For honest men & bonie lasses - The River Ayr Way Day 2

The river and some sandstone cliffs The adventure continues and I can only apologise for the length of time that it has taken me to get this posted. I've been finding it hard between work and my home life to find the time to flesh out and write my notes but here it is, day 2. The first day can be found here if you want to refresh your memory on happened on that leg of our source to sea journey.

The Saturday started bright and early. Despite having to toss aside my sleeping mat and having to sleep on the woodland floor. I had a great night’s kip. I slept like a log. Feeling refreshed, rested and feeling stiff at the same time. It's not everyday I walk 20 odd miles. It had be a good day walking with Phil and I was looking forward to more of the same. Firstly though, I had to extract myself from my sleeping bag and get some breakfast. This was proving harder than I expected. I was stiffer than a stiff thing now that I was trying to move and this was no morning glory either. I wasn't feeling stiff, I was stiff.

Once I got myself out of my bag and had a big stretch I noticed a blister. The walkers menace. I hadn't been there last night, remember I had thoroughly rubbed my feet down with some cream but there it was glaring angrily at me. Not from a normal blister place, on my second toe on the side of my big toe. Weird. Never ever had a blister there. Blisters appearing in the night in strange places, bizarre. Nothing for it than to deal with. If you’re squeamish jump the next few sentences. I'm blister burster, I don't like the pressure point they create when full of liquid. I got it drained and after much faffing around got some moleskin attached to the offending toe. With the protection added I got my socks and shoes back on. After taking a few steps I realised I couldn't even feel where the blister was, let alone figure out how I manage to rub those two toes hard enough to cause it. Nothing to worry about. Pain free walking.

After a breakfast of kings, breakfast energy bars and water for me and a Fuizion Freeze dried just add water super calorie laden meal for Phil. Once we were fed and watered, we made busy and packed up camp. One of these days I'll beat Phil. I seem to do so much more fanny about and sorting stuff out than he does. One day I'll be first. Maybe. We checked around and double checked, nothing left. Unless you've a trained eye and notice the couple depressed areas where we slept but soon, even they would no longer be there. All trace gone. Instead of heading back the way we came to catch the path, we headed as the craw flies to intercept it further down.

It was a fine quiet morning if a little chilly but my MountainGoat hat was doing a good job of keeping my lugs and heid warm. Just us and the fermer bombing about the field in his tractor. Heading along the path towards the Howford Bridge. Well the first of two Howford bridges. One the new road one and the second the old road one. When I say new I mean 1960s new and when I say old I mean a couple of hundred years old. Both are old to me but maybe not some of you readers out there. We climbed steadily up towards the road, the A76. When we got to the road the path goes under the road and its all downhill from here to the old bridge. At the road the path splits and you can go off up to Catrine House or what's left of it. Here there's a petting farm and farm shop/eatery. It's serves great food and excellent ice cream. The shop sells good local produce. I would recommend stopping off there but we were a little early.

We made our way down to the old Howford Bridge walking in the woods. When I suddenly noticed in my periphery vision, something moving. A Deer. I called to Phil in my best covert voice and pointed in the direction of the beast. It was well in the thicket of woods off the path. Well hidden but as usual, flashing its white arse gave it away. Phil and I tried our best stealthy silent walks to get as close as we dared for a photograph. However; as these things go for me, the deer high tailed out of there just I as lifting my camera. No shot. Next time, maybe. We continued on down the path and joined the old Mauchline road and made our way across the auld Howford Bridge which doesn't look unlike the brig at Sorn. You would think that they had the same builder.

The Howford Bridge from the Auld Howford Brig

There's a good fishing 'hole' here at the auld brig and my Dad always tells the story of how this was the place he first went fishing with my Papa and that his fishing rod was made from a tank's communication aerial. Apparently it weighed a ton. I've never been lucky enough to hook into anything at this fishing hole but there are others more fortunate than me. We headed over the bridge and up towards Mauchline. Towards Mauchline is a loose term, more like skirting it and heading to Haugh farm and the old Mill through a wood walk. Around here are some cups and ring marked stones. As cup and rings go they are very famous in that they are carved vertically on the sandstone cliffs rather that the standard horizontal. The discovery of this changed the interpretation of the other carvings. However I was to busy talking all about them that we walked passed them and didn't see them. Lesson learned, sometimes it's better to shut up and show. Not to worry, they haven't moved in a few thousand years. The path here takes you through what was once the polices of Kingencleugh house and castle (read tower house) as well as under the Ballochmyle Viaduct. Famous for being the world’s largest masonry span arch. The viaduct was built around 1845 and is still in daily use as part of the Glasgow to Carlisle main-line route. It's a fine piece of masonry work with attractive detailing and great to see it from below instead of passing over it and hardly noticing it.

Mauchline Viaduct(2)

Phil and I continued on through the wooded gorge. The sun piercing through in places, illuminating glades of bluebells here in there. From Catrine to here it's a bit of an up and down walk but a very pleasant one indeed. It was still early and no-one but the two of us about. This is another part of the walk where you find yourself far from the river itself due to geography and the wishes of the local land owner. Once you reach Haugh farm, you leave the river entirely as you make your way around the borders of the Barskimming Estate. It was interesting for both Phil and I when we reached the mill as we realised that the guide books we were carrying were different. It wasn't obvious as Phil’s; the newer version did have anything to indicate that the route had changed here. His version has you walking up the road to Haughyett then taking a left at the junction there to Woodlands. Where as the edition I have has you going through the old Barskimming works, the Bostonbank woods and past one of the Barskimming Lodges to Woodlands.

We must have looked dodgy from a distance, how I'm not sure. Two guys standing in the middle of nowhere comparing maps and point in numerous directions. However we must have as local fermer out on his morning rounds came over to us and said as much. He initially thought we were a pair of burglars but as he got closer, he realised. Don't think I've been mistaken for a criminal before. It was probably Phil's fault. After having a chat with the fermer, he suggested that we continue to follow the original route. It was much more attractive than the new way up the tarmac. We took his advice and crossed the field to the old stile. Once in the Bostonbank woods it was obvious that a lot of people were still walking this way, the track was well worn and not over grown. We exited the trees and now only had a short road section to walk, past the lodge to the Woodlands cottages.

Now a good distance from the water, we turned in through a new gate at the cottages and followed a very new section or recently repaired part of the walk. Basically we were on the boundary of the estate and we wouldn't be back near the river until we were passed Stairaird another local estate. It's a shame and blessing in a way. You don't get to walk past and see these beautiful old country houses hiding the trees but you also miss out probably the windiest part of the river. It turns north, south, east and west twice in a two mile stretch or so. Four big massive loops. There was no point in worrying about what we would miss and got on with walking. We continued on and were soon walking past the massive old sandstone quarry at Barskimming. Now hidden from view by trees and filled with water. The glimpses that you get only hint at the size and depth of the quarry.

Leaving the quarry behind, we crossed a couple of fields and entered the Kipplemoss wood. Wood is being generous; more of a plantation, forestry commission style. All dark and unappealing. Luckily it's not long before we are back out in the open and crossing the Avenue, one of the main private roads to Barskimming house. At this point we're not far from Failford, maybe only a couple of miles. Walking downhill from the avenue we followed the old estate wall and crossed the Mauchline burn before coming upon another estate road which we followed up to the entrance lodge and the main road, the Ayr Road, the B743. Another short road section of tar took us into Failford. If it wasn't so early I would have welcomed a fine pint of beer at the excellent Failford Inn and I think Phil would have too. I think if it had been open I would have enjoyed a pint that early in the morning, fine Ayrshire Ales. Not sure what that says about me.

With a great morning of walking all ready under our belts. We decide to take a break just at the start of the Failford gorge. The river is wide here and sits on a large slab of rock which allows you to sit far out in the water when there's not a run on the river. The perfect spot for a break. We got right down onto the bank and found a fallen tree trunk ideal for bench. Phil got out his kuksa, not a euphemism and his Foster’s can stove caldera cone combination and some esbit tablets. I say some but I’m certain it was only half a tablet. He got the water boiling for his coffee an intriguing little number. I'm not a coffee drinking but it's the first time I'd never seen coffee in a tea bag, or should that be coffee bag? Ingenious, I thought. Very clever.

The River Ayr at Failford Gorge

Apparently we looked like a pair of anglers. Which was better than earlier and being mistaken for a couple of house breakers. A passing dog walker saw us and enquired about the state of the morning's fishing. Probably an easy mistake to make this time as there was an angler already fishing the bend in front of us and the guy may have assumed we were together. I don't think I helped commenting on the fact it was a good spot and we had seen a few fish jumping. After our short conversation he left after his dog. I left Phil to enjoy his coffee in peace for a while and walked out across the sandstone slab to the waters edge and took a few photographs.

After a bit I wandered back across as Phil was clearing up, leave no trace. We climbed back up the bank and onto the walks. There are a few here; a couple of circular ones all well laid out and marked. Most of the paths start by having you climb up a wooden staircase and out of the gorge, on to the wooded cliff tops. This section is probably my favourite. The path through the Coilsholm Wood is idyllic to say the least at this time of year. Spring was in full bloom. Glades and glades of bluebells and pungent wild garlic littered the forest floor. It's an almost magic call place to walk and again other than the angler and the dog walker. We had the best of Ayrshire to ourselves. Climbing up and down of the path following the gorge and before we knew it the woods had ended and we were making our way down towards Daldorch and Stair beyond.

Walking through the woods

It had reached mid-morning and the day was heating up nicely. I was enjoying the walk, no bite back from the blister and my legs were feeling fine. After all of yesterdays walking, the planned 3 days was definitely looking like a do able 2 days. The other side of Stair would be the point of no return. The closer we get to Ayr the less choice if any would we have for a wild camp. We had now settled into our comfortable walking pace, Phil a couple of steps in front. Like I keep saying he is much taller than me and has a bigger stride. We had just passed Daldorch Farm when we noticed a dog walker coming towards us. Phil was a bit further in front as I had stopped to snap a few photos. I started off after Phil; as I was approaching the dog walker, I stopped to let him and his dog pass, I said good morning to him. His reply was and I quote, "Christ! I thocht it wiz yir fayther there". I have an uncanny resemblance to my dad; a chip off the old block, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, a spitting image. Personally I don't see it but others do. The Bunten curse. I should point out I'm the taller, younger, better looking one, if you ever see us together.

This particular dog walker had grown up in the same street as, and went to school with my dad. We got talking, as you do. I apologised because I couldn't remember him as he hadn't seen me since I was a boy. That he was now living in Mauchline and had seen my dad the other week; driving by Poosie Nancy's, peeping the horn and waving. How that he hadn't been in my dad's company for a few years but the last time there was a lot of drinking, merriment and good laughter. I hear this quite a lot when people talk about my dad. We talked about the River Ayr Way and how he regularly got the bus to Ayr and walked back to Mauchline. We talked for nearly a long time; possibly 20 minutes, before I said my good byes. In my head the alarm, OH FUCK, OH FUCK, OH FUCK was going off. Phil would be wondering where had I got to, maybe even starting to walk back to make sure I hadn't befallen some terrible accident.

I needed have worried such, as I hoofed it double time on the last bit to Stair, passed Stair house and the church on other side of the river. Stair is old parish and has it's part in dark page of Scottish history, the Glencoe Massacre. The Master of Stair having his hand in that. Almost but not quite running passed the mill lade out to the road at Milton. I looked down the road and found Phil patiently waiting for me at Stair Bridge. He waved in acknowledgement at seeing me. Walking up to cross the bridge, I noticed my legs were not happy. Don't think they were pleased with the last half mile or so of power walking to catch up with Phil. Nothing a cold pint at the Stair Inn wouldn't fix. Once on the bridge I explained to Phil what had happened but he had already guessed as much. A similar scenario had unfolded at the Ayrshire Beer Festival in Troon last October. We headed over to the Inn.

I stiffly sauntered over to the Inn and Phil noticed and asked if the blister was bothering me. To which my reply was no, hadn't felt it since I burst it this morning. My problem was my legs were seizing up a bit but not that it was bothering me, it might slow me down a bit. It was jus after 12. A really good time for that pint and lunch. I said to Phil that we could eat out the front in the sunshine. We reached the Sorn Inn and it was shut! What is it with us and Ayrshire pubs being shut, we laughed. 12:30 before it opened. Not much of a problem, I just sat my weary body down on one of the benches out the front. Nothing for but to sit and wait. We weren't the only ones waiting. A couple of cars had pulled into the car park. It's a very popular place for something to eat. Like I said I have family that live less than 5 minutes from where we were sitting and are regular vistors here. Jokingly I said it wouldn't surprise me if we bumped into my Aunt and Uncle. I also said that I would probably get into trouble for passing and not dropping in.

Finally the pub opened. It was one of those really long 20 minutes; you know the ones, feels like time has stopped. Especially as we could see the staff walking about inside. Get a move on clock. The key scraped in the lock and the door was swung inward. I was like a shot out of a gun; probably the fastest Phil has ever seen me move. I ordered a couple of pints and a couple of pints of juice as well as lifting a copy of the menu. I went for the steak pie again. This time it was steak and sausage compared to the straight up steak pie at Sorn the day before. I love a good home made steak pie. Clean plates all round. I did warn Phil that not every pub in Ayrshire served food as good as the two inns we had visited.

The River Ayr and the Enterkine Viaduct

We finished our beers and got ourselves set to go. Over lunch we came to the natural conclusion, that for this leg of the Way, we had passed the point of no return. There were still plenty of hours left in the day and Ayr wasn't that far away. I think we both knew that and had come to that conclusion seperately. The country-side was becoming far more populated and we had long entered the agricultural heart of the county. Not many suitable camping spots left, if any. What was another 20 odd mile day? Getting up from the bench and walking back toward the bridge to get back onto the path my legs were protesting greatly. I had seized up and was thinking that no amount of WD40 was going to loosen my joints but with every step I started to feel freer.

Back across the bridge and walking through the cottages at Milton, I was explaining to Phil that just up that road and take the fork to the right and that's where my Aunt and Uncle live. It was then when I was pointing that I noticed a blue car with a personalised plate parked in off the road where the next section of the path begins. I recognised the car, you guessed it. With exclamation I said I know that car then I noticed two people walking back along the path towards the car. Yes, my Aunt Judy and Uncle Les. Brilliant, couldn't have planned that if I had tried. I would normally say pure luck but I suppose the chance of that happening does increase when your not 5 minutes from their front door. I introduced Phil to them both and Tammy the mental Springer Spaniel. They had been out with dog in the car and had stopped on their way home to let Tammy stretch her legs. My Aunt Jud even said they had been wondering whereabouts we would have been but hadn't expected us to be this far on. We said our goodbyes and parted with some wise words from my Uncle Les.

Under the Enterkine Viaduct

This next part was towards Annbank through policies of another Ayrshire estate this time it was Enterkine House, now a very nice hotel and restaurant. The sun was out in all its glory now and it was nice, feeling its warming heat penetrating me. It is glorious by the river on these days. In fact it was one of those days where you really would love to take a dip in the cool waters. I know my tiring feet would have loved it. I was soon back in step with Phil and we were making good progress again. Heading towards the Enterkine Viaduct were suddenly aware of a small herd of dairy cows approaching us. Luckily we were on the other side of the fence and when I say luckily I don't mean it in a bad way. It would have been awkward to move through them as they are big beast but the cows seemed very tame and not at all jumpy. Maybe they were used to walkers feeding them, I'm not sure. I think they thought we had some feed for them but it was funny as they joined us for a short while as reached the viaduct. Interesting smelly company and I'm not talking about Phil.

Moo-ve on..

The path climbs a bit up into Annbank and I really felt myself slowing down especially when I came to one of those wooden steps that are built for giants. Every step up one of those felt like my knees were smacking off my chest. Having to take them one at a time. Step, up, step, up, step, up. Had the stairs been any steeper and I would need a harness and rope. Reaching the top you enter into a park at Annbank. We knew we have another little road section to Auchincruive so we took advantage of been in the village and headed to the local shop for a juice break. Much to my annoyance, no cold IRN BRU or Curries Red Kola. Shocking. A warm bottle of IRN BRU it was then but it was wet and what was needed. On leaving the shop we noticed a few buses parked up the road and then we heard the shouts. Annbank Juniors must have been playing. Probably where all the cold juice had went, up to the park with the supporters.

We headed down the road to St. Oswald’s Bridge and Auchincruive. Auchincruive is another fine old country house. It's now an agricultural college with some really nice walks in its grounds. The gardens are particularly well tended and beautiful in the summer. My feet were now starting to get very tired. I hadn't walked this much in two days since my last jaunt on the West Highland Way. I was very happy though that I wasn't wearing my big heavy Scarpa SLs. I would have been crippled by now as we were on the road section of the walk and looking at the guide it looked like tarmac pavements and roads all the way to the end. We reached St. Oswald’s Bridge, meaning that we only had about 3 miles or so as the crow flies to go to the harbour. Crossing the road here and heading for Mainholm, I phoned home, well my Ayrshire home and arranged for the Tookie Taxi back to Cumnock for Phil and me. My dad was well impressed that we had reached Auchincruive so quickly as my Uncle Les has spoke to him earlier about meeting us. I said that I would phone him when we reached Ayr proper; it's only a 20 minute drive from Cumnock to Ayr so he didn't have to leave just yet.

Plodding along the farm roads to Mainholm I was really really starting to struggle. I could feel every step on the hard roads. I think if there had been some grass or something maybe feet and legs wouldn't have been as sore. I was really starting to feel it in my calf muscles as well as my hamstrings but there was nothing for it, to the end or nothing. Death or glory and I am partial to being glorious like Tam. I think Phil sensed I was struggling a bit and slowed his pace and was more or less walking beside me instead of our usual couple of steps in front. It helped and he did point out that I had walked 40 odd miles in nearly two days. Good point. Maybe if I was fitter too I wouldn't be finding it so hard? The good news, the blister still hadn't made a re-appearance and was not even noticeable in the slightest but it was in a weird place to start with. Were reached the Mainholm Cottages and the A77, only just escaping death by stupid van driver who couldn't reverse his little van. Slight exaggeration there but he hadn't a clue what he was doing. Weaving in and out. He gave Phil and I a worry, we gave him a wide berth.

The 77 is a busy, busy road. Luckily you don't have to dodge the traffic here you walk along the pavement to the south. You cross the river on the road bridge and then take a flight of stairs down to a path along the bank. Heyzeus, in the name of the wee man and any other invocation you could think of, including several sweary words went through my head along with the jolt of pain that accompanied every step down those stairs. No pain, no foul? No pain, no glory? If I was made of lesser stuff, I would have jacked it in then but were in Holmston and Ayr properly. I could see Kyle Academy one of Ayr's many secondary schools. The south pier was calling and so was Phil. It was from this point onward that Phil was a driving force; he was a good few metres in front now and sometimes out of sight as the path followed the bends in the river. He was a magnet pulling me to the finish. I was glad of that. Focus on catching Phil and focus on the finish. Not that I had stopped enjoying the walk but there in Holmston I was struggling.

The River Ayr at Craigie

Nothing for it but to catch up on Phil. I started to pick up the pace as much as I could and started again to focus on the river and how great the weather was, fine beautiful sunshine. Anything to forget about the pains in my legs. Here there were loads of people enjoying the water. Kids splashing in the water and making use of the wide open spaces. Lots of young teams out enjoying the sun and showing off. Drinking; not buckfast but good old bottles of cider, White Lightening. Been there and done that. I caught back up with Phil at the Craigholm foot bridge that takes you over into Craigie. When I say I caught up I mean Phil waited for me. We crossed into the grounds of the Craigie Estate, now a park and the grounds of one of the campuses of the University of the West of Scotland and Ayr College itself. It's a beautiful big park and busy with families and dog walkers. The whole aspect of the walk had changed since we crossed the A77. Gone was the rural and agricultural landscape to be replaced with a townscape. No bigger contrast.

Now in the park we headed onwards, Phil taking the lead and pulling me onwards. I was walking on the grass as much as possible now. I was finding this much easier than the hard packed pavement, knowing that as soon as we passed Dam Park Stadium and reached the Victoria Bridge I would have no choice. I took advantage of the soft springy grass. We passed under the Victoria Bridge and now had only one bridge to cross and then we would be on the last, last and final leg. My legs would be happy. I always find it weird at this part of Ayr as one side of the River all the houses look to the water but the other side that back of the old town always look away from the water. I'm sure there is some old historical reason for it but it gives a feeling that this side of Ayr is almost completely separate for the high street. It has turned its back on Wallacetown. The old town wants nothing to do with this expansion across the river.

The New bridge from the Auld Brig

We passed Turner's bridge another foot bridge this one leads over into the centre of Ayr. The Auld Bridge was now fully in view, our last crossing of the river. Phil waited for me again. It was busy on this side as Ayr United must have been playing a home game over at Somerset Park. Tons of people streaming into the centre of town wearing the black and white strips. No doubt searching out their local pubs for a few pints before heading home. Either they had a good result or because the sun was shining the fans were in a good mood and in good voice. The Auld Brig was a choke point as we had to do a bit of weaving. Five in the afternoon people heading home from the shops, fans heading into town for the beer. Two tides clashing on the bridge, Phil and I in the middle. Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a town surpasses for honest men and bonie lasses. Exiting on out onto the High Street we turned right, away from the water for a bit was we negotiated the last of the shoppers and headed towards New Bridge street and the harbour beyond. I said to Phil I was surprised that I hadn't heard anyone shout 'Tookie' as we walked along the High Street; he said he was surprised too. He'd been half expecting it.

Auldest hoose in Ayr

Luckily no delays here and we crossed into the lane, the Boat Vennel that leads to one of Ayr's oldest houses, Loudon Hall. It dates back to 15th Century and was built for one of town's wealth merchants and was later a town house for the Campbells of Loudon. We passed through the little square there and out onto South Harbour Street, crossing at Fort Street and heading towards the Citadel which is what they're now calling Ayr swimming baths. Time to make that call to Tookie HQ back in Cumnock confirming that we were nearly at the end and it was time to send the Tookie Taxi down to get us. The call made I followed after Phil.

The Fort

A lot has changed down here since I was a boy and a lot has stayed the same. As with most places the industrial ness of the harbour has been replaced with houses and attractive flats and restaurants looking out of over the water. Fish are no longer landed here and all the heavy industry has been pushed elsewhere or across to the North Harbour and the dock there. The trawlers and fishing boats replaced by pleasure craft and yachts. However the ever present folly is still there. Miller's Folly is a later addition to a Cromwellian Citadel Fort that was built to help control Scotland and one of the largest made. The merchant added a corbelled turret to one of the corners, making what's left of the ruins more spectacular. If you walk about here and know what you’re looking for you can see more fingerprints of the fort.

Walking passed the new housing development and over the south dock and onto the esplanade. I'm pretty sure by this time Phil was actually at the end of the south pier. He was no longer in view. No matter I was nearly done. Just the length of the pier to go when I must have inadvertently turned on my magnet and set it to attract young drunken whallapers. I had only just stepped on to the pier when a young skelpt erse of a boy staggered over to me and asked what I was doing. I should also point out that along with his lobster looking skin his friends felt that it wasn't enough that he was sun burnt, had set about with a set of magic markers and given him a rather intriguing false makeup look. How this was going to impress his drunken girlfriend, I'm unclear or how she was still impressed with him. I responded by saying to the end of the pier. Then I was asked where I had come from; my reply was Muirkirk yesterday, I had walked all the way to here. He was drunkenly impressed. Saying it out loud I was really impressed, even if I do say so myself. Obviously he was feeling rather inadequate in front of his girl after that revelation. He asked me if I thought he could jump off the end pier. Trying to appear macho I suppose. I said he could if he wanted to but that I wouldn't. I don't think he understood that around the pier that water wasn't very deep as it was built on large rocks and boulders. He would have to jump out a fair distance first and that personally he wasn't in the best state to attempt it.

Blue on blue on blue, Arran from Ayr

Finally me and my new buddy had caught up with Phil. I explained to Phil what my buddy was wanting to try. Apparently he had seen sense and decided not to jump. Thankfully. That was it I was done. I took some photographs of the beach and Arran. There was some great views of Arran and the Ailsa Craig. Can't beat Ayrshire on a fine sunny day. Then it was time to head back to South Harbour Street and meet my dad and the Tookie Taxi home. Not before stopping off at a wee shop for a celebratory bottle of IRN BRU. I couldn't get the smile off my face and I told Phil that I was so chuffed that we had managed the 40 odd miles in just two days. I never thought I would have been able to do that. I still smile when I think I've done it in two days. For all those painfully last few miles it was well worth the effort. Two glorious days of walking through the heart of Ayrshire.

You can get the guide book we used; through my Amazon Associates link, The River Ayr Way. Also the maps that I carried just in case, Sanquhar and New Cumnock (OS Explorer Map Series) and Ayr & Troon OS Explorer Map 326