Visitors to Ayrshire –particularly in the summer– usually flock to the scenic beaches the region is famed for. But those in-the-know will head inland, to East Ayrshire, and the dozens of quieter beauty spots that await there. 
East Ayrshire boasts plenty of independent businesses worth exploring too, none more so than in the small town of Stewarton. 
Despite having a population of around 7000, Stewarton has a thriving high street brimming with shops, cafes, and restaurants, where Ayrshire produce is proudly present on the menus.

See more of Stewarton on our video here:


Stephanie Gilmartin is director of Gilmartin’s Bakery, located on Avenue Square in the heart of the town. She explains that one of her key motivating factors for opening the bakery in 2019 was to help showcase the sheer quality of produce available in Ayrshire.
“We use things like Pieroni’s smoked salmon (from Ayr), Corrie Mains eggs (from Mauchline) and fresh produce from Grants, the fruiterers in Prestwick,” she says. 
“When you have a day off at the weekend, you know there are probably all these great venues around, but you just don’t know where they are. Well, this is where you can find them– Stewarton has loads of really nice shops, restaurants, bakeries. It’s a great place to visit.”
Gilmartin’s have built a formidable reputation for their artisan cakes and –Stephanie’s speciality – sourdough bread made from scratch.
“I wanted to ensure that any customer could always find something they wanted. We try to cater for special diets, we have a lot of gluten-free cakes and a lot of vegan cakes to make sure there is really something for everyone.”

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But even after a challenging two years for the hospitality sector, Stephanie admits that tough times may be looming, with the cost-of-living crisis and fears of a recession impacting on consumer spending.
“People are shopping a bit less, so we are trying to think of ways to diversify. We have hosted cocktail pop-ups, where we share the space with another local business, who mostly do cocktail bars for weddings and hen parties. We try to think how we can use the space differently, how we can get the most out of our hours, and how we can make it more of a community-centric space.”


This kind of innovative spirit is also present in nearby tearoom and cheesemaker Dunlop Dairy, located just outside Stewarton.
Having started out as a dairy farm, owner Ann Dorward soon realised they had to start processing their milk into cheese to make the business financially viable. Then, around 14 years ago, the farm modernised again with the opening of their on-site tearoom and shop.
“We wanted to make a space where people could buy our products directly from us, but also, with the café, create a welcoming spot in the countryside where people can come and have something nice to eat,” Ann explains.
“People like getting out into the countryside more nowadays and it’s great for them to have somewhere to stop whilst out on a walk. 

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“During lockdown a lot of people discovered businesses on their doorstep that they didn’t realise were there before, just because they were out walking around and had more time to explore the area. And now with the environmental and cost issues that are related to transport and travelling, it makes more sense to visit places close by.”
As well as stocking produce from Ayrshire businesses in the on-site shop, Ann explains that Dunlop Dairy strive to use local ingredients as much as possible in what they cook in the tearoom.
“We use our own milk, eggs and cheese, and other local produce as much as possible, in the food that we’re producing. That has worked really well for us.”

And if you do head to Stewarton for the day, there's also the opportunity to get a taste of the great outdoors. With the Annick Water, a tributary of the River Irvine, gurgling through it, Lainshaw Woods provides a scenic setting for a summer’s walk. 

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The woods are carefully maintained by the Stewarton Woodlands Action Trust (SWAT), a voluntary environmental group made up of local people formed in 2004. 
They help maintain and improve natural sites throughout Stewarton, planting trees and vegetation, controlling the spread of invasive plants and installing information panels. 
You’ll find plenty of these panels while walking this circular route through Lainshaw Woods, indicating notable trees and wildlife that can be spotted along the way. 

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The path eventually emerges from the woodland and heads uphill through the town, where you can see as far as Arran from across the fields on a clear day. 
Once back in the centre of Stewarton, be sure to visit the diverse range of independent shops and cafes on and around the high street. 
Of particular note is the Book Nook, a small book shop that was recently named the UK’s favourite family business of the year. Owner Sarah Frame won high praise from those who nominated her for the competition, run by local shopping platform ShopAppy, with her personalised approach winning her plenty of customers.


ROUTE

  • Starting in the centre of town, head southwest down High Street towards Lainshaw Street. Continue straight down the road, passing a mini roundabout and aiming for the railway viaduct seen ahead. 
  • Pass under the viaduct (an impressive feat of engineering) to reach another mini roundabout. From there, take the road to the right which brings you on to David Dale Avenue. 
  • You’ll see Laidshaw Primary School to your right, and almost immediately after, the entrance to Lainshaw Woods on the left on the other side of the road. 
  • A metal archway is labelled ‘Lainshaw Woods’, go under this to enter the woods. 
  • The path then follows alongside the Annick Water for around 1 mile as it winds through the trees. Keep the river on your left and ignore any paths to your right. 
  • Eventually the path ends and comes to a set of stairs known as Fisherman’s Steps. Climb to the top of the steps and turn left, signposted Kilwinning Road. 
  • Continue on the path through the woods as it passes by fields. Ignore any exits towards the road and continue through the woodland path until it finishes under another archway labelled ‘Lainshaw Woods’.
  • Once the woodland path finishes you will find yourself on Kilwinning Road, follow this for a short while until you see a housing estate across on your left. 
  • There’s a footpath which leads you across the grass and up the side of the houses, reaching the top of a hill where you can see as far as Arran (weather permitting). 
  • Keep following the footpath until you reach Dalry Road (also known as B778). Continue to follow this downhill (passing a graveyard on the right) and a sports centre (also on the right). Eventually the road passes under a railway bridge and reaches another mini roundabout.
  • Go left here to return to Lainshaw Street and back into the centre of town. Be sure to visit the Book Nook, on High Street, before you go!

Walking route instructions from Gillian’s Walks, find out more at gillianswalks.com

booknookstewarton.co.uk

gilmartinsbakery.com

dunlopdairy.co.uk

This article was brought to you by East Ayrshire Council and Ayrshire Connects