The path to the Castle starts just outside the Centre and winds its way up the 140 feet to the top of the hill. On the way you will pass a well (1), which was unearthed during the archaeological dig carried out during the 1980’s by Historic Scotland, the body responsible for the castle. In the vicinity of the well the dig exposed the foundations of the 13th century Stewart castle which was the immediate predecessor of the present building. Also found was some vitrified rock dated to 1000AD and believed to be the remains of a dark ages fort destroyed by fire (2).
On a clear day it is worth leaving the path to go over to the view point on the right of the path. The hill commands a fine view over the central Ayrshire countryside and this may explain why it has been a site of human occupation for over 4000 years. Some of the principal landmarks, both remote and near hand, are indicated on the viewpoint.
Proceeding now to the Castle you pass the outer courtyard on your left. Surrounded by a high wall (3) this area was occupied by a number of small buildings which supported the operation of the Castle, blacksmith, stables, saddler perhaps, brewhouse and so on. The grassy lawn (4) now conceals the foundations of these buildings and also the remains of the first High Steward’s castle built around 1100. The inner courtyard of the Castle is entered between the castle wall and the remains of a rectangular building to the left. This may be the remains of the Chapel dedicated to St Ninian and known to have been associated with Dundonald Castle.
Before entering the Castle it is worth standing back to look up at the east wall of the building. The Tower House built for Robert II’s accession in 1371 is directly in front of you while to the left is the extension added about 30 years later to provide additional accommodation. Before the extension was added the entrance was at the S-E corner above the little cellar to your left. Later a new entrance was opened in the east wall, the opening you see about 20 feet up and just to the right. See if you can make out the remains of the 13th century castle in the lower part of the wall.
The door through which you now enter the Castle was the servants’ entrance and takes you into the floor of the cellar where supplies and materials for the Castle would be stored. The timber floor of the lower hall was at about the level of the new access platform and the supports for it can be seen in the west and north walls. Some of the features of the castle are explained on the information panels on the walls. The fine barrel-vaulted ceiling of the lower hall is largely original and the fact that it remains in place after 600 years is a tribute to the skill of the masons who built it. Looking up at the window in the north wall to the right of the door you will see a small door in the right hand side of it. This gives access to a small chamber with a toilet chute to the outside and was placed there for the use of minstrels who entertained the Castle residents from a timber gallery built across the window.
To reach the access platform use what was the servants’ stair to the lower hall. On the access platform a plaque explains the features of the laigh or lower hall which was the public room of the Castle. At the south end of the platform a door gives access to the extension with its prison and forbidding pit known as an oubliette. Access to the top floor is gained using the steel turnpike staircase at the end of the platform.
Once in the Great Hall you are in the private apartments of the king and it would be here that Robert II died in 1390. The decorative stone arches did not support the ceiling but were merely ornamental. Closer inspection of this stonework especially in the N-W corner reveals the marks left by the masons who built the Castle—like two overlapping, inverted V’s.
Returning to the ground floor you can continue your walk round the outside of the building. Once at the west wall stand back about 10 yards and look for the five heraldic shields on the wall. These all relate to Robert II and his family. You can also see the remains of the N-W tower of the 13th century castle in the wall.
Complete your walk by returning round the south of the building to the path by which you ascended. The flat ground below you to the south at one time contained a loch created by damming the burn that runs at the foot of the woods. Not only did this add to the security of the Castle but it also appears to have been used to provide a supply of fish. The title deeds of Houses in the Main Street refer to ‘the fisherman’s field’.
Note: The number references in the text refer to numbers marked on stones at the various points of interest.
When visiting Dundonald it is worth taking the walk from the castle to the ruins of Auchans House. Part of the formal path has been upgraded and completed and the walk provides a lovely stroll through the flora and fauna of the ancient wood. For those wishing something a little more invigorating the following route provides up to 5km of walks to the house and up and over the hill.
Dundonald Hill Walk
This is a pleasant but short walk around Dundonald hill starting at the Castle car park. Go down behind the visitors centre cross the bridge in 250m going right then left along the path to Auchans House. Continue around the house then uphill and left. The good path ends but carry on and before the path goes downhill take the right track up towards the field. Continue high round the top of the cliffs and then descend to a better track.
Keep your eyes peeled for a small track on the right and take this uphill, it contours round the hill past a wooden platform, dips to a muddy bit, then climbs up some small rocky steps to the edge of Hillhouse quarry. The track swings right and goes over the hilltop down to a muddy area where the tracks disappears but make the best way over it back to the bigger track and the return route. Return below the cliffs over the bridge again and up to the visitors centre for a snack or tickets to view the castle.
This walk was taken from the MapMyWalk web site which provides a list of alternative walks throughout Ayrshire.
The Smugglers’ Trail
This easy to moderate woodland and coastal walk leads from the back of the Visitor Centre (beside which there is a large information signboard map showing the route) through the ancient woodland and over the hill to Collennan Farm past the reservoir with its splendid views of the Firth of Clyde.
It then passes along Main Street, Loans, down through Fullarton Woods, past Crosbie Kirk, along the Wrack Road across Royal Troon Golf Course, and ends up at South Beach, Troon.
This historic route has been in regular use from early times and takes about 45 minutes from Dundonald to Collennan, with the total walk taking about 2 hours. There are car parks at Dundonald Castle and South Beach, Troon.
The Smugglers’ Trail was developed in collaboration with the Community Councils of Dundonald, Loans and Troon, and with South Ayrshire Council’s assistance.
This walk also features on the Ayrshire Coastal Path.