Irvine is a town beside the sea, but it’s not really a seaside town. Most of the time, if you wander around the streets and retail parks, you have no idea you are only a mile or so from the coast.
Anyway, on this glorious July morning, I set off to walk northwards to Ardrossan, but I can’t follow the coast. There’s a river in the way. So I follow the official Ayrshire Coastal Path route – a tarmac track running through pleasant parkland.
I’m overtaken by a couple of male walkers. They seem to be wearing matching outfits. I can’t work out if their wardrobe choices were deliberately co-ordinated, or not.
Along the route I spot a Core Path sign. First one I’ve seen that looks like this, and very pretty. Shoe print. Dog print. Horse shoe. That sums up, I guess, what the core path is for.
The path runs above the river. Ahead is the railway viaduct. To my right, the land opens out into an area of open space called Towns moor.
I meet a few dog walkers and a cyclist passes me, a reminder that this stretch of the Ayrshire Coastal Path is also Sustrans cycle route number 7.
Route number 7 runs from Sunderland to Inverness, and looks fantastic. Makes me wonder if I should give up walking and take up cycle-touring instead.
I pass apple trees growing beside the path. I wonder if the fruit are edible? But I’m still full from my breakfast, so I don’t try one.
Going down a gentle incline, I meet a cyclist coming towards me. He is grimacing with the effort of coming uphill, and doesn’t look happy about having his photo taken. Oh dear. Cycling looks like hard work. Perhaps I’ll stick to walking instead.
I pass a clump of tall cow parsley. No. Not cow parsley. Too large and too high. That must be the dreaded giant hogweed. This nasty Russian invader can cause horrible skin rashes, especially if the sap interacts with sunshine. I’ve only had a couple of scrapes, but the wheals lasted for days.
A Facebook friend (I only know him as Bienvue Cheeseski) suggests the best thing to do if you come into contact with Giant Hogweed is to wash the area immediately and then keep it covered from the sun.
Anyway, I’m sticking to the path, so don’t anticipate any hogweed encounters today.
A runner overtakes me. Running looks even more exhausting than cycling.
Further along, in an area of woodland, I discover some raspberries growing by the path. Can’t resist eating these. Delicious.
I’m approaching the outskirts of a town called Kilwinning, and here I cross over the River Garnock. There is a network of walking/cycle routes around the town. I’m on something called the New Town Trail. It’s also a Core Path, part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path, and part of cycle route number 7 – quite a multitasking piece of path!
One plant I’ve come across a lot of today has a pretty pink, talcum-powder smelling, flower. It’s Himalayan balsam, another foreign invader. Although not toxic to humans like giant hogweed, Himalayan balsam is a menace because it crowds out our native plants and chokes river beds with its vigorous growth.
I come to a junction, and find a very tall signpost with amazingly long and thin arms. I am surprised to see I’m only 2.75 miles from Irvine. Seems longer. Now I must turn left, towards Ardrossan. Only 6 miles away, says the pointing finger. Hmm. I’m not sure I believe it.
A couple of girls wobble past me on bikes.
A short time later, I come to a semi-industrial area. The cycle route becomes a minor road. There are tall fences and an advisory 30 mph speed limit. OK. I promise not to go faster than that!
I’ve been aware of footsteps behind me for some time, and now a couple of walkers catch up with me. They’re local people, from Irvine, and we have a chat. They’re heading for Stevenston Beach, they tell me. It’s the nicest beach in the area.
We walk side by side for a while, but they can’t keep up with my pace – it’s much too slow for them – so they soon speed off.
I’m perplexed by their mention of Stevenston Beach. I can’t find it on my map. They tell me it runs alongside the disused Stevenston Site and you can’t walk directly along it from Irvine because there’s a river in the way (and the “broken” bridge).
Anyway, if it’s the best beach in the area, I must go and have a look at it.
Onwards. I’m approaching the outskirts of Stevenston. Farmland on either side. Houses ahead.
I reach a road and ponder my options. Turning left along the road would take me through an industrial estate and to the alluring Stevenston beach. I’m about to head along the road, when a man comes walking by and asks if he can help. I tell him I want to get to the beach.
‘Don’t go that way,’ he says, pointing down the road I was planning to take. ‘Keep following this path instead. No. Don’t go that way.’
He is so emphatic, I decide I better follow his advice, and I stick to the path/cycle route. It takes me through an area of parkland. The grass is a bit too manicured for my taste, and there’s not much to see.
I’m feeling very hot and weary, and soon stop to apply sunblock to my arms. Nobody warned me Scotland would be so hot! They warned me about midges and about rain, but not about getting heatstroke.
Look at this dinky little seat. A seat for a single person. There’s another one a few hundred feet further along. Weird. I’ve not seen anything like this before. Seats for lonely people?
The park I’m walking through is called Ardeer Park. I come to a place where there’s a large pond – a lake really – with swans and ducks. There’s a woman playing with her children, and a man having a solitary picnic on the bank. Otherwise, nobody around.
In London, or any of our major cities, a park like this would be crowded on a sunny day. But here, in Scotland, nothing ever seems to get crowded.
I reach Stevenston. It’s not very impressive. I walk past the railway station, keeping an eye out for a village shop – I want to buy a cold drink.
Sadly, I don’t come across a shop, but end up on a weird residential road. Shore Road, says my Garmin. On one side are some very ordinary looking semi-detached houses. On the other is a grassy bank, and a strip of green where the residents seem to park their cars. Ahead is the industrial estate.
My map shows a car park nearby – a place called Beach Park. I was expecting to see holiday makers, or visitors in cars, or local people out enjoying this wonderful afternoon. Instead, there are just a couple of cars looking lost and lonely in the enormous car park.
I climb up onto the grassy bank. It’s covered in dandelions and daisies. Lovely. Dead ahead is a big industrial building. I walk towards it.
When I reach the industrial estate, I turn right, heading for the shore. And, after several hundred yards along a track, I reach the sea.
Ah, yes. To my left, there’s a glorious expanse of beach, bordered by a sandy cliff. That must be the famous Stevenston Beach. And this is where all the locals park – not in the official car park, but close to the beach.
I don’t go down along Stevenston Beach. It’s a dead end, after all, and I’m feeling hot, tired and thirsty. Instead, I make my way to a promontory of land (where there’s another car park) and sit on the rocks bordering the shore
It’s time to eat my snacks and finish off the water in my bottle. And also time to admire the wonderful view and take some photographs. The sea is clear and a medley of blues and greens. Across the water is the familiar shape of the Isle of Arran.
Arran. I’ll be walking there soon. But first I have to get to Ardrossan. a little further up the coast, and find the ferry port.
[To be continued…]