Running between Glenapp in the South and Skelmorlie in the North, the Ayrshire Coastal Path allows you to explore one of the finest panoramic coastlines in the British Isles. It’s one of the best alternatives to the West Highland Way.
The trail passes through an array of charming fishing villages and winds its way along sandy beaches and clifftops. Moreover, it is teeming with wildlife and steeped in history. Offering new discoveries at every turn, it’s one of the most varied walks in the country.
Since the Ayrshire Coast is quite easy to reach from Glasgow, I had already walked a few sections of the trail as day hikes. However, a few years ago, I finally found time to walk the entire route. I had just bought a new ultralight sleeping bag and backpacking tent (check out my review of the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Tent), so it was the perfect opportunity to test them out.
Overview of the ACP (Created by the Rotary Club of Ayr)
- Length: 100 miles
- Region: South West Scotland
- Start: Glenapp, South Ayrshire
- Finish: Skelmorlie, North Ayrshire
- Time required: 6 to 11 days
- When to walk: May to October
- Difficulty: Moderate with several difficult sections
Volunteers from the Rotary Club of Ayr created the Ayrshire Coastal Path in 2008, and they’ve been maintaining the trail to this day. Just a couple of years after it was established, in 2010, it was selected by Visit Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage as one of Scotland’s Great Trails. But, despite becoming one of the officially recognised long-distance paths in the country, the ACP is still more of a practical route than it is a formal laid-out trail.
The Ayrshire links with the Clyde Coastal Path in the north and the Mull of Galloway Trail in the South to form the Firth of Clyde Rotary trail. Almost the entire route offers amazing views over the sea. It also features superb vistas of Ailsa Craig and Arran. The trail provides pleasant and varied beach walks, but it also incorporates clifftop and hill paths.
About 3,000 people walk the trail each year. For comparison, about 30,000 walkers complete the entire West Highland Way annually. But, even though it’s not one of the most popular of Scotland’s Great Trails, the Ayrshire Coastal Path can be quite busy in the summer.
How Difficult Is the Ayrshire Coastal Path?
It’s best to walk the trail from south to north. This way, you will have the prevailing wind behind you. Most sections are short and easily accessible. But you still need to be an agile and well-equipped walker if you want to complete the entire Ayrshire Coastal Path in one go. There is a lot of fine beach walking from Glenapp to Ayr.
However, walking along the shore on the longer sections of the ACP can be difficult. These sections include the high plateau north of Glenapp, Bennane Head north of Ballantrae, Keneddy’s Pass north of Lendalfoot, and the section where the Carrick Hills slope to the sea. In these areas, the route uses ancient pack roads, gradual ascents over farm tracks, cliff-top field-edge paths, and sections of disused railway line instead of the shoreline.
The high-level views of the Firth are well worth the detour. This part of the trail is graded moderate. There are several unavoidable short sections (500 to 1000 ft) along the southern stretch of the route where you’ll have to scramble over rocky shores. They are between Girvan and Turnberry and Culyean and Ayr. Things will get much easier once you pass Ayr. Most of the sections between Ayr and Largs are flat. The northern stretch of the route runs along pleasant promenades, cycleways, and sandy beaches. It’s suitable for all abilities and age groups.
Waymarking and Access
I found the trail to be very well waymarked on the whole. The volunteers from the Rotary Club of Ayr did an impressive job. However, a surprising portion of the Ayrshire Coastal Path crosses open moorland, rocky terrain, golf courses, and remote ground. So, you should have solid navigational skills.
I recommend getting the second edition of the official guidebook to the ACP. It includes all the maps you need and a wealth of useful information. It was written by Dr James Begg, who is a local historian and author as well as a member of the Ayr Rotary Club. Cicerone also published a guidebook to this long-distance trail, but it is a bit outdated. There are also four Ordnance Survey Landranger maps that cover the area. Be on the lookout for directional changes when passing through busy towns.
It’s also important to note that the ACP passes along streets that people live in, their gardens, and their farms. In fact, the local landowners and residents played a big role in creating the route; it wouldn’t exist without their approval, support, and goodwill. When passing close to houses or farm dwellings, try not to disturb the locals, their crops, or their livestock. There are quite a few kissing gates en route. Keep them chained in order to prevent lambs and sheep from escaping. As for field gates, leave them as you find them. Watch out for bulls and cows with young calves when entering a field of livestock. You should never get between a cow and its calf. If you want to be well prepared for such situations, it’s best to read the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
When to Walk the Ayrshire Coastal Path
You can walk the Ayrshire Coastal Path any time of year, but the driest months are May, June, July, and August. In spring and summer, the wildlife and wildflowers along the Ayrshire Coast are absolutely spectacular. April, September, and October can also be good months to walk this long-distance trail, but they can also bring a lot of rainfall.
I should probably clarify a few things for those of you coming from abroad. A “dry” month in Scotland is still guaranteed to have several days of rainfall. When the weather is foul, the Ayrshire Coast is very exposed. You should definitely bring waterproof and windproof gear and clothing. For precise forecasts, check the MetOffice website.
Pay Attention to the Time and Tide
Some short sections of the ACP may be impassable for a couple of hours around High Spring Tide. High spring tides occur every couple of weeks, around the new moon and the full moon. Usually, the tides are highest around mid-day. Before you set out, it’s a good idea to check tide times. The EasyTide website is a very useful website for this.
You can avoid unnecessary delays by carefully planning your route. I walked the trail in summer when tides don’t really pose a real problem. My waterproof hiking shoes worked great for low-intensity wading, but I had to be extra careful around slippery rocks. My trekking poles were also of great help. The tides are much higher in late autumn and winter. On that note, I’d advise against walking the Ayrshire Coastal Path during the coldest months of the year.
The longer sections of the trail require ample daylight. If you walk the ACP in winter, there’s a big chance you’ll be doing a lot of walking in the night (even if you break down the long sections). Moreover, the lambing season is between January and early May. During this time of year, you need to be extra careful not to disturb the fields where lambing is taking place. If you plan on wild camping on the ACP during lambing, you may have a harder time finding a spot for your tent.
Scotrail Services offer railway links from Glasgow to all coastal villages and towns south of Kilwinning as well as Stranraer. It takes about 40 minutes to get from Stranraer to Glenapp by bus.
There is also a direct railway link from Wemyss Bay (a short walk from Skelmorlie) to Glasgow. You can search the Trainline website for cheap tickets. Glasgow Prestwick Airport is also very close to the end of the Path. Stagecoach provides regular services to all villages and towns along the ACP. If you want to skip a section, or make a detour, you will be able to rely on public transportation links.
If you would like to use Glasgow as your base for other adventures, check out our post on the best day trips from Glasgow.
Itinerary for the Ayrshire Coastal Path
Officially, the trail is divided into 12 sections. This way, you won’t spend more than 5 hours walking each day (provided that you are reasonably fit), so you’ll have enough time for sightseeing and unwinding. That said, many walkers have opted for a shorter, but tougher itinerary. If you are an experienced hiker, and in very good shape, you can easily complete this long-distance walk within 7 days.
I didn’t want to push myself too much since I was carrying a lot of camping gear, so I stuck to the itinerary recommended by the Rotary Club of Ayr. My itinerary looked something like this:
- 1st stage: Glenapp Kirk to Ballantrae: 8.3 miles
- 2nd stage: Ballantrae to Lendalfoot: 6.5 miles
- 3rd stage: Lendalfoot to Girvan: 6. miles
- 4th stage: Girvan to Maidens—8.1 miles
- 5th stage: Maidens to Dunure—6.5 miles
- 6th stage: Dunure to Ayr—9 miles
- 7th stage: Ayr to Troon—7.8 miles
- 8th stage: Troon to Irvine—6 miles
- 9th stage: Irvine to Ardrossan—10 miles
- 7th stage: Ardrossan to Portencross—7 miles
- 8th stage: Portencross to Largs—7 miles
- 9th stage: Largs to Skelmorlie—7 miles
The Ayrshire Coast is a popular holiday destination, so there are many guesthouses, B&Bs, hotels, and hostels along the Ayrshire Coastal Path. However, there are a few villages and towns that prove to be exceptions. Most of them lie along the southern stretch of the route. There are no accommodation options, shops or facilities in Glenapp, so I started my walk as soon as I got off the bus.
Despite this, my first day on the ACP was quite pleasant. The weather was warm and sunny, the scenery was fantastic, and the walk was very easy. But, if you are coming from afar and want to get a good night’s sleep before you kickstart your adventure, you can find plenty of accommodation options in Stranraer.
Ballantrae has a few B&Bs, a tiny inn, and a lovely tearoom. Except for a bust stop and a phone box, there are no facilities in Lendalfoot. There is a bus line back to Girvan. If you want to sleep in a nice bed on the second night of your adventure, you can either double up the stage or stay two nights at Girvan. There are a number of accommodation providers, eateries, and shops in Girvan. I recommend you stock up on supplies while you are here.
There’s only one B&B and one hotel in the small fishing village of Maidens, but you will find more accommodation options in the nearby Turnberry. When I reached Dunure, I decided to stay in the cozy Dunure Inn instead of sleeping in my tent. Unfortunately, the inn seems to be closed now, and there are no other lodging establishments in the village.
There is a bus line to Ayr, where you will find plenty of accommodation options, services, and shops. You won’t find any accommodation or services in Portencross, but there is some in nearby West Kilbride. As for the rest of the northern stretch of the ACP, there are plenty of accommodation options. But, as mentioned, the Ayrshire coastline is a popular tourist destination. If you are planning to do the ACP in the summer, you should book accommodation well in advance.
Shops, Pubs, Facilities and Support Services Along the Route
While there are some areas where these establishments and facilities are thin on the ground, I’d say there’s no shortage of eateries, pubs, shops, and public restrooms on the route. But, as the route is predominantly rural, many shops on the ACP only accept cash. My advice is to always have enough cash on you to cover at least a couple of days of walking as you may have a hard time finding an ATM or a bank along some sections.
As far as I know, there are no baggage transfer companies that operate along the route. However, many accommodation providers will offer to transport your stuff to your next stop. Alternatively, you can make arrangements with local taxi firms. If you want to have baggage transfer arranged for the whole route, your best bet is to book a guided or self-guided tour.
I think you will have an easier time finding a place to sleep if you decide to camp on the Path, no matter how you split up the sections. The list of campsites on the official website of the ACP is a bit outdated, but you will find plenty of great options on the ScottishCamping website. On top of the fact that there are designated campgrounds at convenient intervals along the route, you’ll be happy to know that wild camping is allowed in Scotland. Ayrshire, in particular, is a popular destination for wild camping. If you want to wild camp along the route, check out what the SOAC says about the topic.
Wildlife Along the Ayrshire Coast
To say that the Ayrshire coastline has interesting wildlife would be an understatement. The first few sections of the ACP are a part of the fascinating Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere. I was a quiet and observant walker, so I saw a few weasels, stoats, white hares, foxes, otters, basking sharks, porpoises, seals, roe deer, and wild goats. I’d say I spotted a few pheasants as well but the truth is that they spotted me first. After walking just a half a mile of the Path, a few of these feathered creatures startled me with their squawking. They kept catching me off guard for the first couple of days.
Other FAQs About the Ayrshire Coastal Path
Can You Cycle the Ayrshire Coastal Path?
The Path was designed with walkers in mind, so most sections of the ACP can’t be cycled. However, you can cycle the 19-mile Ayrshire Coast Cycle Path.
Can I Walk the Ayrshire Coastal Path With My Dog?
In my opinion, the Ayrshire Coastal Path is one of the least dog-friendly routes in the country. There are many large animals on the Path, and dogs can easily scare them and cause them to act in an aggressive manner. The hill areas around Culzean and Girvan are particularly sensitive to disturbance.
That said, you are legally allowed to take your dog with you, according to the Outdoor Access Code, but you must keep it on a very short lead. You may get some dirty looks from the local farmers even if you conform to the code. Irresponsible dog owners have been causing trouble on the ACP, so you can’t really blame them. In fact, one section of the trail has already been closed due to careless walkers with dogs.
What Are the Top Attractions on the Ayrshire Coastal Path?
Some of the highlights of the Ayrshire Coastal Path include:
- Spectacular views of the Isle of Arran and Ailsa Craig
- Vikingar in Largs
- Superb flora and fauna
- Robert Burns Birthplace Museum (2.5-mile detour)
- Maritime Museum in Irvine
- Beautiful sandy beaches
- Many historic castles, such as Dunure and Culzean
It is my grandparents fault. They took me camping every year from the age of three, and hiking was simply walking up hills! He would be surprised now to hear of wild camping – for him living in Scotland – he just pitched up and camped. I don’t think he paid for a campsite in his life.