Another world only a few steps away
In generations gone by, working people from Glasgow would spend a summer week or two on the Clyde coast. Populations of resort towns such as Largs, Rothesay and Troon swelled especially during the last fortnight in July, the Glasgow Fair.
Much of that has changed: holidays are not taken at the same time as they once were, and it’s now easy, affordable and attractive to fly off to the Mediterranean or the United States for a break and the greater promise of warm sunshine.
Yet the Clyde coast can be a most scenic place. The hills of the Kintyre peninsula and, beyond them, the Paps of Jura are visible on a clear day and provide a backdrop to the Goatfell range on Arran.
For a moment, standing on a deserted beach just a mile or so north of Troon in the warm midday sunshine, something of the magic of going ‘doon the watter’ (as the annual west of Scotland holiday trip was known) became more real. I could have been on the Costa del Sol except that, from the Spanish shore, there’s no Arran to see, with its mountain peaks a little like a small version of the Alps.
Parking in Kilwinning, near Almswall Park, is one possibility. From there it is straightforward to follow one of the network of Core Paths which criss-cross Kilwinning and Irvine towards, along, and then over, the Garnock Water. If this is an area more closely associated with industry, or the ‘new town’ feel of Irvine with its circuitous roads and endless roundabouts, the countryside sitting right in its heart shouldn’t be overlooked. Although almost completely hidden from those who stay on the roads, there are countryside jewels along many of the paths which navigate around much of the built-up area.
From these paths few factories are visible; instead there are gently-flowing rivers and grassy fields. There are clear signs of urban life, but there is at least as much evidence of nature ─ and a concern to protect it and encourage it to flourish. Irvine is home to nine greenspaces: areas of nature reserves intentionally within easy walking or cycling distance of most of the New Town, giving access to high quality countryside.
One such area is the Garnock Floods Nature Reserve, a large open floodplain home to kingfishers, waders and ducks. It is intentionally grazed to keep vegetation at an appropriate level for birds, so the sight of cows is not as surprising as might at first appear.
Irvine is closer to Kilwinning than I had thought and, passing the Burns monument, it wasn’t long before I crossed under the main A737 road and headed towards the harbour area. Before I arrived there I saw the new Fullarton Connexions church centre, an outreach by Fullarton Church into their community. Had it not still been early I would have nipped in for morning coffee, but I was keen to get to Troon before Morrisons’ breakfast deal stopped so I headed through the redeveloped and attractive harbour area to the mouth of the River Irvine.
The Scottish Maritime Museum sits near the former Irvine Harbour, in a building formerly the engine works of Alexander Stephen and Sons which was relocated from Linthouse in Govan (roughly, the site occupied by BAe Systems which is passed on the first section of the walk). In the west of Scotland, it seems even buildings get about a bit.
Irvine harbour sees little commercial use now, though several leisure vessels were berthed there. While I could have kept to the coast and walked along Irvine beach, I turned a little inland to walk through the Harbourside area. Hiding amongst the houses are various street sculptures: a bird perched on a wall and some dogs both caught my eye.
The south-west of Irvine is considerably more industrial, and I had to weave in and out along a few streets in the Heatherhouse Industrial Estate, retracing my steps in part, too, in order to get onto Marine Drive and then on to the Ayrshire Coastal Path. This Path starts in the north at Skelmorlie, and I was joining it about a quarter of its distance south from there; I would largely stay with it until Lendalfoot, several miles south of Girvan.
Walking along the beach was magical. Quiet, warm, and with uninterrupted views of the Firth of Clyde it was easy to see why people were content to holiday here in the summer. Quite different from the bustle of the city, wandering between the blue sea and the sand dunes was refreshing.
This section of the walk is short and straightforward, and even the pebbly beach isn’t demanding. I arrived at Barassie more quickly than I had anticipated, and was on familiar territory. We’ve spent great days, and memorable evenings, at Barassie beach as a family over the years: it was the nearest seashore to home while the children were growing up.
I had always approached it by car from inland, and it had a quite different appearance as I came along the coast from the north. At one or two points the high tide made for a bit of scrambling across some rocks, but it was nothing too difficult and I was soon able to choose whether to walk along the beach-side road, or continue along the sand.
From the beach it is easier to see the significance of the sea in Scotland’s history and industrial heritage. I hadn’t long passed Irvine Harbour which, in its day, had been a thriving port. Now in the middle distance was Troon Harbour, these days apparently busier than Irvine, and terminal for one of the ferry companies sailing to Northern Ireland. In days before good roads and easy road transport the sea would have made for much easier travel, though the rocky coastline in places means great care needs to be taken if the weather is rough or visibility poor.
Coming into Troon town centre I noticed tied on to a lamp-post a hint of new developments in transport, too – a knitted bike! There had been a cycling festival the week before, and people had, it seems, taken this to heart not only by getting their bikes out, but by finding their knitting needles, too. A couple on bikes passed me on the mixed-use path and, for a moment, I wondered about the wisdom of walking when cycling would have been much quicker! I wouldn’t have fancied taking my bike over the pebbled foreshore, though!
It was approaching noon, but the clock hadn’t struck twelve when I got to Morrison’s and their breakfast deal which lasts until then. I took the view that, since I’d burned so many calories in the walk there (and would do the same on the way back) nothing was off-limits. I tucked into their mega-breakfast and thought: sunshine, a gentle and warm sea breeze, a view as good as anything I’d seen from any other coast, along with a fry-up. What could be better?