Lochwinnoch – a Mill Magazine local guide by Diarmid MacArthur
Local author Diarmid MacArthur gives us a whistle-stop tour of his beloved village.
For many people, Lochwinnoch is just a scattering of houses and an indoor-football venue, teamed with a nice old, two-arch railway bridge spanning both the road and the River Calder. Between these attractions and the somewhat remote railway station lie two lochs which, in times of excessive rain, join up and close the A760, the road to that popular, day-trip destination, Largs. But next time you head to the coast, it’s worth turning off the main road and spending a bit of time exploring this lovely little village.
It was once a bustling Mill village and vestiges of these structures remain, typically converted into flats. It was served by its own centrally located railway and station, with several train-oriented structures and interesting bridges still intact. The track-bed now forms the cycle track that runs from Johnstone to Glengarnock, part of the National Cycle Network. There was even a furniture factory that, according to urban myth, supplied an array of fitments for the Titanic! The main street—formally registered as a conservation area—harbours many old and intriguing buildings that have been repurposed as attractive shops, cafés and pubs. So, if you fancy some marvellous coffee ‘n’ cake, a nice lunch or even just a roll and chips, you will be well catered for.
However, you only need to walk a little way out of the village centre to find an area that is rich in history and bustling with surprises! Historical sights, such as the 15th century Barr Castle and the 16th century Collegiate Church, sit adjacent to the cycle track. A little further on is The Temple, a hilltop ruin once part of the Castle Semple estate. A short ramble from the track will reward the explorer with old bridges and ruinous mills – be sure to take your camera!
In springtime, a detour along the numerous pathways of Parkhill Woods will reward you with swathes of bluebells under the dappled canopy – the sight (and smell) is, quite simply, breathtaking! Carry on through the woods and a steep path leads out above the trees to reveal a spectacular viewpoint, overlooking the next attraction – Castle Semple Loch…
This beautiful, two kilometre stretch of water offers many pursuits for the visitor. For nature lovers, there is a wonderful RSPB centre and shop, with interesting lochside walks, hides and activities to keep the whole family entertained. Then, there is the Clyde Muirshiel Visitor Centre, complete with a gift shop, refreshments and a host of local information. You can even hire a bike here and it`s right next to the level, paved cycle track, so no need to worry about any rough terrain or steep hills!
For the more athletic visitors, the loch hosts a variety of activities, including rowing, windsurfing, sailing, canoeing and open-water swimming. Castle Semple loch and the adjacent centre provide changing facilities and toilets, with launch slipways and pontoons. But, if you’d rather, you can simply sit in the car park and feed the numerous semi-tame birds that frequent the shores (no dry bread, please!)
Should you choose to carry on through the village and up the steep Johnshill, you will pass the frontage and bell-tower of the old Saint John`s Kirk, known locally as “Auld Simon”. Keep going and you will see signs for Muirshiel Park, where a three-mile drive up a single-track road will take you to a remote and secluded moorland park, reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. There are toilets, picnic tables and woodland walks; you can cross a moorland path to Windy Hill, aptly named, as you will find out once you reach the summit! The walk is well worth it, though, as the views are spectacular. The track continues across the moor to the site of the old barytes mine, although it is dilapidated and dangerous, so it`s best to avoid any archaeological exploration! Muirshiel is an amazing, quiet and peaceful spot, one of the few places where a cuckoo can be heard in the spring.
So, next time you’re heading for a day out in Largs, why not take a detour, turn right, cross one of the little bridges over the River Calder and have a wander around this beautiful little Renfrewshire gem. Whether you stay for lunch, have a coffee, or rent a bike – it’s a certainty that you`ll be back…
Diarmid MacAthur’s book, Drown For Your Sins, which is set in Renfrewshire, is available now. This feature was published in Mill issue 10 September/October 2020.