I leave my rocky perch and begin walking back along the spit of land. It’s time to head northwards, towards Saltcoats and Ardrossan. After spending a morning inland, it’s great to be walking beside the sea again.
The beach here may not be as pretty as the Stevenston Beach, but the sandbank creates a natural warm pool, and it looks a great place for children to play
Across the water is Saltcoats. Beyond is the island that looks like a “lying down knight” – the Isle of Arran.
I love this section of the walk. It’s good to be back on the sand, after a morning of tarmac walking. The sea is clear, and the air is full of light and warmth.
I cross a footbridge over the Stevenston Burn (the bridge is just visible, top right, in the photo above). From here the beach is relatively crowded. Dog walkers, young families, older strollers.
There are sand dunes to my right, and then a crumbling cliff of sandstone.
Walking along the margin of the waves, I see bubbles coming through the sand. Weird. I bend down and dip my finger into the bubbling area and taste it. The water is fresh. Ah, yes, it’s a spring.
I’ve come across fresh water springs on beaches before. The last one was down in Devon, on the beach of Outer Hope.
The sand runs out and I am forced to take to the promenade. (Maybe, if the tide is lower, you can walk into Saltcoats along the beach.) Actually, promenade is too grand a word for this concrete walkway. It’s completely lacking in any ornamentation or interest. Pah!
When I reach Saltcoats, I’m even less impressed. I was expecting a pretty resort, but the sea front is lined by ugly residential blocks, the type that were built in the 1960s and 1970s and seem deliberately designed to look hideous.
Onwards, along an ugly concrete promenade. How disappointing. No nice cafes or pubs, just some grotty “amusements”, designed to take your money off you. The only thing that makes this section of the walk remotely pleasant is the continuing sunshine…
…and the beautiful, clear water. Following terrible flooding some years ago, the waterfront is now protected by a series of artificial reefs.
An information board explains that salt was once produced in Saltcoats. It was a hugely expensive and labour-intensive process, with 50 tons of coal needed to evaporate the sea water to produce 3 tons of salt.
More interestingly, it was also the birth place of the first female sea-captain to be listed in the British Register of Tonnage, back in the early 1800s. Betsy Miller.
The shore at Saltcoats is divided into two by a rocky promontory. There’s a car park near the tip of the promontory. A very nice convertible car sits in splendid isolation, with its owners sunbathing on recliners next to it.
It’s an odd fact that most British people, on an outing, rarely stray more than a few metres from their car.
I walk past a strange little tower. A folly? It overlooks another bay to the north. This northern bay is called, rather confusingly, South Bay. On the far side – Ardrossan.
At the southern end of South Bay are some concrete walls, nearly submerged under the tide. What are they? The remains of old salt pans? Or salt-water bathing pools? People walk along the walls, but I don’t see anybody actually swimming.
[Later I learn both my answers were right. These were in fact bathing pools, built on top of old salt pans, according to North Ayrshire Heritage Trails.]
South Bay has a much nicer seafront than the bay I’ve just walked around. Nicer houses. A more prosperous feel. Is this Saltcoats or Ardrossan? I can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.
The beach is sandy, but punctuated by strips of rocks that stretch out into the sea, like elongated and multi-knuckled fingers.
When I reach the end of the bay, I spend some time taking photographs, looking back at the sand and at the families enjoying a day on the beach. At times like this, I feel rather lonely, and remember my own children and our occasional trips to the beach with wistfulness.
Come on, Ruth. Stop daydreaming. Onwards.
I walk through streets now, past a little station, heading towards the harbour and the ferry terminal.
I reach a roundabout. I’m on the edge of a large marina, and the Arran ferry is just off to the left. I make a mental note of this area, and the road system.
I’m not crossing over to Arran today. Having come so far along the Ayrshire Coastal Path – all the way from its beginning at Glenapp – it seems a shame not to complete the route. The whole path is roughly 100 miles in length, and I only have another 23 or 24 miles to go, another couple of days of walking.
So, I turn my back on the ferry port, and walk around the edge of the great marina.
The quayside is dominated by newly-built blocks of flats. The marina holds an impressive array of powerful motor launches and expensive yachts. I think of poor old Stranraer. This area seems far more affluent.
The apartment buildings are gleaming white, and must have great views, but the whole place has a soulless feel.
I see one solitary young mother walking with a little toddler, and feel rather sorry for her. The landscaping is bland and open-plan. Even the sculptural artwork, although interesting, is on an inhuman scale. Great balls.
At the end of the new development, the modern walkway disappears, and a crumbling tarmac road leads around the next section of the bay. It’s a flat piece of wasteland – maybe an abandoned industrial site – covered in scrubby grasses and wild flowers.
At one point, the path – yes, this is the official Ayrshire Coastal Path – takes me between a concrete wall and a high bank. It’s an alleyway really, and I feel a little uneasy.
Funny. Although I have no qualms about walking for miles along isolated footpaths, these semi-industrial areas, on the fringes of towns, often make me feel rather nervous.
Anyway, I emerge from the alleyway without encountering any muggers or murderers, and am rewarded by a great view. The dark line, straight ahead is a breakwater. Beyond is a flat rock, called Horse Isle, and beyond that – blue and mysterious – is the Isle of Arran.
My passage through this area of wasteland is almost over. The path now runs just beside a rocky beach, along a crumbling bank, close to a broken fence. I have to watch my footing, as I step over rabbit holes and pick my way through loose rubble.
The next bay is called North Bay. I can look ahead – past the man in an inflatable dinghy – to where the houses end and the shore curves onwards towards… I check my map… West Kilbride.
It’s time to turn back and find the railway station in Ardrossan. Before I leave the shore, I stand and take some more photographs of the Isle of Arran, across the sparkling expanse of sand and water.
The first station I come to – Town Station – turns out to be a disappointing place. No ticket office and a very infrequent trains service, designed to connect with the Arran ferry. So, I end up walking much farther than I intended, to reach the South Beach Station, which is on the main line to Glasgow. I buy my ticket in a panic – the train is just about to arrive – before realising I don’t have my railcard with me, so must pay the full fare, and I have to change at Kilwinning. It would have been easier to catch the bus!
You can read the story of Betsy Miller in this PDF produced by the local council: Betsy Miller
Miles walked today = 14.5 miles
Total around coast of UK = 3,488.5 miles