Walk 196 – Kilmarnock to Gatehead Circular – 5.3 miles

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A peaceful walk following the River Irvine between Kilmarnock and Gatehead, returning via the beautiful Caprington Woods and castle.

TERRAIN: some muddy trails and field edge “paths” as well as 3 stile crossings.

PLEASE AVOID USING THE CAR PARK AT CAPRINGTON GOLF CLUB IF IT IS BUSY WHEN YOU ARRIVE. There is plenty of on-street parking available in nearby Shortlees or Caprington residential areas, a short walk from the start of the route. It is also easily accessible by public transport with bus stops on the Ayr Road.


My plan had been to show Mum what had become one of my go-to lockdown routes though Caprington woods, past the castle, through Earlston and then back across the golf course. Roughly an hour of walking, maybe a bit more. When we reached the bridge over the River Irvine we stood on it admiring the frozen water and I pointed out a footpath leading off it and explained that it was the way to Gatehead. “Do we have time to do it now?” came the response. We did…. so we did!

One of the coldest days of the year at -8, some of the river had frozen but only the very top layer as we realised when we witnessed a leaf floating down the water beneath the surface. Life goes on….

Ayrshire had missed all the snow which had fallen across (what felt like) the entire rest of Scotland this week, but what we had experienced was very cold temperatures and dry air. So much so that the ground was bone dry. All the normally boggy areas were dry and solid. Not in an icy way though, more like what you would expect after a dry spell in the summer. It was quite bizarre. It was also most helpful during the field crossings! With it being early in the year there was no livestock in the fields when we crossed, but there has been on previous occasions when I’ve walked this route so something to be aware of. In the final field there was evidence of crops but there was loads of space around the field edge to walk without disturbing them.

With the water levels being so low, at various points along the route we could see the scale of the litter problem in the River Irvine. There were trees with plastic enveloping their trunks where the river level had once been so high as to sweep past them and the sheets of plastic and other debris became lodged. There were several large items which had washed up onto the field, including a waste disposal unit from a caravan. In the river itself we saw several trolleys and a couple of buggies, old tyres and lots (lots!) of plastic…. It saddens me to witness this in a fairly remote section of the river and hammers home the fact that over 90% of plastic in Scottish seas comes from littering on land!!!! We humans have a lot to answer for. I’ve heard reports of otters being spotted along the river here, and regularly see a grey heron looking for it’s dinner. There must therefore be fish in the river – having to live amongst all that. Earlier in the walk we had passed an area known for fly tipping and there were 2 rabbits playing around in the bushes, surrounded by human rubbish. It got me to thinking about the fact that I show off these walks on my website at their best: The photos I select are of everything looking pristine and beautiful and enticing. Maybe I should be showing the reality? But who wants to see photos of litter coming up on their Insta feed? Not me, for one. *Sigh* There is much to be done, not least a whole generation to educate. It is something I’d really like to be involved with if I had a little more time.

Anyway, back to the route! Leaving the river behind at the end of the last field, we climbed the steps onto A759. We smiled at the makeshift banister someone had created – very useful indeed so thank you whoever you are!

A short section of pavement awaited and we were onto the back road between Gatehead and the Ayr Road in Kilmarnock. Only a few cars passed us on this quiet country road, and we were soon back in the grounds of Caprington Estate. Carpets of snowdrops were on display along the main drive, and the usually very muddy path back to the Golf Club was lovely and dry. Result! Passing the castle, as I do frequently, always brings back memories of leading walks here as a volunteer for the Active Travel Hub Kilmarnock. I loved the reaction of walkers in the group when they saw the castle for the first time, having lived in Kilmarnock all their lives and not knowing it existed :-).

A semi-frozen River Irvine and the field-edge path
Snowdrops in the Caprington Estate
Caprington Castle – photo taken on a snowier day back in January 2021.

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