A trip through the Irvine Valley is a trip through Scottish history.
The Irvine Valley has, from earliest times, been one of the main routes from the ports, towns and farmlands of Ayrshire into the hills of central Scotland and thence to Edinburgh.
The Irvine Valley grew from a centre of handloom weaving to one of the main textile centres of the British Empire. Although the industry is now much reduced, for bargain hunters there are still factory shops, including knitwear in Galston and lace and furnishing fabrics in Newmilns and Darvel.
The head of the valley is marked by the volcanic plug of Loudoun Hill, which was the site of military victories by William Wallace and Robert Bruce.
Loudoun Castle, once described as "the Windsor Castle of Scotland" was the site of the drafting of the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England.
A major fire in the 1930s rendered the castle uninhabitable, although it is still a magnificent ruin. Nearby Loudoun Kirk, once the church associated with the castle, is currently under renovation.
Barr Castle, Galston
Galston is the site of Barr Castle, a medieval tower house in private ownership, which is linked in legend to one of William Wallace's daring escapes from the King's men.
Nearby Newmilns, one of the most historic towns in Ayrshire, contains a wealth of fine buildings including Newmilns Keep, the Church with its Covenanter Memorials and the Old Town House.
The town has suffered economically in recent years due to the global reduction in the textile industry, but is in the course of benefiting from a Townscape Heritage Initiative, which is improving the historic core of the town.
Darvel was the birthplace of Sir Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin, who is commemorated by a bust in Hastings Square.
Walks and cycle routes
There is a network of walks and cycle routes along the length of the valley and in its beautiful surroundings.