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Discover the great outdoors

Scotland’s Nature Trail

Visit Scotland has created a fabulous e-guide to Scotland’s Nature Trail, a route that winds its way through key sites for wildlife, history, food and outdoor activities. Here are the highlights for Ayrshire.

ailsa craig

Wildlife Wonders

Ballantrae Beach: A stunning variety of birds make their home on the shingle beach at Ballantrae and in the nearby cliffs. The area is a nature reserve considered especially important for breeding terns. The shoreline is a joy to explore with plenty of picnic opportunities, and there are always enticing views across to Ailsa Craig.

Ailsa Craig: The dramatic sea-cliffs of this uninhabited island off the coast of Ayrshir are home to 36,000 pairs of gannets, with guillemots, razorbills and puffins on hand too. The island is only accessible by boat and the large sea bird colony is best viewed from the sea – regular tours run from Girvan during summer.

couple in woods

Outdoor Activities

Carrick Forest: This mountain bike trail runs at a high altitude through Galloway Forest Park, ensuring some breathtaking views for riders. The full route runs from the village of Barr to the castle at Loch Doon, but there are four shorter options for those who don’t want to go the full distance. If you are riding with children, the six mile route around Loch Braden is a good option.

Scottish Dark Sky Observatory credit James Silvester

Beautiful Landscapes

Kennedy’s Pass: This dramatic coastal route on the shore of the Firth of Clyde is also an important geological site, with fascinating rock formations that are more than 450 million years old. The rocky beach requires care to walk across, but the prize for those who make the journey are spectacular coastal views.

The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory: This new public observatory sits on a hilltop site on the edge of Galloway Forest Park, the only Dark Sky Park in the UK. The observatory includes a fully robotic 20” telescope in a five-metre dome, a roll-off-roof observatory and an elevated observing deck for naked-eye observation.

The observatory is open to the public, with tours and events on topics such as photographing the night sky, comets and asteroids and our place in the universe. Amateur astronomers can set up their own equipment.

Loch Doon: The largest inland lake in southern Scotland is a beautiful walking and cycling location.

Knockshinnoch Lagoons: This former coal mine has been transformed into a haven for breeding and wintering birds and other wildlife. Expanses of open water attract waterfowl, otters and water voles; marshland, reed-beds and willow carr encourage a large colony of black-headed gulls, and the flowery landscape attracts butterflies and moths. There is a walking trail running through the lagoons with plenty of viewing points.

culzean castle

History & Heritage

Culzean Castle: one of Scotland’s most incredible historic buildings, Culzean Castle is a remarkable cliff-top vision of turrets and battlements surrounded by lush forests and secret gardens. The castle is amazingly maintained, a guided tours reveal the history and highlights, and the stories behind Adam’s masterpiece, the oval staircase and a fine collection of paintings and furniture. The property is set in nearly 600 acres of stunning countryside with miles of paths through majestic woodland and past secluded ponds. With a Deer Park, cliff top walk or and nearby beaches there is plenty for walkers to fall in love with.

Natural Larder of Ayrshire

Dowhill Country Fayre: For a taste of traditional Ayrshire ingredients try this farmhouse restaurant and well-stocked farm shop which offers traditional farmhouse cooking, much of which features their own delicious produce.

Chisholms: To head home with a taste of Ayrshire head to Chilsoms, which specialises in locally sourced cheeses, pâtes, Stornoway black pudding, Ramsays bacon, Fencebay smoked fish and mouthwatering Arran produce.

Golf holidays

The world-famous Turnberry Golf Club is a draw to the keenest golfers, but there are plenty of other great courses nearby that are well worth a go

Local beaches

The closest beach is just a 300 metre stroll from the park, and there are many more coastal coves and stretches of sand to find nearby.

featured image – credit Juliet photography.