and Tracks of Ayrshire
main purpose of this study is to identify the routes
taken by the various roads and tracks in Ayrshire at
different times. At the same time, details are given
of how the road system was adminstered in different
historical periods and what legislation was introduced
both to build roads, and regulate their traffic. Inevitably,
there is more information for later periods than for
covered in a little detail are some aspects of travel
and transport at different times and the part roads
and tracks played in social and economic life.
subject is covered in chronological order, starting
with the mesolithic. This was immediately after the
last main ice age which ended about 10,000 years ago.
As the climate improved, the first settlers appeared
and by 6000 BC were well established in coastal areas,
especially near Girvan and the vicinity of Irvine as
well as an inland site near Loch Doon. While we cannot
point to any one track and say it had its origins in
this period at least we can be sure of their main routes.
same applies to the succeeding period, the Neolithic,
which lasted from about 4000 - 2500 BC. Again there
was coastal movement as shown by archaeological finds,
and movement around settlement areas in the Ballantrae,
Muirkirk and Cumnock areas.
the Bronze and Iron Ages (c.2500 - 1000 BC and 1000
BC - Roman times) we are entering more complex eras.
Finds, both of artefacts and structures are more numerous
from this period but considerable work needs to be done
to date many of them and so allow an overview at different
stages in this period. An overview of likely routes
is given but without precise dating evidence it is hard
to say what the network was at any one time.
Romans invaded south-west Scotland in 81 AD as part
of the Agricolan campaign and it can be assumed they
carried out a thorough exploration of Ayrshire. Marching
camps have been found at Girvan and a few miles north
of Muirkirk and undoubtedly others remain to be discovered.
Three Roman roads linked to Ayrshire have been discovered.
One led to the fort at Loudoun Hill though it has not
been traced beyond this; another runs up the Nith valley
and has been traced to within a few miles of the Ayrshire
boundary; and yet another has been found in the hills
above Largs. Another road running from the south through
Carsphairn to Dalmellington and Ayr has long been suspected
to be Roman, although not proved to be such. Other routes
have been proposed and an extensive literature exists
on these. A reasonably complete overview of this literature
has been provided and it will be seen that further fieldwork
may yet confirm some of these routes to be Roman.
the next period, the Dark Ages, we enter a strange almost
mythic period hinted at only in early Welsh poetry and
a scatter of placenames. Research into south-west Scotland
in this period has been limited but there is enough
information to get an idea of some of the main routes.
the Middle Ages, the situation improves as there are
sources of various types. This is the time when Ayrshire
proper was formed by William I as one of a number of
new shires in a process started by David I. David had
been brought up in the Anglo-Norman court and when he
succeeded to the throne introduced innovative ideas
which led to rapid change. It is these which supply
the clues to allow a reasonable reconstruction of the
road network of that time. One in particular is worth
noting here. This was the granting of trading privileges
to the new burgh of Ayr, including the right to collect
tolls at five collection points on the boundary of the
new shire. This immediately allows us to identify the
course of five major routes quite closely.
sources are supplemented by an examination of the maps
of Timothy Pont who carried out a survey of Scotland
in the years around 1600. Although he does not show
roads on his Ayrshire maps yet he does include river
crossings which allow us to infer routes and his placenames
contain other clues as to where these might have been.
In the succeeding Post-Mediaeval period, from about
1600 to the mid-1700's, there were more determined efforts
to build roads. This is shown by the increased amount
of legislation and the setting up of the adminstrative
apparatus needed for road building.
one of the main sources that could have told us what
roads were built in this period has been lost to us.
The source is the records of the Justices of the Peace
who from 1617 had responsibility for road building in
parishes. There are a few other sources such as the
records of the Commissioners of Supply who dealt with
bridges, and early maps but generally speaking the picture
of this period is not as clear as it could have been.
There is every likelihood that many roads were being
built in this period under the statute labour system
which required people to work on road building for several
days each year without pay but without the records we
have no means of identifying them and when they were
the very end of the period, however, there is a compensation.
This is in the form of the very detailed maps of the
Military Survey of Scotland that was carried out under
the command of General Roy. The maps are at a scale
of 1 inch to 1000 yards and are surprisingly accurate.
All roads and tracks are represented on them.
A full account is given in the text of the routes these
followed. This was felt worthwhile as many no longer
exist or vary in details from later roads that follow
the same routes. At the same time, an account is given
of the Armstrong map of Ayrshire published in 1775.
Although much less accurate than Roy it allows an interesting
comparison with the Roy maps showing for example the
first of the turnpikes and some newly built parish roads.
As it has been reprinted, copies can easily be obtained.
1767, the first of the Turnpike Acts for Ayrshire was
passed, followed by another major Act in 1774. Over
the years, other Acts were passed as the road network
was expanded. In the text, we look at the turnpike system
in general and at the roads themselves in some detail.
the turnpikes transformed the transport network of the
day, work continued on parish roads. There was progress
on these as the statute labour system had been amended
to allow people to pay a tax rather than carry out the
work themselves. This allowed competent road builders
to be employed, and in any case, the techniques used
in building roads were improving.
useful source for these local roads is the Old and New
Statistical Accounts for Scotland published in the 1790's
and 1830's respectively. They give descriptions of each
parish as written by local Ministers and include a wealth
of information on the parishes including the roads.
In this work, details of the roads in each parish are
given based on these accounts, supplemented by other
sources. Among these are some of the new and reasonably
accurate "county" maps that appeared in the early 1800's,
for example, Arrowsmith in 1807, Ainslie in 1821 and
Thomson in 1828. Where appropriate, references are made
to these maps but space does not allow treatment of
the plethora of roads and tracks that they show. Ordnance
Survey maps for Ayrshire start appearing in the 1850's
and are entirely accurate.
given are some details of the transport on the roads.
This was the age of the Royal Mail and the stagecoach
as well as the horse and cart, and the roads looked
very different from today.
the coming of the railways, which soon reached into
all parts of Ayrshire, there was a steady decline in
the condition of the turnpikes as their revenues fell.
Eventually the turnpike trusts were disbanded and both
the turnpike roads and the parish roads became the responsibility
of the new County Council from 1883 onwards. Some details
of this are given in the text, mostly based on existing
County Council records. This is supplemented by an account
of which roads were built in this period and which were
left to decline. The source here is a very useful list
of roads and bridges which had to be completed by the
new Council under the Road and Bridges (Scotland) Act
In 1930, there was a re-organisation of local government,
and a new Highways Committee with extended powers was
set up. The minutes for this committee exist and a representative
account of matters they dealt with along with details
of new roads built in this period up to the early 1950's
is given in the text. A brief concluding chapter dealing
with the roads from 1950 brings us up to the present.
those readers unfamiliar with Ayrshire, the map shows
the main towns and roads as well as rivers and high
ground. As with roads everywhere, the course they take
is closely determined by the geography and Ayrshire
from the 1946 Ordnance Survey map. © Crown copyright
exception. In the main, roads and tracks in previous
historical periods followed the valleys but as these
were usually waterlogged and overgrown before the 1800's,
they tended to be on the valley sides and in some cases
on higher ground.
already noted, the main methods used in this study were
various sources and early maps, supplemented by some
field visits and examination of aerial photographs.
Other methods such as the use of placenames suggested
themselves, and are noted in passing.
the main focus being on the identification of roads
and tracks, it means that in places the text is fairly
dense with references to places along the line of a
route. Although maps have been included on the site
the reader will find it useful to have a 1:50000 or
1:25000 map to hand.
names are not covered in this study, except incidentally
but the interested reader will find details in local
histories as well as studies of particular towns.
it is worth noting one or two issues that have emerged
in the course of researching this work. One has to be
whether any of the suggested routes for Roman roads
in Ayrshire can be established as Roman. Another is
the age of the Ayr to Dalmellington route - is it Roman
or a mediaeval pack horse route or an early parish road?
There is a strong possibility of a Dark Age or even
Damnonian route from Ayrshire to Dumbarton Rock; and
hints of an early route to the south through Stair.
Yet another problem is that lack of records for the
post-mediaeval period means our knowledge of this time
is quite sketchy yet it is clear enough that roads were
being built at this time. There is also the intriguing
reference in the Old Statistical Account for West Kilbride
of an ancient pilgrim way to Iona running from Edinburgh
the case, with each of these, as well as other problems,
there is plenty of work to be done.