Walk: Troon, South Ayrshire

Trails through the ancient woodland around the Ayrshire coast once provided cover for smugglers and their booty. Today, as Fergal MacErlean discovers, they offer a delightful day out.

D23E9E Dundonald Castle at Dundonald, South Ayrshire.

The enterprising 18th-century Loans Smuggling company would no doubt be amused that a walker’ route tracks their movements. But no one does, aptly named the Smugglers Trail, and it makes for a pretty good outing to boot. With delightful woodland paths and some unique views it leads from the South Ayrshire town of Troon inland, via Loans, to an impressive castle at Dundonald. 

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Start from the car park at Troon’s invigorating South Sands. To the right, you can see a point that sticks out and protects the north-facing harbour that gives the Ayrshire town its name: ‘Troon’ is believed to be a derivation of the Welsh ‘trwyn’, meaning nose or cape. It’s an ideal location for a harbour and timber and other goods are still ferried from here. But in days of yore, this stretch of coast was a haven for smugglers. 

At South Sands, small boats were used to bring boats were used to bring contraband ashore for transportation up Dundonald Glen. At busy times, up to 16 boats would be on the beach with 500 horses waiting to haul the goods away.

1. Tee of Your Trip

To follow in the smugglers’ footsteps, take the road around to the right, through the Royal Toon Golf Club, before veering left to take the path across the course and a rail bridge. A track leads on to reach a busy road. 

Cross over for Crosbie Church and access to Fullarton House. Follow the trail signs to reach the village of Loans, the name of which related to a piece of ground. 

2. Loans Sharks

Loans was a hotbed for stashing the smuggled goods- doubled- walled houses concealed illicit cargoes from the Isle of Mann and Northern Island, while large pits, known locally as ‘brandy holes’, dug around casks of liquor.

Continue by the main road, on a footpath, to take the first right. This leads on to a welcome quiet stretch and up to a reservoir with excellent views of the Isle of Arran. Blue markers indicate the way ahead through the wood. 

3. Dundonald David

Cross a burn and go right to see Dundonald castle’s impressive exterior. Look in the castle’s graveyard for the resting place of David Dunlop, whose smuggling company ran here for 40 years. Catch a bus back to Troon or retrace the seven-mile journey. 

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Image: Alamy