A Short Walk
Around Ayr Town

I 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.

When 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?

Charles 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 Protestant 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.

After 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.

Follow 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.

As 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 past glories.

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.


Walk 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.

Continue 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.

A 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 Wallace.

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.

Turn 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".

This 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 from 1481.

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 deliver 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 .

Walk 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.
 

 

 

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