A Burners Guide to (some of) the Historic Landmarks of the Pennyglen Loop
One of our most popular and commonly-used routes is a loop of Pennyglen, preferably clockwise, returning back to Ayr along the coast road with stunning coastal views. While we’re typically concerned with PBs or worrying about the next hilly section, we actually pass (and totally miss) loads of historic sites without realising it. So a big thank you to our very own Bill McCrae (aka Auld Licht) for taking the time to document these for us here. It’ll certainly add a new perspective the next time we’re on the circuit.
Beginning at The Cottage car park, Alloway –
Burns Cottage/Burns Monument/Alloway Auld Kirk/Auld Brig o’ Doon
The big Burnsiana. Whole books have been written about them, so I won’t try to do them justice. For cyclists, two less frequented landmarks, just off the main road, with macabre references in Tam o’ Shanter, are –
The Cairn, Cairn Crescent, off Cambusdoon Drive (“Whaur hunters fand the murdered bairn”)
The original Cairn was a prehistoric burial barrow. The current was put up by the house developers.
Mungo’s Well, on the cycle path, north end of the old rail bridge (“Whaur Mungo’s mither hang’d hersel”)
Burns was taking poetic licence. It was not a well as in a hole with frame and bucket, and there was no suicide. It was a welling up, a spring, dedicated to St Mungo. Such springs were full of meaning to Celts and early Christians. Close to the Pennyglen Loop are also St Bride’s, St Helen’s, St Patrick’s, and “Fairy Well”.
Just before the Auld Kirk, the road passes over the former railway tunnel, now the cycle path. Alloway Station had twin tracks for passing and was reached by stairs which led down to the central platform from the road above the tunnel entrance. The cottages east of the Burns Centre were for the station staff.
Cross the “New” Brig (itself over 200 years old) and “Take the High Road”
Between here and Pennyglen Corner the loop is following the route Tam would have taken home to Shanter Farm, near Maidens, after escaping the witches on the Auld Brig – “a running stream they dare na’ cross”.
Formerly a prehistoric standing stone, now lying flat in a walled enclosure, along the track to Blairston Mains. The impression of a cross, or is it Wallace’s sword, can still be seen.
Halfway Bridge (halfway between Ayr & Maybole) and Wallace’s Cave
Difficult to find and now partly buried, the cave is on the south bank of the heavily wooded Long Glen, downstream from the bridge. Said to be where Wallace bivouacked before burning the Barns of Ayr.
Brae of Auchendrane
The minor road that leads steeply down to the A77 and hence to Auchendrane House, home of John Mure, the “Grey Man”, architect and exploiter of the feud between the Kennedys of Cassillis and Bargany. Certainly involved in the murder of the Tutor of Culzean, technically, he was executed for murdering a witness.
More recently, when he was Captain of the Roads Club, Davie “The Highwayman” Bell used the Brae for hill-climb TTs.
Still a working smithy when I was a boy, the mill was opposite. Famous for its AA road sign – “Ayr 5m, Maybole 3m, London 398m”, in that order of importance.
Culroy Glen was said to be a favourite encampment of Johnny Faa, King of the Gypsies, who had a charter from King James, giving jurisdiction over all the people of “Little Egypt”. According to legend, it didn’t end well for Johnny after he cast a spell on the beautiful Countess of Cassillis to run away with him. They didn’t get far as the Earl caught them at a ford on the Doon still known as the Gypsy’s Steps. Johnny was strung up and the Countess imprisoned on the top floor of Maybole Castle.
Sauchrie House, (visible on the slopes of Carrick Hill)
Why is there not a continuous procession of Rouleurs here, paying their respects? One-time home of John MacAdam, inventor of the road as we know it today, more or less. He did not invent “Tarmacadam” though. That was a later improvement.
Right at Cassillis View Cottage – overlooks the Castle and once vast lands of the Earldom of Cassillis.
Brockloch Castle & Battle Site, (on the right hillside, just before the Covenanters Monument)
The battle was the 1601 high point of the feud between the Kennedys of Cassillis and Kennedys of Bargany, as related in The Grey Man by SR Crockett and The Ayrshire Tragedy by Walter Scott. Gilbert of Bargany was killed, and the Tutor of Culzean was later murdered on Greenan Links in retaliation.
Maybole Covenanters Monument (aka Cargil’s Stone)
The base stone is said to be natural and Covenanting Minister Cargil gave hellfire sermons from it. The other martyrs are all Maybole Men, but they didn’t die locally. They were captured at the Battle of Bothwell Brig in 1679 by John Graham of Claverhouse, “Bonnie Dundee”, or, if one is a Covenanter, “Bluidy Clavers”. They spent a year in appalling outdoor conditions in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh before being sentenced to transportation. The ship foundered at Deerness and all were drowned.
The Preaching Brae
The steep road to Garryhorn on the right after the Monument. Covenant ministers gave sermons from the top of the slope, ready to escape across the Red Moss behind if Government dragoons should appear. The Cavalry could not follow them through the bog.
Right at Enoch’s Lodge, (also named for a Celtic saint) shares the same architecture as the Culzean castle outbuildings.
There were two WW2 crashes on the hill. Both were 3-man Hampden torpedo bombers trying to land at Turnberry in fog. As late as the 70’s, debris could still be found. The crew were mostly ANZACs. No survivors (see notes on Dunure Cemetery). There was a similar crash on Carrick Hill, above the Coast Road, at Balig Farm.
Right at Pennyglen Corner. Whitestone Cottage, birthplace of Burns’ mother is a mile further on.
The Electric Brae
Once thought to be related to magnetism, the landscape features which actually cause the optical illusion are not clear. It is certain though that the West “top” end of the brae is 17ft below the East end in wooded Craigencroy Glen, a slope of 1in86.
There can be few more historic panoramas than that from the lay-by about 300m past The Electric Brae.
From battling Viking invaders to hunting “Crazy Ivan” nuclear subs, the Firth of Clyde has been at the centre of Scotland’s events. At least three castles are visible –
1 Culzean Castle (seen across Culzean Bay)
The current stately home dates from 1792. The previous structure was an impregnable cliff-top fortress for the Kennedys of Cassillis. In The Grey Man, Helen Kennedy ascends the cliff after assisting her sister Marjorie, The Flower of Carrick, to meet with her forbidden love, Gilbert of Bargany. The lovers both die tragically later. The hero, Launce “Spurheel” Kennedy of Kirrieoch argues with the Kennedy girls whilst trying the climb after a day at Maybole Fair and an evening in the woods with the Culzean Grieve’s daughter, Bonny Kate Allison.
More recently, Culzean is famously associated with Eisenhower, who had a gift of an apartment therein.
2 Turnberry Castle Ruins (seen further in the distance at the site of Turnberry Lighthouse)
Birthplace of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, Earl of Carrick. “tis not for glory or riches that we fight”
Interesting that it should now be owned by another head of state, with a less enviable reputation.
3 Ailsa Craig Castle (just visible near the lighthouse)
The tiny castle was defended by Launce Kennedy and his friend, Dominie Mure, the Maybole Schoolmaster, against the Grey Man’s assassins, including the infamous cannibal, Sawney Bean.
When at school in Kirkoswald, and lodging with his relatives at Ballochneil, Burns knew Douglas Graham of Shanter Farm, the inspiration for perhaps the most famous character in poetry. Young Burns and his cousin borrowed Graham’s boat for a sail to explore Ailsa Craig which nearly ended in tragedy when a storm blew up, akin to the one in the poem. The name of the boat? “The Tam”!
More recently, in a classic Ayrshire Post article, Davie Bell described his ascent to the summit of the Craig, with his bike.
Katy Gray’s Rocks and Davie Bodan’s Loup
Sea-cliffs and a deep ravine, across the fields opposite Drumshang Farm. Katy was said to inhabit the ruins adjacent, but they were actually a medieval long house, now with a preservation order. Why Davie leapt is lost in time, but it was either suicide or an attempt to jump the ravine, plainly impossible.
Dunure Mill (at the junction to Dunure)
A now listed structure built in 1780. Originally part of Culzean estate and again of the same architecture. The water wheel and milling gear are removed.
Dunure Castle (descent to village optional)
The castle was already historic when the Earl of Cassillis roasted the Commendator of Crossraguel Abbey in the dungeon here in 1570, assisted bizarrely by the castle cook, to force him to sign Abbey lands over to the Earldom. The Commendator was the brother-in-law of the Laird of Bargany, and thus began the long running feud between Cassillis and Bargany.
The most poignant landmark on the Loop, the 4m white cenotaph cross, can be seen from the road. In addition to local burials, there are 47 Commonwealth War Burials (but only 46 graves, more on that to follow). Most are aircrew out of Turnberry or Prestwick. Distressingly young, most are 20’s, youngest 19. Given the view, there are worse places to spend eternity, I suppose. Lady members will be interested that one burial is equality pioneer, Flt Capt. Marjie Fairweather, ATA, the first woman to fly a Spitfire, and one of only 11 qualified to deliver Lancasters. 38 years old and a divorced single mother in 1939, as a qualified pilot she volunteered for the ATA. She married a fellow ATA pilot and had to resign her commission when she became pregnant. Different times! He was buried at Dunure when his air ambulance crashed in the Firth. The wreckage, the patient, and the nurse were never found. She returned to duty after the birth only to be killed in a crash in Cheshire. They are buried together.
A fortified Peel Tower from the 1500’s, it was ruined for over 3 centuries, and possibly had never been completed at all, until it was finally roofed in the 1990’s and is now an occupied home.
Heads of Ayr
A volcanic extrusion of similar formation to Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh. Part of a chain of volcanic features running along a fault line from Ailsa Craig to Edinburgh and on to Bass Rock
Craig Tara, formerly Butlins Ayr
It is a popular myth that it was built as a POW camp but that was further on the Loop. Butlin built it for the Government at the start of WW2 on the understanding he would acquire it at the end. It was a training camp for naval radio operators, HMS Scotia. An attraction for the site was the existing branch rail line halt at Heads of Ayr, where the smaller caravan park now is. A halt was then built specifically for the Camp. “Specials”, including one I travelled on, were run to Butlins on what is now the cycle track into the early ‘60’s.
The original fortified tower dates from the 15th century and once was complete with moat. It was considerably extended in the 19th century to form the current stately home and shooting estate. The rearing pens can be seen from the road and cycle path. The pheasants we nearly collide with in the winter months originate here.
Helen Kilpatrick, believed to be 15 year old Burns’ muse in his first recorded poem, “Handsome Nell”, lived on the estate in later life, after marrying the coachman.
Dates from the 16 Century but is the site of one of the oldest known stone fortifications in the South West. Once occupied by the Lord of the Isles, from here the entire Firth can be observed on a clear day.
Now largely housing, the Tutor of Culzean was murdered here by the Wolf of Drummurchie and others in 1602. As related in The Grey Man, the importance of golf in Ayrshire even then was shown when the Tutor’s squire rode for help to some Ayr citizens playing on the links. He was told in no uncertain terms that, murder or no, he would have to wait as they were putting for the match! Despite the pressure, the Ayr player holes it.
Site of the WW2 Italian POW camp, but now home to several Burners. Coincidence? I think not!
Cross the Doon again by Doonfoot Bridge (180 years old) and turn right at the mini-roundabout
In front of the Secret Garden Café is a renovated plaque salvaged from the previous bridge, built in 1772. The plaque states the bridge was built by James Armour, master-mason, father of Jean Armour, Burns’ wife.
Belleisle Park & Golf Course, formerly Belleisle Estate.
By 1754 Ayr had huge debt through financial mis-management (sound familiar?) and large plots then well outside the town were sold as private estates to raise cash, some to citizens who had made fortunes in the W Indies. They named the estates after their plantations, Mount Charles, Rozelle, and Belleisle. They were sugar plantations using brutally intensive slave labour. An uncomfortable historic association. Many such estates, Belleisle, Rozelle, Castlehill, Craigie, returned to Ayr’s ownership in the 20th Century when death duties and running costs made them unviable for the owning families.
Return to Alloway and the Cottage car park up Greenfield Avenue
The Avenue was first constructed by Burns’ father for the Burgh Council in 1756. The contract was £50. He used his profit to buy the Alloway small-holding he had been tenanting and on which he built the “Auld Clay Biggin” with his own hands. Becoming a man of property gave shy William, 36, the courage to propose to a girl he had met at Maybole fair, Agnes Broun. 11 years his junior and said to be a fiery red-head who had already spurned several suitors, she none the less accepted him. What if she had not!