Smugglers’ Trail to Dundonald Castle

Let there be smugglers travelling through our woodlands … a place where it wasn’t safe to explore back in the days …

I so love walking in the woods and getting lost. Do you? Many years ago people would never venture into the woods for fear of the unknown. What could the unknown be? Wild animals, highwaymen or scary tales of ghosts and witches told over the centuries.

The Smugglers’ Trail is a 8-10km walk in Ayrshire, Scotland, from the Troon coast to Dundonald Castle. It can take around two hours one way. You can also walk the trail in reverse. I’ve walked parts of this trail many times with friends, but this year was the first time I’d walked the official route from coast to castle.

Watch my new video of the Smugglers’ Trail

I created this video in August 2018:

The trail

The trail starts at south beach car park in Troon and passes through the interesting places below. My friend and I walked the trail in September 2016.

  • Royal Troon Golf Course
  • The Wrack Road
  • Crosbie Kirk
  • Crosbie Castle
  • Fullarton House
  • Collennan Reservoir
  • Merkland Loch
  • Dundonald Wood
  • Dundonald Castle and Visitor Centre
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Smugglers’ trail

It’s well signposted but I do feel the signs should be painted a bright colour to catch your eye! At some points of the trail it was like a new game ‘find the post’.

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Start of the trail
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Troon beach
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Troon beach

The official path at the start is slightly over grown so we had to walk down on to the beach at some points.

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The trail
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Steps on the beach
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Troon beach
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Daisies on the beach

It looks like someone thought they were stranded on a desert island. It was a great wee creative den but the beach looked messy with the junk that was lying around.

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Den on Troon beach
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Driftwood on Troon beach

We seemed to be walking along the beach for a while and I couldn’t see the next signpost. I thought we’d missed the exit.

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Military plane

Eventually we spied the shape of another signpost that took us away from the coast and crossed through the Royal Troon Golf Course.

I know you can’t read this signpost, but I love how this photo has turned out. It looks like we were taking the path to the clouds!

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Signpost to the sky

We stopped a few times when we were crossing the golf course. We didn’t want to interrupt the golfers taking their important shots. It was a little confusing what way to go. I always think if in doubt, go straight on. That usually works for me.

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Crossing the golf course

Enjoy some photos of the first half of the trail.

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Through the golf course
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The trail
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The trail
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The trail
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The trail
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Fullarton woods
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The trail
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The trail
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Lush green fields and trees

I didn’t take many photos of the first half of the trail and missed some important places of interest such as the Crosbie Kirk and Crosbie Castle ruin. How could I! I think too much talking was going on.

After walking through Fullarton woods we came to the footpath that takes you to the village of Loans. There is an old map on the Loans website that shows a small settlement being called Lons. It dates back to 1654.

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The road to Loans

If you feel like a rest and your tummy is rumbling for some food the Old Loans Inn is a great place for something to eat and drink. Although very tempting, just remember not stay there all day, there’s smuggling to be done!

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Old Loans Inn (from the back)

We walked through and out of the village. The path alongside the road was narrow with traffic driving past us really fast. At some points we had to walk in single file.

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Leaving Loans village

It wasn’t long until we spotted the now familiar signpost. It was standing tall beside a bus stop. Now this doesn’t mean you jump on the next bus home by the way … the best of the walk has yet to come!

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Walk or bus?

We arrived at my favourite part of the trail, Dundonald woods. This designated ancient woodlands is covered in elm, ash and larch. It has been a Site of Special Scientific Interest since 1975.

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The trail

On both sides of the trail, although you can’t see them, there are operating quarries. Sometimes this can interrupt the peacefulness that you would expect when you are deep in the woods. I’ve taken photos of this area in all seasons. It’s a beautiful walk.

After a small incline we reached Collennan Reservoir. The reservoir used to supply water to the houses of Troon until the 1960s. It’s now used by Troon Angling Club.

There’s a bench where you can rest for a while if you want. On a clear day you can enjoy views across the Firth of Clyde to the Isle of Arran. The water in the reservoir was so still casting reflections of the clouds above. It’s so quiet and peaceful here, I love it.

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Collennan Reservoir
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Collennan Reservoir and view to Arran
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Fisherman at Collennan Reservoir
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The trail
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The trail

Moss covered drystone walls are plentiful walking through this part of the trail. I wonder how old they are?

Most of them seem to be standing the test of time. It really impresses me how people carried these heavy rocks and placed them on top of each other like a jigsaw puzzle.

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Drystone wall

The next part of our adventure was a curious one indeed. We heard a rustling noise and then thought we’d seen some suspicious looking figures hiding behind a huge tree!

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Smuggler alert!
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Smuggler or pirate?
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Oh Argh!

We both started to walk a bit faster keen to pass these strange characters lurking around. Then I was curious … so we walked back to the tree to check what was really going on. I seen something in the nook of the tree shimmering in the sunlight. It was treasure!

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Treasure!

Wow! What an amazing find … maybe smugglers did carry gold to the castle after all …

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Gold coins

 Smuggling trade

The 18th century smuggling trade in Ayrshire was the most successful in Scotland. It was organised by David Dunlop, Loans Smuggling Company.

The years before 1765, tea, brandy, wine, rum and tobacco were bought in from the Isle of Man and shipped to Troon by wherry. After this time goods came from Europe. 16 small boats were anchored on the beach at all times to unload the cargo. When news travelled that a wherry was arriving at Troon local men with up to 500 horses would be waiting on the beach to carry the goods inland as quickly as possible. One route was through the Dundonald Glen, known as the Smugglers’ Trail.

If you’re interested in finding out more you can purchase the Smugglers of Kyle booklet by Frances Wilkins for only £3 at the Dundonald Castle Visitor Centre.

David Dunlop now rests in the graveyard at Dundonald Parish Church.

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Dundonald Parish Church
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Graveyard, Dundonald Parish Church

Back to the trail

Phew! We survived to tell the tale and carried on with our journey.

Merkland loch is off the main trail, I’ve only been once. Don’t be fooled, this might look like a field of long lush grass but there is water in there and these are reeds. In winter it was used by locals for curling.

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Merkland loch

Now imagine your feet crunching through the fallen autumn leaves … enjoy the sounds of gold, yellow, orange and brown.

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The trail
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The trail
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The trail
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Dundonald Burn

Ahh, there it was hiding on the hill, the castle. I could only just see the Scotland flag blowing in the wind. We were almost there. There was no visible path this way though …

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The castle
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Reaching Dundonald
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Path to the castle
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The castle

We reached the castle and stunning it was. We sat outside the cafe and enjoyed a coffee and a scone. A snack and view fit for a queen.

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To the castle

Our journey didn’t end there though as we had to walk another 5-6k to pick up my car. We’d left my friend’s car at Troon and I was going to drive her back to get it. We walked almost 18km that day!

View 360 photos of Dundonald

More stories from Dundonald

This post was originally a little bit longer, including stories about Old Auchans House and Dundonald Castle. These can now be found in new posts with some updated photos and stories.

Thanks for reading!

Dawn-Marie x

 

10 Replies to “Smugglers’ Trail to Dundonald Castle”

  1. I am from Michigan in the US and have traced my heritage to David Dunlop. This is very interesting to me. I will be visiting Scotland in May 2018 and would very much like to visit the area and hike the Smugglers Trail. This is a very nice visual description of the trail.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Douglas!

      Wow, that’s amazing you can trace your family back to David Dunlop. You’ll love visiting Dundonald, the castle and the trail. I’ve still to write a bit more about this area and I was planning on splitting this post up into three, Smugglers’ Trail, Dundonald Castle and Old Auchans House.

      David Dunlop is resting in the graveyard in the village of Dundonald. There’s so much history here. I loved walking the trail as if I was following the footsteps of those before us.

      Thanks for reading and I’m pleased you liked it.

      Have a wonderful time when you visit 🙂

      Thanks
      Dawn-Marie

      Like

  2. Thanks for this. The photos are lovely and I hope will aid our journey today. We’re setting out this wet, windy March day to do the trail. Hopefully, the weather will improve as we go along.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for reading Janice. Such a shame the weather isn’t great today. I hope you find your way to the castle for a warm cuppa. I’d recommend going back on a nicer day, especially May when the bluebells are out. Let me know how you get on 🙂

      Like

  3. Great post. I love the sound of this walk – beach, woodland and castles – what’s not to love?
    Although what I’m not too keen on is all that rubbish on the beach, so sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Mel! You’re right, it does seem to cover it all :). It annoys me too when I see a mess of rubbish everywhere.Even in the woodlands it was lying around :(.

      Liked by 1 person

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