Monday, September 05, 2011

Walk 281 -- Ayr to Maidens

Ages:  Colin was 69 years and 120 days.  Rosemary was 66 years and 262 days.
Weather:  The rain stopped 10 minutes into the Walk.  It turned sunny, then there were more clouds but no more rain.  A cool breeze.
Location:  Ayr to Maidens.
Distance:  16 miles.
Total distance:  2757 miles.
Terrain:  Long sandy beaches.  A rocky beach which was tricky and slowed us down.  Paths around fields and through woods.  Through the formal gardens of a castle!  And a little road-walking.  Much of the Walk was flat, but some was undulating.
Tide:  Out, then it came in.
Rivers:  No.339, River Ayr.  No. 340, River Doon.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  No.230, no.231 and no.232 on the path through fields just out of Dunure.
Pubs:  “West Kirk” (Weatherspoons) in Ayr — it is an old church, and the toilets are up behind the pulpit!  We had lunch there on one of our ‘rest’ days.  Colin drank Moorhouse’s “Old Boss”, and I had Erdinger Weissbier.  “Glen Park Hotel” in Ayr.  (Colin went by himself on a ‘rest’ day.)  He drank “Leezie Lundie”, “Jolly Beggars” and “Towzie Tyke” — all Ayr brewery beers.  “Wellington’s Bar” in Ayr where there is a large wellington boot outside on the pavement which we walked right by and didn’t see!  We had a pub lunch there on another of our ‘rest’ days — Colin drank Strathaven “Old Mortality 80/-” and I drank Magner’s cider.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  No.30. Crossraguel Abbey which we visited on another day.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan on a site in Ayr.  This morning Colin drove to Maidens where he parked the car and caught a bus back to Ayr.  Meanwhile I walked along the river to meet him at the bridge where we finished the last Walk.
At the end we walked across a playing field to the layby where the car was parked.  After having our tea, we drove back to the caravan in Ayr.

We crossed the bridge and walked down the south side of the river to the sea.  By the time we got there the rain had stopped, and it remained fine for the rest of the day.  On the way we passed a section of the old town wall — a ruined look-out tower looked pretty precarious to me!  There were new flats built on the waterside with “private gardens and walkways” so we had to walk a good bit along the pavement in front of them with no views.  When we did catch a glimpse of the river we could see the “Port of Ayr” across the other side.  There were some modern windmill blades piled up on the quay — they were huge!
As we neared the shore, we found there was a set of steps next to a shop leading down to a footbridge over a channel.  From there we were able to access South Pier which we walked along to the harbour entrance.  A small ship in the dock looked as if it was preparing to leave, perhaps waiting for the tide to get a bit higher.
We walked back along the pier, and about halfway we were able to climb down to a vast sandy beach.  Pity about the weather being so dull and cool, it should have been packed with people at this time of year!  But then I suppose it was a Monday morning, and Scottish schools have long since gone back for the new academic year.  We had it to ourselves — except for the ubiquitous gulls, the curlews, the swans….and the odd stranded jellyfish.
There was probably a nice esplanade over the wall to our left, but we could only see a kids’ play building from the beach.  We wanted to stay down there away from the crowds because it was so lovely walking along the waterline.
After a couple of miles we came to a river flowing across the sand, too deep to paddle through.  So we went up to the shoreline cycleway in order to cross it on a bridge.  There we sat on a low wall to eat our pies.  We looked back towards the port, and noticed that the ship we had seen preparing was now leaving the harbour.
We thought we would have to follow the cycleway from thereon out to the main road, but we spied an Ayrshire Coastal Path notice which directed us across a car park.  Further on it led us through grassy dunes and out on to the beach beneath a ruined castle teetering on the edge of the cliff.  None of this path was marked on our OS map so it was all a bit of an adventure!
We picked our way round two rocky headlands, relieved that the tide was still quite far out but anxious because it was coming in fast.  The next headland seemed to be stuck even further out, but a grassy path took us inland a little to get past it, then spat us out on the beach again.  Looking at the map, we couldn’t see where the path was going to take us next, the coastline ahead looked even rockier and the tide was approaching at a lick!  It was a bit worrying.
Colin said, “There is a caravan site ahead, surely they’ll take us out there!”  But a tall and long spiky fence stopped us from entering.  It was a bit like a prison camp — it reminded us of the Butlin’s site in Bognor which is fenced off from the sea in a similar manner.
A large amount of smelly seaweed had accumulated along the beach and it was getting difficult to walk on, apart from the fact it was quite slippery.  So we climbed up on to a greensward between the beach and the spiky fence which was mown — how civilised!  We came to a gate in the fence, no “Ayrshire Coastal Path” sign and the caravan site didn’t look very welcoming.  So we continued outside the fence along a track which had now appeared.  A track?  Well, surely it must go somewhere? 
It did, it led us to a sewage works!  But we were able to skirt round it and found ourselves on a golf course.  I wanted to go back because we seemed to have completely lost the Ayrshire Coastal Path, but Colin was a bit further on than me, picking our way round their precious greens, and he spied a post over the top of a bush.  This post was on the beach, and had arrows pointing in both directions with the Ayrshire Coastal Path logo.  So we should have stayed on that slippery beach all the time!  We stepped over a low fence, scrabbled down a little bank, and we were on a sandy beach once again.
The going was OK at first but it soon got rocky, especially round headlands.  And the tide was still approaching.  We looked up at the cliffs — there was no way we could have scaled them.  We met no one, but we knew people had been there before us because we came across a driftwood sculpture on the sand.
We came to a beautiful beach called Bracken Bay where there were hundreds of limpets and barnacles in the sand.  We sat on a rock to eat half our lunch — we knew we had a lot more miles to cover and wanted to eke it out.  Surely there was a way out here?  Looking at the map, we could see the way ahead was all rocks and cliffs…...and the tide was getting nearer and nearer.  But no, there was absolutely no path up from that lovely beach.
We had no choice but to carry on below the cliffs.  The map was right — we were now struggling along a very rocky shore.  The going was difficult and slow, and we were both in fear that either one of us would slip and break an ankle.
The swans were keeping up with us — it was all right for them, they could just swim along!  Again we looked up at the cliffs we were passing, but it was no-go even though they were no longer vertical and seemed to have clefts every so often.  It was all volcanic rocks we were floundering over and quite beautiful, though we did puzzle about some stones which seemed to contain fossils.
Each time we rounded a headland we saw another headland, it was never-ending.  The going got more and more difficult — possible (just) for we had no choice — but tiring and our legs ached.  It was slippery on the seaweed, and we had to be so alert in order to avoid an accident.  It was costing us a lot of time, and we were well aware that Maidens was still a long way off.
We came to a wall built of beach rocks, significant only because it was a field boundary.  We thought, when we first saw it in the distance, it might be the wall of Danure Harbour, but a quick look at the map made us realise that even that goal was another two miles further on.  We had to make decisions, we couldn’t go on like this.  Colin reccied a grass mound behind a big rock and reckoned, though dodgy, it was easier than the beach.  We were both fed up with rock-jumping, so we climbed up there to give it a go.  Some curious cows came near to stare, then suddenly they all ran away.
The going wasn’t too bad, until we came to a stream.  This was tricky to cross, but we both managed it in the end.  We thought about looking for a gate to the road up the hill to our left, but then we decided that the animal track we were on might actually be a proper path because it had improved considerably.  It was really quite good for a while — until it led down to the beach again.  But Danure Harbour was now in sight! 
The last bit of that path down to the beach was perhaps the most difficult part of the whole Walk.  It was steep, slippery and involved quite a bit of limbo-dancing!!  But we OAPs come from a tough generation, and we coped.  It was obviously an unofficial path.  We had to walk a bit of beach before we reached the harbour, but after all that we had been through that was quite easy.
We looked back along the beach and were surprised to see a notice which told us the official Ayrshire Coastal Path was all along that difficult beach.  Bet the people who devised the path have never actually walked it!
We were relieved to get to the harbour.  We sat at a picnic table to eat the second half of our lunch, but had to change tables because the seats were so low we couldn’t sit with any degree of comfort.
We walked the harbour walls, and looked at the old lighthouse with sandstone eroded walls.  And there was another ruined castle a bit further along the shore — we didn’t go over to it.
We came across a notice which said: 
Ayrshire Coastal Path
For tidal areas 1 hour
north & south of Danure
check Harbour Ladder
in SW corner. 
On a rising tide, if rung 10 is covered
there is a 3-4 hour delay.
At high water, if rung 6 is covered
there is a 2 hour delay.
Route best walked on a falling tide. 
You couldn’t make it up!  Could you?  I said, “No!  No more rocky beach walking!”  Colin didn’t need any persuading, so we went to a nearby café to revive ourselves with a pot of tea.
We left the village on the road, climbing up past a pretty wall mosaic and an appropriate weather vane.  We passed the entrance to a play-park which, it appeared, you had to pay for!  We were quite shocked about that, it didn’t look anything special and it was completely devoid of people — perhaps they felt the same way about it as we did.  Grassy paths leading out of the other end of the play-park seemed to go along the coast above the low cliffs, and we did wonder if we were missing out.  But as we walked higher and further they disappeared, and of course none of them were marked on the map.  Did they go back down to the beach?  Were they dead ends?  We never found out.
When we got to a bend in the road, we came across a field gate with an “Ayrshire Coastal Footpath” sign pointing us downhill across the fields — again there was no clue on the OS map.  We were surprised because we thought we had left that path behind on the beach.  Should we risk it?  The tide was now right in, and we didn’t want any more beach walking anyhow.  But we hadn’t been looking forward to walking alongside the main road which we were soon going to come to, a route which was inland and several miles further.  So we risked it!
We followed the edges of several fields, and one was freshly ploughed and rolled which was a little tricky.  We climbed over a difficult stile with a huge step, then a little bridge over a ditch.  All were overgrown with nettles etc — we didn’t think the path was much used.  On the clifftop we could see a rock which looked like an Easter Island statue, and another with cormorants roosting on it.  Ailsa Craig was very clear in the distance, we had been seeing it for miles.
The path eventually led down in a big zigzag to Culzean Bay.  The tide was now well in, but there was still room for us to walk round a small rocky promontory without getting our feet wet.  A flock of oystercatchers flew off in a hurry.
We now had two miles of sandy beach to walk, it was glorious!  We could see Culzean Castle at the far end of the bay, and with Ailsa Craig very clear on the horizon it was just about perfect.  Even the weather brightened up.  We sat on a log when we were near the far end and ate our chocolate.

As we neared the castle the beach began to get stony, though not difficult to walk.  We rounded one rocky promontory, then came across a hidden bungalow with grass in front of it.  We noticed a path over a small bridge just past the building, so we climbed up and found there was a lovely path through the woods at the bottom of the cliff.  This path was much better than the beach which had become quite rocky and seaweedy.  It took us behind the next little promontory, then down to the beach momentarily.
We were standing before the grand gates of Culzean Castle with a Rotary Club badge telling us that the Ayrshire Coastal Path went through them.  When we were in that Norman church which wasn’t Norman the other day, we got talking to someone who had been one of the team setting up the Ayrshire Coastal Path.  He told us the tale of a party of walkers who were hiking, quite legally, through the grounds of Culzean Castle when they were stopped by a numpty, of American origin, who was at a business conference in the castle.  He told them, in no uncertain terms, that they were trespassing.  He forced them to march straight towards the main gate and out on to the road!  They were furious, and complained bitterly to Ayrshire Coastal Path authorities, ie the chap who was telling us the tale.  So we knew we were within our rights to walk through the grounds, but when we did so it didn’t feel right.
What didn’t help was that, once we were past the grand gates, there were absolutely no footpath signs telling us the way through.  We zigzagged up through some woods until we came out on to a formal drive.  No one was about, and we just had to guess which way to go next.  We climbed some steps to the castle entrance, but felt very uncomfortable in such an exposed position.  The castle teeters on the edge of the cliff, so we knew we had to walk behind it.  We decided to walk along a sunken formal garden, but we couldn’t see a way down to it.  In the end we resorted to slipping down a grassy bank.
The gardens were very neat and formal, and we tried to keep a low profile away from the castle building up on high.  All the time we felt we shouldn’t really be there.  Past the castle we went through a door in a wall to get nearer to the clifftop.  We were on a beautiful neat lawn with fantastic views across to the Isle of Arran — yes, we could still see that magical island!
Still we met no one.  Still we felt that at any moment we were going to be accosted for trespassing in these private grounds.  We veered off towards the woods, and began to feel more comfortable once we were in amongst the trees.  Using our OS map we made our way to “Swan Pool”, being careful not to be diverted down paths to the beach too soon.  The pool is very big, but unfortunately it was full of blanket weed.  We did see a pair of swans with cygnets down at the far end.  We met one or two people, locals out walking their dogs, but they didn’t bother us at all.
We were relieved that the woodland paths were good and easy walking.  We were both feeling quite tired by then and not up to dealing with difficult terrain.  Eventually we came to the end of the woods where we found sturdy wooden steps leading down to Maidenhead Bay.
We could see Maidens ahead, along a mile of sandy beach.  It was easy walking, and it made a pleasant end to our Walk.  A girl on a horse passed us, but we didn’t mind because we were about to complete our Walk and we weren’t feeling rushed or stressed.  On reaching the harbour, we walked a few yards inland to find our car parked in a layby.
That ended Walk no.281, we shall pick up Walk no.282 next time at Maidens Harbour.   I forgot to write down the time we finished, but it was near to getting dark so it must have been a good many hours.  It had been a lovely Walk, much better than we thought it would be because many of the paths we walked are not marked on the OS map.  We had our tea, then returned to our caravan in Ayr.
Crossraguel  Abbey 
Crossraguel Abbey is about four miles inland from Maidens, so we visited it on another day.  It was founded in the thirteenth century by the Earl of Carrick for the Order of Cluny, a branch of the Benedictines who wore black robes.  Their mission was to encourage pilgrimage, and this abbey is situated half-way between Paisley and Whithorn on the Ayrshire pilgrims' trail to the shrine of St Ninian in The Machars of Galloway.
The abbey was sacked in 1307 by the English army of Edward I, and subsequently rebuilt on a grander scale. It was the usual story of getter richer and more corrupt as the years went by.  The abbey was dissolved at the Reformation in the 16th century, and some of the stone was removed to build local houses.
However, much of the original building remains, and we certainly found a lot more of interest there than we did at Dundonald Castle the other day.  I was especially pleased that I could have a go at carving stone -- I would love to have trained as a stone mason in my youth, but such opportunities were just not available at the time, especially for girls.

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