"Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a town surpasses; For honest men and bonnie lasses."
"Tam o' Shanter" by Robert Burns (1759 - 1796).
"Ayr is a royal burgh which was created in 1205. Ayr is a busy and attractive town which owes something at least of its prosperity to its connection with Robert Bums. The town stands on the banks of the River Ayr, at the point where that river enters the Firth of Clyde, so that it can also offer the attractions of a seaside resort. The sandy beach is bordered by a breezy expanse of turf, where are a pavilion, bandstand, etc. At the north end of the beach is the Harbour, whence pleasure steamers run to Arran and other Clyde resorts and near the south end are two golf courses."
From a 1920s guide book to Scotland.
The town of Ayr lies at the centre of the county and is some 70 miles distant from Edinburgh and 36 miles from Glasgow. Dumfries is some 60 miles to the south-east, Ardrossan some 19 miles away and Kilmarnock 12 miles to the north.
Ayr is an ancient royal burgh which was for many years the county town of Ayrshire, although much local government administration has been devolved to the three unitary district councils created in 1996.
The burgh is dominated by the Town Steeple, a very fine piece of work which is perhaps best appreciated from a view-point at the far end of the New Bridge, by which the main road crosses the river. From this bridge also is a good view of the Auld Brig immortalised by Burns in his poem 'The Brigs of Ayr'. Its antiquity is undoubted, and although a few years ago it was in peril of demolition and was only saved by the intervention of the Burns Clubs, it still stands a champion of the soundness of thirteenth-century workmanship. The New Bridge against which Burns imagined inveighing was a predecessor of the present New Bridge.
From the Steeple, the High Street leads up to the Railway Station, passing on the way the Tam o' Shanter Inn, still with its thatched roof and primitive fittings, but now boasting on front a large picture showing Tam, mounted on his "grey meare Meg," setting off for Alloway and the exciting incidents related by Burns. Just outside the station yard is a Bums statue by G. A. Lawson, and the road at this point leads in a couple miles to Burn's Birthplace and Alloway.
Ayr also honours William Wallace: there is a Wallace Tower (said to occupy the site of a tower in which he was confined) just below the Tam o' Shanter in High Street; on Barnweil Hill, about 6 miles north-east of the town, a prominent monument commemorates the patriot. While closer at hand in the same direction is the cairn at Auchincruive erected to the joint memory of Burns and Wallace. The Auchincruive estate now belongs to the West of Scotland Agricultural College. On this side of the town also is Ayr's very popular Racecourse.
Ayr is said to have been the site of a Roman station, but there is little evidence as to this. King William the Lyon, who built a castle at the mouth of the River Ayr, granted the town a charter in 1202, raising it to the dignity of a Royal Burgh. It was here that William Wallace first openly organised resistance against the English forces. The town was the scene of one of his notable exploits: "the burning of the Barns of Ayr." A parliament convened by Robert the Bruce for the purpose of settling the succession to the Scottish throne met here, and it was from the port of Ayr that Edward Bruce embarked in 1315 with a small army for the purpose of invading Ireland.
In 1652, following the English Civil Wars, the English Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell appointed a Governor of Ayr and built the Fort of Ayr, of which traces remain on the height to the west of the harbour. The ancient church of St. John, founded in the twelfth century, which stood here, was converted into an armoury. By way of compensation, the Protector gave a donation of 2,000 marks to assist in building the Parish Church.
Excursions from Ayr include walks beside the river and to the Wallace and Burns memorials mentioned above; steamer trips to Arran and other Clyde resorts and visits by rail or road to various spots associated with Burns, pre-eminent being that to Robert Burns birthplace at Alloway.
The Parish Church (the Auld Kirk) off Kirkport, a narrow way a little below the Wallace Tower, in High Street. The church was built between 1652 and 1654, paid for by Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth Government which had requisitioned the original medieval church. (All that remains of that church is St John's Tower, close by the Fort.)
In the lychgate of the Auld Kirk are some of the heavy iron grave-covers which were common in the days of the body-snatchers. The graveyard will interest epitaph hunters; the Martyrs' Tomb is near the river on the east side of the church; its inscription concluding:
"Boots, thumbkins, gibbets were in fashion then,
Lord, let us never ace such days again."
The New Church of Fort Street was opened in 1810, built to accommodate the overflow from the Auld Kirk. This church was converted into a dance studio 'Dansarena' in the early 1980s.
The Baptist Church, also on Fort Street, was built in 1817.
Ayr, or more correctly, Alloway's most famous son was Robert Burns, Scotland's premier poet, of whom something more is to be found on the Alloway page.
Ayr was also the birthplace of John Loudon Macadam, [1756-1836] the renowned Scottish engineer. MacAdam emigrated to the USA at 14, but he returned to the UK in 1783. He was appointed paving commissioner in Bristol in 1806; ten years later he became Surveyor-General of the roads in that region, and then of all the roads in Britain in 1827. He is renowned as the inventor of the macadam road surface. It originally consisted of broken granite bound together with slag or gravel, raised for drainage. Today, it is bound with tar or asphalt.
Ayr: Travel and Entertainment
Ayr is readily accessible by road or rail, and using either Perstwick or Glasgow International Airports, by air from elsewhere in the UK and from overseas.
Drivers visiting the town of Ayr should be aware that private motor vehicles are not allowed in the pedestrian area of High Street and Newmarket Street. However, there is ample inexpensive car parking available close to the town centre in street-level car parks, a multi-storey car park, and street parking by vouchers that are readily purchased from most petrol stations and many shops in the town.
Entertainment in Ayr includes a theatre, a 4-screen cinema, a 10-pin bowling lane, an ice rink and a large swimming pool complex.
Ayr Racecourse runs many Flat and National Hunt meetings throughout the year. The Racecourse is particularly famous as the venue of the Scottish Grand National, the Ayrshire Handicap and the Ayr Gold Cup.