Ballochmyle Gorge, Ayrshire

This delightful ramble explores the rocky, wooded gorge of the River Ayr and offers numerous interesting diversions, from the Stone Age to the Steam Age. Flanked by steep cliffs of red sandstone, overhung by trees, and streaked with green lichen and jungle-like vegetation, the gorge has a distinct Lost World feel to it. Alas, this sandstone was deposited some 250 million years ago in the Permian age, before the Jurassic!

Time, and its passing, permeate this landscape like few others I know of. Crossing the open field at the start of the walk it's easy to miss a low sandstone wall on the far right-hand side of the field. Closer inspection reveals a mass of intricate cup and ring marks, ground into the soft sandstone by our Stone Age ancestors perhaps, as they watered cattle in the River Ayr, 5000 to 6000 years ago. Although the date 1751 is engraved nearby, the markings had been lost and forgotten until their rediscovery in 1986.

Entering the wood, the path curves away right towards the impressive Ballochmyle rail viaduct, which can be seen spanning the top of the gorge. Built in 1846 as part of the Glasgow & South Western Railway and still in use, it's the highest rail bridge in the UK; 164 feet above the river, compared to the Forth Rail Bridge's 156 feet above sea-level! The central arch is a massive 181 feet in diameter - truly breathtaking. The path passes below the upper arches and gives excellent views of the structure.

However, before heading off right, towards the viaduct, it is possible to descend to the riverside and admire the sandstone cliffs which hem in the water. Below the right-hand cliff are acres of etched graffiti; not as elegant as that carved in the Stone Age, but interesting none the less. When wet, the rock pavements flanking the water are very slippery and great caution should be taken here.

Returning to the path, walk up past a disused quarry and pass below the viaduct, then follow the path which immediately descends to the river. Continue alongside the river until the path moves onto a narrow rock pavement between the water and a small rockface. This can be very slippery, but, if dry, more graffiti can be seen, some dating from the 1800s. Turn round, walk back the way you came and you soon arrive at a Y-junction in the path. Take the fainter left-hand path which ascends to the top of the gorge, giving fine woodland views, and leads back to the viaduct.

Access: Follow the A76 south from Mauchline. Just more than a mile from the town make a right turn down a minor road marked No Through Road. This turning lies opposite a sign for Ballochmyle Golf Club . Park here and cross the stile to start the walk. Distance & time: About one mile. A minimum of one hour. Footwear: Paths are generally good, but can be muddy.