Walk 232 – Ness Glen & Dalcairney Falls – 9 miles

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Dalcairney Falls plunging over some rocks into a pool below
A circular walk starting and ending in the rural East Ayrshire town of Dalmellington. Stroll through the peaceful Craigengillan Estate meeting up with the River Doon as it gushes past in rapids within the stunning Ness Glen. Breathe in the beauty of Loch Doon before enjoying a high-level woodland walk back through the glen and onto good tracks within the Estate. You'll then head out across open hillside and farmland to the spectacular Dalcairney Falls - a real wow moment awaits if you arrive when the burn is in spate! The final section of the walk takes you along the Dalcairney Burn, past Bogton Loch and back to Dalmellington via the Muck Water trail. There is lots to love about this route in any season!

NOTE: The Roundhouse Cafe at Loch Doon is currently closed. The owner of 23 years retired in October 2023 and it is understood that the business is being put up for sale.

TERRAIN: surfaced roads, gravel tracks, woodland trails, boardwalk, fields. The path in Ness Glen is narrow, uneven and very close to the river which has caused some erosion and means that it is prone to flooding at times. Expect boggy conditions after rain. One stile, several kissing gates. A few steep hills and some steps.

LIVESTOCK: Sheep, cows and horses can often be found along this route and the paths run through their fields so you will be in amongst them. You may also encounter horse riders along parts of the route. Please be a responsible walker.

GETTING THERE: Car parking available at Dalmellington Community Centre. Local buses stop opposite the fire station in Dalmellington, which is a 5 minute walk from the start of the route.

WALK REPORT – Dec 2018, Jan 2021 and Aug 2023

Every time I’ve walked this route I’ve been left with a sense of awe at the beauty of this rural part of East Ayrshire. The Doon Valley is home to so many gems, and this route really delivers with two of them rolled into one walk: Ness Glen and Dalcairney Falls. I really must stop going back and doing the same route all the time, because there are many, many more walks for me to try in the area!

Equally as nice on a snowy January morning as it was on a rainy August afternoon. I think I’ve yet to discover it on a warm sunny day! Some summer vs winter photos below in case you need convinced! Swipe across to see the transformation:

Wooden bench overlooking a single track road in a peaceful setting surrounded by trees and wild flowersA winter scene showing a wooden bench overlooking a single track road in a peaceful setting next to a frozen pond. There is snow and ice all around.
One of the main driveways in the Craigengillan Estate. A lovely spot for a bench on a summer’s day. Note the reeds in the marshy area to the right, which turns to water (ice) in the winter!

It seems to be home to some interesting place names: Bogton Loch, Muck Water….. don’t sound very appealing do they?! Don’t let the names fool you! And Loch Doon…. have you ever heard the joke about it being the place to go during “lockdoon”?….

Ness Glen is a place of true beauty and taking a walk there is always an awe-inspiring experience. I have taken so many photos here in different seasons and it never fails to impress. When I led a group through the gorge in the summer of 2023 it was a dreich, wet day but that didn’t matter once inside this little piece of paradise. Ness Glen is part of the Craigengillan Estate and it is thought that the riverside path was originally created in Victorian times by one of the McAdam family. I can’t help but imagine the ladies strolling through the glen in long dresses and summer bonnets! Maybe it wasn’t as muddy back then!

A man and a woman wearing waterproof hiking gear and with wet hair take a photograph on their mobile phones down in Ness Glen. The woman is looking up at the gorge walls with a look of awe on her face.
The look of awe….
River Doon rapids deep in Ness Glen gorge. The steep gorge walls are lined with lush green vegetation.
The River Doon races through Ness Glen from its source at Loch Doon and any time I have been there it has appeared to be in full spate with proper white water rapids, and the noise from the power of the water so loud that conversation is difficult! I learned that the flow of the river is kept at a constant level due to being regulated by the dam. Makes sense once you know!
Long icicles clinging to moss-covered rocks beside a wet and muddy footpath. My mum is walking on the footpath supported by a walking pole.
An SSSI, Ness Glen is home to over 160 varieties of mosses which thrive in the damp micro-climate. Many of them are usually only found in the north-west Highlands and four of the mosses are considered nationally scarce. They bring a lush green to the gorge walls all year round, dripping wet in the summer and turning to the most stunning displays of icicles in the winter!

A treat on this walk was always to arrive at Loch Doon, the furthest point on the walk from the start point, and enjoy some home baking or a scrambled egg and tattie scone roll from the Roundhouse Cafe: the best scrambled egg and tattie scone roll I’d ever tasted no less! Happy for customers to use their loo, the cafe was also situated at a convenient point of the walk! One day I arrived with my mum and it was unexpectedly closed – devastated is an understatement! I had even checked online for their opening times and everything. Just our luck that they had changed their opening times with the new hours starting that very day… I’m sad to say that at the time of writing the cafe is up for sale and closed until a new owner comes along. The previous owner has retired after 23 years loyal service.

Some more summer vs winter photos, this time of Loch Doon. Swipe to see the transformation:

Loch Doon gentle ripples, shimmering in the sun's rays. The sky above is blue interspersed with fluffy white clouds.A winter scene looking over Loch Doon. There is a dusting of snow on the foreground scrub and the silhouette of a couple enjoying the view across to snow-capped peaks at the other side of the loch.
Some interesting facts I have learned about Loch Doon:
In the 13th century there was a castle – Balloch Castle – which sat on an island on the loch. When the dam was being built in the 1930s, the castle (by then a ruin) was moved to the loch shore to avoid the rising water level. You can still visit the ruins today, by walking/driving further along the loch edge.

The area around Loch Doon was used for training pilots and air crew in aerial gunnery during WWI. Then during WWII there were two known crashes near the loch – one piloted by a McTavish from Canada who is buried at Ayr Cemetery. The remains of the aircraft are still at the crash site in the forest next to Loch Doon. The other crash was a Spitfire and its Czech pilot – the wreckage wasn’t found in the loch until 1982. It was taken to the Dumfries & Galloway Aviation Museum where it was restored and has been on display since 2017.

The loch is now recognised as a SSSI because it supports the only native population of Arctic char in the south west of Scotland.

The Craigengillan Estate was established in 1611. It was the seat of the McAdam family for 400 years, including the great engineer John Loudon McAdam, inventor of tarmac. The McAdams were enthusiastic horse breeders and this is a theme which is still evident in the Estate today with very active stables, and even holiday accommodation which can be booked along with your horse! You will often see horse riders out on hacks around the Estate’s many tracks and trails, or at the very least see horses in the fields surrounding the stables.

Fun fact: the interior of Craigengillan House was redecorated by the same company who did parts of Buckingham Palace and the White House!

The current owner, Laird Mark Gibson, received an OBE in 2019 in recognition of his services to heritage through work done in the Estate. Prior to him buying the Estate in 1999, “Keep Out” signage and barbed wire could be found at all the entrances and the Estate was in a state of neglect with frequent fires set in acts of vandalism by local youths. The Laird has opened up access to the Estate for the public, working alongside the community and local schools to encourage them to get involved in conservation tasks there. 25 years on and it seems he has managed to turn things around: the Craigengillan Estate is certainly a huge asset to the area and wandering around it today it is hard to think of it closed off and neglected.

One of the great things about this walk is the variety of terrain you encounter: as you begin to tire of one thing, it all changes. An example of this for me is coming off the main road through the Estate and out across the farmed grasslands, passing Wee Berbeth Loch and its stone ruins and up to the viewpoint over Bogton Loch. All of a sudden you are amongst sheep and horses and out in the open, high up in what feels like quite an exposed area (I’ve been there in driving rain and it definitely felt exposed!), crossing stiles and going through hundreds* of gates and walking along a track lined with ancient Beech trees.

*not actually hundreds but a fair few!

Wide track winding through long grasses towards a small woodland
Lovely section of the walk along grassy tracks high up on the hillside fields
Viewpoint from high ground overlooking lush green fields, coniferous trees and Bogton Loch, with green rolling hills in the background.
Viewpoint overlooking Bogton Loch and the lush countryside of this part of rural East Ayrshire

By the time you reach Dalcairney Falls you are really quite far into the walk and it has been so good that you can almost be forgiven for forgetting there is still a waterfall to come! But come it does, and well…. A photo speaks a thousand words….

A double waterfall, one beneath the other, set in a shaded lush green wooded gorge.
Dalcairney Falls

The first time I was here I took my photos and went back up onto the road, finishing the walk that way. I had seen a footpath of sorts continuing on downstream but it looked boggy and not particularly well used so I didn’t think much of it. Returning another time, I followed it and was surprised to find two very well constructed wooden footbridges amongst the overgrown wild flowers!

The path led me to a field where I paused before going in because there was a family of Highland Cows grazing away. Uh oh…. will I need to go back? My map showed a path going across the field and out onto the road – there was no path in real life. If I’d been alone I’d probably have chickened out but mum’s presence gave me a feeling of safety (not that she could have done much!) and we decided to venture into the field, keep quiet, quickly make our way across and hope for the best.

I instinctively held my breath until I reached the gate at the other side, heart pounding away in my chest. We needn’t have worried: not one of the cows even so much as lifted its head to look at us as we walked past right in front of their noses!

Lush green vegetation, trees and wild flowers encroaching on a narrow riverside footpath
Overgrown footpath along the banks of the Dalcairnie Burn, leading to the second of two large wooden footbridges and then the field of Highland Cows.

Then to finish the walk off nicely, after a stint on surfaced roads we found another little gem of a footpath along the Muck Water. Muck by name, not by nature: this is looked after by a local Scout group and about halfway along there is a landscaped garden area with seating. A beautiful spot and a fitting end to a fantastic route!

Gravel trail running alongside a small stream surrounded by long grasses and wild flowers
Muck Water path – with thanks to the 33rd Ayrshire (Dalmellington) Scouts!

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