Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Walk 284 -- Ballantrae to Stranraer

Ages:  Colin was 69 years and 331 days.  Rosemary was 67 years and 108 days.
Weather:  Light showers turning to sleet.  A bitterly cold wind.
Location:  Ballantrae to Stranraer.
Distance:  20 miles.
Total distance:  2800 miles.
Terrain:  Some road, some tracks, some paths and a little beach.  Undulating, then flat(ish).
Tide:  Going out.
Rivers:  No.342, River Stinchar.  No.343, Water of App.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  Nos.239 to 255 on the Ayrshire Coastal Path.  Nos. 256 to 259 on the Loch Ryan Coastal Path.  (Twenty gates!  That must be a record for a Walk!)
Pubs:  ‘The Grapes’ in Stranraer which we visited on one of our ‘rest’ days.  Colin enjoyed Fyne Ales ‘Davaar’ while I had ginger ale and lime.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  None.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  Yesterday we had driven up from home and booked our caravan into a site at New England Bay.  This morning we drove into Stranraer, parked our car on the waterfront and caught a bus to Ballantrae.  We walked through the houses to the seafront at the spot where we finished the last Walk.
At the end we were at the car.  We drove straight back to our caravan at New England Bay where we had our tea and biscuits.

More than six months later, we were at last back in Ballantrae ready to complete the Walk we had abandoned last September because of foul weather.  We left the car park where we had finished the last Walk, and marched away from the coast to the main road.  In the window of one of the houses we passed was a model sailing ship which I rather liked.
We crossed the river on the main road bridge because it is marginally nearer the sea than the old stone bridge.  As we left Ballantrae a sign bid us “Haste ye back”!  Daffodils by the side of the road were already dying off, and it’s only the very beginning of April.  (That’s because we had a heatwave in March — temperatures as warm as a summer’s day but no leaves on the trees.  It was weird!  Spring sprung much too early, and now it is freezing cold.)
We didn’t have to stay on the main road for long, thank goodness.  Very soon we turned off uphill on a narrow lane.  We passed a field of sheep with very young lambs — definitely the “Aaahh!” factor!  We still had views of Ailsa Craig on the horizon.
I had worked out a route using lanes and tracks which seemed to connect up using my newly bought and very expensive OS map.  But, as usual, it was hopelessly out of date as far as footpaths were concerned.  The first lane off to the right was a dead end according to the map, but there was an ‘Ayrshire Coastal Footpath’ sign directing us into it.  So we decided to follow it as obviously there was a way through……..we hoped!
About a mile up the road we came to a farm.  It seemed to be a busy working farm, but there was some dereliction not only in the buildings but in the equipment too.  Through the farm we came to a notice which told us:  Ayrshire Coastal Path.  WRONG WAY!  No through road for walkers.  Busy muddy cattle track.  Multiple electric gates and fences.  Disturbance to dairy cattle.  Please turn back and use good way-marked track and kissing gates (same distance) round west of Downan Hill.  So we did.
To the right of us was a kissing gate, the first of twenty on the Walk, and we set off as instructed.  For the next two miles the path we were on was not marked on our OS map — we really are fed up with paying good money for maps which are so out of date.  The path was a bit dodgy where cattle had walked, but better on the farm tracks which did not always follow the route of the official path, such as it was.  It was fairly easy to follow, though we were a bit puzzled as to which contour we were supposed to be walking along as we rounded Downan Hill.  The other side of the hill we had good views of the shore, in fact the path was much nearer the coast than we had anticipated so we were well pleased.
The wind was a lot colder than we had expected, and we both regretted not putting on extra layers before we set out this morning.  (It had seemed so pleasant and mild when we left the caravan.)  I had forgotten my gloves, so I had to pull my hands up into my sleeves and try and warm them by walking fast.  The wind got colder and gustier as the Walk progressed.  I kept thinking that it was only six days ago we had climbed Ragged Stone Hill, one of the southern Malvern Hills, and were too hot as we picnicked in the sunshine!  We couldn’t believe how cold it had got since then.
We found a little nook in a dip which was out of the wind, so we sat in there to eat our pies — at least Colin did, I’ve gone off them.  We still felt cold, so we moved on pretty quickly.
The path undulated on, mostly over grass, all the way to Currarie Glen.  It was quite well waymarked, we only lost it once!  It seemed to be between the outer fence/wall of the fields and the cliffs over the sea, but this was quite a wide band so we were not pushed for space.  It skirted the odd gully and rocky outcrop, so it was fairly easy walking.  It was just that wretched cold wind, and the rain which kept spitting — not much, but enough to wet the camera which was in and out of my rucksack like a yoyo.  Often I couldn’t be bothered to hoick it out again, so I didn’t take the variety of pictures that I wanted to.
The path turned sharply inland round the corner of the last field before Currarie Glen, and followed this field boundary for about a hundred yards.  Then it zigzagged down a steep stony track to sea level where we crossed a stream on a strange bridge that looked as if it had been constructed from bits and pieces — whatever had come to hand.  From there on all the tracks we used were marked on the map.
Following a track I had thought was a dead end when planning this Walk, we went up and up and up and up until we came to some derelict cottages — by now it was raining quite hard.  Colin was ahead of me, and he saw a barn owl resting in the ruin!  Unfortunately it had flown out of one of the missing windows before I could catch sight of it.
We followed a dirt road for two miles feeling quite miserable because we were so cold.  How we wished we had put on more layers this morning!  The intermittent rain turned to sleet and we were SO COLD coming over the top of the hill we wondered if we could carry on!  Fortunately the gusty wind was mostly behind us, and we plodded on miserably wishing we were at home.  (I suppose our consolation was that we made the right decision to cancel this Walk back in September when that hurricane hit this part of the coast.)
As we came to the end of the hill where there was an almost vertical drop down to sea-level, we noticed a kissing gate to the side.  It wasn’t on the track, which was a bit odd, but we hoped — maybe — we wouldn’t have to double back for about a mile in order to descend, as we had read from the map.  But there was nothing the other side of the kissing gate, so those hopes were dashed very quickly.  We couldn’t understand why the gate was there.
So we had to double back after all, and the wind was in our faces as we turned.  But it lessened as we descended behind trees, and we became fractionally more comfortable.  We reached a dirt road at the bottom where we turned sharp right, and discovered that no rain or sleet had penetrated the conifer trees down there.
We had been walking for hours without a break because it had been too cold to stop, so we found a log and sat on it to have some lunch.  It was too cold to linger, so we were soon on our way again.  We followed the dirt road until it turned into tarmac at some cottages.
In an adjacent field we saw a sheep which had only just given birth — in the field by herself it seemed.  Her twin lambs had managed to wobble to their feet, but they were still stained with blood.  The mother had what looked like the afterbirth still hanging from her backside.  They seemed to be coping, the lambs were looking to suckle.

The road twisted through a swamp, then crossed the river over a pretty stone bridge.

We came out at a disused factory complex just below the main road between Stranraer and Ayr — didn’t want too much walking along that type of road!  A track branched off and looked as if it would take us along by the sea, but it came to a dead end.  We had to climb a steep bank and get ourselves over the Armco back on to that horrible road.
There followed two miles of road-walking — not much fun.  The traffic was constant and fast — nothing ever slows these days when they see a potential hazard, they just bamboozle their way through hoping they don’t hit anybody.
We passed the brand new Stenaline ferry terminal to Ireland, so new that the pavements we were at last able to walk on had only just been laid — and, of course, none of it was marked on our map.  A ferry went out just after we had passed.
We came to a picnic site where we met up with the much-advertised Loch Ryan Coastal Path coming down from the hills the other side of the road.  (We had left Ayrshire about a mile back, we were now in Dumfries and Galloway.)  Now, perhaps, we would have some sort of path to walk on, no more traffic-dodging — we hoped!  A footbridge took us over a burn, then we walked on a pavement through the village of Cairnryan and past the P&O ferry terminal which is longer established and therefore marked on our map.  A ferry left there just after we had passed through.
We went through a gate to a field, then followed the route of the Old Military Road/Railway.  It generally follows the wiggles of the coast, and kept us away from the main road which was very much to our liking.  We got confused at one point where there were not enough markers, or they had been put in silly places where they couldn’t be seen.  But we used our initiatives and coped.  We watched gannets diving for fish — great!
At Innermessan we were diverted uphill to walk away from the coast through fields and past a farm.  We were not too happy about this, especially when we came out on that wretched road again — though there was a pavement.  It turned out this was to avoid a First World War artefact on the beach, which didn’t look anything much from where we were at the top.
(Couldn’t find out anything about it on the internet either.)  Colin thought we had been conned, and I was inclined to agree with him.
The road soon descended to shore level again, and there we went down on to the beach to walk.  We could see both ferries leaving for Ireland past North Rhins.
It was lovely walking along the beach in the evening light.  The wind seemed to have died and we were no longer cold.  Despite our tiredness, we were at last beginning to enjoy this Walk.  We were walking on lots of shells — oysters at first, and then bi-valves.  The beach got shellier and shellier until we were crunching them!
As we reached the first houses in Stranraer the beach seemed to disappear under the waves, so we walked on the lower prom instead.  This morning, when we passed on the bus, the waves had been splashing over this level.  But the tide was further out now.
I didn’t like the patches of green slime which kept appearing.  Colin said, “If you tread on them straight and firmly, you won’t slip!”  (He always thinks he knows best.)  Almost immediately he did slip and had great difficulty staying upright!  It gave us both a fright.  Afterwards we discussed the Brighton Marina incident on Walk 5 — more than thirteen years ago but never to be forgotten!  (I still have a bit of trouble lifting my right arm over my head.)  It was the most serious accident that has taken place on the actual Trek, and I’ve been wary of green slime ever since!
We passed several notices which warned us:  “Large waves come ashore unexpectedly up to 30 minutes after ferry has passed”  The two ferries we had seen leave were now well out of sight, and we wondered if these notices still applied since all the ferries seem to dock a few miles up the coast these days.
As we came into the town, we crossed over the railway and noted the signal was up and there was a train in the station.  We were plodding by now, we were both really tired!  We trudged past the harbour and came, in the fading daylight, to the car park where our velocipede was waiting.

That ended Walk no.284, we shall pick up Walk no.285 next time in the car park west of the harbour in Stranraer.  It was quarter past seven, so the Walk had taken us ten and three-quarter hours. We drove straight back to our caravan at New England Bay where we had our tea and biscuits.

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