Saturday, September 03, 2011

Walk 280 -- Stevenston to Ayr

Ages:  Colin was 69 years and 118 days.  Rosemary was 66 years and 260 days.
Weather:  Very grey, but the rain just about held off.  Brightened a little later.  Mild.
Location:  Stevenston, via Irvine, Troon & Prestwick, to Ayr.
Distance:  22 miles.
Total distance:  2741 miles.
Terrain:  Tarmac at first, then long stretches of sandy beach  (LUVLEY!).  Flat.
Tide:  Out, then came right in.
Rivers:  No.336, River Garnock.  No.337, tributary of same.  No.338, Pow Burn.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  No.228 in, and no.229 out of “Holiday Park” (ie the caravan site we stayed at last time and didn’t think much of) at the end of Prestwick Airport runway.
Pubs:  “The Harbour Bar” in Troon, where Colin drank Kelburn beers — “Misty Law” & “Tartan Army”.  I had a shandy.  The pub was a terrible dive, and we couldn’t get out of there quick enough!
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  No.29. Dundonald Castle which we visited on another day.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  No.60 — we had to walk four miles extra using mostly a cycleway because a footbridge over the River Garnock had the middle chunk missing.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan on a site in Ayr.  This morning we walked to Ayr station and caught trains to Stevenston.  The persistent rain stopped just as we alighted from the train.
At the end we walked along the river from the first bridge where we finished our Walk, to our caravan.  We didn’t use the car at all!

As soon as we alighted from the train at Stevenston station we ran to the shelter and hurriedly put on our wet-weather gear.  Then the rain stopped — typical!  We walked down to the car park where we finished the last Walk, and from there we cut across the dunes to the beach.
The tide was out, and we could clearly see the little river (that we had crossed two days ago on the hidden bridge) meandering its way across the beach.  We took a short cut towards the Point by walking across the sands — we love walking across sandy beaches!  Some of the rocks looked like pumice because they were full of gas holes, but they were too heavy.  Obviously a volcanic rock though.
Near the Point the sand turned into rocks and the dunes turned into cliffs, so we scrabbled up a lumpy grass bank to the car park road above.  We didn’t go down to the end of the Point because it was a dead end, and we didn’t make for the beach beyond it because three miles further on the footbridge across the River Garnock had a huge chunk missing from its middle.  We had to make a seven mile detour inland to cross this river, lengthening today’s Walk to 22 miles!  So we thought we’d better get on with it.
We turned round and walked across a big grassy recreation area which was lovely except for the plethora of doggy-poo we had to avoid.  Children playing on there would have been covered in the stuff — such a pity that a large play area like that should be ruined by a few lazy and selfish dog-owners.  We made for the end of a row of houses.
We had about a mile to walk alongside roads, mostly with pavements, before turning off on a cyclepath.  As we crossed over the first railway, graffiti on the bridge read, “Welcome to Ardeer”.  Now Ardeer is the huge derelict area we were walking round — it looks a bit like barracks on the map.  It seemed more rural than we had been led to believe, it must have been abandoned a long time ago.  Colin kept going on about ‘short-cuts’ (doesn’t he ever learn?) but he shut up when he saw how swampy it was.  Even a disused racecourse is called ‘Bogside’!
We crossed railways and a main road several times using bridges or tunnels.  We saw starlings gathering on wires and a lot of fly-tipping — there was no shortage of three-piece-suites!
We came to the river at last next to some weirs, but crossing it there would have taken us inland in completely the wrong direction.  We had to follow the map very carefully.  We kept on our side of the water, winding round in a half-circle.  Then under the dual carriageway after which we crossed the river on a minor road.  It was a good tarmacked cyclepath all the way, now all we had to do was to get back to the seashore.

We continued southwards, and after about a mile we found we were alongside a tributary of the River Garnock.  This also needed crossing, but not yet.  Colin found a baby toad in the grass verge.
We were in a much more built-up area by now.  Over the tall weeds we could see a half-built apartment building that looked as if it had been abandoned to the elements before the final waterproof layer could be added.  Further on we could just see the top of a roofless church.
It struck us that were not in a very salubrious area.  We came into the edge of a town, went under a dual-carriageway and crossed the tributary on a small bridge — but it was different in reality from the map and we found it quite confusing.  At last we were fully over the waterway which had caused this long diversion.  We came to a roundabout which we recognised from our recce two days ago when we came to find out about the footbridge with the chunk missing.
Here we found an ‘Ayrshire Coastal Path’ notice, the first we had come across today and we had already walked six miles.  But even this was confusing in its direction.  So we followed the road until we got to the riverside.
Colin saw a chip shop!  I left him to it, and went on past a small shipyard and a statue of a man with a horse until I came to a seat near the broken footbridge.  I wanted to know that I had completed the diversion before I sat down — our first rest in seven miles.  Colin soon caught me up having eaten most of the chips he had just bought.  He felt a lot better then!  Earlier he had taken codeine for his heel trouble, and he didn’t mention it for the rest of the day.  He was much brighter after eating his chips, and we both ate our pies.
We idly watched Mums with toddlers feeding the gulls with white bread.  (Note: Never feed seagulls because they are a pest!  And never feed wild birds white bread because it is bad for their digestion and can end up killing them!  Won’t these messages ever get through?)  The Mums seemed more enthusiastic than the youngsters, who toddled off bored with the proceedings.  Anyway, enough of this idle chatter, we still have a lot of walking to do.
We walked past the broken footbridge.  I discovered the story behind it on the internet.  A dynamite factory was established in the dunes of Ardeer in 1870.  At the time it was the largest explosives factory in the world.  This eventually became a part of ICI.  I couldn’t find out when it closed, but at the end of the 20th century the Big Idea was born.  A huge building, costing £14million was constructed to house the ‘Museum of Scottish Invention’.  It was accessed by a bridge which was constructed in an innovative roll-back design.  Instead of swinging horizontally or vertically, the museum end could slide back over itself, creating a central opening through which tall vessels could pass.  The museum was never financially viable, and closed three years later with huge debts.  I suppose the bridge has been in the roll-back position ever since.  Apparently most of the exhibits are still inside the building and are for sale, but nobody wants to buy — I wonder if they have tried e-Bay!  There are grandiose plans to turn the whole place into a golfing complex, but so far no one has stumped up the money.
 We walked to the end, the mouth of the river, and once more we were on the seashore!  There was an unusual sculpture of a fisherman sailing through a huge wave.  A bit of a prom to walk, and then we were on the sands.
Five miles of sandy beach to walk — lovely!  We outwalked everyone — including a man with a dog and two girls on horses, they all turned back eventually.
There were plenty of stranded jellyfish, some of them were huge!
We could see the volcanic plug of Ailsa Craig out to sea.  If you have £2.5million to spare you can have it — for it is on the market for that amount.  You will have to share this tiny island with 36,000 breeding pairs of gannets,  you will have no water, electricity, gas, sewage or telephone connections — but you can expect to make a profit of £27,000 a year from the quarrying of curling stones, the only place in the world where these stones are cut.  We also had views of Arran all along.
We saw an odd building on the dunes behind the beach, but didn’t have time to go up and find out what it was.  From our angle it looked like a giant rabbit or caterpillar!  We also puzzled about a post we could see out to sea — and came to the conclusion that it must be a marker buoy on a rock lurking just beneath the surface of the water.
Dundonald  Castle
We visited this on a different day because it is several miles inland.  Dundonald Castle is a 14th century fortified tower house.  It was built on the site of previous castles by Robert Stewart, or Robert II as he was known when he became King of Scotland.  It was constructed entirely of stone without the use of wood, and just one of the amazing stone ceilings is preserved in the present-day ruins.  But there wasn’t much else there, and altogether we found it to be a little disappointing.
We drove to a nearby village where there was, supposedly, a Norman church.  But when we got there we discovered it was mostly new!  It was an open day and there were too many people about eager to tell us all about it, but when I asked what was original I was told vaguely, “Some of the roof beams!”  Come on!  Our ‘home-grown’ Malvern Priory is more Norman than that! 
 We reached Barassie where the beach got too rocky to walk on comfortably.  We went up to a cycleway and found a bench to sit on in order to eat our sarnies.  Trouble was, we were in a popular dog-walking area, and one rascally mutt almost managed to get away with Colin’s sandwiches!
About half a mile further on we noticed some sand-gliders down on the shore.  Sure enough, the beach was smooth sand again so we went down.  We crunched shells under our feet for a long stretch, but it didn’t impede our progress at all.  The sand-gliders were not very successful despite the stiff breeze, they never did manage more than a few ‘moon-jumps’ as we watched.
We cut across the beach towards Troon.  We made for a grassy mound, but found we had to clamber over rocks before we could get up on to it.  Colin had been on about a ‘real ale’ pub in Troon, and he was delighted when we emerged from the beach directly opposite the very one!  It was packed full of football supporters about to watch a match on a giant screen — there was nowhere to sit down.  I glanced at several plates of food that were being brought out to some of the customers — it was the kind of overcooked shrivelled-up burnt offerings that I wouldn’t even have given to the cat!  Colin said the beer was nothing special — we couldn’t get out of there quickly enough!
We made excuses to cut across Troon without going out to the end (as we had with Ardrossan on the last Walk) and made straight for the next beach.  We passed some pleasant gardens, a good playpark and went back on to a lovely sandy beach for miles and miles!  Pity about the grey sky making everything look gloomy, but at least it wasn’t raining.
We could see what looked like a wedding party on the beach far ahead.  Sure enough, as we approached we saw that a couple had come down on to the sands in their wedding finery to have their photos taken with the Isle of Arran as a backdrop.  (They were probably having their reception in the nearby Troon Golf Clubhouse.)  We wished them well as we passed.
Further on we sat on a driftwood log to eat our apples.  We were sure that some of the pieces of driftwood had been dragged together to form a kind of sculpture, but it looked very unfinished.
We came to a river, the waterway that passes the caravan park we had stayed at for a couple of nights back in July.  We hadn’t been very happy there — apart from it being more expensive than most of the other sites we have stayed at; the caravans were packed in like sardines, the facilities were ‘iffy’ and it was situated right at the end of Prestwick Airport’s runway!  That is why we only stayed there the two nights we had paid for in advance, and why we are not staying there now.
We couldn’t cross the river on the beach as we’d hoped, it was too deep.  We had to follow the bank right up to the wall of the caravan site, and there through the ‘spy-holes’ we could see a caravan just like ours!  We could even see “Elddis GTX”!  But it wasn’t ours, we still had a few miles to walk on to Ayr. 
We passed the site entrance, and crossed the river on a track over a low wooden bridge.  There was a poem on the gate leading back to the beach.  It read:
The Ayrshire Coastal Path
Be ye Man – or Bairn – or Wumman,
Be ye gaun – or be ye comin,
For Scotland’s Pride – no Scotland’s shame,
Gether yer litter – an tak it Hame! 
(We actually saw this poem in several other places along the way.)  Now it’s all very well writing poems, but there was a distinct lack of Ayrshire Coastal Path signs and a confusing path network leading over the dunes.  We had to ask some ladies walking towards us which way we should go to get back to the beach — we’ve got lost in sand dunes before, and didn’t want to repeat the experience.
We walked into Prestwick where there was a nice esplanade and excellent play facilities for kids.  A child who reminded me of one of my cubs when I was ‘Akela’ thirty+ years ago, a rather dopey boy called Peter, was doing impressive gymnastics with his skateboard on the ramps.  Nothing dopey about this youngster!  A dog also impressed us — catching in mid-air seemingly impossible balls thrown by its owner.  Perhaps it ought to join the England Cricket team!  (Oh no!  I forgot, we’re still in Scotland!)
We stayed on the esplanade right to the end, glorious views of Ailsa Craig and the Isle of Arran still with us all the way.
There was a bit of a point, and the beach round it looked a bit too rocky for comfort.  Besides, we were tired, so we decided to turn inland for a quick finish.  But round the corner we came across a track to the shoreline golf course, so we took it.
We walked across a corner of the golf course, then on a more established path obviously much used by the locals.  (Nothing about the Ayrshire Coastal Path, we noticed.)  Finally a badly tarmacked slope led us down to an esplanade, ending at the docks.  This was off-limits, of course, but we were amazed by the huge pile of rubbish behind the spiky fence.
The minor road we found ourselves on twisted over the railway.  I was too tired to interpret the map any more, so Colin led us the ‘quickest’ (at least, he said it was) route through an industrial estate.  This included squeezing round the end of a fence in order to walk diagonally across a small piece of wasteland.  We came out in Main Street, and walked straight down to the river bridge.

That ended Walk no.280, we shall pick up Walk no.281 next time at the first bridging point on the River Ayr.   It was twenty-five to seven, so the Walk had taken us ten hours and twenty minutes.  We walked inland along the river until we reached our caravan site.  We were proud of the fact that we hadn’t used our car at all today!

No comments: