CASTLES and smugglers, wildlife and woodland are all part of an innovative festival aimed to help people take a step towards better health and a greener lifestyle.

Launched for the first time in 2022, the Ayrshire Walking Festival was so successful it is to be held again on a bigger scale for a week beginning on September 2.
All the walks are free, although some may need to be booked beforehand, and the programme covers a wide range of routes to suit all interests, ages and abilities.

With support from South and East Ayrshire Councils and various local partners, the festival has been organised by North Ayrshire Council’s Trinity Active Travel Hub to promote walking for health and for a greener way to travel for short journeys.

The East Ayrshire walks include an introduction to Nordic walking, the magnificent Crawfurdland castle in East Ayrshire and a stroll around Dean Castle – and other opportunities throughout the region include a tour of Eglinton Park, a walk through Ayrshire’s smugglers’ trail, and a loop around Lochshore in Kilbirnie.

Each walk has a difficulty rating and the programme provides details of each route and some of the local history behind it.

Gillian from Gillians Walks, Ayrshire’s Walking Ambassador for Ayrshire and Arran Destination Alliance, said: “Ayrshire is delighted to host another great walking festival with something for everyone. The festival provides an opportunity to explore some of the most stunning scenery and a chance to meet like minded people who enjoy to get out and about.  

“The festival brings together volunteers and communities from across Ayrshire and without them this wouldn’t be possible.”

There’s is a chance to visit the less well-known areas of the stunning Dumfries House Estate on a mix of gravel and woodland paths. With an abundance of wildlife, fabulous architecture, beautiful gardens and hidden follies, there is something for everyone on this walk.

The Two Castle Walk is another one for wildlife spotters and goes from Dean Castle to Craufurdland Castle, featuring wonderful views, history and wildlife on the way. 
One walk, organised by Dementia Friendly Prestwick, caters for people with the condition and involves a gentle stroll along Prestwick promenade before a warm welcome back at the club for tea, coffee and a blether. Other walks, such as the 60 minute stroll through Dean Castle Country Park, is suitable for all ages and abilities as well as prams and buggies.

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For those who want a walk on the wild side, there is a chance to explore the wilder side of Glen Rosa on Arran. 
This walk takes a less well-known route up onto the moorland above which gives magnificent views on a clear day. Organised by the National Trust for Scotland it is a chance to discover the diversity of wildlife both in and above the glen as the walk is pure “Arranology” from geology to ecology and archaeology.

Fear of getting lost is a barrier to many people going walking, in particular if they are unfamiliar with the route. An Introduction to Digital Navigation, organised by Gillian’s Walks, has been carefully designed to provide walkers with the knowledge and confidence needed to use a mobile phone as a navigation aid when walking in lowland countryside and woodland.

History buffs may enjoy a walk to Old Cadgers Race Course on Irvine Town Moor. Used since medieval times, the course can still be seen marked out and it is easy to imagine the thunder of ghostly hooves. It is still used during the Marymass Festival in August.
Another for history aficionados is the Ayrshire smugglers’ trail organised by Gillian’s Walks which follows an ancient route used in the 18th century to transport tea, wine, brandy, rum and tobacco inland from the cargo boats arriving in Troon onwards to Dundonald Castle. 

Children may be particularly tempted by the Bat Walk with a ranger who will lead a nocturnal walk through Spier’s Old School Grounds in Beith, to help participants learn about bats and their weird and wonderful world. There’s also a gentle woodland walk with beautiful views of Kilbirnie Loch, and a variety of wildlife, culminating at the Lochshore Hub building.