Walk 20 – Dismantled Railway Walk, Darvel

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Spirit of Scotland monument

An easy linear walk from the village of Darvel along a fantastic disused railway track to the Spirit of Scotland Monument beneath Loudoun Hill. You will be rewarded with one of the most interesting railway walks I know, full of features from by-gone days. Return via the same route to form a 7 mile walk or organise transport at each end which makes it 3.5 miles. From the monument why not take the opportunity to make the short but steep ascent up Loudoun Hill?  On a clear day your efforts will be rewarded with incredible panoramic views over Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, the Firth of Clyde and Isle of Arran.

TERRAIN: A mixture of roadside pavement, gravel footpaths and earth tracks. Can be boggy in places. Several stiles along the route and lots of gates. Some steps. This walk is mostly on the level with some hilly bits after you come off the disused railway. Note: there are often cows on one short section of the old railway line where there is no fence separation.

  Regular bus services to Darvel from Kilmarnock. No public transport to Spirit of Scotland monument. Parking available on or around Hastings Square, Darvel (KA17 0DR) or in the public car park on Radoldcoup Road (KA17 0JU). If doing the shorter walk and leaving cars at both ends, use the Loudoun Hill car park.

Route: Turn right along Darvel Main Street to walk along the pavement for 1km. Turn onto the last road on your left at the end of the village – Cemetery Road. This minor road heads uphill past a couple of houses. Look out for a way marker 150m along on your right-hand side, “Loudoun Hill via the old railway“. Go through the gate and follow the old railway path for approx 3km. The path ends abruptly at the remains of the old viaduct. Follow the steps downhill to a stone wall, climbing over at a stile (only the vertical post remains). Turn right here towards a cottage then left to follow the Irvine Valley Paths Network signage for Loudoun Hill. Continue uphill along this road for 300m, passing Newlands Farm. 340m beyond Newlands you will reach a gate on your right-hand side. Go through the gate and follow the farm tracks along a tree-lined track, skirting the base of Loudoun Hill. You will pass a stone ruin on your right and the steep rocky slope of Loudoun Hill will be on your left. Just beyond the ruin you will reach a fork in the path – turn right through a gate to head downhill to a wooden footbridge across the infant River Irvine. Cross the bridge and follow the path up to a stile. From here the Spirit of Scotland monument is clearly visible just ahead. After crossing the stile follow an obvious path up to the monument. Return via the same route.

Option: combine this route with the Loudoun Hill circular walk

Dismantled Railway Walk, Darvel

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WALK REVIEW: 10th March 2016 and 21st December 2022

I first did this walk in 2009 when I was training for the West Highland Way and I had been looking forward to doing it again. That first time, a family friend – Archie – came along with me so I thought of him often today and decided I would give him a call to come on a future walk with me. There is an old railway line between Kilmarnock and Irvine which we used to cycle together, perhaps he would like to walk it with me this time…. Being in his eighties, I find it pretty amazing that he is still fit enough for me to consider asking him on a walk!! Good old Archie 🙂

This is such a peaceful walk. I didn’t meet a single person during the whole 4 hours I was there; it was just me, my book and some sheep for company. I have always found the Irvine Valley to be such a beautiful spot, steeped with so much history. My grandparents were from around here and so instinctively I think of them whenever I am in the area. I imagine how life would have looked back in their day, and I love coming across all the physical reminders of that period: old signage, farming equipment, iron posts from the railway, metal fencing, and so on. There is also something pretty special about walking along the site of a former railway, knowing that at one time people would have been speeding across this exact bit of land in a train going to work or transporting goods. This particular line was part of the Darvel and Strathaven Railway, opened in 1905 intended as a through route between Lanarkshire and Ayrshire however was never successful due to the population in the area being very low. The track was closed in 1939.

In 2022 much of the disused railway path was treated to an upgrade and this has resulted in a far more accessible route. Prior to the work, there were 8 or 9 stiles along the path which itself was often incredibly muddy or overgrown depending on the time of year. Better drainage has now been put in, gravel laid on the path, new fencing installed along much of the route and many of the stiles have been replaced by self-closing gates. According to information I have received from East Ayrshire Leisure, there is an intention to replace all stiles with gates and include interpretation along the route. So not quite finished yet. Watch this space!

Scotways sign for Loudoun Hill via old railway
Disused railway path with Loudoun Hill ahead
Much of the path was upgraded in 2022 by East Ayrshire Leisure who put down gravel and installed new fencing and gates. It has improved access to the route significantly. Previously it became extremely muddy in Autumn and Winter, and often impassable in Summer due to vegetation growth. In this photo you can see the familiar sight of Loudoun Hill ahead and you might also be able to just make out the remains of the railway viaduct to the right.
Red sandstone railway bridge near Darvel
One of the features of the railway still present today. Incredible engineering and skill, standing the test of time! As you can see, the track bed itself is boggy and waterlogged in places and where that is the case there are paths on higher ground you can follow.
Wooden seats
I spotted these little chairs and was so grateful to the person who had built them, providing me with a tranquil place to rest my weary legs and have a bite to eat. It was so lovely and warm sitting there in the sunshine, I even got my book out for a while. Bliss! Sadly, these are now in a state of disrepair 🙁
The remains of this viaduct mark the end of the railway path and the start of the walk along to the Spirit of Scotland monument via road and farm tracks. The viaduct once spanned 13 arches!

Along the track towards the Spirit of Scotland monument there were many interesting features including a tree tunnel formed by a row of beech trees, an ancient stone ruin, and a stunning view of the craggy side of Loudoun Hill. It was very muddy though! The path beyond the stone ruin has been much improved by the 2022 upgrade.

Row of beech trees arching over to form a tree tunnel over the path
Tree tunnel! During the 2022 path upgrade, the fenceline on the left was installed. There are often sheep in the field there so this makes the track feel a lot safer.
Craggy side of Loudoun Hill, often used by rock climbers
People walking along a muddy farm track at the base of Loudoun Hill
Interesting stone ruin – this photo was taken on a miserable misty March morning (2016) during a group walk I led. As you can see the underfoot conditions were slightly damp!
Gravel path leading to Spirit of Scotland monument
Photo taken December 2022. Well-defined path leading to the Spirit of Scotland monument, visible to the right. There used to just be a series of informal paths across the grassy hillside, some of them quite steep.
Spirit of Scotland monument
And here it is, the Spirit of Scotland Monument. Relating to William Wallace’s defeat of an English army here in 1296.

This is such a beautiful walk and really shows off all that the Irvine Valley has to offer. I do believe that you would be hard pushed to find a nicer disused railway walk in Scotland!

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