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 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
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’.
The official path at the start is slightly over grown so we had to walk down on to the beach at some points.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Enjoy some photos of the first half of the trail.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Wow! What an amazing find … maybe smugglers did carry gold to the castle after all …
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.
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.
Now imagine your feet crunching through the fallen autumn leaves … enjoy the sounds of gold, yellow, orange and brown.
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 …
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.
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!
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!