Thursday, September 01, 2011

Walk 279 -- Largs, via Ardrossan & Saltcoats, to Stevenston

Ages:  Colin was 69 years and 116 days.  Rosemary was 66 years and 258 days.
Weather:  Warm.  “Fair-weather” cloud.  PERFECT!
Location:  Largs, via Ardrossan & Saltcoats, to Stevenston.
Distance:  19 miles.
Total distance:  2719 miles.
Terrain:  Beaches.  Grassy paths.  Tarmacked paths.  Pavements.  Mostly flat.
Tide:  Out, in, then out again before we’d finished!
Rivers:  No.333, Gogo Water.  No.334, Kel Burn.  No.335, Stevenston Burn.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  No.28 at Portencross — but it had great holes in it!
Kissing gates:  No.224 where a closed road joined a real road.  No.225 leaving the nuclear site.  No.226 approaching Portencross.  No.227 got us on to the beach near West Kilbride.
Pubs:  None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  None.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We towed our caravan from home to Ayr yesterday, having pre-booked the much nicer caravan site in the town which we were unable to get in last time.  This morning we drove to Stevenston and parked the car in a picnic area by the beach.  We walked a few yards to the station where we caught a train to Largs.  There we walked from the station to the pier where we had finished the last Walk.
At the end we came to our car a bit flustered, having got lost in the dunes!  We had our tea, then drove to the river mouth at Irvine to find out if a footbridge across the River Garnock actually existed.  It did, but a big chunk was missing from the middle!  That means we will have to make a seven-mile detour inland on the next Walk, instead of a mere three miles along the beach.  With our hearts in our boots, we returned to our caravan in Ayr. 

We walked on the stone pier at Largs, and took a photo of ourselves using the delayed timer because we have walked exactly 2700 miles along the coast from Bognor Regis.  (It has only taken us thirteen years to do this!)  We were disappointed that the public conveniences on Largs seafront were locked — it was a distinct inconvenience to us, and probably to many of the other people milling about this September morn.
A CalMac ferry came in from the Cumbrae Islands while we were faffing around, it was full of schoolchildren.  Our train had also been full of them about half an hour earlier — teenage boys with their shirts hanging out and teenage girls with tree-trunk legs wearing micro-skirts.  Smart they were not, but I expect they were ‘cool’! 
We crossed the river on to a lovely esplanade backed by flower-filled gardens.  They were quite spectacular, and lent a touch of brightness to a rather grey morning.  But at least it wasn’t raining, and it did brighten up as the day progressed.  Our pies were still warm from the shop near the station where they had been freshly cooked, so we sat on the first seat we came to and devoured them — yum!
There were a couple of churches behind us, and we could clearly see the bells in the open tower of one of them.  I wonder how they cope with the weather in this seafront location.  We noticed a lot of driftwood on the beach, and thought it must have floated in from the many islands out to the west.  In the ‘old’ days it would have been swept up in no time and put to good use by the local populace.  But here in the ‘throw-away’ 21st century it lies ignored on the shore.  There was lovely lighting across the water to the little islands offshore, and towards Arran beyond with its distinctive mountains.  We watched a heron fishing in the shallows.
We came to a structure that looked like a hangman’s gibbet!  But we rather think it was something to do with hauling fishing boats in, though there weren’t any about at the time.  Then we came to a little rocky promontory on which there stood a tall monument.  There were also a few thick bushes about, at last, behind which we both sought relief because every public convenience we had passed so far was locked shut — shame on you, Largs Council!  Feeling much more comfortable, we were able to enjoy the continuation of the Walk.
Anyway, the tall tower was to commemorate the Battle of Largs, 1263, a shoddy and indecisive affair when the Scots were trying to shake off the sovereignty of the Norwegians.  It was finally settled over the negotiating table about three years later.
We could clearly see the lines of rocks on the beach.  Further on we began to pass an exhibition of 20th century anchors and floats displayed beside the path.

We were amused to note that the first ones were surrounded by neatly clipped grass, but as we progressed the verges got increasingly weedy until the exhibits were practically smothered by brambles, etc.  However, there were some very pretty autumnal bushes in between to compensate.  The wild flowers were lovely, though they were weeds really.

We passed a marina, then continued along a path between the railway and the sea.  I had just commented on what a pleasant trail it was — when it came to an end!  (I should keep my big mouth shut!)  We were forced to go under the railway so that it was now between us and the sea.  There was a path for a little while, but all too soon we were spat out on to the main road.
But there was a pavement, so we had no need to don our yellow vests nor embark on car-dodging — must be grateful for small mercies.  We found we were following the ‘Ayrshire Coastal Path’, but way-marking was too infrequent and we kept losing it. 
At Fairlie church we hooked back off the main road and walked through a housing estate.  We were now walking north again, and the ‘Ayrshire Coastal Path’ signs told us to go straight on.  So we ignored them and cut through to the seafront.  (I looked on the map later, and found the ‘Ayrshire Coastal Path’ continued northwards to a dead end — and stopped!  What was the use of that?)  There was no road nor esplanade where we were, so we went down on to the beach and continued walking in our preferred direction — south
It was quite a nice beach really, sandy with a bit of seaweed at the top and people walking their dogs.  Looking south it seemed a bit industrial.  There was a long jetty and domed structures that reminded me of the gasworks of my youth.  But it was all mellowed by the wonderful lighting across a calm sea, it was nearly beautiful, well almost!
We came to some rocks so we climbed up to a boat pound — but the gates were locked.  So we went down the other side of the rocks and continued on the beach.  The next steps led up to an alleyway, and then to a residential road — that’s better!  We were on the site of a boatyard where they used to make yachts, from 1803 to 1939, three generations of the same family.  Over nine-hundred yachts were built there over that time, each with a golden dragon on the bow and a wheatsheaf near the stern.  There was a little sculpture on a plinth to commemorate this family business.
At the end we were reluctant to turn up to the main road again.  So we went down a slipway where we were pleasantly greeted by a local man blowing up an inflatable boat, a zodiac type of thing.  He told us it was possible to get round the next bit of rock on the beach, there was a sort of path.  Yes, it was very ‘sort-of’, but we coped.  It did improve, and we found a seat to sit on.  Colin adjusted his insole because he had a painful heel.  We each ate a clementine which was nice and sweet.
On round the next corner to a picnic area, where we sat down again to eat a sandwich each.  It was far too early for lunch, but we both felt hungry so we decided to ‘graze’ all day.  We knew today’s Walk was going to be a long one and we should have brought extra food — but we hadn’t.
After that we had to rejoin the main road, but there was a pavement so it wasn’t too bad.  We came to what was marked on our map as an ‘ore terminal’.  A pretty footpath over a stone bridge led off round it, but we didn’t know if we could get through to the other side because this path was not marked on our newly bought OS map.  There was no sign of an ‘Ayrshire Coastal Path’ notice, neither directing us straight on nor round the ‘ore terminal’.  There was just a ‘Pedestrians only’ notice and a Marie Curie ‘Field of Hope’.  We decided to try it.  It was a good path leading round in a curve so we couldn’t see what was coming up.  It even had seats at intervals, so it was meant to be used.
Then we met a couple coming towards us, so we asked them if it was a dead end — yes, it was!  They were very pleasant and informative — local knowledge you see!  They described in detail the way we should go, and were very interested in our project.  I hope you are still reading this blog, lovely people!  We went a little further to get a view of the jetty, then we retraced our steps.
We yomped along the main road, and we were pleased that the pavement we were on veered away from the road through a tree tunnel on two occasions.  Just before a roundabout, a path labelled ‘Ayrshire Coastal Path’ led off through the trees to the right.  This took us to a ‘Road Closed’ notice which the couple back at the ore terminal had spoken about.  We ignored it, as instructed, and carried on.  We came to a cycle path leading off to the left and signposted ‘Seamill’ which was a place we knew we wanted to get to eventually.  But was there a route closer to the sea?  We asked a passing dogwalker if we could get round the nuclear power station which, according to our map, was where the road was leading.  Although he lived locally, he didn’t know.  (So much for local knowledge!)  However he was chatty, and tried to be helpful.  He told us about the ‘Hole in the Ground’ which was the promontory we could see to our left as we faced the muddy bay.  He said they used to build oil platforms there in the 70s and 80s, but the site was now derelict.  He told us it was possible to walk all round it, but we decided not to on the grounds that it was a dead end and we hadn’t got time.
The closed road joined up with a real road, and there we found an ‘ Ayrshire Coastal Path’ sign directing us on towards the nuclear power station.  It was a good road — we walked on the pavement next to it admiring the harebells in the grass.  Colin stopped to take some painkillers because his heel was still giving him grief.
We followed the road all round to the nuclear power station — it even took us between some of the buildings and past a bus-shelter affair which was a dedicated smoking area.  We kept passing people wearing high-vis coats and hard hats, we really felt as if we shouldn’t have been there.  But it was as if we were invisible — nobody bade us “Nay!” even though I was taking photographs in all directions.
There were all sorts of notices about this being a licensed nuclear site, no access to the beach because of ‘sharp objects’ and no entry to the jetty, but nowhere did it say we couldn’t continue.  At last we came to the far end, and there was an ‘Ayrshire Coastal Path’ notice pointing onwards.  So we had been legal all along, it was nice to know in retrospect.
We sat on a rock to eat a second sarnie — we were trying to pan our food out to last the Walk.  We continued along a good flat path on what I concluded was a raised beach — for there were cliffs over to the left of us well away from the sea.
It was very pleasant, and we met several groups of people meandering towards us and continuing as far as the entrance to the nuclear power station where they mostly turned round.
We had wonderful views out towards Arran, and also enjoyed the flowers and butterflies down by our feet.  The weather had brightened up, and we had a lot of blue sky.  This really was a pleasant part of the Walk.
We kept seeing rough patches in the sea, as if tiny fish were being pushed up in a ‘bait-ball’.  But we couldn’t see any predator around, and the water was very shallow where this happened anyway.  Each patch lasted just a few seconds, then it would die down…….and rise up a bit further on.
We watched fascinated for some time, but we could only see the splashes — it was always so quick.  We weren’t sure if it was fish causing it, or something else.  It was almost impossible to photograph because we never knew where it was next going to rise up and there wasn’t time to position the camera and press the shutter before it was all over.  So I spent a long time taking videos — mostly of a calm sea!  We got into conversation with a man who hailed from Worcester and walked along with him for a bit.  He had no idea what was causing the water disturbance either.
We came to Portencross where there was a small wooden pier with several big holes in it!  It wasn’t cordoned off, so we skirted the holes to speak to the fishermen at the end.  They hailed from Sheffield, and reckoned that the water disturbance was caused by sand eels being preyed on from underneath.  But the water is too shallow for that!  I stood for a while trying to catch the phenomenon on video while Colin managed to get himself caught up in one of the fisherman’s lines — the fault of both of them really, Colin was too close and the fisherman too careless.
No harm done, and we carried on past a tiny harbour towards the small castle which closed for the season yesterday!  It is a 14th century structure, built by the Boyd family to defend sea routes and access to the islands across the Firth of Clyde.  There was an elderly man standing outside his cottage nearby.  He told us, “I had to come out to see if it was true!  Have you seen the herring fry?  I haven’t seen them do that in sixty years!”  He was very animated and excited as he explained that the patches of disturbed water we had noticed were newly hatched herrings swimming in shoals.  “This means the fish stocks are rising at last!  They are very small now, but give ‘em a few weeks and they’ll be as big as sardines!”
He then went on to tell us stories of his fishing exploits in these parts when he was a boy during the War.  His tales were very interesting, I only wish we’d had more time to stop and listen to him.
We crossed a picnic site and went down a bumpy path to the beach.  We could still see Ailsa Craig, that volcanic plug in the middle of the sea, but it was too far away to photograph.  We had miles of beach-walking ahead of us, which was very pleasant.
Sometimes it was sandy, but even when it was stony it wasn’t too bad for walking.  I looked at the variety of stones under my feet, and wondered how many different rock types they represented.  They certainly were very pretty — I’ve always liked round stones, ever since I was a tiny child.  I remember I used to collect them and put them in a purse.  We had shells crunching under our feet for one stretch of the beach, we couldn’t help but tread on them.
West Kilbride looked a nice place to live with the houses spreading uphill from the beach.  Colin’s heel was still troubling him, and I had a leg-ache which I strongly suspected was sciatica.  So we stopped and both took painkillers.
We saw a birdwatcher out on the rocks with his telescope, and the birds he was watching sitting on another set of rocks.
We crossed a stream using a footbridge, then walked along a pleasant grassy path between houses and the sea.
We sat on a rock for an apple break, looking at the view and the many birds on rocks in the shallows.
One of the rocks we were looking at had a message for us — it said, “Take home litter please!”  Colin had been walking quite slowly, which was unusual for him, and he was exceptionally quiet.  I think his cracked heel was causing him more grief than he was prepared to admit.
We walked round some fields on a small promontory, it was quite a bumpy path.  A pub was marked on the map at the end of the fields, and we were looking forward to a rest and some refreshment.  But when we got there all we could see was a building site surrounded by security fencing — what a disappointment!  So we went back on to the beach for a few more miles.  There was a busy main road along the top so we were much better off down below even when the sand gave way to rocks.
As we approached Ardrossan the beach got too rocky to walk safely, and we decided it would have to be the main road from now on.  When we got up there we found there was a cyclepath along the beach side of the road, so it wasn’t so bad after all.
We came across a very old milestone which was so eroded we could barely read the writing on it.  But at least it was still there, tarmacked into the edge of the modern cyclepath — most of the country’s ancient milestones were removed during the Second World War to confuse the enemy should Hitler invade.
Colin admitted he’d had enough.  So when we entered Ardrossan we missed out a new housing estate, which wasn’t marked on the map anyhow.  And we missed out the road to the ferry terminal on the grounds that it was a dead end.  We decided to make up a new rule that if we were tired and fed up towards the end of a long Walk we could make up excuses to take a shortcut.  (Hadn’t we been doing that anyway?)
We sat on a bench overlooking South Beach and ate our chocolate.  Not far to go now!  During our Walk the tide had gone out, come in, and was on its way out again.  So we decided to cut straight across the crescent-shaped beach to Saltcoats — and for once we didn’t come unstuck.  In fact it was gorgeous in the evening light, especially when sunbeams pierced the clouds in the distance.
Windmills inland told us how breezy this place can be.  Wouldn't do for me, I hate wind!

We passed tidal pools as we walked round the concrete spur in Saltcoats.  But this headland had been built on Carboniferous rocks (deposited 310 million years ago, the coal-bearing strata).  A notice board told us all about the geology. It told us that there are about thirty fossil tree stumps in Saltcoats, but by now we were really too tired to go and look for them.  (We have seen an excellent fossil forest near Lulworth Cove in Dorset some time back, and told ourselves “That’ll do!”)
We were also told that there were volcanic intrusions of rock on the beach forming sills.  But all we wanted to do by this stage was to get back to the car parked a couple of miles further on at Stevenston.
We did stop for a couple of minutes to look at the ‘Talking Wall’, a new kind of community sculpture.  Colin wanted to get on, but I tarried a little to read some of the thoughts on the seaside.  One time my granda took me out on his boat and I got to sail for a while” – Andrew, aged 11.  Going to the beach is much better with a dog” – Megan, aged 11.  I was eating chips with my nana and Irene in the car park and we were swarmed by seagulls attacking the car” – Brandon, aged 11.  Summer in Saltcoats – diving for pocket money thrown in by holiday makers at full tide when a thrupenny bit was worth something back in 1942” – Ron.  I remember wondering where the horizon led to” – Lauren, aged 14.  There were many more, but I was tired too so we carried on.
We didn’t go along the harbour wall because we were really tired and it was a dead end.  There were lots of young people about being very loud, and we couldn’t understand their Scottish accents — we were really too weary for all of this.
We emerged on the East shore, but it was not a nice beach at all.  It was rocky and muddy, and besides it was still covered in shallow water.  This didn’t seem to be a very savoury part of Saltcoats, there was something about the area we couldn’t quite explain.  We felt a bit vulnerable, so we marched on quickly and with purpose to get away from it as fast as we could.
We followed a cycle trail until it veered away from the beach.  Then we entered the sand dunes, looking for the footbridge across the river which we knew was there.  We thought we were on the Ayrshire Coastal Path, but after the initial sign there was no other and we got lost.
Climbing up and down dunes was no fun in our state of weariness, we both got extremely cross.  When down in a hollow it is so easy to get disorientated, and up on a mound we simply couldn’t see the footbridge at all.  We just didn’t need this at the end of such a long Walk!
Eventually we found it — if we’d stayed on the beach, which was dry sand from where the cycle trail veered away from it, we would have come to the bridge without difficulty.  Hindsight, and all that…..  The path the other side of the river led us straight to our car — relief!

That ended Walk no.279, we shall pick up Walk no.280 next time in the beach picnic area in Stevenston.   It was ten past seven, so the Walk had taken us ten hours and forty minutes.  We had our tea and biscuits before driving back to our caravan in Ayr.  On the way we diverted to the river mouth at Irvine to find out if a footbridge across the River Garnock actually existed.  It’s a good thing we checked up on this despite our fatigue because this vital bridge did exist but had a big chunk missing from its middle!
We asked a local man if he knew why it was like that because it was obvious that the middle section had been deliberately removed.  He said he didn’t really know, but thought it was something to do with the industrial units on the other side going bust.  What it means for us is that we will have to make a seven-mile detour inland on the next Walk, instead of walking a mere three miles along the beach.  Four extra miles!  With our hearts in our boots, we returned to our caravan in Ayr.

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