This morning I catch the bus back to the Heads of Ayr holiday park. My mission? To complete the section of yesterday’s walk from the point where the tide defeated me.
I walk in sunshine under a constantly changing sky. The air is fresh and clear. Perfect for hiking. I’m soon past the holiday park, where I join a track that climbs up the headland, and then a path sloping down the hill towards the beach.
This is Bracken Bay. The Heads of Ayr form a dramatic backdrop. But, oh dear, the tide seems much too high… even higher than yesterday. There’s very little shore below those cliffs.
At least I know the water is going out, instead of coming in. If I can’t get through… all I have to do is sit and wait until the tide goes down.
[The thought of waiting for the tide to recede would once have filled me with irritation, but long-distance walking has taught me patience. You settle for longer timescales when the geology around you is mapped in terms of millennia, and for an easier pace when your fastest speed is 3 mph. The weather and the tides have their own slow rhythms, which no amount of fretting will change.]
Anyway, there’s no need to wait because I discover I can pick my way through. The waves splash their way across the larger stones, but fizzle out in the shingle at the base of the cliffs.
I still can’t see around the corner of the headland… will the water be too high to continue?
No. The tide is almost visibly receding, exposing a narrow strip of beach. Perfect. And not a soul in sight.
Across the sea is the lumpy shape of the Isle of Arran. With clouds hanging low over its hills it looks kind of menacing. Does it look like a sleeping knight? Possibly.
I leave the cliffs of the Heads of Ayr behind, walk past a water treatment works, and then past a row of holiday chalets. It’s chilly because the sun has retreated behind the clouds. Some cold-looking children make the best of their holiday and try to build a sandcastle at the top of the beach, while adults in warm clothing look on.
A family of swans glides past. I think of swans as freshwater birds, and I’m always amazed to see swans floating in the salty sea. These seem to be feasting on seaweed.
Round a gentle curve of shore… and here’s a wide, shallow bay with a stone tower at the far end.
Check my map. The bay has no name, but the tower is part of ruined Greenan Castle.
I head out into the muddy sand of the bay, picking my way cautiously through patches of slippery sea weed. It pops – like bubble wrap – under my feet.
And I have to pick my way around jelly fish too. Freshly marooned by the receding waters, this one is beautiful, with a tangle of salmon-coloured tendrils, like coils of knitting wool, beneath a translucent dome.
Poor thing. Soon it will dry out and lose both its sheen and translucency. I wonder if these creatures – so alien and different from us – feel anything resembling pain, or discomfort?
I take a photograph looking back at Greenan Castle. On the shore, beneath the tower, a couple of men are walking slowly, sweeping long poles in front of them as if cleaning the beach with long-headed mops. What on earth are they doing? Ah, yes, metal detectors.
Onwards, towards Ayr. The town is just across the bay. I’m staying in a B&B there and am already familiar with the seafront, but a place always looks different when viewed from a different angle.
I pass more jellyfish. This one has a deep blue hue, which contrasts nicely with the fading orange of its tentacles. At first I think “how pretty”, until I realise the blue is probably the result of slow decomposition. The colour of death.
More blue-tinted bodies. It’s a jellyfish morgue. Each corpse displaying a different stage of decay – deepening blues, slowly replacing orange, until all you get is indigo and then… nothing… just a shadow on the sand.
I can’t walk directly to Ayr because the River Doon is in the way, so I head towards the mouth of the waterway and cross using a pedestrian bridge. Definitely a pedestrian-only bridge. NO horses or motorcycles allowed.
On the other side, a pleasant walkway leads through parkland towards the town. The seaward side of the walk might once have been beach, but has been overgrown with dune plants.
I remember Parkgate on the Wirral, whose seaside promenade now overlooks a mile of marsh, and lovely Grange over Sands, now definitely looking more like Grange over Marsh. Beaches, like jellyfish, don’t necessarily last for ever.
My walkway also doubles as a Sustrans route number 7 – a lovely, looping cycle route that links the east coast of Scotland with the west.
While I’m taking photographs, I become aware of a man watching me. Eventually he comes up and we start discussing cameras. He’s got a Lumix, one of hybrid / bridge cameras, with many of the qualities of a DSLR model, but packed into a smaller and lighter body. He demonstrates its features.
If my trusty Canon EOS 550D gives up on me (which I’m sure it will one day – the poor thing has been with me since Portsmouth, nearly 3,000 miles of rough treatment behind us now) I might consider a bridge camera.
We talk about image cards and lenses, cheap places to buy online, and the advantages of black and white mode for crisp focus. Every time we say goodbye, and he sets off to walk ahead, he remembers something else to tell me and turns back…
Eventually, we run out of camera conversation. He wanders away down the path, and I take some photographs of the Isle of Arran, as viewed over the grassy dunes.
A mile or so later, I reach the main beach and its extensive (free) car park. I have no idea why Ayr isn’t more popular as a seaside resort. I deserves to be. Its beach is far superior to Blackpool, in my opinion, and infinitely better than Weston-super-Mare. For a start, the sand here is actually sand-coloured.
I walk along the esplanade. As I reach the end closest to the town, it becomes almost crowded. A nifty series of poles display the walking / running distance along the seafront.
At a park with a fountain, I decide to stop on a nearby bench for a rest and an early lunchtime snack… but then I see a proper café on the other side of the grass. Can’t resist.
Shame the food is mainly of the deep-fried variety and everything comes in a bun and/or with chips. In the end, I order a scone and a cup of tea.
Afterwards, I walk along to the end of the beach. And spot another man armed with a metal detector. I guess many of us are obsessive in our own way – me and my endless trek around the coast, some with their endless quest for metal objects.
The beach comes to an end at a pier – the South Pier. It marks the entrance to the River Ayr and the harbour.
I’m pleased to have finally arrived at the planned end of yesterday’s walk. Now it’s time to begin today’s.
[to be continued…]
Route of this section of the walk: