The largest town in southwest Scotland, looking west out on to the Firth of Clyde and Arran, Ayr has been a popular seaside resort since Victorian times.
Ayr Phone dialling code: +44 (0)1292
The town's 2 miles of sandy beach, together with Scotland's most important racecourse, continue to attract hordes of visitors from nearby Glasgow. Ayr is best known for its many connections with Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns, who was born in the neighbouring village of Alloway and who famously praised the town for its 'honest men and bonnie lasses'.
Local Sights & Activities for Ayr
Most of Ayr's important sights are contained within the Burns National Heritage Park in Alloway, but there are a few places of interest dotted around the cramped streets of Ayr's old town, to the south of the River Ayr. To the west of Sandgate, off Bruce Terrace, is St John's Tower, the only surviving part of the 12th-century Church of St John the Baptist. It was here, in 1315, that Robert the Bruce called a meeting of the Scots parliament to decide his successor to the throne. In 1652 Cromwell's army incorporated the church into a fort which they built. Guided tours are available for groups by arrangement with Sheena Andrew at the Carnegie Library, Main Street (Tel 282109), or you can get the key to the tower from the Council offices on Burns Statue Square (£2 deposit required).
As compensation for taking over the Church of St John, in 1654 Cromwell donated money to build the Auld Kirk at the end of Kirk Port, a narrow lane leading off the High Street. The church retains its original canopied pulpit, and in the lych gate you can see iron grave-covers used to protect corpses from the body snatchers who sold them to medical schools. A short distance away is the Auld Brig, the 13th-century bridge immortalized by Burns in his poem Twa Brigs. At 230 High Street is the Tam o' Shanter Inn, an ancient thatched pub where the eponymous hero enjoyed an evening of alcoholic excess before mounting his trusty mare, Meg, and setting off on his near-disastrous journey home to Kirkoswald. The pub is now a shrine to the bard and its walls are covered with many of his greatest quotes. A few yards away on the High Street is the Wallace Tower, which commemorates the Scottish patriot, William Wallace, who was imprisoned in the town in 1297, for setting fire to a barn with 500 English soldiers inside.
At the top of the High Street, where it meets Sandgate, is the impressive spire of the Town Buildings, and opposite is Loudoun Hall, a former merchant's house which dates from 1470 and has been recently refurbished (tours by arrangement with Sheena Andrew, Carnegie Library). Turn left before you reach New Bridge and head along South Harbour Street to reach the harbour, where you can arrange a cruise on board the Waverley, the world's last ocean-going paddle steamer. They leave on Tuesday and Wednesday only from early July to the end of August. For bookings or further information, Tel 0141-243 2224, or check at the tourist office. Also ask at the tourist office for details of other boat trips from Ayr harbour.
The beach lies to the southwest of the town centre, overlooked by the long Esplanande and backed by a grid-iron of streets lined with elegant Victorian villas. This is where you'll find most of the guesthouses, particularly around Wellington Square. There are also many guesthouses and B&Bs on Carrick Road at the south end of town, and Prestwick Road at the north end.
The heart of Burns country is Alloway, formerly a separate village a few miles south of Ayr, but now swallowed by its spreading suburbs. On the road to Alloway from Ayr is the impressive Rozelle House and Park. Built originally around 1760, the house now holds the Tam o' Shanter series of paintings by Alexander Goudie, a must for those who want an insight into Burns' colourful work. It also houses the Ayrshire Yeomonry Museum, and has various temporary exhibitions. Good coffee shop and craft shop focussing on quality local crafts.
Info:Oct-Mar Mon-Sat 1000-1700, and Apr-Nov Sun 1400-1700. Free. Tel 445447.
A 10-minute walk down the road brings you to the Burns National Heritage Park. The best place to start is the Burns Cottage and Museum, the low, thatched, whitewashed 'auld clay biggin' where the poet was born on 25 January 1759 and spent the first seven years of his life. The museum contains original manuscripts, books, paintings and other memorabilia, plus a brief history of his life.
Info:Apr-Sep daily 0930-1730, Oct-Mar daily 1000-1700. £3, concession £1.50. Tel 441215.
Nearby is the Tam o' Shanter Experience, a modern building housing an audio-visual theatre telling the story of Tam o' Shanter, a funny and frightening poem and a cautionary tale of the consequences of alcoholic over-indulgence. There's also a well-stocked gift shop and a restaurant.
Info: Same opening hours as above. £1.50, £0.75 concession. Tel 443700.
Across the road are the ruins of Alloway Kirk, where Robert Burns' father, William, is buried. This was the setting for the famous scene in Tam o' Shanter when Tam stumbles across a wild orgy of witches, warlocks and demons. When he gets carried away watching one particularly winsome witch, Nannie, and screams out his encouragement, the ghouls give chase and Tam and his mare, Meg, narrowly escape, minus Meg's tail, across the Brig o' Doon, the 13th-century humpbacked bridge which still stands nearby, spanning the River Doon. Overlooking the bridge is the ostentatious Burns Monument, a Neoclassical temple which houses a display. There are statues of various Burns characters in the gardens.
Info: Same opening hours as the Burns Cottage and Museum in summer; closed winter. £1, £0.50 concession.
As a change from Robert Burns you can visit the Dunaskin Heritage Centre, Waterside, Dalmellington Road, about 12 miles south of Ayr off the A713. It deals with the iron-working heritage of the area and has two audio-visual presentations, an interactive computer quiz and a restored 1914 iron worker's cottage. As it is in the heart of mining country there is also a simulated mine tour.
Info: Apr-Oct daily 1000-1700. £4.50, £3.75 concession.
Cycling: AMG Cycles, 55 Dalblair Rd, Tel 287580. Rents bikes for £15 per day, or £15 per weekend.
Golf: There's an excellent 18-hole public course at Belleisle Park, Tel 441258. Horse racing: Ayr Racecourse is at 2 Whitletts Rd, Tel 264179, Ayr Racecourse It's the premier racecourse in Scotland and holds 25 days of racing throughout the year, including the Scottish Grand National in mid-Apr. Horse riding: Ayrshire Equestrian Centre, South Mains, Corton Rd, Tel 266267. Cross country course, hacks and lessons from £14 per hr.