Walk 230 – Auchinleck Estate’s Caves – 3.5 miles

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Owned by the Boswell Family since 1504, the 500 acre Auchinleck Estate has much to offer the walker! Located just north of the village of Ochiltree in East Ayrshire, there are many historic treasures to be found there. This route takes in the grotto known as Boswell's Summer Cave, the Ice House and Wallace's Cave, as well as a cascading waterfall on the north side of the Estate.

TERRAIN: The trails in the Estate typically become easily waterlogged and boggy in my experience, and if you choose to venture to any of the caves the route can be quite challenging, in particular access to Wallace’s Cave where the path is extremely narrow and skirts the edge of a cliff with a vertical drop down to the fast-flowing Lugar Water. The caves can be by-passed following easier routes – see route description for details. Recommend the easier option if you are thinking of taking dogs or children.

  Car park at Boswell’s Coach House. Note that this is for customers only so please be sure to pop in to the cafe for a coffee or lunch or visit the gift shop. Closest bus stop is on Barony Road opposite the A Frame/Egger factory, approx 1.5 miles away, however there is no pavement on Barony Road between here and the entrance to the Estate so take care.

Route map

WALK REPORT: 22nd March and 20th December 2023

After visiting the Auchinleck Estate for the first time in March 2023, I was left wondering why I hadn’t been sooner. The honest answer is that it confused me a bit! Doing some research I couldn’t figure out if it was called the Auchinleck Estate or Boswell Estate: the names seemed to be used interchangeably by people. For a while I wasn’t even certain that they were the same place! Asking around, my sources revealed that it was indeed the same place – officially the Auchinleck Estate but known locally as the Boswell Estate.

That sorted, I set about planning a walking route to try and explore the whole place in one go. The first challenge upon arrival at the car park, was figuring out what path to take – there were at least 4 veering off in different directions and I’d no idea which ones led to where. I had a route plotted out on Visorando though which helped get me on track and before long we were on our way to Wallace’s Cave and a waterfall I’d seen marked on the map!

Filled with the excitement of exploring a new place, we embraced the boggy underfoot conditions. I sensed that mum might be cursing me beneath her smile but I also knew that she had become accustomed to this sort of thing when out on an exploratory walk with me! In any case, the promise of a waterfall at the far end of the walk kept her moving. Thank goodness it turned out to be a good day for one!

Along the way I found the off-shoot leading to Wallace’s Cave and down we ventured. It became clear fairly quickly that mum wasn’t going to come all the way along with me: we were perched on the edge of a steep cliff on a path barely wide enough for both feet. I set off on the last short section by myself.

Wallace’s Cave is well known amongst the local walking community as a hidden gem and it regularly features on the Ayrshire Walks Facebook group. There, as below, you’ll find photos of the infamous rope and plank of wood which, if you are so inclined, makes it possible to go inside the cave nowadays. Additionally, you’ll find lots of photos of people looking very pleased with themselves for surviving the crossing (twice!). I wasn’t so brave! Both times I’ve been there the paths have been so slippery that even before the cave came into sight my heart was in my mouth. Several times I questioned my sanity – was it really worth it? The narrow path leading to the cave is perched very close to the side of the cliff with a vertical drop down to the left where the Lugar flows swiftly along. Plummeting to my death had never felt like more of a possibility – no, really! I was glad I didn’t have the kids with me and made a mental note that this route shouldn’t be marked as dog-friendly.

I made it as far as being able to see the cave entrance but didn’t fancy my chances getting safely across to it.

Back I trotted to mum, let her know she’d made the right decision and showed her my photos (see agreed) and off we set to find the waterfall.

We found it after what felt like ages. The path had petered out a couple of times on the lead up to it so I was glad to have plotted the route out in advance to be able to see our location and know we hadn’t quite reached the end of the path as shown on the map. In the end the waterfall appeared out of nowhere – plunging down a deep hollow in the rocks. We couldn’t see it until we were practically on top of it, though we found it by following our ears! I was grateful for all the recent rain and remember thinking it would be a shame to have walked all the way along here to find the waterfall dry and have to walk all the way back…..

In the end we did explore much of the Estate that day: we found the remains of an old building, some more gigantic red sandstone rocks, a quirky path down to the Lugar (I wondered how far along it went), and we also saw the other side of the Estate which is across open farmland on good trails. But one thing which troubled me was that we’d crossed a bridge with a “closed to the public” sign on it and although it was pretty sturdy, I didn’t want to be writing up a route which took people across a potentially dangerous bridge. Albeit, to be honest it seemed far less dangerous that what I’d encountered attempting to find Wallace’s Cave!

The Estate is a maze of paths so I wanted to explore it thoroughly, get it clear in my head and then write up a few shorter route options for you to follow rather than insisting on squeezing it all into one route.

I returned in December with my husband to show him the caves: I knew he’d love them. By that time I’d been in the Estate a couple more times and had found the grotto and ice house too, so I incorporated that into the same walk as Wallace’s Cave. I asked him if he had any comments about the walk which he’d like me to include in my write-up, and his reply: “slippery when wet!”

If the cave sounds like too much excitement for you, it can easily be by-passed, as can the grotto and ice house. For easier options refer to the route description above. Also good to know is that not all of the paths shown on the map exist in real life, and some paths that do exist in real life aren’t shown on the map. So be mindful of that if planning to venture off-piste.

I’ll be back soon with another route in this fantastic Estate!


Young highland cow standing outside a barn at the Auchinleck Estate
Highland coos can often be seen in the large barn beside the car park at Boswell’s Coach House, or in the surrounding fields.
Front of Auchinleck House
Auchinleck House – built in the 18th century for Lord Auchinleck (Alexander Boswell). It was once the family home of James Boswell, 9th Laird of Auchinleck – a Scottish diarist and biographer, best remembered for his biography ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’. The mansion is now a 7 bedroom holiday rental, which can be yours for a little over £1000 per night.
Boswell's Summer House seen from the approach path
This grotto is known as Boswell’s Summer House and is carved into the natural red sandstone on the banks of the Dippol Burn. Imagine it back in the day when it would have had a door and the windows would have been glazed…. Access to it is fairly easy, with the onwards route a little more challenging – continue along the edge of the rocks to the right, fording the edge of the burn at times of high water. There are plenty of stepping stones, but perhaps not for everyone! Just around the corner from here you’ll come across the Ice House, once used to store ice or salted meat. It is an egg-shaped hollow carved deep into the sandstone.
Boggy footpath lined with rhododendron bushes
This is the main path between the stone bridge and the waterfall. As you can see it does become very waterlogged if there has been a lot of rain, however that is also the best time to see the waterfall in its full glory (photo below)! Go prepared and it won’t trouble you.
Auchinleck Estate’s waterfall in full spate, March 2023. This is a tributary to the Lugar Water and is found to the north of the Estate.

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