First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A couple of rows of low-standing terraced cottages and a stout little harbour defended by stone breakwater walls – that’s the sum of the tiny haven of Dunure.
Setting off south along the Ayrshire Coastal Path, we passed the jagged ruin of Dunure Castle. Desperate deeds were the order of the day at the castle in lawless times past, the most infamous of them the ill-treatment of Allan Stewart, administrator of Crossraguel Abbey in 1570. When Stewart demurred at signing over his lands to the castle’s owner, the 4th Earl of Cassilis, he had his feet basted and roasted. Unsurprisingly, the document of surrender soon acquired Stewart’s signature.
The path led over coastal pastures that dipped and rose with the undulation of the cliffs. A sharp east wind stirred the nascent bluebells in the woods and ran dimpling cat’s-paws out over the sea. Across the water lay a long green bar of land, the Isle of Arran, with its mountainous head in the clouds, and away in the south-west the thousand-foot volcanic plug of Ailsa Craig rose abruptly on the horizon like an island in a Japanese painting.
Soon the path zigzagged down the cliffs to run along the shore, a strand of dark pink sand spattered with beautifully multi-coloured pebbles. We walked it slowly, watching sanderlings patter the tideline in agitated crowds. Light-bellied brent geese sailed the shallows, fuelling up for imminent flight to their breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle, and further out a couple of mergansers cruised, looking for fish to catch and hold in their saw-edged bills.
Ahead loomed Culzean Castle, the High Baronial cliff-top mansion designed by Robert Adam for the 10th Earl of Cassilis. No tales of foot-basting here; instead, the sad legend of the piper who rashly entered the caves below the castle and was never seen (or heard) again.
We climbed the steps behind the handsome old Gas House on the shore (the 3rd Marquess didn’t hold with that new-fangled invention, electricity), and followed the Long Avenue through the wooded grounds of Culzean Castle. Another curve of tide-ribbed sand led us into the harbour town of Maidens, as sun shafts pierced the clouds and crowned distant Ailsa Craig with dramatic evening light.
Start: Dunure Harbour, near Ayr, KA7 4LN (OS ref NS 255161)
Getting there: Bus 361, Ayr-Dunure; return, bus 60/360, Maidens-Ayr.
Road – Ayr is on A77 (Glasgow-Stranraer); Dunure is signed off A719 (Ayr-Girvan).
Taxi: Jamie’s Taxis, Maidens (01655-331221; 07712-864430)
Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 326): From Dunure Harbour follow Ayrshire Coastal Path/ACP signs and logo waymarks (green arrows). Pass Dunure Castle (252158); on through succession of gates and coastal fields. In 1¾ miles (247138), path zigzags down cliffs to Katie Gray’s Rocks. Left along shore (check tide times – see below!) Pass Isle Port rocks (245129) and chalet park beyond. Continue south for 2 miles around Culzean Bay to Gas House (classical building with tall industrial chimney – 234103). Up steps behind Gas House; follow Long Avenue (main estate road – white arrows/ACP logo waymarks). In ¾ mile, at Swan Pond, signs point right (224094), but keep ahead (‘Ardlochan Lodge’). At Lodge (221091), over stile; down to shore; left along beach to Maidens.
Conditions: At very high tides, access round Isle Port rocks near chalet park may be difficult. Check tide times at tidetimes.co.uk.
Lunch: Harbour View Café, Dunure (01292-500026); Dunure Inn (01292-500549); Wildings Hotel, Maidens (01655-331401)