My starting point in Whiting Bay is the path up to the Glenashdale Falls. By the track, a group of four walkers are putting on their boots and strapping on rucksacks. I hesitate, because I hate being overtaken. Should I wait and let them go first? But they spend so long sorting out their kit, I give up and set off.
I’ve just had another bad night, with a persistent cough and muscle pains. So this morning I’ve made two decisions.
Firstly, I’m not going to scramble along the shore and risk another fall. Instead, I’ll take the alternative route over the hills. Secondly, I’m not committing myself to a destination. No. I’m going to walk as far as I feel able, and catch the bus back to Whiting Bay.
The track leads past a scatter of cottages, a couple of parked cars, some decrepid sheds, a white boat… and then narrows into a footpath.
The Arran Coastal Way is not on my OS map, so I’m surprised when I come across a signpost and discover the Coastal Way (alternative route) goes off to the left. What about the Glenashdale waterfall? It seems a shame not to visit it.
So I carry straight on. And it’s a lovely walk, with the path running alongside a pretty stream, the Glenashdale Burn.
The climb grows steeper. I try to keep a steady pace going, aware the group of walkers are behind me, somewhere, and I really do hate being overtaken.
It’s peaceful here. Tall ash trees form a glade on my left. Ash trees? In the glen? Is that how Glenashdale got its name?
Below, on the banks of the burn, I spot a tent. Someone is doing a spot of wild camping.
Onwards and upwards. I love this woodland walk, with the sun shafting through the trees.
About a mile along the path, and I reach the falls. A wooden viewing platform is provided. Basically, it’s a thin balcony projecting out of the side of the valley.
What a tremendous view! There is something really mesmerizing about a waterfall. I’m glad I came.
The fall consists of a number of cascades, and the drop is too long to capture in one shot on my camera.
While I’m standing there, taking photographs and admiring the tumbling water, several other walkers come and go. A young couple arrive. They’ve walked down from the top and we get into a conversation.
They’re camping. She forgot to bring his jacket, apparently, and he forgot to bring his proper camera – he eyes my Canon with some jealousy. They’re enjoying Arran.
After this, they tell me they’re going to visit the Giants’ Graves. I explain I’m walking over the hill to Kildonan, but they don’t recognise the name.
He calls me ‘darling’ and ‘dear’. I try not to bridle at this. It’s probably just a habit of speech and I think many men don’t realise how patronising it sounds.
Just as I leave the viewing platform, two men come puffing up the path. I recognise them as being the male component of the four walkers who were behind me. The women are struggling up, still a long way further down the path.
I can’t help a triumphant smirk. To think I was worried about being overtaken!
Above the falls the path meets a wide track, where a signpost points the way to the Giant’s Graves. It must be the route to Kildonan too, or I hope it is.
The track climbs steadily. From the top there is a tremendous view over Whiting Bay and the hump of Holy Island. Beyond this, faint against the horizon, I think I can see the mainland of Scotland.
The track itself is rather tedious – one of those wide, boring forestry roads – surrounded by slopes laid bare by logging. Some new baby pines are just getting established.
Pines. Yuck. I know pine plantations make good commercial sense, because they grow rapidly, but I really don’t like walking through them. The trees, when full-grown, seem alien and sinister, crowding out light and air. Dead places. Uncannily silent. Even the birds seem to avoid them.
Ah. In a field to my left I see some large stones. The Giants’ Graves.
It’s an interesting site, and consists of two structures. First, a smaller collection of stones with a definite pit.
And then, nearby, a larger collection of stones, with a more intricate arrangement. Why were they put here? Is this the site of ancient tombs? Very mysterious.
The camping couple catch up with me. We walk around and discuss the possible purpose of the stones. I think it’s a religious site, similar to Stonehenge. She thinks it’s probably an ancient burial ground. He is convinced it’s something more prosaic and practical, like a grain store.
A couple of dogs appear and leap towards us, full of joyous energy, followed a few minutes later by a local couple. They are heading over the hill to visit her brother. We ask about the stones, and they point us to an information board – cunningly hidden behind a bush.
The board explains this really was an ancient burial site. But also explains that the bodies were first left out in the open so that ravens could pick the flesh off the bones. Yuck.
The young couple head off down the hill, back towards Whiting Bay.
But I’m heading in the opposite direction, following behind the local couple, who are rapidly disappearing up the track with their dogs.
Onwards. I follow them. The track climbs higher, and then higher still, and the views get better and better. That is definitely the Scottish mainland over there.
Can I spot the outline of Ayr, and the Heads of Ayr? It might just be my imagination.
I pass a couple of little waterfalls. The water looks clear and fresh. I guess it might even be drinkable.
Near the top of the hill is a picnic bench. It seems built for a giant, as my feet can’t touch the ground when I sit on the seat, but it’s a great opportunity for a rest and a snack. And the table provides a flat surface to balance my camera and take a self-portrait.
Onwards. The trees crowd on either side of the track. I pass a motionless orange digger, and a nearby quarry. Do they still work it for stones?
More regimented pines. The sun has disappeared and it’s dark between the trunks, with the ground humped and mossy underneath. I pick up my pace. The trees seem to be watching me.
I reach the highest point of the track, and pass an area where there’s been more logging. A jumble of half-fallen trunks lean over the road. Did these trees die a natural death? Or were they blown over by the wind?
Round a curve and… here’s a view I’ve been waiting for… Ailsa Craig, floating on the surface of a milky sea. Hello, old friend. I’ve missed you.
I know it’s nearly time to come down off the hill, but a footpath sign tells me to carry on. (I really like the colour-coding of the Arran Coastal Way arrows. A yellow circle donates the normal route, and this red circle marks my alternative route.)
I pass a pile of logs. It looks as if it’s been there for some time, as the bark is green and the cut wood is grey and weathered. Weeds grow tall. What happened? Were these trunks rejected, or just forgotten?
Now I reach the place where the path comes down off the hill. It’s a proper path, not a track, along a slightly raised bank. Ahead, I can see a rain cloud passing over the sea. Is it coming this way?
Down the path, and I join the road. There’s very little traffic. I meet a couple of walkers, but they’re on the opposite side of the road and we don’t speak. I wonder if they’re walking the coastal path too?
After a few hundred yards, I come to the entrance to Drumla Farm Holiday Cottages, and a yellow Arran Coastal Way sign points me down the track. But, oh dear, the rain cloud is coming closer. It’s a grey curtain moving across the sea.
I try to speed up, but can’t resist stopping to take more photographs. Over to my right, to the west, is the southern shore of Arran. That headland is called Bennan Head and the coastal path runs below the cliffs, on the narrow strip between the land and the sea.
I was half-thinking of carrying on from Kildonan to the next significant village along the coast, Lagg. But I remember what the website said about the next section, “the challenge of the boulder field should not be underestimated! ”
A boulder field! I don’t want to push myself to exhaustion. No. I’ve really enjoyed today’s walk, but I’m going to stop while I’m still feeling happy and energetic.
The path continues down, passing farms and small cottages, and taking a few right-angled turns to avoid private land. And the good news? The rain cloud seems to be passing on by, staying out to sea.
I meet a few strollers on my way down. Not surprising. This is a popular area with plenty of B&Bs and rental cottages. And I know there’s a hotel in Kildonan.
The path joins the coast road, which has an attractive display of flowers.
A man stands on the side and scans the water. For birds? Or for seals? Yesterday, a man at the bus stop told me he’d spotted an otter off Kildonan. Sadly, I don’t see any sign of seals or otters today.
I turn left towards where I know there’s a bus stop. (It’s where I caught the bus yesterday). When I reach the stop, I discover I’ve just missed one. My heart sinks. I’ve got two hours to wait for the next one.
A gaggle of hen-party ladies are waiting on the opposite side of the road – not something I was expecting to see in a remote village on Arran! I chat to them for a few minutes and then, suddenly, I see my bus trundling up the road. It’s a few minutes late. Perfect timing!
Miles walked today = 6.5 miles
Miles around Arran Coastal Way= 19.5 miles
Total around coast of UK = 3,528.5 miles