Search Results : Ayrshire

Feb 222020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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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

Lunch: Harbour View Café, Dunure (01292-500026); Dunure Inn (01292-500549); Wildings Hotel, Maidens (01655-331401)

Accommodation: Fairfield House Hotel, Fairfield Rd, Ayr KA7 2AS (01292-267461,; Wildings Hotel, Maidens KA26 9NR (

Culzean Castle –;;

 Posted by at 04:13
Jan 202009


‘I am afraid I find the Scottish national poet no more than a king of sentimental doggerel.’

When Jeremy Paxman used that teasing phrase in his introduction to the 2008 edition of Chambers Dictionary, he found he had put his foot in a midgie’s nest. Scots were not amused.

Robert Burns (1759-1796), the ‘heaven-taught ploughman’ whose 250th anniversary falls on 25 January 2009, is a towering figure in the national psyche of Scotland. Born in a poor clay cottage, sketchily educated and with a deep-rooted aversion to authority and the high-and-mighty, fond of high jinks in bed and bar, Burns lived fast (by the standards of a small-time rural Scots farmer of his era) and died comparatively young, having used his quick-witted poetic gift to excoriate the rich and well-born, satirise politicians, glorify the nation’s heroes, and make epic comic verse out of the drunken adventures of his friends. It was the perfect CV for a national poet.

Burns was brought up in the village of Alloway just outside the county town of Ayr, in a plain-living household among rural dialect speakers, and that earthy atmosphere informs all his best poetry. The family moved about from farm to farm around the Ayr district until Burns’s father William died in 1784. Robert went to farm at Mossgiel near the village of Mauchline, where he met local belle Jean Armour, his future wife and the mother of his nine children – the legitimate ones. Burns was never able to keep his winkie in his breeks. At Mossgiel poems poured out of him, among them ‘To A Mouse’, ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’ and ‘To A Mountain Daisy’. In 1786 Burns produced his first volume, Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, which was an immediate hit with Scots of all classes. A head-turning winter in Edinburgh followed. The tall young farmer with the high forehead and big brown eyes – suddenly the darling of the chattering classes whom he had despised – would often camouflage his awkwardness by playing up his lack of polish and sophistication.

The next few years saw Burns’s best work, a flood of mock-epics, socialist polemic verse, love poetry and a torrent of songs still passionately sung by Scots today – ‘Auld Lang Syne’, ‘Green Grow the Rashes-O’, ‘Scots Wha Hae wi' Wallace bled’ and dozens more.

Burns moved to the country around Dumfries near the Solway Firth, south-east of his birthplace, in June 1788, taking up the lease of the run-down farm of Ellisland. He found the landscape inspiring (it was here he wrote his comic masterpiece ‘Tam O’Shanter’), but the farm work was back-breaking and profitless. Next year Burns started working for the Excise as a gauger or tax-collector, a job that brought him more money and security. By 1791 he had moved into Dumfries, at first to Bank Street (‘Stinking Kennel’, as it was known), then in May 1793 to a better house in Mill Street. He joined the Dumfries Volunteers, sang French Revolution songs lustily (he was reprimanded by his boss and advised to be ‘silent and obedient’), made a drunken pass at his friend Mrs Maria Riddell that caused a long-lasting rift, continued an affair with Ann Park, niece of the landlady of his favourite pub The Globe, fathered more children on both sides of the blanket, and wrote ‘My Luve is like a Red, Red Rose’, ‘Scots Wha Hae’ and ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’.

By 1796 he had burned himself out and was ill with ‘flying gout’. A sojourn at the Brow Well on the shores of the Solway, involving daily chest-high immersions in the estuary, only worsened his condition, and he died of rheumatic fever in Dumfries on 21 July 1796, aged 37. A huge procession accompanied his body to St Michael’s Church, where he was buried to the strains of Handel’s ‘Dead March’- his future status as a Scottish icon assured.

Burns Country Trail


Alloway (B7024, south outskirts of Ayr) contains the Burns National Heritage Park (01292-443700; :

  • Burns Cottage, birthplace of Robert Burns; museum with superb collection of manuscripts, letters
  • Burns Monument and gardens
  • ‘Tam O’Shanter’ sites – Tam O’Shanter Experience exhibition, Brig O’Doon, Alloway Auld Kirk with its occult gravestones

Tarbolton (B730/B744, 5 miles NE of Ayr):

  • Bachelors Club, whitewashed thatched cottage where Burns danced, drank, debated and became a Freemason (01292-541940;; signed off main street)
  • Lochlea Farm, Burns’s home 1777-1784 (off B744 just north of Tarbolton; not open to public)

Mauchline (B743, 9 miles east of Ayr):

  • Mossgiel, Burns’s farm 1784-6 (between A76 and A758; not open to public)
  • Burns House Museum, Burns’s first married home (01290-550045; Castle Street)
  • Poosie Nansie’s Tavern, Burns’s local – actually a brothel in his day; the pub was across the road (Castle Street)
  • Mauchline Kirk where Burns did public penance for fornication; kirkyard has headstones and plaques of many locals immortalised in Burns’s poems, including Poosie Nansie, Godly Bryden, the Gallant Weaver, Holy Wullie and more (Castle Street)
  • Burns Memorial Tower on A76 near Mossgiel (occasionally open; 01290-550045)

Kirkoswald (A77, 12 miles south of Ayr):

  • Souter Johnnie’s Cottage, thatched house of ‘souter’ or cobbler John Davidson whom Burns featured in Tam O’Shanter (0844-493-2147;


Dumfries (A75)

  • Robert Burns House, Burns’s last home; museum with mementoes, manuscripts etc. (01387-255297;; Burns Street)
  • Robert Burns Centre; permanent exhibition on Burns’s life in Dumfriesshire (01387-264808;; Mill Road)
  • Burns Mausoleum, St Michael’s Churchyard (St Michael’s Street)
  • Burns’s first Dumfries home, now a flat (plaque on wall; private; above Burns Café, Bank Street)
  • Globe Inn, Burns’s favourite pub (Globe Inn Close, off High Street)

Ellisland (signed off A76, 5 miles north of Dumfries)

  • Ellisland Farm, Burns’s home 1788-91; museum, contemporary farming display, walks (01387-740426;

Ruthwell (B725, 7 miles SE of Dumfries)

  • Brow Well, 1 mile east of Ruthwell (signed), where Burns sought a cure for his final illness

Burns Fact File


  • Excellent B&B in Burns Country: Heughmill, Craigie, by Kilmarnock, Ayrshire KA1 5NQ (01563-860389;, from £70 dble B&B
  • Friendly welcome near Dumfries: Chipperkyle, Kirkpatrick Durham, Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway DG7 3EY (01556-650223), £90 dble B&B


Ayr and district: OS Landranger 70, Explorer 326, 327

Dumfries and district: Landranger 84, Explorer 313


World Burns Night, traditionally on 25 January, the bard’s birthday, will be a World Burns Weekend on 24/25 January. Celebrations include

  • Ayrshire: Burns Night Supper, 22 Jan, at Burns National Heritage Park, Alloway (
  • Glasgow: Celtic Connections music festival with Burns flavour in Clyde Auditorium (
  • Dumfries: Burns Light, 25 January – lantern procession, fire show, ceilidh (
  • Edinburgh: World Burns Night celebrated at National Library of Scotland (

More on Burns 250 celebrations:

Burns in the Bookshop

  • Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns (Geddes & Grosset)
  • The Life of Robert Burns by Catherine Carswell (Canongate Classics)
  • On The Trail Of Robert Burns by John Cairney (Luath Press) – 5 Burns tours

Burns Online



 Posted by at 00:00