Finding the right path
The route is now so far from Glasgow that travelling by car takes well over an hour. I was fortunate to borrow for a couple of nights a friend’s caravan at Croy Beach – a wonderfully scenic spot looking towards Arran and the Mull of Kintyre with Culzean Castle perched on the clifftop to the left. This greatly reduced travelling time.
An early start allowed a greater distance to be covered this day than the Whithorn Way guide suggests. If the same approach is taken on the following section as well, the result of two days’ hard walking is to reduce the single largest recommended section (21 miles from New Luce to Mochrum) to a more manageable length for walking there and back in one day. These first two days, however, turned out to be the longest of the walk, made no easier by the siren sign of an alternative pathway!
However the initial section is straightforward, south from Girvan town centre past Ainslie Park and leaving the shore at Ainslie Manor Nursing Home to follow the roadside path. When this runs out, returning to the beach provides a pebbly but manageable walk and is much preferable to the busy and, at places narrow, A77.
The Ayrshire Coastal Path crosses the A77 and heads uphill from where there are great views of the Firth of Clyde, and Ailsa Craig.
The farming and fishing heritage of the area is all around, from the small boat in the azure water to the sheep wandering the hillsides. There is a panoramic view of Lendalfoot and the coast to the south from the summit of the hill before the path winds back down, in places quite steeply, to cross the A77 again. The path is clear, but it is important not to follow the route to Byne Hill which is part of a circular route.
At Lendalfoot, the correct route is the second road on the right signposted Pinbraid fishery. A reasonably steep ascent takes the route past what is possibly Carleton Castle though the view in summer is restricted by trees, and then on into the countryside.
The remoteness of the route becomes increasingly apparent on a single-track road with few passing cars and only the odd farm in the distance. However the views are worth the effort, not least of Pinbraid fishery sitting in a little hollow amongst the hills.
There are no shops south of Girvan and it is therefore essential to bring supplies. I hadn’t brought enough, so I stopped off at the fishery where Jimmy and Pauline Wood made me most welcome! I heard a little from them about the beauty of the place and its remoteness which can be challenging, especially in winter. On a warm July day, though, it was little short of perfect.
Supplied with a couple of Twix bars and a Curly Wurly (it’s been a while since I enjoyed one so much) I continued largely downhill past an attractive farm to the junction with the B734 just east of Colmonell. This section of the recommended route concludes here for the day, but it was still reasonably early (the road from Lendalfoot cuts off a little of the distance around Sawney Bean’s Cave and the Varyag Memorial) and I had planned in any event to return to the village of Colmonell on the return leg. So I turned left and followed the road to Pinwherry.
This road, with no footpath, runs generally alongside the River Stinchar and is pleasant, though with fewer grand views, before crossing the river and turning right towards Pinwherry.
At least three castle ruins are scattered around this area, though I was keen to make progress and visited none, preferring to press on towards Barrhill. Again, the road has no footpath and traffic is reasonably heavy, so care needs to be taken. Pinwherry Home Farm is picturesque sitting back a little from the main road. Otherwise the scenery is pleasant but there are no particular sights.
On the outskirts of Barrhill are several caravan parks. I had hoped to pick up some provisions for the return leg there and, after a few dead ends, was helped out by the friendly lady at Queensland Holiday Park. Fuelled by more chocolate bars – anything healthier was impossible to source, honest – and with my water bottles refilled, I set off for the return leg.
Approaching Pinwherry, I saw a sign indicating a footpath to Colmonell and presumed this ran along the south bank of the River Stinchar. Turning left off the road and under the railway line, all went well for the first half mile. Thereafter the path became so indistinct that I needed to work out a preferred route. This was made slightly harder in that many of the fields were occupied by cattle or sheep. I managed to the river bank where the path appeared to resume, but only for a hundred yards or so. At a sharp bend in the river I found myself at the path’s end with large rocks in front of me, a steep and thorny bank to my left and a fast-flowing – and at this point quite deep – river to the right.
Options were limited but I was determined not to have to retrace my steps. I gave serious thought to wading through the water, but that looked challenging – and in Scotland, river water is cold even on warm days. Only slightly less challenging was to fight my way up the steep embankment through the brambles, but there was little choice.
It turned out that, while steep, the bank only rose for about twenty feet before levelling off, with a gate and a path along the side of an empty pasture field. Suddenly the world seemed a better place, until I reached the lower corner of the field. The gate was diagonally opposite and I was, effectively, needing to cross to the neighbouring field. Only a stone dyke, with an electric fence on top, a drop of about four feet to the lower field, and a herd of heifers stood in my way.
I was not anxious to discover empirically whether the electric fence was operating and so, perched precariously half on the wall and half on a rowan sapling which had helped me get up there, I took my chances and jumped. It didn’t need to be a gold-medal winning leap and run – it simply had to get me across the second wall before the heifers got too close. They might have been inquisitive, but I was suitably motivated – and therefore quicker than the coos.
Cutting through the field brought me back to the River Stinchar and from this point there was a path, though at times not readily discernible, through the long grass which brought me out at Craigneil Road where a right turn enabled me to walk into the charming and quiet village of Colmonell.
The parish church is, perhaps, the most interesting building which can be visited and its stained glass is particularly noteworthy. It was, however, late in the afternoon when I arrived and access was not possible.
I therefore headed north-west along Rowantree Street and turned up the hill at the signposted path to Lendalfoot. This, too, was difficult to follow though I was aware that the view from the summit should help me gain my bearings. There were more heifers to negotiate on the way up to Balhamie Hill and then on to Lochton Hill before rejoining the small road along which I had walked to Pinbraid fishery. The light from the sun descending in the west shone over the Firth of Clyde and made for a pleasant walk back to Lendalfoot and, from there, to Girvan.
This route, however, was sixteen miles in each direction and the round trip something around thirty-two miles. It is achievable in one day and I had no adverse reactions; walking this distance on successive days, however, proved to be perhaps a little too much. I discovered that on the following section the next day!