William Wallace Path at Loudoun Hill, Irvine Valley 0.5km. William Wallace’s name has long been linked with the Irvine Valley after his spectacular defeat over the English in a swift and fierce onslaught at Loudoun Hill in 1297. Look at this extinct volcanic plug and visualise Wallace and his men lying in wait at their vantage point over the Ayrshire and Lanarkshire moorland for the English baggage train making its way from Lanark to Ayr. At one time a cairn known locally as Wallace’s Cairn marked the burial place of the English soldiers but sadly this has disappeared. Robert Bruce’s defeat of the English in the Battle of Loudoun Hill in 1307 provided the turning point in his quest for Scottish freedom. A statue commemorating this important site in Scotland’s fight for freedom during the Wars of Independence has been commissioned from a local sculptor, Richard Price, and can be seen at the hill. When you reach the Public Car Park off Limekiln Road, take the William Wallace Path which will allow access to the sculpture. This internal path loop of 500m has been constructed within newly planted native species woodland on the south side of the River Irvine close to Loudoun Hill. The surrounding land is characterised by fluvioglacial sand and gravel deposits which are being worked commercially. There is strong evidence from the ground flora on the site that woodland once covered much of the river valley banks.
Cessnock Walk in the Irvine Valley 1.5km. Stroll through two attractive woodlands while you are walking in the Threepwood Farm and Burn Anne area. Burnhouse Brae and Bank Woods straddle the Burn Anne on the south side of Galston and link from the Burnhouse Bridge on the Sorn road through to the Burn Anne Bridge and the minor road on the edge of Threepwood Farm. A footbridge over the burn in Bank Wood offers alternative routes to the road. These ancient woodlands – in existence for over 250 years - are now dominated by sycamore trees. Maybe you can spot the 14 other species of trees and shrubs and attempt to guess some of the 70 species of plants nestling within the woods. Once the site of a lime stone quarry, the burn water was also used to power a mill to the south of Burnhouse Bridge using an extensive lade to route the flow of water to the mill.
The Big Wood in the Irvine Valley 4.5km. A starting point for this walk is the lay-by on the A71 between Newmilns and Galston at the Hag Bridge. The walk, as its name suggests, is a woodland walk best seen in May when bluebells form a stunning layer of blue alongside the path. On the west side of the Hag Burn is Loudoun Gowf Club, the only “gowf” course in the world, with more than 400 years of golfing history - but remnants of a Neolithic stone circle bear testimony to settlements more than 2000 years old. Loudoun Castle, now part of the Loudoun Castle Theme Park, is nearby and is accessed through the main entrance to the Theme Park on the A719. The earliest part of Loudoun Castle was built in the 1400s by the Craufurds of Loudoun and the later 1800 building, known as the Windsor of Scotland in its heyday, was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1941. Tradition has it that the Act of Union was discussed and drawn up under the Auld Yew Tree in 1707 - an imposing tree said to be 700 years old. An interesting relic is the motte and bailey remains of Arclowdun Castle, reputedly the home of William Wallace’s Mother, Margaret.
The walk itself gradually inclines through woodland and burn until you reach the gate leading to Woodhead Farm. Tread the old Lime Road and imagine the many disputes that took place between the local townspeople and the Loudoun family regarding access in the 1880s. Descend gently down the “Pit Brae” to complete this attractive woodland and pastoral walk or continue along the Lime Road catching glimpses of Newmilns below and follow the steep winding road through the leafy glade of the Devils Basin to return to Newmilns.
Dyke Walk in Irvine Valley 5km. Leaving Ranoldcoup Road Bridge in Darvel, take the steep tree lined country road curving upwards towards Dyke Farm. Catch your breath at the top and you will be rewarded with views of Darvel nestling in the Valley beneath you. Keep climbing until the path levels off before you enter an attractive wooded area of deciduous and fir, complemented by kissing gates and a bridge crossing over marshy areas. Listen for the rasping call of pheasant and keep your eyes open for weasels, squirrels and deer.When you reach the concrete road, return to Darvel winding your way down through the magnificent Lanfine Estate with its tree lined avenues. Thomas Brown, Professor of Botany at Glasgow University, inherited this estate in the 1820s and planted many exotic trees and shrubs and large areas of mixed woodland of weeping ash, weeping elm, beech, dogwood, redwood and Spanish chestnuts. The Estate is now in private ownership. If you wish to extend your walk, take the Changue Road - the ‘Mast Road’- which offers alternative road walks to link with the Long Cairn Walk towards Darvel and Loudoun Hill or the Burn Anne Walk to Galston.
Loudoun Hill Walk in the Irvine Valley 5.5km. Darvel’s famous son, Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, was born at Lochfield Farm near Darvel in 1881 and a memorial bust sits in Hastings Square, guarded at the other end by the Dagon Stone, a monolith from the Bronze Age. From here, the landmark of Loudoun Hill, Gateway to the Irvine Valley from the east, dominates the view. Head east along the Main Street towards the Cemetery Road, a fairly steep but short road that leads to the old Railway Line. This level walk is suitable for all walkers and offers clear open views of pastureland and moorland, eventually reaching Loudoun Hill. Listen for the plaintive sound of curlew and snipe along the way or catch sight of a lone buzzard searching for prey or darting sand martins catching insects on the wing. A steep road climb takes you to the foot of Loudoun Hill. Finish this walk by climbing the well-worn grassy path up Loudoun Hill 1054 ft above sea level with an end reward of panoramic views over Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, the Firth of Clyde and Arran. Look for the plaque on the summit of Loudoun Hill to commemorate Wallace’s victory of 1297. You may also see, if you look hard, the ruins of two houses – aptly named “Nae Place” and “The Back of Beyond”! For the more adventurous, the south face of Loudoun Hill provides a challenge for the most experienced of rock climbers. If the thought of climbing Loudoun Hill is too much, take a detour and have a rest at the Loudoun Hill Inn before retracing your steps back to Darvel. Say’s Physa, a freshwater snail from North America, has been found in an artificial pond at the Loudoun Hill Inn! Those looking for a long hike should carry on round the Winkingfield, past Drumboy and link with the Long Cairn Walk back to Darvel.
The Long Cairn Walk in the Irvine Valley 7km. This walk provides striking changes of scenery from woodland to pasture to moorland and can be varied to suit differing levels of fitness and the time available. Heading eastwards from Ranoldcoup Road Bridge, walk up the “Bankers” – wooded on one side and pasture on the other- to a farm track leading to Slacks Bridge near Priestland. Enjoy a tranquil stroll weaving through a narrow strip of woodland bounded by the remains of a dry-stane dyke on one side and the Gower Burn on the other. Along the way, can you recognise oak, birch, alder, thorn, cherry and ash? A mature beech of some 75ft is a prominent feature on this path. Wood anemones, celandines and primroses carpet the walk in April followed by the bluebells in May. When you leave this path by the meadow gate at Bransfield Bridge, head out on a long walk skirting past moorland where you may be able to spot skylarks and buzzards. Near Loanhead, take a break at the site of the Long Cairn, the longest in Scotland at 335 ft, with a history of some 5,000 years. This chambered cairn, although robbed and disturbed long ago, held the burial chambers for 5 long dead chieftains. Cross the stepping stones at the Ford over the Tulloch Burn and continue along this road – part of which was the old Edinburgh Road – to link with Loudoun Hill.
Grougar Walk in the Irvine Valley 7km. Pass by the Propeller, an industrial monument to Hurlford’s past, and start this leisurely riverside walk at the Hurlford Bridge. The path meanders peacefully along the River Irvine before gently sloping upwards through two small wooded areas towards the crossroads at Templetonburn Farm – a name associated with the Knights Templar of olden days. Wild irises bank this woodland stretch in early summer. The remainder of the walk hugs the river through an historic and picturesque rural area passing by the site of the hut where the Hermit,Tam Raeburn lived, and Grougar Row, a traditional row of miners’ cottages. When you reach Milton, imagine the Covenanters meeting in secret in mortal fear of the Dragoons during these troubled times. Keen birdwatchers will enjoy viewing the wild life at Burnbank Loch. Perhaps now you could take advantage of the excellent picnic areas located on the banks of the Polbaith River off the Grougar Road or you may wish to stop at Bankhead for coffee and visit the craft gallery with its picnic area and exotic birds. Before reaching the end of this enjoyable walk, spend a moment of quiet reflection at Loudoun Kirk, the traditional burial place of the Loudoun family. Founded in 1415 by Alicia in memory of her husband, Sir John Campbell of Loudoun, this ancient and sacred place is being restored and preserved by “The Friends of Loudoun Kirk”. Belgian SAS Paratroopers who trained at Loudoun Castle during the 2nd World War gifted a commemorative plaque to the Church. Follow the waymarkers to take you back into Galston or retrace your footsteps back to Hurlford.
Burn Anne Walk in the Irvine Valley 7.5km. This walk is known locally as the “Burnawn”, and an agate known as “The Burnawn stone” is found here. Start your walk at Barr Castle and you are looking at another part of the Wallace legend – pursued by English troops, he made his way to Galston and the safety of Barr Castle, a stronghold also known as Lockhart’s Tower, leaping for his freedom from one of the windows to a nearby tree. He is also reputed to have kept his men fit by playing a special handball game against the walls of the Castle – a game played by local people until the 2nd World War. Barr Castle is now a well-maintained museum containing many local artefacts. Make your way from Barr Castle for 1½ miles to Threepwood Farm on the Sorn Road. At Threepwood Farm, there is a car park, snack bar, picnic area and wildlife pond to linger over before following the route uphill for various viewpoints with impressive views over Ayrshire, Arran, Ailsa Craig and Kintyre. The route dips down towards the Target Wood where you can spend some time at the bird watchers hide and admire panoramic views of The Burn Anne which are not so easily accessible on foot. The Burn Anne Path now stretches past the East Threepwood historical site – spare a thought for Covenanter James Smith who was shot here by “Bloody Claverhouse and his Dragoons”. Follow the peaceful woodland path winding past Bankwood and Cessnock back towards Galston. If you want panoramic views over Ayrshire and Arran, it would be worth your while to take a detour uphill to the Gallow Law Cairn - the gallows being an old Scots name for “an elevated station for a view”. Make sure you take your camera and binoculars – not only to relish the scenery but also for the deer, fox, barn owl, raven, hawks and other woodland birds which make this area their home.
The 15km Irvine Valley Trail is the main route of paths linking all the Valley towns. Tackle it as a long walk or enjoy it as a series of smaller circular routes taking in each of the towns of Darvel, Newmilns, Galston and Hurlford.
From Darvel: At Priestland, start on the south side of the River Irvine, and go round the "Bankers", following a farm track from Slacks Bridge which crosses the Gower Water and skirts around Darvel, arriving at the Ranoldcoup Road Bridge in Darvel. Continue your walk along the south side of the river down the Browns Road, which runs alongside the Lanfine Estate. Once home of the Brown family, their benevolence to the Valley townspeople is shown in the three Browns Reading Institutes in Darvel, Newmilns and Galston. This is a popular riverside walk, where the overhanging branches of trees provide dappled shade for the trout and salmon in the river. Take this walk in the autumn when the river is in spate and watch the salmon leap up the Newmilns Weir on their journey east for spawning but watch out for bats swooping overhead if you are out and about in the gloaming! If you're really lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the Great Spotted Woodpecker, which has been seen along this road. Another common bird is the Dipper bobbing on a large stone or diving into the river and is a sign of the clean water in the river.The Browns Road meets Brown Street in Newmilns and you can return to Darvel via the A712 up the "Darvel Cut" as the incline towards Darvel from Newmilns is called locally. Take a break at the Gowanbank Memorial to Alexander Morton with it decorative panels of handloom and machine lace weaving and savour one of the most stunning views in the Valley looking south over the Lanfine policies of sycamore, chestnut, copper beeches and conifers which shelter pheasants and deer.
From Newmilns: Before you resume your walk from Brown Street in Newmilns towards Galson, have a short stop in Newmilns to view some of the heritage buildings in the Main Street, - The Keep in Castle Street where John Law was killed attempting to rescue Covenanters in 1685 and now a Scheduled Ancient Monument; the Town House built in 1739 with the town gaol on the ground floor; the Covenanter graves of John Nisbet and Matthew Paton in Loudoun Church graveyard. The newly renovated St Margaret's Manse often gave hospitality to Robert Burns and the Rvd Lawrie has been given credit for preventing Burns from emigrating to Jamaica. Steeped in the history of the past, head back down Brown Street and spot the 5 stained glass windows at the Royal Bank Buildings in the likenesses of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Alan Ramsay, Robert Tannahill and James Hogg. Pass by some of the Lace Mill buildings, which gave prosperity to the Irvine Valley from the late 18th to mid 20th Century. Branch right at Vesuvius and follow the tree lined riverside path past the Strath Mill, entering a woodland strip past Barrmill and reaching Galson at the Public Recreation Park.
From Galston: The final section of the Irvine Valley Trail west is along the Grougar Walk - which is more fully described elsewhere. From Barrmill Road, continue along Titchfield Street to Gas Lane and follow the footpath to the underpass at the Low Green Bowling Club. This leads to Loudoun Kirk and ends at Hurlford. An alternative route at this point, and a must for bird and wildlife watchers, is to follow the well defined fisherman's path leading to the flood plain of Holmes Loch between Galston and Hurlford. This is included in the Scottish Wildlife Trust's List of Wildlife Sites and is a wild life haven and popular area for migrating birds. Watch out for mallard ducks, gulls, lapwings (peeweets). Herons are a common sight flying over the area or standing silently at riverside pools to catch unwary fish. Retrace your steps to Galston.