, you can see across wider Ayrshire, to the Isle of Arran in the west, Ben Lomond in the north and the Lake District in England, across the Solway Firth.

top of cairn table walkThere’s also a lot to see on the summit itself, including a trig pillar located on top of an ancient cairn, another prehistoric cairn and a large cairn built in 1920 to remember the local people who died or served in the Great War. See Cairn Table walk.

DSC_0071Green dreams: There are almost 50 golf courses to play in Ayrshire and Arran, from championship links to nine-hole island gems. Many courses are situated on the coast and boast fantastic views as you play. How about Royal Troon, Turnberry, Dundonald Links or Barassie at Kilmarnock? Arran has seven of its own golf courses including the quirky 12-hole Shiskine Links. See golf in Ayrshire & Arran

Burns by bicycle: Begin a bike ride from the Birthplace Museum of Rabbie Burns. It’s simple enough to cycle to other landmarks such as the Brig O’Doon – made famous in Rabbie’s poem Tam O’Shanter – and the Heads of Ayr, where you’ll find the Burns Monument and fantastic views across the Firth of Clyde.

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