A Short Walk
Around Ayr Town
would suggest parking on the esplanade as it is free and usually easy
to find a space. The further away from the town centre the easier it
is and you might even start the walk up at the Seafield end and take
the opportunity of walking the measured ‘Lang Scots Mile’ (1984 yards
rather than the 1760 yards used nowadays). Either way, you need to
find your way to the junction between Cromwell Road and the Esplanade,
opposite the Horizon Hotel. From this point, cross the Esplanade and
you can see the old Citadel wall running North and parallel with the
shore. You are at the right-hand corner in the drawing above walking
down towards the front corner.
the citadel was first built the sea used to wash up against part of
its walls and with the river on one side and the sea on the other, it
must have been a mighty looking fortress indeed. It occupied some 10
to 12 acres and was very expensive to complete. It is said that when
Cromwell saw the bill he asked if it was made of gold. But why did
Cromwell build a citadel in Ayr?
I, son of James VI of Scotland and I of England, was very heavy handed
with his religious views. He tried to force English forms of worship
onto the Scottish Church (which was Presbyterian) but the Scots drew
up a Petition, the National Covenant, rejecting his demands. Charles
went to war with the ’Covenanters’ in 1639 but was forced to make
peace. At the outbreak of the English Civil War therefore, many Scots
initially supported the
revolt against Charles I. A short while after Charles’ major defeat at
the battle of Naseby, he surrendered to the Scots but instead of
receiving sanctuary he was returned to the English. Charles had,
however, many sympathisers in Scotland and having promised the Scots
that he would respect their religious demands, made a second royalist
rising with Scots and Welsh help but all were defeated by Cromwell’s
new model army and Charles was finally captured. He was tried and
executed in 1649.
There was still considerable unrest and
revolt in Ireland as well as Scotland and Wales and in 1649 Cromwell
took his army into Ireland to put down the unrest once and for all. He
was so ruthless in his actions in Ireland that he is hated there to
this day. Many Scots were deeply distressed by the execution of
Charles and there were still many Catholics in Scotland. In addition,
many were unhappy with the new government who were seen as consisting
largely of fanatics and aristocrats. When Prince Charles, the son of
Charles I and future Charles II, took the covenant and claimed to be
an ardent Presbyterian, the Scots sided with him and took arms against
the English. Cromwell hurried back from Ireland with his army and
crossed the border into Scotland with 20,000 men. The two sides met at
Dunbar and against the odds and through superb generalship Cromwell
achieved a decisive win.
the battle, Cromwell went on to overrun the lowlands and much of
central Scotland but when he was in Perth in 1651 he learnt that
Prince Charles had slipped past him and was marching rapidly down into
England. By an amazing forced march, Cromwell, with 30,000 men,
reached Evesham 60 miles from Worcester and again his skill as a
soldier brought him a complete and devastating victory which finally
brought an end to the Civil War. Cromwell left the rest of the
conquest of Scotland to General George Monck who arranged the
construction of five citadels at Leith, Perth, Inverness, Inverlochy
and of course, here in Ayr, that would hold large garrisons and
enforce law and order and control the power of the nobles and Church.
the citadel wall then go around the housing area and reconnect with
the wall near the Citadel Swimming Baths. Bear right to follow the
wall alongside the baths. You can see the clear shape of the bastions
here on one complete side of the citadel.
you walk on passed the baths to the corner by the harbour you will see
a small tower like structure, a bartizan, projecting from the wall.
This is ‘Miller’s Folly’ and was built in the second half of the
19th-century by an eccentric called 'Baron' John Miller.
Cross the road to the river’s edge and have a
good look at the harbour, which is now very quiet compared to it’s
The 3rd Statistical Account of Scotland,
Ayrshire, tells us that "in the Middle Ages Ayr was the chief Scottish
port on the west coast". In the 18th century, tobacco, sugar and rum
from America and the West Indies formed part of a thriving trade
passing through the port and large wooden ships were being built on
the North side for the tobacco trade. In the 19th century, fine
clipper ships were being built for the East India Company. However,
shipbuilding collapsed with the introduction of iron vessels and only
small paddle vessels were built by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company on
the South side which had to be towed to Troon for engine fitting. Ayr
could no longer compete with the new ports further up the Clyde
including Ardrossan and Troon with the harbour suffering constant
problems with river silting. In the 1950s, the harbour still handled a
half of the coal exports to Ireland as well as a reasonable amount of
fishing traffic. Now there is only some timber, salt, coal and scrap
metal traffic through the harbour.
towards the town, across the roundabout and pass to the right of
Dante’s bar into a pedestrian area with Loudon Hall on your right.
This house dates from the 15th century and is one of the oldest houses
in Ayr or any Scottish burgh. Mary Queen of Scots stayed in Loudoun
Hall in August 1563. The earliest recorded owners were the Tait
family, wealthy local ship-owners, who sold it to the Campbells of
Loudoun, who gave the house it’s name, then in turn to the Moore
family. The house declined in subsequent years until it was saved from
demolition by Lord Bute in 1937. In 1952, under the guidance of the
architect Robert Hurd, the building was restored and opened as a
cultural centre for Ayr.
through to the main road and cross by the pelican crossing. Turn left
to cross the Bridge. On the New Bridge you have a fine view to the
right of the Auld Brig, built in the late 1400s to replace a timber
bridge dating from the 13th century. Carry on across the New Bridge
then turn right then right again to cross the Auld Brig, where you get
a fine view of the New Bridge. This was built in 1878 to replace the
old New Bridge built to a Robert Adams design but much changed by the
builders. In the ‘Twa Brigs’, Robert Burns has the old brig telling
the new brig (before it was replaced), "I'll be a brig when you're a
useless cairn". Not just a poet but a bridge expert as well!
Carry on off the Auld Brig and into Old
Bridge Street which leads to the main High Street. Turn left and as
you walk along you will see a statue on your right across the road of
a man holding a fish. This commemorates the location of the old fish
market in Ayr.
few yards further on, cross the road and enter Newmarket Street, near
the ‘Sub Urbia’ bar. Look up to your right, and you will see a statue
of William Wallace. This is probably near the location of the old
Laigh Tolbooth where Wallace was held prisoner after being captured by
the English. Being fed on nothing but herring and water, Wallace lost
his strength and became so weak that the guards eventually thought he
was dead. They threw his body onto a rubbish heap. His nursemaid heard
what had happened and went and found the body and realising he was not
dead revived him back to health.
Carry on up the High Street to the very
obvious Wallace Tower. This is an
imposing 115 feet high tower on the edge of the high Street. It was
built in 1832 after the previous Tower gave way. The previous Tower
was also called the Wallace tower but had nothing to do with William
Perhaps the most famous story connecting
Wallace with Ayr is the ‘burning of the barns’. In 1297, Ayr castle
was in English hands and a large English garrison, too many for the
castle, was billeted in the timber barns which were used to store
grain (believed to be close to the location of the current Wallace
Tower). The English Sheriff of Ayr, Percy, invited a number of
Scottish noblemen to come to the barns to discuss their grievances. As
they arrived one by one they were captured and hung. When Wallace
heard of this, he came to Ayr with some of his men. With the English
garrison busy celebrating their day's work Wallace and his men quietly
disposed of any guards and piled up dry wood and straw around the
buildings and set them alight. The barns quickly started to burn
furiously and those English soldiers who managed to escape the burning
building were quickly dispatched by Wallace's men waiting outside.
When the soldiers in the castle came out to help their comrades,
Wallace slipped in and captured it.
Nobody is really sure exactly where Ayr
Castle was located but it was probably at the eastern corner of
Cromwell's citadel. Ayr castle was built by William the Lion at the
turn of the 13th century and Ayr itself was erected into a Royal burgh
in about 1205. The castle was very important and had a colourful life,
being torched by Robert the Bruce in 1299, being repaired and then
captured by the English in 1306 then retaken by Bruce in 1314. It was
garrisoned by French forces after the death of James the fifth in 1542
and was ruined by the mid-1600s finally being demolished when the
citadel was built in 1659.
left at the Wallace Tower past the site of the Old Priory on your left
and the site of the Dominican Monastery of Black Friars. Carry on
through towards the river and Turner’s Bridge, donated to the town by
Mr A.M. Turner in 1900. Bear left at the bridge (do not cross it) back
towards the Auld Brig. Follow the riverside and you will arrive at the
Auld Kirk graveyard and church (St.John the Baptist). Bear left
through the church yard towards the church and notice the grave of the
Covenanter Martyrs. These men "suffered martyrdom at Ayr on 27th
December 1666 for their adherence to the word of God and Scotland’s
Covenanted work of reformation".
church, the ‘Auld Kirk’, is actually the new church build to replace
the old church that was demolished as it was located inside the new
citadel. Cromwell is supposed to have ordered 1000 merks to be paid
towards the construction of the new replacement church. It’s location
is on the site of an old Grey Friars, or Franciscan, Monastery dating
Leave the church yard via the lynchgate
dating from 1656 and look out for the mortsafes as you pass through.
In the 18th and 19th centuries there were insufficient corpses for the
teaching of anatomy in medical schools since, by law, only the corpses
of convicted criminals could be used. As a result grave-robbing was
rife with 'resurrectionists' being paid good money to dig up freshly
buried bodies and
them to the medical schools. Various methods were used to protect the
bodies and ‘mortsafes’ or 'watch boxes' were the most common. This was
an iron grid or cage either placed over the coffin or set in mortar
above ground to cover the whole area of the grave. Those who couldn't
afford a mortsafe sometimes used communal mortsafes or placed huge
coffin-shaped pieces of stone or metal (called jankers) on new graves
down to the High Street and cross straight over. Turn right then left
up Newmarket Street which will lead you to Sandgate which you cross
and turn slightly left then right into St. John’s Street. This will
take you to Fort Street which you cross and enter Citadel Place. Keep
on the right-hand side and turn right down Citadel Lane. About 100
yards down you will see the top of the Citadel Gate. This was the main
gate to the fort. Return to Citadel Place and carry on right to St.
John’s Tower clearly visible ahead. The church and tower dates to the
early 14th century. On the 26th April, 1315, the Scottish Parliament
was convened in St. John's Kirk. It was agreed that Robert the Bruce
would be succeeded by Edward Bruce, Robert’s brother, thus ensuring
the Bruce family succession to the throne.
The church was demolished by Cromwell’s men
to construct the citadel but the tower was retained as an armoury
store and lookout tower.
Turn left along Bruce Crescent then left onto
Cassillis Street. Cross over to the right-hand side of the road and
when you meet Charlotte Street, turn right then right again down the
cobbled Cromwell Road back to where you started.
Let us know if you do this walk.