Ayr nature trail
Ayr Town Nature Trail
Station to Carnegie Library
This walk takes about half an hour (a little longer if you take the suggested detour). It has been chosen as it passes through built up areas and a long section beside the River Ayr. Wild plants colonise any suitable place offered to them including walls, waste ground and river banks. Summer is the best time to see the flowering plants, but there is something of interest at all times of the year. Insects and birds follow the plants, and on the river itself both freshwater and seabirds may be seen at all times of year.
Turn right into Smith Street from the main station entrance, passing Kyle Court block of flats where the coping stones of the low stone wall support a dense growth of green alga and a few mosses have colonised the vertical faces of some of the stone. Opposite the Hospice Shop take an optional DETOUR to the car park just below it.
This car park is surrounded by old brick and stone walls which have been colonised by a wide variety of flowering plants, most conspicuous of which are the large buddleia bushes, both purple and white varieties. Look for their seedlings which take root wherever they find a small niche between the bricks. The flowers also attract butterflies such as the small tortoiseshell and the red admiral. On the high brick wall on the left many flowering plants such as willowherb and grasses and goldenrod (a garden escape) grow in abundance both on the brick and on the stone wall beyond it. Even trees such as birch and sycamore have managed to grow to a good size on the wall. There is a luxurious growth of male fern and if you look carefully you will see the delicate little madenhair spleenwort. A few mosses grow here and you may even spot a small patch of liverwort.
Immediately opposite the car park turn right into what is called the cage walk. A narrow footpath takes you beside the railway line and across the River Ayr. Lesser bindweed takes advantage of the wire netting on the right to carry its weak stems towards the light and sticky goose grass scrambles up here too. Beyond the wire the waste ground is colonised by many plants including Buddleia, ragwort, thistle and clover. Unfortunately you may see a great deal of litter along this path too.
Look on the left for two kinds of ferns growing on the stone wall, these are the tiny wall rue and slightly larger maiden hair spleenwort.
A few flowering plants grow here too including St John's wort, storksbill and mullein and once again small Buddleia seedlings.
While crossing the river, you will see few plants growing on the concrete and only a dusting of green algae on the metal of which the bridge is constructed, but you will catch your first sight of the water birds on the river.
At the end of the bridge turn left down the steep slope towards the river. The planted shrubs and tree on either side afford shelter for garden birds. Wait quietly for a few minutes and see what you can spot.
Turn right and walk along by the side of the river which is a resting and feeding place for both freshwater birds and seawater birds. You are likely to see several of the following: black-headed gulls (red beak and legs, chocolate brown head in summer), herring gulls (grey black, pink legs), lesser black-backed gulls (black back, yellow legs) immature gulls with speckled plumage duck, cormorant, shag and perhaps even a heron and many stately swans (see more on swans later). Going close to the wall will usually attract gulls beside you so that you can see all the features in close-up. It helps to have a few crumbs.
Look on the top of the river wall to see a variety of mosses and lichens. The mosses are tiny cushions sometimes with capsules which contain spores. The lichens form coloured patches, orange, light grey, dark grey and greenish. They attract snails which live a faint silvery trail.
Stand by one of the railings in a wall gap and look over the wall. Here you can see almost every type of plant life. Small trees, grasses and other flowering plants grow on the riverside of the wall, together with a few ferns and mosses. The river is tidal here and just below the high tidemark green marine algae grow and below those are brown seaweeds on the rocks which are exposed at low tide.
Continue along the river path until it ends just before the Auld Brig. In the small garden here there is often a flock of pigeons, and seagulls standing on the wall waiting to be fed. You can get a good close-up view of all these birds here.
Turn right at the end of the garden and then left into the street passing a few buildings and shops, then left into River Street. Look over the wall on your left to get a good view of the large number of swans and other water birds which come here to be fed. Sometimes they are joined by a black swan or white-fronted goose. At low tide there is a small sandy beach here. Young birch and sycamore trees have rooted on the wall on the riverside. Ivy-leaved toadflax, with its small mauve flowers is another plant you will see growing on the wall in this area.
Continue along River Street. The river wall just before the public toilets has good examples of the small ferns, wall rue and maidenhair spleenwort. Cross the road and turn right by Ladbrokes into Garden Street. The old buildings on the left have many ferns growing on them and also tall plants of rosebay willowherb. Just before the turn right signal, you will see the back entrance to the Carnegie Library. Here, both in the Reference room and in the Lending Library, you will find many books about the birds and plants you have seen on your walk.