Walk 86 – Ayrshire Smugglers Trail: Dundonald to Troon – 6.3 miles

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Starting at Dundonald Castle, follow this ancient route used in the 18th century to transport tea, wine, brandy, rum and tobacco inland from the cargo boats arriving in Troon! It covers an extremely varied terrain with everything from woodland paths to tarmac roads to long grass and then sand thrown in the mix! You will pass a quiet reservoir, walk through Fullarton Woods then across Royal Troon Golf Course, finishing it off with a stroll along Troon's sandy Beach. The views across to Isle of Arran are not to be missed so be sure to keep this one for a clear day!

public-transport-icon-28 Car parking available at Dundonald Castle Visitor Centre (KA2 9HD). We also left a car in Troon South Beach Esplanade car park (KA10 7LE) which was waiting for us at the end of the walk. If using public transport there are local bus services between Troon and Dundonald.

Smugglers Trail, full

WALK REPORT: 31st Aug 2016 AND 25th Aug 2022

My mum asked me about doing the Smugglers Trail in March of 2016 shortly after I completed the Prestwick to Troon coastal walk. I had seen way markers for the trail that day and had wondered what it was so it was good timing on my mum’s part!

I went on to do one half of the Smugglers Trail (Dundonald to Loans) with a friend in May and finally in August, 5 months after it was originally suggested, got around to walking the full route with my mum. We got a brilliant night for it weather-wise, one of the things I had been waiting for: the sunset behind Arran was just magnificent.

I then walked the route many times over the course of the next 6 years, most recently in August 2022 with my friend and former colleage Pernille. The aim that time was to take some updated photos of the trail for this post.

The first part of the walk is through the beautiful ancient woodland beneath Dundonald Castle. In fact it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

In the springtime your senses will be treated to the scent of wild garlic and a carpet of bluebells. In the summer the woods come alive with wild flowers and in the autumn keep a look out for fungi.

This section can be very muddy at times and although there are marker posts for the Smuggler’s Trail – installed by local not-for-profit group South Ayrshire Paths Initiative (SAPI) – they can become hidden behind the vegetation in summer months. So my advice is to download the map and use the route description provided above to stay on track.

There are also some fairly steep uphill sections in the woods…. it may be a low level walk but it is definitely not a flat one, not this first half anyway!

We came across some interesting features along the way including wild mushrooms and a quarry. You can also catch a glimpse of Dundonald Castle off to the left if you are paying attention…. the last time you will see it on the walk (the first being right at the start).

The walk starts at Dundonald Castle Visitor Centre (seen here to the left) and uses the gravel path beside the play park to access the woods.
As you enter Dundonald Woods you are greeted with a huuuuuuge Smuggler’s Trail information board and the continuation of the route is to your left. You can just make out one of the way markers on the far left of this photo.
Another of the marker posts inside Dundonald Woods
First glimpse of the Firth of Clyde and the town of Troon as the views open up across the farmland.
Approaching Collennan Reservoir
On a beautiful night like when I first walked the trail, I knew that we would soon witness the beginnings of the sun setting behind Collennan Reservoir, reflecting the mackerel sky into it’s perfectly still waters….. It was what I had brought my mum here to see, and waited 5 months for the perfect occasion to do so! It was worth the wait…..

On emerging from the woods we walked through a small hamlet and across the A78 (don’t worry there is a bridge!). There was then a long-ish section along the A759 into and through the village of Loans. I will admit that I didn’t much enjoy the walk along the A759: traffic was moving past at speed and in the summertime the hedge can sometimes be overgrown, narrowing the pavement and forcing you to walk close to the road. The village of Loans itself is very pretty and when I walked the route again in 2022 with my friend we stopped in at the Old Loans Inn for coffees – highly recommended!

The quiet road between Collennan Reservoir and the A759 passes through a little cluster of houses and farms
The walk along the A759. On this occasion in August 2022, we were lucky that the hedge had recently been cut which made a big difference to the width of the pavement.

The first time I walked this route I was a little anxious about finding where the right turn off the main road would be: on my map the road didn’t exist but the websites I had used for research assured me that there was one! I did find it quite easily, although there was no marker post so I wasn’t 100% sure until I went along it whether it was the right way or not. Since then SAPI have installed wonderful new can’t-miss-them finger posts as you can see below.

The signage for the Smugglers Trail becomes much better from here on in. I am not sure why, it’s almost as though there are different organisations responsible for each half and those in charge at the Troon side have done a better job at marking the route than their friends in Dundonald. Or maybe these large finger posts would spoil the woodland section hence the short wooden posts used there instead…

The track led us down to a gate where we turned right along a field edge. This narrow track can become a little overgrown in the summer. It is a lovely escape from the hustle and bustle of the A759 though and we were treated to beautiful views across the fields full of cattle.

Turn right at this gate to follow the fenceline along the field. There are some green arrow discs on the fencepost to the left of the path but they are hard to see if the vegetation is overgrown. Next photo shows them better.
Green arrow discs on the fence-post. Photo credit Pernille Soeholm.
Peaceful, even if a little overgrown

Crossing a footbridge took us into Fullarton Woods. I had been to this area before to visit the Fairy Trail with the kids, but had never walked in from this side. We were delighted to find the loos at the play park still open and duly made use of them before continuing 🙂

Fullarton Woods
Starting point for the Fullarton Fairy Trail. The building on the left is the toilet block (which we noted was particularly clean!)

There were a couple of busier roads to cross after this section, each road joined by a gravel track.

It was starting to get dark by now the night we did the walk and going through the trees it was particularly hard to see. I even had to use the torch on my mobile at one point which seems to be becoming a bit of a habit when out with my mother (last used to go through a dark smelly tunnel on a recent Kilmarnock walk!)  

Once through this short section the countryside opened up before us and from the high vantage point of the railway bridge we were rewarded with stunning views across Royal Troon Golf Course and onwards to the Isle of Arran.

The right of way took us straight across the extremely well-maintained golf course towards the beach.

Sunset on Royal Troon Golf Course with the Isle of Arran in the distance.
Warning signs remind you of the risks of walking on golf courses
Royal Troon Golf course

As we approached the beach we could see marker posts pointing to the right behind the sand dunes. It was very overgrown and looked like it would be hard going so we decided to walk along the beach instead. It turned out to be the right choice because the sunset was stunning and we’d have missed it down behind the dunes!

As you approach Troon, look out for a set of wooden steps up over the sea wall which take you off the beach and onto the promenade to Toon South Beach Esplanade car park. You will find another Smuggler’s Trail information board in the car park. If you have a car parked here, that’s you done. If you’re heading for the train, continue along the esplanade – the station is well signposted.

What a sunset!
Sandy path takes you off the golf course and onto the beach. The finger posts try to have you walk behind the dunes, parallel to the beach however my suggestion is to walk along the beach. The views are better and it helps preserve the sand dunes.
Daytime view looking along the beach towards Troon
These are the steps to look out for in order to leave the beach at the right place to find the car park described at the top of this page.

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