Storming into Ayrshire
The south bank of the River Clyde was viewed on a mild, sunny day from a mix of the Clyde Coastal Path and National Cycle Route 75. Formerly a railway track, Route 75 was certainly suffering from ‘leaves on the line’, but it didn’t stop the Victory Walker in her tracks! Nicknamed the ‘High Route’, this Greenock to Glasgow line was a popular route with sailors during WW2 who found themselves waiting for sailing orders at Greenock.
Historically Glasgow, the Clyde and Greenock are all steeped in memories of shipbuilding, wealth, merchant trading and a vast naval presence during WWII. This area, known as Inverclyde, still describes itself as ‘Export Capital of Scotland’. Noting how busy its Container Terminal was that afternoon, I can understand why. Added to which, the area has actively marketed its Ocean Terminal where cruise ships cross the Atlantic to make regular visits to see Scotland’s stunning west coast.
I rounded the corner into Gourock whose origins were as a seaside resort overlooking the Firth of Clyde. Today it’s very much a residential area, but ferries still bustle back and forth to various destinations including Dunoon across the Firth. Thick mist obscured Dunoon, but on my walk towards Inverkip I was still able to see Cloch lighthouse ahead of me on a road bend. This struck me as a very unusual traffic light!
My lasting memory of Inverkip will not be of Kip Marina, but of its unusual war memorial placed on a headland overlooking the Firth of Clyde. The memorial doesn’t list the men by their Service, nor does it give their age. Instead the three sides listed names under the following headings: At Sea; Of Wounds; In POW Camp; On the Western Front; At Gallipoli; In Palestine; In Mesopotamia; At Sea; On Home Service.
Further down the coast I arrived at Wemyss with its pier and station which act as Scotland’s main gateway to Rothesay on the Island of Bute. Wemyss station is the terminus on the Inverclyde Line and in recent years has clearly undergone a major refurbishment, as has its wide covered walkway leading passengers down to the pier and CalMac ferry.
Wemyss is all but joined to Skelmorlie where I knew I’d pick up the Ayrshire Coastal Path – a route of 100 miles that will lead me south to Glenapp, near Stranraer. The first leg took me on a back route to Largs. Gaining height on a quiet rural route, had it not been for the mist, I should have had excellent views across the Firth to Bute, Great Cumbrae and back over other peninsulas I’d previously walked.
My first views of Largs were also dismal, wet and grey. It wasn’t until I got down into the town did I appreciate its wide esplanade, art deco café and its links with the Vikings – something the town is very proud of and celebrates each year. In October 1263 a battle took place between the kingdoms of Norway and Scotland. Bad weather caused the Norwegians to lose many of their longships on Largs’ shore, thus ensuring a Scottish victory. It took until 1912 for the aptly named Pencil Monument to be built to commemorate that victory.
Bad weather in Largs struck again in 2018 in the form of Storm Callum. We were fortunate enough to be offered a safe place to ride out the storm within Largs Yacht Haven. Rain and wind howled in overnight and continued throughout the following day. It was during this spell that we learned that the ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ route which I’d walked through less than two weeks ago had been closed owing to a landslip caused by Callum’s torrential rains. I am thankful that I walked through when I did.
Frustrated at my grounding in the Yacht Haven, I ventured out and managed half a day’s mileage, only to receive a further drenching the following day as I squelched towards Stevenston. Here, the path circled a vast area dominated by former explosives and chemical factories once owned by Nobel, then ICI. It was a depressing walk that continued next day down by Irvine harbour where I spotted ICI’s old terminal.
Irvine town and harbour used to be one of Scotland’s busiest ports, once on a par with Glasgow. In the 1700s coal was brought by carters from nearby collieries and loaded onto small ships. The Carter and Horse memorial on the harbourside is a tribute to the forerunners of today’s hauliers. For many years the Ayrshire Dockyard Company was a shipyard on the river Irvine. Initially involved with shipbuilding, its focus changed: one of its claims to fame was that it manufactured fittings for other ships including Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2.
I know I’m still in Scotland as golf clubs along the coastline have suddenly reappeared. During a walking distance of 50 miles I passed a dozen: West Kilbride, Ravenspark, Auchenharvie, Irvine, Glasgow, Dundonald Links, Kilmarnock (Brasserie), Troon Welbeck, Troon Portland, Royal Troon, Prestwick and St Nicholas. Beat that!
The first on this list, Gourock, kindly provided us with an overnight stop to get us off the road, and at Prestwick I saw a simple stone cairn that marks where the first ever Open Championship tee shot was struck 158 years ago on 17 October 1860. And to coin a phrase – ‘the rest is history’. Meanwhile, I’ve added another errant ball to my Round Britain collection of golf balls. There will be more!
See Photo Album Numbers 51 – Arriving South Beach Ardrossan; Ayrshire Coastal Path; Storming into Ayrshire