It rains all morning. Hard downpours, interspersed with grey Scottish smirr. I sit in my car and wait until the worst of it clears. Then I unfurl my umbrella and set off to follow the Ayrshire coastal path around the North Bay of Troon.
I walk through a little park, where a man is scalping the grass with a sit-upon mower, leaving a trail of wet grass clippings and churned mud. What’s the best thing about walking in the rain? No hay fever!
The tide is high and the beach is shingly. I stick to the promenade.
As soon as I see a decent patch of sand, I drop down to the shore. There’s a fretful wildness to the weather and the sea is ruffled by choppy waves. My umbrella bobs and bounces with the breezes, but at least I can keep my camera dry and take some photographs.
Few people go out on a day like this, and I almost have the beach to myself. Only a couple of dog walkers.
Across the water, the Isle of Arran is hiding beneath a smother of cloud, while out in the firth a couple of large cargo vessels float without making any progress. A dark cone – a lone sentinel – sits just off the shore. I check my map… that must be the marker for Lappock Rock.
The dull weather makes for poor photography, so I don’t stop very often. This, and the firm sand, means I make rapid progress.
Ahead, somewhere in the murk, is Irvine. Birds wheel above me. In the distance I spot insects crawling near the water. I wipe my glasses clear of drizzle. Not insects, people. Walking with their dogs.
To my right a line of dunes run along the top of the beach. I hear the odd clicking noise. Metallic. Weird. But familiar… yes, definitely a sound I’ve heard before. Eventually, I realise it’s the noise of golf balls being struck.
[Later, when I check my map, I see there are several golf courses lurking just beyond the dunes. FOUR of them, in fact. Yes, the Scots certainly love their golf!]
The official route of the Ayrshire Coastal Path runs along the top of the dunes, but these are badly eroded in places. With my camera on zoom I take a photo of what remains of wooden walkways, now smashed and dangling down the sandy slopes.
There are signs of industry behind the dunes and beyond the golf links. Tall chimneys and the tops of buildings peek over. But here, down on the beach, is a world utterly devoid of manmade structure.
I walk close to the waves, across ridged sand that gleams with water and is speckled with worm castings. Another warning marker sits straddling some danger just off the beach. The clouds over Arran remain dark and stormy…
… but, on this side of the firth, the sky brightens slightly and – finally – the rain stops.
I’m approaching Irvine, where I was expecting to see a town – houses and an esplanade maybe – but all I can spot along the beach is a car park. Is that it?
Where there’s a car park, there will be people. Sure enough, I soon come across other people out walking. Arran, still angry under brooding clouds, makes a splendid backdrop for photographs.
I head towards the car park. From somewhere comes the jangle of a guitar band. Is there a music festival going on?
The steps up to the car park are etched with lines from poems. “Nae man can tether Time or Tide”. Robbie Burns, of course.
The car park straddles the base of a stone and concrete jetty, and over the other side is the mouth of the River Irvine. Here rocky groins divide the river bank into segments of beach, with warning poles sticking up like a series of exclamation marks along the side of the channel.
At the end of the walkway, a line of stones continues out into the water. Here’s another one of those compass-like circles, but this one is more ambitious than its counterpart in Troon. Irvine points to places on different continents.
Hong Kong, China. 5,196 nautical miles. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 4,331 nautical miles. Buenos Aires, Argentina, 6,172 nautical miles. Why do I need to know this? Ah, more useful – Tobermory, Isle of Mull, 76 nautical miles.
I balance my camera and take a self-portrait. As I’m waiting for the timer, a cyclist appears. He gives me a funny look… why is that woman smiling at me? And then the shutter goes CLICK, and he realises.
We get talking. He lives locally and cycles in all weathers. Goes all over the place and recommends a visit to the Isle of Arran. Yes, Arran is on my planned route, I tell him. I’m going to use it as a stepping stone over to the Mull of Kintyre.
The guitars start up again. I ask if there’s a music festival nearby. No. It’s a circus.
When I leave to walk into the town, I pass the field where the circus tent stands. The music has stopped and is replaced by a bellowing voice. Someone inside is announcing the acts.
I’m walking beside the river, along a path / cycle way, past a weird stone sculpture that looks like some sort of mollusc…
… and past a derelict landing platform, festooned with faded memorials. Did someone drown here?
A few yards later, I come across a strange sight. A bridge with a gap. Looks like the middle section was deliberately taken out. Weird. The bridge is actually quite attractive, with lattice metal work patterns along the sides.
Then I remember Kieran Sandwell, another coastal walker who I met a few days ago in Ayr for a drink and a chat. (Kieran is walking to raise money for the British Heart Foundation: atrailoftwohearts.com.) He told me of a horrendous day fighting through a maze of fences and barriers just north of the River Irvine. He didn’t make his way through to the bridge he was heading for. Just as well because he later discovered the bridge was broken.
This must be Kieran’s broken bridge!
A sign informs me the area – Ardeer Peninsula – is being redeveloped. [Later, I do some research and discover this was once an industrial complex, the Stevenston Site, where explosives were manufactured.]
No sign of redevelopment yet. Shame. The place certainly needs sprucing up.
For example, a little further along, I walk past a group of neglected sheds, and a building that turns out to be the Irvine Sub Aqua Club. Not the best clubhouse I’ve ever seen.
And then a decaying cottage. Love the rusty clock on the wall. There’s a new-looking blue sign mentioning someone called Robert Wylie, who used to be a Harbour Master. I assume this was his home, or his office, or both.
Train lines run through the pavement, hinting that this was once a busy port. It’s a pity the left hand side is screened with rusty fencing, preventing a view of the river, because this could be a lovely approach to the town.
Further on is a row of new housing, and a pleasant area with pubs, hotels, and a wonderful bronze statue of man and his horse. Really excellent.
Finally I get to walk beside the river. Sailing ships are moored in the water, and working boats too.
The pavement is punctuated with stones carrying a medley of words. Scottish words. Tatties and neeps? Those I understand to be potatoes and swede. And a I certainly know what a dram is – a measure of whisky. Most of the other words… are a mystery!
This is a great little project – The Scots Words Trail. Love it.
A nearby takeaway shop catches my eye. Not the “hot and cold food” part, but the sign underneath the window. “Funerals from £1,560.” I hope that’s not a reflection on the quality of the food!
On the wall beside an old boatyard is a wonderful mural. A real trompe l’oeil and very convincing, right down to the “No Entry” sign.
I stand for some time taking photographs. Certainly these are great attempts to rejuvenate Irvine’s old harbour area and create interesting features. Very enjoyable too.
This was a short walk and was supposed to be a short blog post. As usual, I found far too much to write about… sorry.
- More information about Irvine Harbour can be found on the Irvine Harbourside Heritage site, including information about the statue of the man and horse, and The Scots Words Trail.
- To help with translating the strange Scottish words: Dictionary of the Scots Language
Miles walked today = 7 miles
Total around the coastline of Britain = 3,474 miles