The bus drops me off at the little Glenapp Church. A signpost tells me it’s 11 miles to Stranraer and 36 miles to the Mull of Galloway. But I’ve been there, done that…
… Ah, here’s another sign. Yes, this little lane marks the start of the Ayrshire Coastal Path.
I follow the lane and, almost immediately, pass over the river (The Water of App) via a little bridge (The Bridge of the Mark). What marvellous names – very grand-sounding!
It’s easy walking, as the lane runs through woodland along the slope of the valley, and I’m almost disappointed, as I was expecting something a little… well, a little more rugged.
I love the Ayrshire Coast Path logo. A castle above a seashore.
And I like the frequent reminders not to spoil the 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 – and tak it Hame!
Is this a well-known quote, or does it come from a poem?
The lane leads down the valley towards the mouth of the river and a flat area of farmland, and then on to Finnarts Bay and the shore of Loch Ryan. But the Ayrshire Coastal path turns off along a gravel track, heading up the slopes of Sandloch Hill.
To my left is a deer fence, a plantation of trees, and a great view over Loch Ryan. (Shame the light is dull and the photographs I take don’t do justice to this lovely area.)
I pass the peak of Sandloch Hill to my right, and the track continues across the shoulder of Penderry Hill. This is another one of those disappointing sections of a coastal path. A good path, yes, but with no sight of the coast.
In the moorland to my left is a circle of ancient standing stones. I head off through the boggy grass to take a closer look. There isn’t much to see – just a couple of stones visible.
I don’t rejoin the track, but continue walking across the grassland, hoping to get a better view of the sea below.
Ah, yes. There’s the mouth of Loch Ryan, with a ferry swinging round to enter the natural harbour. I can see right across the farmland of the Rhins peninsula and the white tower of the Corsewall Point Lighthouse. In the distance, a blue shadow on the horizon, is the shore of Northern Ireland.
My heart lifts. It’s a great view, despite the dull weather.
And, looking ahead, there’s the conical hump of Ailsa Craig. And that blue band of land beyond Ailsa… that must be the Isle of Arran.
I walk across a patch of coarse grass, dotted with pieces of wool caught on the stems. No – not wool – they look like flower heads, or seed heads. Cotton-grass.
I rejoin the track. It runs through an open landscape of sheep fields, heading northwards and running parallel to the shore, which is about a mile away across sloping fields. The walking is easy, although at times the ground is muddy where crossed by small burns.
The track leaves the fields and I walk between overgrown hedges and screens of trees. I feel I’m following an ancient highway.
At one point, a farmer passes me in his vehicle, with a collie and a labrador running alongside. The collie makes a beeline for me – and I feel a twinge of anxiety – but the farmer shouts commands from his window and the dog turns away.
I take a photo of them disappearing down the lane.
Further along, I come to a fork in the road. I could carry straight on and reach Ballantrae in 5.5 miles. This is the ‘Scenic Route’ says the sign. ‘Suitable for less fit or able Walkers’.
If this is the ‘scenic route’, then there must be an alternative route. One that, hopefully, passes closer to the coast. Am I a fit and able walker? Hmm… maybe. Well, I can take my time and, if the going gets too hard, I can always turn back.
The alternative route isn’t signposted, but I check my map. The coastal path is shown going down another gravel track, heading towards the shore. Doesn’t look difficult.
So far I’ve walked through fields of sheep, but haven’t met any cattle. The ones I see now are safely behind fences. Just as well. They have some very young calves with them, and the mothers stare at me, suspiciously, as I walk past.
The track curves round beside a ruined farm cottage, and begins a steady descent towards the shore.
I reach the coast at a place called Currarie Port. It’s beautiful. An isolated and unspoilt cove, where a small stream (Ballochdowan Burn) flows across the shingle beach and into the sea.
Time for lunch. I sit on some rocks beside the burn and eat my snacks. The sun flits in and out. The light improves. I take some wonderful photographs.
After a long rest, I set off again.
The path crosses over a wooden footbridge, and follows a stony track that rises steeply on the other side of the burn, up a hill with the odd name of Donald Bowle. The path then loops round on the landward side of the headland, before emerging on the cliff top.
This is beautiful walking. The best part of the day. The cliff slopes away gently below me. Ahead is the curve of Ballantrae Bay and the hump of Bennane Head.
I keep an eye out for cows, but there is nothing grazing up here at the moment… until I spot some fearsome horns on the skyline. A group of goats (later I learn they roam wild out here).
I see oyster catchers and gulls on the rocks below. At one point, a bird of prey starts wheeling overhead, screeching at me. Its insistent squawking call sound like a car alarm going off – slightly creakier, but just as irritating and persistent.
This annoying bird follows me for nearly half a mile.
There is a vague path to follow. Very vague. At times it disappears in a mess of thistles and brambles. At other times, I lose it in a thicket of bracken. I’m reminded of the information given on the official Ayrshire Coastal Path website: “a practical ‘route’ rather than a formal laid-out path.” Indeed.
I pass through a gate and find myself on the edge of an enormous field. The grass is cropped short, which makes for easier walking, but there are ominous signs of cattle – hoof prints and cow pats.
Sure enough, I find the herd. They’re camped out on the path. Typical!
As I get closer, they show no sign of fear, but lumber to their feet and stand watching me. Oh dear. I really, really don’t like cows. Several of them begin to come towards me.
There is a fence to my left. Previously, I saw signs that warned me the fences in this area might be electrified, but I risk a quick touch of the wire. No shock. Quickly, with cows beginning to close in, I climb over the fence.
This turns out to be both a good plan and a bad plan. Good, because the cows can’t follow me. Bad, because I’m now standing on the edge of a steep slope, and must inch my way carefully along beside the fence.
Sudden movement below startles me, and I nearly fall over. I grab a fence post for support. It sways alarmingly, but I manage to keep my balance.
A small fawn stands shakily on a nearby tussock. The little thing must have been hidden in the long grass. No sign of its mother, who presumably is out foraging.
I hang onto the swaying fence post, and manage a quick photograph, before the fawn leaps away and out of view.
Now that I’ve come to a stop, I realise how precarious my position is. The ground slopes away steeply, down, to end in a bowl beside a rocky cove. A fall won’t exactly kill me, but I would end up sliding down the grassy bank in an undignified manner, collecting bumps and scratches… and then I would have to find a way to climb back up!
I try not to look down, and continue to inch forwards along the outside of the fence. Actually, at this point I decide to climb back over, but several young cows have decided to investigate this weird woman – and are standing only a few feet away, staring at me with expressions of wry amusement. Now I can’t go back…
Slowly. I make my way around the edge of the drop, until I have left the field of cows behind. Feeling somewhat shaken, I climb back over and into the next field. This field, too, has cattle grazing, but they are some way away and don’t take any interest in me.
Onwards. Round the edge of a field, past a place called Downan Hill, and then along an earth track. The soil here is a reddish-brown, and dotted with cow pats. I keep an eye open, but don’t see any more beasts.
Ahead is Ballantrae. I’m nearly there.
A family of hares are loping down the track ahead of me. I manage to pull out my camera and take a quick shot… before they spot me and bound away.
The track drops gently downwards. Ahead is… I pull out my map… a place called Langdale.
The track leads down, but I spot a nearby and parallel road… and this is where the official path runs.
A warning sign is designed for walkers coming the other way. “No through road for walkers” along the track. They’re directed around the western side of Downan Hill. This is the route I’ve just walked, and it’s reassuring to know I’ve come the right way.
I follow the road. It leads straight through Langdale, which seems to consist of a single farm. I always enjoy walking through farmyards, with interesting machinery, mysterious sheds, and lots of weathered timbers and rusty metal to look at.
On the other side of the farmyard, I come to a stop. There’s a collie running about. But he’s not after me, just intensely interested in a truckload of sheep. The poor things stand, staring mournfully out. I guess they’ve just been loaded up… and I hope they’re not destined for the abattoir.
I follow the access road from the farm, walking past fields of cows and calves, with Ballantrae ahead. That impressive looking hill is… I check my map… Knockdolian.
I clamber up a bank to take a photograph looking down on Ballantrae. From this view, I can see it has a river running past, and a shingle bank – a mini Chesil Beach.
My minor road leads to a less-minor road at a place called Garleffin, and then joins the main A77. Luckily there is a decent pavement to walk along, but the roar of traffic is a bit much for my poor ears, after a beautiful day of peaceful walking!
I reach the outskirts of Ballantrae.
The A77 crosses the River Stinchar via a modern bridge. Another – and much older – bridge runs close by.
I pass a mile stone marker. Girvan 13 miles. Ayr 34 miles. But I’m not going much further. My car is parked in Ballantrae.
In fact, there it is… waiting for me on the main street. But first I can’t resist going down to the beach.
There are signs asking people not to disturb nesting terns by walking on the shingle bank, so I just content myself with taking some photographs, looking back along the mere, along the bank, and the distant lump of Downan Hill.
It’s been a short walk today, so I extend my trek by walking along the waterfront, past the pier, and then on a beautiful curving path – lined with flowers – around the back of houses, a garden centre, and a holiday park, before reaching the far end of Ballantrae.
Tomorrow, I should be walking onwards to Girvan… but tomorrow the weather forecast is for wall-to-wall rain. Oh dear.
Post walk notes:
- I discovered the squawking bird was a Peregrine Falcon. I’m sure it’s a beautiful bird, but its cry is truly irritating! You can listen on the RSPB website.
- After I finished this walk, I discovered the coastal route from Currarie Port to Langdale Farm is actually CLOSED! The Ayrshire Coastal Path website explains why: Irresponsible Walkers with Dogs
- For a great description of the route of the Ayrshire Coast Path, read Gillian’s wonderful blog: gillianswalks.com: The Ayrshire Coastal Path. It’s more detailed than the official website and easier to see the mileage involved in each section.
Miles walked today = 10.5 miles
Miles around the coast = 3,413.5 miles