Ayr Gorge Woodlands, Ayrshire

In a little hamlet called Failford, Ayrshire, Scotland, there’s a woodland river walk at the Ayr Gorge Woodlands Wildlife Reserve. It’s a beautiful ancient woodland of oak, ash and beeches, and red sandstone cliffs along the River Ayr.

The walk is only a small section of the River Ayr Way, one of Scotland’s Great Trails, a source to sea long distance path of around 44 miles. It follows the River Ayr from its source at Glenbuck Loch to the Firth of Clyde at Ayr harbour.

I visited here for the first time in October 2022 and knew I would be back to explore more of the paths that I missed the last time. I’d read on the information board about two large beech trees and a longer figure of eight route. I was excited to see the two large beeches as I love being around ancient trees, or any trees in fact!

I also love to return to places when I feel I haven’t explored all the paths. My curious mind takes over as I want to know where a path leads, which could also be dangerous sometimes, so I need to be sensible too.

There’s a small lay-by across from a bus stop which has room for a few cars, so I started out early hoping to easily get a parking space. The last time it was full and I had to drive past, find a turning space and go back and forth a few times until a space appeared. This day was perfect as I was the first car parked which helped ease any parking stress.

I knew which way to go this time, so I crossed the road, passed the Failford Inn and walked over the road bridge to where the walk started.

Start of the Ayr Gorge Woodlands walk

It was 9:30am and I couldn’t believe that my spur of moment ‘get out of bed early and go’ was happening to be honest. The hardest part is battling with my indecisive mind saying things like “I’m too tired” or “it’s too cold.”

A soon as I walked into the woodlands I was so glad I was there and not still in bed. A cute little bridge was calling me to cross over into another dimension that would fully awaken my senses and take away any tiredness I felt an hour earlier.

The magic of nature was just across this bridge!

Bridge to Ayr Gorge Woodlands

I quickly reached the information board about the woodland walk and studied the map to understand which way I should go.

As the illustrated map is drawn the opposite way from the direction as I was standing, my brain was easily confused. I wanted to flip it around so I could follow it the way I would walk. I took photo so I could do this and also in case I got lost later.

In hindsight, I should have looked for a more detailed route map online or brought an ordnance survey map with me. I have a habit of getting myself lost sometimes.

Information about the Ayr Gorge Woodlands Wildlife Reserve

As I was climbing up the steep wooden steps, I had to stop for a moment. I was still feeling breathless with inclines. I hope with more regular walking this will improve as I’m walking the Glasgow Kiltwalk with my sister this month.

Giant steps

I reached the top of the steps and walked through the exposed tree roots towards a bench, keeping left onto the main path.

Tree root path

On the main path there was another information sign below, which mentions information about veteran trees and a photo of the two beech trees, just what I was looking for! From the information sign I turned right this time which quickly looped round left to a higher path through the woodlands.

Information sign

Keeping to the right, it was a steep incline. I eventually reached a flatter path where it was much easier to wander along. I was excited walking somewhere new again and there was not a soul in sight!

High woodland path

It was just me, the birds chirping away and an echoing drilling sound of a woodpecker now and then. At first I didn’t know what the drilling sound was and I had to look it up.

Have a listen for yourself and you’ll hear the woodpecker as well. Nature’s music is calming.

Audio of birds and a woodpecker

When I’m out walking I never listen to music or podcasts with earplugs in. I want to hear everything around me. It was the same when I used to go out running, music just didn’t work for my brain and stressed me out. It feels like too much noise in my head.

An inviting trodden path off the main path caught my eye.

Narrow path into the woodlands

The small patch of green grass ahead was calling me to sit there for a while, but I walked on and planted a seed in my mind that I’ll explore this the next time.

That seed in my mind was growing quickly, so a few weeks later I was back one evening after work and found out that this led to another trail through the woods, parallel to the path I was walking on.

I turned round a corner to see the warm golden light of our sun shining through the woods and lighting up the path ahead of me.

Sunset at Ayr Gorge Woodlands

It was a goosebumps moment and I felt lucky to be there at that moment in time, absolutely gorgeous.

Two beech trees

Back to my main walk, I arrived at the two beech trees.

I was saddened to see one of these beauties was chopped down though. I literally felt tears welling up in my eyes as I stood there in disbelief.

I was imagining what it would be like when the branches were covered with leaves, creating an arched canopy to walk under, moving into a magical woodland realm. I’ll never get to see this now.

The two beech trees

I know there must be a genuine reason for it being felled, but it’s still sad to see an ancient tree gone. Now there’s only one standing, a giant guardian of the path.

The lonely beech tree

With a sigh in my breath, I walked on passing the now ‘lonely beech tree’ and continued following the high path.

Woodland path
Woodland path

The high path eventually came to an end with views of the open countryside. The only way to go now was downwards towards the River Ayr.

Countryside views

I soon reached another set of steps that took me down to the riverside. Spring was sprouting its new beginnings, showing the green leaves of wild garlic everywhere.

The Woodland Trust link above says:

“Wild garlic is an ancient-woodland-indicator plant.

If you spot it while you’re out exploring, it could be a sign you’re standing in a rare and special habitat.”

Woodland Trust

Wow, I didn’t realise wild garlic was so special when you see it.

Another local woodlands I love to wander is Dundonald’s ancient woodlands. The wild garlic along the Smugglers’ Trail and other paths is such a beautiful sight.

I foraged garlic leaves once and tried to make a wild garlic pesto sauce. It didn’t turn out so well as I didn’t like the smelly Parmesan cheese suggested in the recipe. If there’s a next time, I will try a different recipe.

As I walked along the path it was also lined with wild garlic leaves in their abundance! I could now smell the scent of garlic all around me (nicer than Parmesan cheese!).

Soon there will be a white carpet of flowers.

Wild garlic leaves

I noticed a similar type of leafed plant throughout the woods mixed in with the wild garlic. At first I thought it might be wild garlic but it wasn’t.

I sometimes use my PictureThis App to identify plants and trees and the one below is called ‘great wood-rush’, also known as ‘shadow grass’. The App information says in the wild, golden eagles use great-wood rush leaves to line their nest.

Checking this has made me think how important it is to make sure you choose the right one.

Great-wood rush

I stopped at the river for a while to watch the calming reflections in the water.

Pretty patterns were appearing in front of my eyes and I was thinking they looked very artistic. I can imagine creative artists must look for patterns in nature for inspiration.

I was certainly inspired by these ones. When I zoom into the patterns deeper there’s a lot happening there. I keep seeing faces and strange looking creatures that could be characters for a story book.

Tree reflections in the water

Watch a video clip of the moving reflections and shimmering shapes:


I was loving seeing all the different character trees, especially the huge ones with green mossy trunks and lots of arms!

Green mossy tree leaning into the river
Lots of arms on this tree beside the river
Character tree. Can you see the face?

I stood still on the path for a moment and suddenly I heard a rustling noise. I turned to look and saw a roe deer zig-zagging through the woods up to higher ground towards the high path where I’d walked previously.

I saw another deer about five minutes later, but it was possibly the same one. One of the information boards said it was rare to see a Roe deer in daylight, so I felt lucky to see one, even if it was only the back of it.

I love unexpected moments like this. There are times when I can’t capture everything I see with my phone camera as it happens in an instant. These moments are stored in my brain, and hopefully not the part that can forget.

Next it was a steep climb back up more steps. These must have been made for giants I thought, as I lifted my short legs higher and wider than they are used to. They were so high!

Giant steps

Thankfully my legs made it to the top and I was now walking back towards the lonely beech tree. It was around 11:30am and I wasn’t alone now.

A family passed me on the path and I met other people along the way. It’s usually always a friendly smile and hello when I see people out walking in nature, which is lovely.

I remember one time though, I was out walking in the woods and stopped to say hello to a dog that approached me with its owners. I can’t remember the exact words now, but the woman said something like “I don’t like people and only like my dog”.

The man with her just looked at me and didn’t say anything. It was an awkward moment as I never expected it. I think I said something like “no worries, each to their own, enjoy your walk”, smiled and walked on. Everyone is different and I totally respect that. I must admit, I do like alone time and sometimes don’t feel like talking.

After the lonely beech tree I took a different path to the right which goes downwards to the riverside again.

Back at the lonely beech tree

I knew where I was now as I walked this part of the trail the last time. Once I reached the riverside I took a right turn to visit Peden’s Cove.

Peden’s Cove

A couple was walking behind me going in the same direction and I made a joke that we couldn’t go any further as the first sign said “No juniors beyond this point”.

Peden’s Cove

Peden’s Cove, also known as Peden’s Pulpit, are sandstone steps that are thought to date from the 17th century.

They were carved out for the Covenanter minister Alexander Peden to preach to his congregation on the other side of the River Ayr. He was legendary for his premonitions and was often referred to as Prophet Peden.

Alexander preached far and wide, mostly around the south and west of Scotland. He was on the run from the law as he was preaching illegally and wore a mask and wig to disguise himself. When he was travelling he would sleep in caves and shelters to avoid capture.

You can still see Alexander’s mask disguise at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. I’ll need to visit the museum as I haven’t been before. I would love to spend a leisurely day there.

Read more about the history of Alexander Peden on Wikipedia. Quite a story about his life!

Information board about Peden’s Cove
Sandstone steps at Peden’s Cove

It is recommended not to climb up the steps to protect this vulnerable historic monument. The sandstone is wearing and can also be slippery in wet or icy weather.

Sandstone rock and steps

Listening to the flowing water I was thinking about the preacher and wondered what he would have said in his speeches.

River Ayr at Peden’s Cove

Would Alexander Peden’s voice be heard across the water? I nervously shouted “hello” to check if my voice echoed, and it did. I felt a little silly and was relieved no one shouted back!

Alexander’s voice would have carried further though, as he preached from the top of the steps.

Shouting hello across the water

As the cove is a dead end I walked back the way I came and followed the river, stopping now and then to take photos.

When I returned here on the evening I mention earlier, the reflections of the sandstone cliffs were like a water painting in the making.

Water painting
Trees, logs, river and sandstone cliffs across the water
River Ayr

I watched two ducks, male and female, swimming down the water quite happily together. Their flow was soon interrupted at a higher rocky section of the riverbed, making them walk a little, then swim again.

I have a short video clip of the ducks on TikTok. It’s not the clearest clip as I was zoomed in. It was funny to watch and the audio I used from the ‘Finding Nemo’ movie made me laugh.

Highland Mary Monument

After I came out of the woodlands I noticed a sign for the Highland Mary Monument. I was curious about who Mary was as she was mentioned on one of the information signs I saw earlier. I crossed the road and it was a quick incline up more steps to the Monument.

Mary Campbell, also known as Highland Mary, had a brief affair with Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. It is thought that they exchanged bibles and had traditional Scottish matrimonial vows on the banks of the River Ayr, here in Failford.

The sandstone column reads:

Near this spot
Robert Burns and Highland Mary
took their last farewell
14th May 1786

Highland Mary Monument

Sadly Mary died really young at the age of 23, possibly from Typhus. Read more about Mary Campbell (Highland Mary) on Wikipedia.

Highland Mary Monument inscription

The inscription reads:

That sacred hour can I forget
Can I forget the hallowed grove
Where by the winding Ayr we met
To live one day of parting love

Robert Burns wrote a few poems about Mary Campbell which you can read on the Robert Burns website:

When you read the poems you can tell he really cared about her.

Highland Mary information board

It was a 7km/4mile walk all in, with steep inclines, uneven ground and giant steps. I loved it though! I’ve learned a lot about the history of this area as well.

This was also good walking training for the Glasgow Kiltwalk this month. I’m walking 14 miles with my sister to raise funds for Ayrshire Cancer Support, a local charity that provides free help and support to people in Ayrshire affected by cancer.

Having a goal like this has helped me get back out walking again. It’s the best natural medicine there is!

Have a lovely Easter Sunday everyone.

Thanks for reading.

Dawn-Marie x

2 thoughts on “Ayr Gorge Woodlands, Ayrshire

  1. Hi Dawn Marie. I really enjoyed your walk. Your descriptions and photos transport the reader to join you. You made me smile too. The woman who ‘doesn’t like people’ (each to their own) and the (unintentionally) hilarious video of you shouting ‘hello’ across the water.
    Happy Easter to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, thank you so much for your lovely comment. It makes me smile that you smiled 🙂

      I loved walking there and finding out more about the area and local history. I was so curious about the acoustics at Peden’s Cove I just had to try shouting something 🙂

      Thank you, Happy Easter to you too.


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