It’s a dull morning. I park my car in a side road and walk down to the beach. This is North Bay, Ardrossan. A ferry is coming into the harbour. From Arran? The island is invisible this morning, screened by a murky mist.
Seeing the ferry makes me feel a little irritated with myself. I could have gone over to Arran today and continued my planned coastal route around Scotland. But, instead, I decided to complete the Ayrshire Coastal Path. So, I now face two days of walking, during which I won’t actually make any progress along my planned route.
Oh well. Too late now. The decision is made and my ferry passage is booked for a couple of days time.
Onwards, along the shore of North Bay. And, despite the dull weather, it’s looking very pretty, with plenty of wild flowers. Oh dear – (sneeze) – hay fever.
There is the usual sprinkling of dog walkers, but this beach is otherwise deserted. Perhaps it’s a little bit too rocky to attract young families. Or perhaps the day is too cool and dull. But I love the emptiness, the misty light in the distance, and the pools of reflecting water that pattern the shore.
It’s beautiful and peaceful too. The only sounds are the cries of sea birds, the crunch of my feet on shingle… oh, and the muted roar of traffic from the A78, which runs alongside the coast, but is mainly hidden behind a screen of reeds and bushes.
Sunlight begins shredding the clouds above my head, burning off the mist. The sky turns a patchy blue.
Further on, and granite boulders litter the sands. On one large one, somebody has written a slogan – YES – coupled with the Scottish flag. Created for the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014? If so, somebody has tried to disguise the YES by turning it into JESUS. (Or, of course, Jesus might have been there first!)
I’m approaching a holiday camp, and see a few more people walking on the shore. Another slogan on another rock. YES.
I walk past a row of upright wooden pillars. An old jetty perhaps? Or a breakwater? Nothing much left now.
The shore is rockier, with sheltered pools. I disturb oystercatchers, who shriek at me as they fly away. A heron takes off in a clumsy flurry of wings and feet. A family of swans glides by – always a surprise to see them in the sea.
Sometimes the beach is cut by streams. I could have gone inland to cross this one via the road bridge, but it’s much more fun to wade across. My boots are almost waterproof.
The holiday camp is well behind me now, and this stretch of beach is practically deserted. Far out near the water, looking like insects in the distance, are a group of young lads hunting for bait.
I’m approaching another holiday camp. This one has a nice-looking pub nearby. But it’s much too early to stop. Onwards.
I round a headland, and another one. South Inch and North Inch. Cormorants watch me from a craggy island just offshore. Limpet Craig. And then I see West Kilbride ahead.
The shore here is too rocky to walk along easily, so I follow a grassy path on the bank instead. Wild flowers and the mist beaten back. It really feels like summer has arrived.
I don’t see much of West Kilbride, because I stick to the shore. After crossing over a rather ugly little footbridge, all I can see from the beach are some rather grand houses poking above the dunes. Mock castles.
I’m walking on the sands, with some great rock formations to clamber over. Red sandstone. Flattened and weathered.
To my right comes the click of golf balls. Two elderly women stand and discuss a shot. This is West Kilbride Golf Course. (Every village in Scotland seems to have a golf course!)
Ahead is Ardneil Bay. On the other side is Portencross, where there’s a castle on the shore and an old fort on top of the Auld Hill. I’m hoping to stop for lunch at Portencross, because it’s on the tourist trail and there must be a café.
I walk around the sandy beach and then follow a grassy path over the headland. The meadow is full of enormous daisies. It’s the last week in July, and most of the daisies in Lincolnshire are past their best, but flowers in Scotland seem to come out a couple of weeks later, and these are really blooming. Oh… and my hay fever is really playing up now. (Sneeze)
These aren’t ‘normal’ daisies are they? They’re not lying neatly, but swamp the grasses wtih great swathes of growth. Oxeye daisies? I don’t know much about flowers.
On the other side of a meadow is a car park and picnic tables. Here the official path turns inland to follow the road, and I’m not too disappointed because I’m more hopeful of finding a café on the road…
…but there isn’t one. In fact, Portencross just consists of a handful of houses. Oh, and the castle, perched on the shore. A noticeboard tells me this delightful ancient monument is owned by a charity – the Friends of Portencross Castle.
I don’t go into the castle, because I’m feeling too tired and hungry. Instead, I follow a family of German tourists. They must be heading for a café. We walk past a small harbour, where a man is busy tinkering – somewhat noisily – with his boat’s engine…
… and along to a pier. A popular fishing spot. Still no café, and we seem to have reached the end of Portencross. Ah, well. Luckily I’ve brought some snacks with me.
I sit on a rock – a very comfortable one with a larger rock behind acting as a backrest. I eat a packet of peanuts, drink some water, chomp through a muesli bar, drink some more water… and then sit, semi-dozing, in the warm sunshine.
Why do I feel so unusually tired? It’s not particularly hot. The walk has been flat. What’s wrong with me? Perhaps (sneeze) it’s the hay fever (sniff)?
I give myself a metaphorical shake and a slap. Onwards. Stop lazing around. If you hope to get to Largs today, you better get on with it. You’re only halfway there.
From the pier, the Ayrshire coastal path follows a track running through a meadow close to the rocky shore. It’s a plateau of grassland, overhung by a tall cliff on my right. I see there are a few walkers ahead of me.
Out on the water, a lone kayaker paddles by. On the other side is… I check my map… Little Cumbrae Island. I can see a castle over there too. The straits between us are called the Fairlee Roads. The water looks smooth and enticing.
The walkers ahead turn back. I meet a few cyclists – parents with young children – and I wonder how far they’ve come. This grassland seems virtually empty, just a few farm cottages. [Later, I learn there were plans to build another power station here, and the land was bought up with that intention. The plans were abandoned, but that explains the lack of development.]
My track turns into a path. Ahead is another pier, but not a fishing one. Here some sort of industrial activity is going on.
As I approach the pier, my path joins a road. I see tall fences and security cameras – and a sign that says Hunterston A, Licensed Nuclear Site. Oh. I take a photograph, and then immediately feel paranoid. Maybe I shouldn’t be taking photographs of a nuclear site?
A voice booms out from a loudspeaker. “Would (something unintelligible) report to (somewhere unintelligible).”
Oh no! I’ve been spotted. Someone is coming to tell me off, maybe even take me away for questioning. I hastily stow my camera in my rucksack and pretend to study my map, nonchalantly – which probably make me look even more suspicious to the security personnel monitoring the cameras.
The road continues. There is absolutely no traffic. Eerily quiet… until the loudspeaker bellows out behind me again. They still want somebody (known only as a number) to report to somewhere.
After a while, when I think I’m safely out of range of the cameras, I stop for a swig of my water bottle – and can’t resist pulling out my own camera for a sneaky photograph of the road. It’s a shame not to capture this empty road and this beautiful blue sky, isn’t it? Oh, and I didn’t mean to snap the nuclear power station ahead. That was entirely by accident, officer, I swear…
Onwards. I haven’t been arrested yet, and this really is the official route of the Ayrshire Coastal Path, so I have every right to be here.
I see a man marching down the road towards me. Oh, no. Now I’m in trouble. The loudspeaker blares again. He marches straight past me with only a muttered, “Hello”. The penny drops. He must be the person (known only as a number) who is being constantly paged. Not a security guard at all, but perhaps an engineer?
Now, I’m walking past the entrance to the power station on my right. A sign on the footpath ahead tells me “No Pedestrian Access Ahead” (or something similar, I don’t dare take a photograph to record it). There is a sign showing the route for pedestrians, and it points to the right, straight towards the entrance to the power station.
Odd. My map says the footpath continues straight on, but maybe it’s been diverted?
Obediently, I turn right and follow the road. After a while, I realise I’m heading straight for the main entrance to the power plant. Uh, oh. This really can’t be the Ayrshire Coastal Path?!
A woman with a clipboard is sitting in the entrance of what looks like a giant metal container beside the road. Is this the way the footpath goes? She looks a bit vague, but doesn’t think so. I pull out my map. She seems a bit vague about the map too. I suggest the instruction “No Pedestrian Access Ahead” probably relates to people visiting the plant on foot, not to ordinary walkers and hikers. But it is a bit misleading… isn’t it? She still looks a bit vague, but nods in an accomodating fashion.
I head back to the road I’ve just left and continue on, marching straight past the “No Pedestrian” sign. Nobody tries to stop me. In fact, nobody seems to notice.
The route curves around, following the shore. An information board tells me this area is a site of special scientific interest (SSI) called Southannan Sands, where rare eelgrass forms a flowering underwater meadow. To my left is an industrial peninsula, over which a couple of wind turbines turn sedately.
To my right is a field of sheep and the white and grey blocks of the nuclear power station. A sign warns me to “Take Time out for Personal Safety”.
A few cars whizz past me at speeds that must be approaching 70mph, knocking me sideways with their passing gust, and taking no obvious notice of the Personal Safety instruction.
I’m heading towards a mass of hills. Pull out my map. A cluster of peaks are lumped together under the name Crosbie Hills, while the more impressive peak (to the left of the photo below) is Kaim Hill. It is only 387 metres, but looks higher since it rises almost from sea level. Dead ahead is a bifurcation in the road.
On the gate beside the left-hand fork is a footpath sign. It’s a relief to have confirmation that I am still on the Ayrshire Coast Path. This side road seems to be disused now, except for access to whatever industrial activity is taking place alongside the shore.
On my right, on a small rise, is an impressive looking house. Quite an ugly façade really, large and forbidding. In fact, somewhat spooky-looking. Hunterston House. I wonder what it’s used for?
[Later I discover Hunterston House is a now a venue for film locations!]
I am still feeling unusually tired and so, when I spot the opportunity, I slip off the road and climb down to the shore, where I sit on an old pipe at the water’s edge. The tide is high and the sea is calm, reflecting a pastel-blue sky and smoky-white clouds. Beneath the placid surface, I imagine a meadow of rippling eelgrass.
I take a sip from my water bottle and sit for a while, until the sound of voices startles me. A couple climb down the bank from the road and start walking along the shore. I don’t know where they’ve come from. They’re not dressed for serious walking.
Anyway, their presence disturbs the peace, and I haul myself to my feet. I really must get a move on. I’ve got another 5 or 6 miles to go until I reach Largs. I blow my nose – again. My hay fever really is playing up today.
Back on the road, and ahead is a large blue building – looks like a quarry site with a conveyor belt. I guess the conveyor belt takes quarried stone down to a nearby dock area, although I’m not sure if the place is really an active quarry. Anyway, I’m about to turn off to the left along the cycle route.
The cycle route has a good tarmac surface and runs in a tree-lined tunnel. Somebody – possibly a worker from the nuclear power station – tinkles his bell and shoots past me.
The cycle track soon joins the A78, where it continues alongside the stream of cars.
And for the next couple of miles my path plays tag with the road, sometimes veering off to the left for a few hundred yards of peaceful meandering, and sometimes rejoining the roadway to form what is, essentially, a glorified pavement.
I come to a roundabout and the turnoff for a dock area. Clydeport Hunterston, says a sign. [Later I learn my supposition that the big blue building was a quarry was wrong. According to Wikipedia, coal is offloaded at the dock, and carried upwards on the conveyor belt to the blue building, where it is loaded onto trains at a freight terminal.]
I pass another reminder of a referendum. Not the Scottish one, this time, but the EU one. “VOTE LEAVE.” Seems that not everybody in Scotland is a “Remainer”, as the press sometimes likes to make out.
I’m approaching the outskirts of Fairlie. Neatly ordered houses. Gardens with hedges. A 30 mph sign.
There’s a little area of parkland and a bridge over a waterway. There is something particularly beautiful about the water today – the stillness of the surface, the reflections of the sky, and the colours of the weeds beneath. I stop and take a succession of photographs.
Now I ‘m entering Fairlie proper. The council has invented some nifty signs, where the speed limit is displaced as cut-out in the corner of the village sign. It’s not the first one I’ve seen like this, and I guess it allows the local authority to change the speed limit without having to replace the whole sign.
The sign also declares Fairlie as being Scotland’s first fairtrade village. Good. I’m looking forward to finding a shop of some sort. I could do with a cold drink. A café would be even better.
Ahead is a little peninsula – possibly an old jetty – which had been redeveloped as a small park.
I sit down on a bench in the park and do some sneezing. I was hoping there might be a small kiosk here, or an ice cream van, or something… but no. I finish my water in my bottle and eat my last snack bar. I could sit here all day looking at the water…
…come on. Another mental shake and slap. I can’t be that tired. Only another 4 miles to go… onwards.
The next part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path follows a narrow route alongside the shore, hugging a tall wall. It’s popular, and I meet several strollers and dog walkers.
What a lovely place to live. Very pretty. Great views. And what a perfect place for a café… I’m sure I’ll find one soon.
But all the houses ahead look residential, so I follow an alleyway inland and reach the main road, which climbs steadily uphill. No shops here either.
At a fork in the road, I turn left again, down the hill and back towards the shore, where I know there’s a car park. There MUST be something down here. I find the car park, but no café. And it’s a dead-end.
I look back along the seafront. Yes, very pretty houses. But why nowhere to eat or buy a drink?
I climb back up the hill again, wondering why the slope seems such hard work. Another few hundred yards along the main road and I spot a garage. Now, I don’t like buying drinks from a garage, because I’d rather patronise a local shop, and I’m absolutely convinced there MUST be a village shop somewhere in Fairlie, which is, after all, famous for its Fair Trade status – but I have no idea where the shop is hiding and I’m too tired to go hunting… So, I pop into the garage and buy a bottle of coke.
There’s a park nearby. I sit on a seat and drink my coke, hoping the caffeine will perk up my energy levels. It’s only another 3 miles to the station at Largs, maybe less. 3 miles! Nothing to it. I sneeze again and start coughing.
Suddenly, I spot a bus stop on the road beside the park. I was planning on catching the train back to Irvine, where I’m staying. But, suddenly, the idea of catching the bus seems irresistible. I conduct a mental argument with myself.
Logical brain: “Come on. It’s only 3 miles. Get on with it.”
Emotional brain: “Don’t make me walk another yard. I’ve had enough.”
Logical brain: “You’ll regret it tomorrow, when you have to walk even further. And the forecast is for rain.”
Emotional brain: “I don’t care.”
With the argument continuing, I head for the bus stop to read the information sign. Yes. There’s a bus due in 5 minutes. Yippee. Emotional brain wins!
I wait. There’s no seat. I wait. Lean against the wall. Wait. Take my rucksack off. And wait.
Logical brain: “You could have walked to Largs in the time you’ve stood waiting.”
Emotional brain: “It’s so UNFAIR. Why is there no SEAT to sit on? Why isn’t the bus on TIME? Why does nothing EVER go right?”
Logical brain: “Calm down. Here comes the bus now.”
The bus is nearly half an hour late. I lean out to flag it down and a car hurtles by. Two young men – who obviously have only seen my rear end and not my face – lean out and give me wolf whistles.
Logical brain: “Sexist pigs. It’s the twenty-first century for heaven’s sake.”
Emotional brain: “Yay. I must still have a sexy-looking bum!”
When I get back to Irvine, I drive down to the harbour and park my car overlooking the sea. I listen to the radio and watch the sun set beside the Isle of Arran. Beautiful.
It’s been an odd kind of day. Wonderful. Interesting. Frustrating. I hope tomorrow will be fine.
Miles walked today = 12.5 miles
Total distance around coast = 3,501 miles