I set off from Maidens in good spirits. I’m looking forward to today’s walk. I should reach Ayr by the end of the afternoon. Even the sight of a holiday park filled with static caravans doesn’t dampen my good mood.
There’s a host of jelly fish washed up on the beach today. I’m sad to see them dying on the sands, but I’m always intrigued by their inner markings. This one has pretty baby-pink coils.
Ailsa Craig is looking good, a brooding hump across a metal-grey sea.
My map shows the Ayrshire Coastal Path turning inland somewhere just after the last house along bay. But I follow a woman walking with her dog – who seems to know where she’s going – and continue until I reach the rocky outcrop at the end of the beach (Barwhin Point). A path of wooden slats takes me up Barwhin Hill.
At the top I stop to catch my breath and admire the views. The breeze is fresh and that means the clouds are constantly changing. Makes for great seascapes.
There are no signs telling me where I am, but I know I must be in the grounds of Culzean Castle, once the home of the Marquess of Ailsa. I visited the stately house a couple of day ago, in the pouring rain. I enjoyed looking round the house, but the gardens were too wet to walk around. So I’m glad of a second chance to see the place.
I walk through woodlands.
A large stretch of water must be “Swan Pond”. I noticed it on the map. There are no swans here today, but a mass of lily pads, and billions of insects dancing just above the water. Midges?
Luckily, despite the fearsome reputation of Scottish midges, I haven’t been troubled by them. Not so far, anyway.
I continue walking through the woods, sticking as close to the sea as I can. Too close – because I end up going down to the boat house, which turns out to be a dead-end, and I have to climb back up the cliff again.
Here I begin to meet groups of other walkers. Strollers, not hikers. Just visiting the castle I assume. And, there it is, straight ahead.
It looks very different from my visit a couple of days ago, when I splashed my way to the entrance with my umbrella turning inside out in the wind. Good to see it in the dry.
Opposite the castle is a tower and what I think was once the stable block. Now a gallery and a café. But it’s too early to stop…
… I walk out through the archway and down towards the shore. Culzean Bay is ahead. The building with the tall tower (in the centre of the photo below) is the “Gas House”. Yes, Culzean Castle was once fitted with gas lamps – a very sophisticated innovation in its day – and the estate actually manufactured its own gas.
The gas was produced from coal, brought directly to this beach. The 3rd Marquess refused to allow electricity to be installed. Apparently, he thought it was far too dangerous! Better to use explosive gas, of course.
On the way down, I meet a couple of long-distance walkers, a couple in their 70s I think. They look exhausted. I would like to chat about the walk ahead, but they look too tired to speak.
The beach is rocky and, after I leave a few strollers behind, very quiet.
The only downside is the amount of washed up seaweed strewn about. It is slippery underfoot, and gives way beneath my boots in an alarming fashion. Decomposing and smelly. Mounds of the stuff. Yuck.
Towards the end of the bay the beach is clearer and cleaner. Here is another collection of tin boxes. Croy Burnfoot holiday park.
A few families strolling about. Some children – wrapped up in warm clothing – are building sandcastles at the top of the beach.
I turn to look back at the castle. The light is gloomy, but I manage to take an almost-decent shot with my telephoto lens. The castle is set low on the cliff…
… and it’s worth comparing this real view (above) with the far more dramatic version that appears in paintings such as this one by John Mogford.
Onwards. I leave the holiday park behind and walk towards a line of rocks. Isle Port, according to my map.
The path disappears. I wander among the rocks for a time, but can’t see a way through. I backtrack and finally spot a trail leading up an overgrown slope. That must be the official Ayrshire Coastal Path, but its exit from the beach is cunningly hidden behind a fallen tree trunk.
Up the slope I go, fighting through bracken. The path is much clearer at the top.
I walk over the cliffs, around the edge of fields. The path dips down to cross a stream, passes through an area of woodland, and takes me back among the grasses.
Although the views are pleasant, I can feel my hay fever beginning to play up. Thought I had escaped the worst of the grass pollen because the season is past its peak in England. But (sneeze) perhaps the pollen comes out a week or two later in Scotland (sniffle), because this is no joke (sneeze again).
Ahead is a strange tower. How exciting…
…no, not really. Just an abandoned watch tower. Concrete hut on top of a brick stalk. Ugly. Not very old either. Onwards.
Above the tower, I stop for another photograph of Ailsa Craig. And to give my itching eyes a quick rub. Hay fever is such a miserable condition.
The path continues around the edge of the field and then… ah, that must be Dunure ahead. I can see houses and a ruined castle overlooking the shore.
I approach Dunure through a park, with picnic benches and barbecue sites, and take several photographs of the castle. It might not be as impressive as Culzean, but it’s good enough for me. A proper ruined fortification. Love it.
Once an Earl entertained Mary Queen of Scots in the castle. The same Earl also roasted an Abbot on the fire, forcing him to hand over his lands. What a thug.
A nearby information board informs me that “Charles Rennie Mackintosh was here”. Makes a change from the usual “Robbie Burns was here” boasts.
Dunure has a pretty little harbour. I stop for lunch in a bright little café, next to the pub and overlooking the water.
After a good lunch, I’m half tempted to catch the bus back to Ayr (really, I’m getting quite lazy these days!). But it’s not much further to walk. Onwards.
I make the mistake of walking up the road, and only realise I’ve gone wrong after I’ve climbed some distance up a hill. I turn round and walk back. Realise I’ve left my camera on a fence post at the top of the hill. Walk back to retrieve it. (No, I really didn’t have any alcohol with my lunch… I swear.)
Eventually I work out where the path goes. It just continues along the beach on the other side of the harbour, past a sign that says ‘Private’!
What follows is one of the toughest sections of the Ayrshire Coastal Path so far. (If I’d realised, I might have caught the bus after all.) But it’s very enjoyable.
I walk along the top of the shore, through rocks and grassland, wheezing and sneezing with hay fever.
The footpath is a bit vague in places. I’m reminded the official website says this is a “practical ‘route’ rather than a formal laid-out path”. But, after a while, I work out that white paint splashes have been used to show the best way to go… through this rocky cleft, for example.
I’m back on the top of the low cliffs, walking through fields of grass(sneeze). There are cows here too, but they keep their distance.
The landscape if full of hills and hollows, and outcrops of rocks. The grass is crossed by sheep and cattle tracks, so it’s not clear where the proper footpath runs. Sometimes it’s a game of “spot the white paint”, sometimes of “spot the gate”.
I walk through long grass, clamber up and down slopes and get scratched by giant hog weed (ouch) as I try to navigate my way over a stream. If there was a plank bridge here, it no longer exists now.
Pleased to be heading back to the shore again, I slip and slide down a slope where the path seems to function as the route of a stream (mud galore). When I reach the rocky beach, I play the game of “spot the splotches”. Difficult, because I sometimes confuse pale patches of lichen with white paint marks.
I come across a pretty waterfall. This is marked on my map, and so I have a chance to get my bearings. Crikey, I’ve been walking for 45 minutes and only covered just over one mile.
Trying to speed up, I pick my way over grass and rocks beside the sea. The cliff in front has no name, but I know the path goes up the slope before I reach it. Mustn’t miss the turning…
Here it is. Not too hard to spot, although not too easy either. And I’m relieved to see the Ayrshire Path volunteers have put some steps in place. It would be a steep scramble otherwise. Not so pleased, however, to see somebody has used this isolated spot as a rubbish tip.
Onwards. At the top of the slope I pass through a gate and into fields of sheep. Official Ayrshire Path signs tell me to stick to the path around the edges of the fields, but there are also white-painted stones that indicate a more direct route across the grass.
Since my hay fever is now if full swing – and I’m rapidly running out of tissues – I take the direct route.
I reach a section of path that follows the route of a disused railway line. This is lovely, running on a ridge above the surrounding countryside, and with great views.
That’s Bracken Bay below, where I should rejoin the shore and walk around under the cliffs of the headland – called Heads of Ayr. The town is just beyond the headland.
But… uh,oh… it looks like the tide is pretty high already and coming in fast. Will I be able to make it round before the headland is cut off?
I should be hurrying, but I spot this wonderful sycamore tree. Never seen such vibrantly pink sycamore ‘helicopters’ before. Of course, I MUST stop and take photographs.
The railway embankment is interrupted at a place where I presume there was once a bridge. It’s gone now.
I climb down off the embankment and wander around a field. Eventually I realise the path actually follows the second part of the ridge… if only it was signed!
Past the edge of a large holiday camp, I join a track. Signs warn me that the Ayrshire Coastal Path might be impassable at high tide. I check my watch. Oh dear. Only 90 minutes until high tide.
Picking up speed, I follow the track until I have a view down to Bracken Bay. Hmmm. Looks like there is plenty of room to get around the headland… but after that there’s another three miles until I reach Ayr… and I can’t see around the corner.
I waste 10 minutes dithering. In the end, I decide to head back to the road and catch the bus. The section around the Heads of Ayr looks beautiful, and I don’t want to rush it. Nor do I want to get trapped. I’ll save it for tomorrow.
Back past the holiday park, I follow the access lane up towards the main road. An elderly couple, complete with shopping bags, are walking towards me. Damn! They must have got off the bus. I’ve obviously just missed it.
When I get to the stop, I realise there’s an hour to wait until the next one. Should I sit and wait, or start walking towards Ayr?
I sniff and sneeze. Late afternoon is the worst time for hay fever, and I’ve only got one dry tissue left. There’s nowhere to sit, apart from the grassy verge. I can almost feel the pollen lying in wait for me…
Just then, a couple of walkers march past. I don’t know where they’ve come from, but they look serious, with proper walking shoes and rucksacks. That spurs me into action. The road has no pavement, but if I follow behind them, I should be ok.
We haven’t gone very far, when the bus whizzes past! Just enough time to swing my camera up and take a photograph of it disappearing over the brow of the hill.
I could have guessed the bus would be late. Should have waited. Now I’ve really missed it!
The rest of the walk is a frustrating march along the road – a road almost entirely empty of bus stops – until I reach the outskirts of Ayr. Here I find buses going to all sorts of places, and spend another frustrating half hour hunting around until I finally manage to find a bus that’s heading into the centre of town. What a frustrating end to a wonderful day!
- You can book a hotel room in Culzean Castle and stay in a suite once used by General Eisenhower, given to him as a gift by the family for his role in helping us win WW2. Looks luxurious, and a bit pricey.
- Read all about the infamous Earl who roasted the Abbot in Dunure Castle on the Maybole website.
- My quick brush with giant hogweed caused a nasty weal that lasted a week. It’s horrible stuff.
Miles today = 14 miles ( 12 along the coast, 2 along that stupid road!)
Miles in total = 3,450.5 miles